This year I paid tribute to Daniel Pearl by simply putting my pen down and listening to the music.
Arieb Azhar and Noori came to perform for the annual Daniel Pearl Music Day at the US consulate in Karachi and as usual, I was invited, not just because of my special connection as a Daniel Pearl fellow from 2008 but also because I am the city editor of The Express Tribune in Karachi. We cover the event each year.
This year I was worried about the headline because I didn’t feel I could possibly top ‘Music circles the earth one more time for Daniel Pearl’ from last year. The setting was the same too, at the residence of the consul general, a wide colonial estate off millionaire’s row. I did not want to watch the photo-op unfold with the consul general, listen to the banal questions. I wanted to feel something.
The evening started with the usual security checks that make airport security look like cake. It always saddens me that the Daniel Pearl Music Days have to be held on an invite-only basis. A small group of select school children are brought in their Sunday best. There is stiff talk for a bit because of the awkwardness of interacting with the Americans (there aren’t many white people left in Karachi). There always seem to be more journalists than young kids who should be the ones to remember Daniel Pearl.
(It seemed really odd when a few journalists posed with Consul General Michael Dodman, even though they didn’t even ask him any questions. That seemed to completely defeat the purpose of the evening). I understand the security concerns because really, the conditions out there are not good and I’ll be the first one to be honest about it. But I hope I see in my lifetime a day when the Daniel Pearl Music Day concert is open to the young people of Karachi, in National Stadium. It should be one of the events of the year and something that all young people, rich or poor, look forward to. It should be a day to reflect and renew vows.
So, it is usually with a heavy heart that I go to the music days. Tonight was no exception. I had heard Arieb Azhar sing before and indeed, him and Noori were really good choices for this year. Arieb has soul, he tinkers with folk classics. His work has the flavour of his travels. Noori I had not heard live before, but I knew from some songs that they had that sexy, soulful, rock feel to them. When it all looked the same, except of course for the new faces at the consulate which has a high turnover, I decided that the best thing to do was just listen. And listen I did.
I tried to hear for something imperceptible, the feeling perhaps of sitting with a soul long gone. What is that thing that falls between mourning and memory – we mourn a loss, but if I did not know Daniel Pearl what kind of mourning is that, if I did not ‘have’ him in my life? What if his arrival in my life came after his death; it is as if you mourn an entity that hovers as a spirit. I’m aware that this may sound wrought but since 2008 I have been trying to give a name to my fluid relationship with Daniel Pearl. It changes each year as the music plays.
This year, the music did something. Almost. The Sufi songs that Arieb chose, Dam mast Qalandar in particular, is one of my favourites because it invokes Ali (RA), the reason for that ecstatic (ekstasis as in out-of-body) form of Islam that is Shi’ism. I associate Ali with love and pain together – he was slain too. He is remembered too each year.
As the music warmed up and Arieb got a dhammal-esque reaction from the crowd of youngsters, I began to see glimmers of what I wanted from the evening. I wanted to see the young people enjoy themselves in Daniel Pearl’s name. We have such few live acts in Karachi that an entire generation has been deprived of a really simple joy in life: to enjoy music and dance with each other. (Yes, it happens at weddings, but that is mostly choreographed)
I was disappointed that Danny’s face was nowhere to be seen this evening. Last year they had put up a wall of all the photos of journalists who had been killed in Pakistan along with his. They had also played a video message from Ruth and Judea Pearl, which I felt was extremely important. Knowing his parents, seeing them, makes their son more real for us. By the time Noori made it to the stage the crowd had been warmed up. And the kids love Noori. Hell, I have a crush on one of their singers now (I don’t know his name or really care for it). They really rocked the stage, strutted about, sweated out the songs. Arms were in the air, the consulate’s Richard Silver was gyrating, the ladies were swaying. The kids were calling back, shouting out for more numbers. I could feel the bass and drums thump, thump through the speakers. Everyone was laughing, cheering, you couldn’t tell the Americans from the Pakistanis as their bodies blurred.
And just as I began to really love the music, that part where it hits the sweet spot and makes everything alright in the world, Daniel Pearl came back to me. The memory surfaced there, a non-memory of a memory, forged out of nothingness. A sliver of pain that I can’t even call my own. There, just a stone’s throw from the Sheraton hotel, that place where he was being kept, I think. I keep going back to that in my imagination. It confuses me because I keep thinking about Karachi, which I love so much and how his history is inextricably tied to its. So many Americans just know this city because of him. To pour music into it, even if just for a few hours, makes me wonder. Can the beat, the heartbeat, echo?
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