Amjad Sabri: An unfinished symphony


KARACHI: There’s little that brings on grief like unfinished business. For the slain qawwal of renown, Amjad Sabri, multitudes know their reason for sorrow; very few mourn.

Is it the legacy? Or the brutal truth that this too was possible?

In all honesty, Amjad Sabri was not a patch on his father, Ghulam Farid Sabri, and on some other exponents of Sufi rendition. In fact, the latter’s is a shadow most qawwals and descendants will find hard to combat. However, Amjad was a man of heart and humility, which made his funeral easily the largest ever in the metropolis.

Sabri Street in Karachi’s Liaquatabad locality is mourning its pride and messiah — Sabri’s night cricket, his humour, his casual presence around paan shops, his life and the finality of this shock. In his home, a place of chalky simplicity, tears compete with the mileage of tragedy.

“We are very grateful to all those who have come to us but we still have not processed the magnitude of Amjad’s news. What lies ahead for his children, what is this vacuum?” says his sister-in-law.

She is clutching the late qawwal’s frail mother. A bony lady in white, Sabri’s mother is dry-eyed.

“Every Ramazan sharif, our home and locality would be abuzz with Amjad’s fervour. He wanted an open house at sehri and iftar, and the place was always crammed with well-wishers,” she spoke with eerie composure.

Sitting under a giant painting of the family’s icon, Ghulam Farid Sabri, she does not want to halt her memories.

“It is so strange that this Ramazan has been a quiet one. I was so restless but never shared my feelings with Amjad. He was also quieter and so busy. My son was not the same.”

“I had no idea of this fame and love,” she continues as she begins to amble towards her room, with her daughter propping her up. In a bare pink room, there is a wrought-iron bed and two chairs.

“I just stare at the telephone,” she says. “Amjad had this installed because I cannot understand mobiles. This would ring so often; sometimes he would tell me his whereabouts, or which channel to turn to, his timings.”

About the outcome of the inquiry, she does not have lofty expectations. “I ask to be shown the face of who was capable of this. My life has changed now; it is devoted to Amjad’s 32-year-old widow Nadia and his five children,” she tapers off. And just then a woman, who was holding her face all along, sits next to the now dazed old lady.

“Aunty let us have a selfie with you on this occasion,” she smiles.

The drawing room is bordering on the macabre. On one end, a cameraman repeatedly dictates a particular statement to Amjad’s eldest son, Mujaddid, 12. “I have said this three times. When will you stop?” he protests.

And on the other side, Sabri’s pir sahib from the Sabri spiritual lineage of Kalyar Sharif, his elder brother Azmat, his friend Bilal and qawwal-cousin Afzal Sabri, mourn the man with anecdotes.

“He was my ghuroor (pride). I conducted his dastaarbandi on his father’s annual urs. Amjad served the spiritual order with devotion, making two disciples in America,” says Pir Syed Ayub Shah Chishti Sabri.

Sabri’s bereft friend, Bilal, has a searing scene that dulls his world. “When I arrived at the morgue, his bathing rites were under way and his 10-year-old son, Aun, lay down beside him. He wanted to go with Amjad.”

Afzal is the only one with an account of Amjad’s young widow. “I got there and she was in pieces; shaking him, wailing and asking him to live to see his daughter’s marriage. He had requested to see his elder daughter as a bride twice and she decked her up to fulfil his wish. I want to see her marriage, he would say,” says Afzal.

And outside, a known business tycoon hugged the daughters as a minion clicked away; he was ordered to post the photos on social media.

The grief was predictable. But, this was a first peek into a predatory society.

One knew who to mourn — the man of the people who, in death, had exhumed the ashes of a once-sensitive populace.