When Kashmir’s military omnipresence forced masses indoors during nineties, a man from Srinagar’s Chanpur volunteered to become a ‘Sahar Khan’. What unfolded shortly is perhaps a larger pattern of the military-driven rhythms and routines in the Valley.
He announces his arrival on the deserted streets of Srinagar’s Chanpur by beating a drum and blowing a trumpet. In this pre-dawn time, Farooq Ahmad Khan defies the very act that Sahar Khans traditionally perform in the fasting-bound Kashmir.
Instead of the usual clarion call—Waqt-e-Sahar (“It’s time for pre-dawn meals… Wake up!”)—Khan sings ballads to wake-up the faithful during the holy month of Ramzan. Inspired from Bollywood hit numbers, these ballads have one common thread: They talk about Kashmir’s tryst with militarisation.
Khan’s unique wakeup call began accidently, way back in early nineties, when he was surrounded by armed forces, scrutinizing his pre-dawn fasting call.
“In those days I used to live in what was old Chanapora, near Masjid Ibrahim,” recalls Khan inside his messy room he knows as his universe. “When the armed insurgency started in Kashmir, no one was ready to take the job of Sahar Khan.”
Then unmarried, Khan came forward and volunteered for the job of waking people for the pre-dawn meals during the holy month of Ramzan.
But before he would venture on streets with his drum, he needed consent from a local military installation.
To check the massive rebellion besides reimposing the writ of Indian State in Kashmir, such camps had cropped and mushroomed across the Valley, alarmingly. Apart from housing hostile troopers, these camps would act as command posts, where locals would often visit to get a military consent, for carrying their mundane tasks and functions, like marriage.
“So along with the elders of the area, I went to the army camp,” recalls Khan, with a glint in his eyes. “We informed the dismissive camp administration that I’ll be doing the job of waking people during the holy month.”
Among other things, the local delegation assured the camp that Khan would be up to no mischief.
But if something—maybe an attack on camp or patrol party—happened, the camp managers asked the elders, would they take responsibility?
Mindful of the militant pulse of the times, the elders exchanged quick glances, before conveying it to Khan, almost in whispers: Taasas nasa rozuoy ne zimwaar (Won’t take responsibility if shots are fired).
“Their snub was understandable and pretty normal, given the times Kashmir was passing through,” Khan says. “They feared that I might get involved in militant activities.”
They were not wrong.
Then, swarms of young men were deserting their homes for Sarhad Paar. They wanted to get trained, bring Kalashnikov and fight the war of attrition against Indian State in Kashmir.
Azadi, it seemed, was just round the corner.
But as New Delhi responded with heavy force, the likes of Khan found themselves struggling with their daily routines. It was then, he decided to revisit the camp — this time, with his mother, who had a reputation of being a fiery lady of her times. She would command respect from all and sundry, for being a pro-people leader and somebody who was well-acquainted with National Conference founder, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.
“Mei Aeis Maaji Heniz Peith. Temis Aeas Wannan Raje Kachre (I had my mother’s clout. She was known as Raje Kachre),” Khan says. “She would help people a lot. We used to live in a single-room in Maisuma. It was due to her that we got land here. In the same way she used to help others, too.”
For the second time, when Khan visited the camp, he was a different person: tough, terse, talkative.
“Sahabji,” he recalls addressing to an army officer, in presence of his ‘leader’ mother, “Agar Mujhpe Tank Bhi Chalaega, Mein Phirbhi Sahar Khani Karunga (Even if a tank mows me down, I’ll still not leave this job).”
The act of waking up faithful, he tells the troopers, is Allah and His Prophet’s (SAW) work.
“So I’ll do it,” he could feel a surge of strength warming his heart, while talking to the troopers. “Like the Muezzin has to get up and call for prayers, I’ve to go out and wake up faithful.”
The mother’s backing made his day. He finally got the military consent.
