Pathanay Khan was apolitical but he felt completely at home with our group which mostly comprised left-wing activists and idealists of all sorts.
At that time he sang mostly kafian khawaja ghulam farid and a few verses from bulleh shah. Since the group was mostly fascinated with the great poet Shah Hussain, Pathanay Khan picked some kafian and included them in his singing.
Mela Charaghan used to be Lahore’s major annual event but Shah Hussain had been forgotten as a major poet of classical Punjabi tradition. Only a couple of his kafis sung by Hamid Ali Baila like Mai ni kahnoon akhan were popular. The rehabilitation of Shah Hussain poetical stature was initiated by Majlis Shah Hussain, a group formed by the major Punjabi writers of that period. The Rut Rekha group played its small role in this regard and was greatly helped when Pathanay khan started singing Kafian Shah Hussain.
Pathanay Khan was invited to sing for PTV frequently but was not invited by most music patrons of Lahore or elsewhere in central Punjab. It was much later that the music loving Lawyer Raza Kazmi did some beautiful recordings of Pathanay khan. Anyhow, once introduced by Mushtaque Sufi on TV, his fame spread quickly. I don’t know if it was true or not but it was widely rumored late Z.A. Bhutto was very fond of his kafi Mera ishq Vi toon te Imam bhi toon and used to invite him to hear it. Pathanay Khan never spoke much about it. As a matter of fact he was never in the habit of dropping names of his rich patrons and was always happy and content with groups like ours which was or chose to be penniless. It is another matter that pathanay khan still demanded his quota of Gold leaf and offered it to the whole Sangat around him. By the time he left Lahore, I would have used up my salary of several coming months. But, a few months salary of a lecturer was nothing in comparison to what Pathanay Khan was giving to our group.
Khan’s reverence for khawaja Ghulam Farid was absolute. Khawaja Farid was everything for him and he derived all his spiritual strength from him. I have rarely seen a singer who can understand and render poetry as good as Pathanay Khan rendered Khawaja’s for the audience. His reading style was so clear and popularly punctuated that even a non-Saraiki speaker could follow the text and meanings of most words. It remains the best kept secret that pathanay khan sung much better when he was unaccompanied by tabla. His earlier recordings at Aslam Ranjha’s place were recorded only with the harmonium. In my opinion he was at his best in those recordings.
Najm Shahji also did some recordings of him in those early days – for some, the best of Pathanay Khan. Unfortunately, most people have heard commercial recordings in which pathanay khan is hampered by the intrusion and mumbo jumbo of all kinds of instruments. The only acceptation and acceptable recording with instruments was by Raza Kazmi.
Depending on his mood, pathanay khan would sing the same kafi in different ragas. However, unlike other famous singers he would never brag or mention that he was changing the raga for a particular kafi. It naturally flew from his heart and he remained oblivious to the technicalities, the perfection of his own techniques not withstanding.
Pathanay Khan learned music from Amir Khan, a local musician who was a descendant (a nephew perhaps) of Ustad Ashiq Ali khan. He was not trained as a classical musician and learned musical techniques during his singing at mela gatherings. His singing absorbed the essence of masses, their aspiration and miseries. Nonetheless, Pathanay Khan had a great desire to sing a classical raga and tried to convince Ustad Chote Ghalam Ali Khan to teach him.
Ustad Chote Ghulam Ali Khan used to come daily to teach Samina Hussain Syed, Nnajm Hussain’s wife, one of the best emerging voices in classical singing. Chote Ghulam Khan smiled at his request and changes the subject. However, when Pathanay persisted, late Ustad told him that he was an Ustad in his own right, in his own style, and did not need to get into a new venture. Supposedly, Ustad knew that it was too late to initiate Pathanay Khan into pure classical music – he was already in late forties or early fifties.
Pathanay Khan introduced many great but unknown poets of saraiki belt through their dhoras that appeared as a preamble to kafis.
A dohra sung frequently by Pathanay Khan was not written by Khawaja Farid but was sung in his name. The first lines of this dhora are: a mahi mat lag asadi toon tan waich majhian ghin gain. Majhian mildian kahin kahin walay, gain mildian sanjh sabhahin (o my love follow my advice. Sell all buffalos and buy cows one can milk buffalos rarely while cows can be milked more often).
The diction never appeared even close to Khawaja Farid’s. Therefore, I asked Pathanay Khan, “Who would have been the author of this dohra?” He tried to wriggle out of this but on my pressing he smilingly concedes that it was his own poetry. He had some other dohras, which were his own creation but sung in Khawaja Farid’s name.
Pathanay Khan gave his own deeper meaning to Khawaja Sahib’s poetry in his typical style and sprit of singing. For example, Khawaja Farid’s Kafi Piloo Pakian ni way has been sung by Surraiya Multanikar, Hussain Bakhsh Dhadhi and many others. However, Surraiya Multanikar’s composition presents it as a beautiful, light folk song while Hussain Bakhsh Dhadhi presents it as a unique classical piece embellished by his tans in a typical Ashiq Ali Khan style. However it is Pathanay Khan’s singing of the same Kafi that gives it a deeper meaning.
Pathanay Kahn elevated Kafi to a much higher level than his predecessors. He embodied his own unique style in singing and in personal relationship. Many of us will always treasure our association with him. Whenever Rohi blossoms, Pathanay Khan will smile through those desert flowers – he himself was one of the greatest flowers of Rohi.