Munir Sarhadi—the sarinda virtuoso
By Shaikh Aziz
A music concert is on, continuing till the wee hours of the morning. Many vocalists and instrumentalists are showing their skills. Every performer thinks that his was the best performance on the stage. One girl in the audience is overwhelmed by the performance of an instrumentalist and becomes such an admirer that she falls in love with him. Cupid’s arrow has done it’s work and one fine day they tie the nuptial knot.
Incidentally, this happened in Delhi, a little before Independence. The artist was Munir Sarhadi, the sarinda virtuoso who won laurels in the country and abroad, and the girl was Banu Begum, who attended a concert in Delhi, filled with a galaxy of vocalists and instrumentalists from all over the subcontinent. A young Munir had gone there with his illustrious father, Ustad Pazeer Khan, who was employed by the All India Radio at that time.
Munir Sarhadi, the Peshawar-born musician, later rose to fame not only in Pakistan but also won laurels abroad. A winner of the Pride of Performance, the legendary instrumentalist was perhaps the only artist after his father who achieved that recognition in playing the traditional instrument. Paradoxically, his death in 1980, was marked by utter poverty and neglect — an end most of our artists often meet.
Munir was born in 1922. His father was the great scion of sarinda players of Pushto music. In his childhood he showed no interest in learning the instrument which was not liked by some of his family elders. His father left for Delhi where he had gotten a job at the All India Radio. His uncle and custodian, Khushmir Khan tried to persuade him to learn the music but all in vain. One day, a dejected Munir left Peshawar and travelled to his father’s city. His father did not want to teach him and took him to Ustad Afzal Hussain, one of his colleagues at the radio. There Munir began learning vocal music.
It is then that the young boy developed interest in sarinda. When his father left for work everyday, he would pick up the sarinda and start practising it. This continued for quite some time. One day his father came a bit earlier than his scheduled time and was stunned to see that Munir was playing the instrument with great skill. Ustad Pazeer Khan was so overjoyed that he gave his own sarinda to Munir and then began teaching him the intricacies of music and sarinda playing. With the skill he saw in his son, Ustad Pazeer Khan knew what lay ahead for Munir.
Soon after, the father and son decided to visit Peshawar for a vacation. It was also a family reunion and obviously in a family of musicians there had to be music. Munir’s family was astonished to see him pick up the sarinda and play it. The masterly handling of the bow and strings produced such scintillating compositions that everybody was enthralled. To see the young lad, who was not interested in music, playing like a wizard, was no less than a miracle.
After a short stay at Peshawar, both the father and son went back to Delhi where they played the instruments and also sang thumries and ghazals at various concerts, to supplement the earning. At one concert when Munir began playing the sarinda everybody in the audience was taken over by its magic. One veiled girl was simply mesmerised. She began attending every concert of Munir and ultimately both tied the knot.
When Independence took place Delhi became a hotbed of violence, and with the help of a friend in the army the family managed to reach Pakistan safely and decided to settle in Lahore. Finding no place at Radio Pakistan, Lahore and roaming jobless for quite some time, they finally moved to Peshawar in very poor conditions.
Here the father and son were able to get jobs in Radio Pakistan. In 1949 Ustad Pazeer Khan died of respiratory disorder and it was now Munir Sarhadi who had to advance the tradition of sarinda playing. Munir, through his strenuous riyaz and able guidance of the father, had become a master of sarinda and was in great demand all over Pakistan. He attended almost all the concerts and music festivals that used to be held at various centres. The PIA Academy, which was established to promote art and culture of the country, took him to various parts of the world including China as member of the troupe where his performance was highly applauded.
Munir Sarhadi’s technique was very imaginative. He played every raga and folk composition with masterly ease. Sarinda, the fretless stringed instrument, is comparatively a difficult instrument in the string family as it has little space between the bridge and knobs, and requires extra ability to produce the three octaves. Munir, through his extra effort, easily acquired this skill and played classical taans to folk lehra as an accomplished performer. He had the ability to sing, play and also compose music. He was so engrossed in the music and sarinda that he hardly passed a day without playing it after he decided to learn it and make it a living. While his father excelled in folk tunes and classical music, Munir created a fusion of the two. This is evident from the films Dara-i-Khyber, Baghi and some other films of which he composed the music. He blended classical music with some variations from Pushto music and vice versa. For his services towards the promotion of music, he was awarded the Pride of Performance.
Personally he was a simple, hard working and dedicated person. He had no greed for money and worldly comforts. Throughout his life his main concern was music. He longed for the company of the learned. Perhaps this was the reason that in the last days of his life he lived a miserable life. As usual, our bureaucratic clique, societies and the so-called organizations meant for the promotion of art remained unmoved, while the maestro was on his deathbed. His only source of living, the radio salary was not enough to provide him the medicines and on May 23, 1980 he died in abject poverty, yet with honour and dignity, leaving behind an invaluable contribution towards music. After his death only one of his sons, Aijaz Sarhadi has kept up the family tradition of sarinda playing and is known well in the Pakistani music world.—DAWN