And soon, Khan hit the conflict-ridden streets of City, in his own style. When others in his tribe would shout Waqt-e-Sahar, Khan added his own tunes to the wake-up call:
Mouji Beniye Wothe Jaljal / Wothu Rozdara Rozadar / Yousne Roze Rozdar Suha Chu Khar / Wothu Rozdara Rozadar / Fauji Bhai Ko Hai Iska Darr / Wothu Rozdara Rozadar / Farooq Ahmad Golein Manz Draaw Bila Dar / Wothu Rozdara Rozadar / Zithaw Wich Army Te Tchal Jaljal / Wothu Rozdara Rozadar.
(“Wake-up, O mothers and sisters / Wakeup, O faithful / One who won’t fast, is a donkey / Wakeup, O faithful / Soldier fears the fasting / Wakeup, O faithful / I’ve fearlessly walked out amid fireworks / Wakeup, O faithful / The elders saw army and ran away / Wakeup, O faithful.”)
This is what he sang for the first 6 days.
But on the seventh day, Khan found himself surrounded by tall, uniformed troopers.
“It was near the Police Station of Khan Colony,” he recalls. “There was an Army bunker there. It was surrounded by a live electric wire. Suddenly, around 6 military men appeared from nowhere and surrounded me.”
One of them was so fearsome and tall that Khan lost control of his mind and pissed his pants.
“It’s not something which I would like to share,” he says. “But it happened, so I won’t lie. I thought they would kill me.”
The troopers told him that they didn’t understand a word he sang and asked him to speak in Urdu.
“I didn’t know what to do or say,” Khan recalls one of his dreadful military encounters during his pre-dawn routine. “I thought this is the end. I even recited a verse, thrice: La ilaha illa anta, Subhanaka, Inni kuntu minaz-zalimin (There’s none worthy of Worship besides You, You’re far exalted and above all weaknesses, Surely, I’m from among the wrongdoers).”
While reciting what he thought as his last verse, the movie Khuda Gawah, a superhit of the time, came to his mind.
“I composed a song then and there, in the language which they (forces) could understand: Allah Ka Hai Noor / Roza Rakhna Poor / Is Baatka Fauji Gawah / Khuda Gawah… (It’s Allah’s blessing. Keep a fast. Soldier is witness to it. Allah is the witness). As soon as they heard it, they told me that I can go.”
As the song came handy, he made another one inspired from another song of the movie: Na Ja Re Merey Rozdaar / Ek Roza Kay Liye / Tees Roza Chodna / Yeh Mera Waada Raha / Mein Agar Mar Bhi Gaya / Mein Na Roza Chodunga… (O faithful, don’t walk away from fasting. It’s my promise that even if I die, I won’t stop fasting…)
With his inspired tunes, Khan also used to recite Naats, with an added ‘flavour’ and reflecting the reality of times in it:
Qadman Daaray Shaane Lolo / Az Yi Mohammad Saeb Pane Lolo / Fauji Bhi Mera Deywane Lolo / Az Yeh Mohammad Saeb Pane Lolo / Task Foresan Pass Dowywom Pane Lolo / Az Ha Yi Rozdaar Pane Lolo.
(“I’ll offer my shoulders as path to his footsteps / [Because] Prophet Mohammad [SAW] will come today. Even soldier is my adherent. Prophet Mohammad [SAW] will come today. The [dreadful] Task Force themselves provide me a pass. The faithful will come today.”)
With time, Khan rose to become a known face, but in those terrible times, the risk was always there. He was literally staring at death. Amid the military-militant confrontations, the streets would become a no-go zone during darkness. But even then, Khan continued waking up his Muslim brethren, for the love of it, he says, and without expecting any monetary rewards.
People, especially the youngsters kept their celebrity Sahar Khan updated with the latest songs — so that he could ‘spice them up’, in his own unique way.
One day some kids approached and told him that a new number is on the charts. The song was Didi Tera Dewar Diwana.
