Her spirit is remarkable for more reasons than one. Aliya Rashid, 31, learnt dhrupad, a male-dominated musical form, from the Bhopal-based Gundecha brothers. She came to India as the Kargil war ended and the ties between the countries were at the worst and stayed on at the gurukul for four years. Back home, despite opposition, she stuck to the form which has markedly Hindu colours. And her great zest for life has survived the challenge of being visually challenged.
What pulled you towards dhrupad?
I was learning basic music at the Sanjan Nagar Institute when my teacher Raza Kadim suggested that I learn dhrupad. I didn’t even know how dhrupad sounded till then. All I knew about it came from the stories I had heard of Tansen and Baiju Bawra!
Any opposition to your joining the gurukul?
At that time, the scene was so bad that a lot of people tried to scare me off the trip saying I would be treated badly in India. But I was determined. And both the countries surprised me by giving me a rare four-year visa.
What was your learning stint like?
Mere sar pe bhoot savar tha ki yeh seekhna hi hai (I was obsessed with learning dhrupad). I owe my learning and my wonderful stint in India to my gurus. They made me feel at home, celebrated my birthdays and helped me keep my rozas for Eid. This was a Jain household but they looked after me like their daughter.
Is there appreciation for dhrupad in Pakistan now?
Any rare form will take time to grow on audiences. It took time to grow on me too. But it will cast its magic on music lovers here. More people are appreciating my art now. I teach at the National Arts College in Lahore but I don’t teach dhrupad per se. I do voice training that is based entirely on my skills in dhrupad singing.
Did you have any trouble with religious bandishes?
Well, I am in the process of researching setting Bulle Shah’s poetry to the dhrupad format. For some kind of audiences, a Ganesh stuti may not work here. But I personally believe that music cannot be Hindu or Islamic. Its appeal is universal and for me, it is ibadat (worship), it is what I make of it.