With his drum, Khan turned the 90’s chartbuster from the Salman Khan starrer flick—Hum Aapke Hain Koun—into a wake up call, for the faithful, that year:
Didi Tera Dewar Diwana / Hai Yaar, Sahar Ko Khawo Khana / Duhil Khaw Dapaan Mein hai Beymara / Bel Karan Cigarette Ka Bahana.
(“Sister, your brother-in-law is a crazy. O friend, have your Sehri meal…”)
His brushes with Bollywood songs continued. With time, Khan got bolder, creative.
“With that song, I made another one. This time it was a peppy number which featured the comic of the times, Govinda.”
He turned the song—Tujhe Mirchi Lagi to Mein Kya Karun—into Tumne Roza Jo Toda To Rab Kya Kahay / Yeh Chanpur Soye To Mein Kya Karun… (If you don’t fast, what would God do about it / If Chanpur sleeps, then what would I do?)
Living in Chanpur area, which has a sizable Sikh population, Khan picked their numbers, too, and turned them upside down, except the tune.
A song called Bol Bol Bol… Tujhe Kya Chahiye was very popular among Sikh community then, he says.
“Mei Haz Banow Ath Te Beath (I made my own song out of it, too),” he says, smiling. “Yeh Haz Baneow Zaher-e-almaas Hui (It turned out to be a killer one).”
Bikhtahai Duhil Khaw Miti Kay moul / Rozdaar Bikta Hai Sonay Ka Moul / Are Bol Sehri Bol Tumko Kya Chahiye / Mujhko Rozdaaron Ki Dua Chahiye…
(“One who doesn’t fast is worthless person, while the one who fasts is precious. So tell, what do you want? I want the prayers of the person who fasts.”)
As Khan’s melodies were crossing the borders of religion, too, he remembers how a Sikh child used to cry for him.
“He used to tell his parents, Where’s Sahar Khan? I want to listen to him! My Song Bol Bol Bol was what he wanted to listen. His father, who was a goldsmith, was also impressed with me,” Khan says.
That Sardaarji was very interested to know the source of Khan’s songs.
“I told him they just come to me because I love what I do. He gave me Rs.5000 as a gift. In those days, it was a huge amount,” he says.
But as much as people longed for him, Khan’s own brothers did not approve of what he did. They believed that Khan’s job was akin to begging.
“They thought that it’s a lowly job, not a befitting one. They once even refused to eat the rice I brought, as they said I had collected it by begging,” he rues.
That cold-shoulder, however, hardly discouraged him, as he throughout remembered his ‘leader’ mother’s words about his work.
“Hazrat Ali (RA) used to wake up people during the Holy month,” he recalls his mother’s words. “That’s what drove me, too. And I used to do it in times when people used to fear stepping out of their homes, in those wee hours. But I didn’t, as I knew it was Allah’s work. Nothing bad can happen to me while doing this job.”
And for doing all this, Khan calls himself ‘Civil Farooq’, a layman Farooq.
“In Kashmir we’ve Dr Farooq, Moulvi Farooq, but I’m Civil Farooq,” he says. “If I go to them, obviously they’ll not recognise me, so I’m just civil.”
But as the society is changing, Khan knows it well that some people out there take his clarion call with a pinch of salt.
“Today people keep their meals ready beforehand,” he says. “When I took up the job, people used to cook before Sehri. That made my job more important. Today, many complain that I come and wake them up before time and disturb their sleep.”
But Khan answers to such people in his own style: “Hata Loguth Tche Naay / Tche Rowe Kya / Dil Chown Aowsi Samandar / Loguth Tche Naay… (You’ve begun grumbling. What’s wrong with you? Your heart used to be generous. You’ve started to grumble…”)
He keeps singing these ballads—mainly with military consciousness—on the streets of Chanpur — until the locality sheds darkness, by lighting up their homes. He leaves it there, and makes a quiet exit.
With faithful waking up to Sehri, it’s job done for Khan.
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