December 2016 was one of the saddest times for artistic and creative expression in Pakistan.
As our already battered country struggled with an increasing culture of self-censorship and intolerant hard-line views, Taher Shah announced that he was leaving Pakistan due to threats to his life.
How could an artist as innocent as Taher Shah invoke feelings of such antagonism within the Pakistani people? I had no answers. I was devastated. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was tearing up, from eye to eye.
His announcement came a few months after his second music video was released. Shah's second song was a clear departure from the saxophone drenched seductive stylings of his romantic hit 'Eye to Eye', as he transported us to the lush valleys of angelic altruism on the soothing notes of his flute in his new song 'Angel'.
The song was clearly about Taher's ideology of life. A plea for mankind to recognise our inner angels and love our fellow humans.
At first, I dismissed the themes of 'Angel' as the ramblings of an out of touch idealistic man. "Altruism in Pakistan is as alien a concept as not hogging the right lane on the motorway," I quipped in my naivety when I watched the video for the first time.
Then the backlash came. After all the social media hate and Aamir Bhai's uncalled ridicule yet again, Shah's announcement of leaving Pakistan snapped me out of my delusions.
'Angel' was never a song about altruism instead a statement about our crumbling values and the inability to appreciate culture.
Upon reviewing the lyrics and the music video, it dawned on me that 'Angel' is riddled with absurdist commentary on our society and modern life. I had an epiphany. Taher Shah was less about Comte and more about Camus.
Instead of relishing in the virtues of textbook altruism, Taher revels in the absurdity of modern social behaviors. But my theory was clearly destined to remain just a theory with Taher Shah's self-induced exile. I could do nothing but facepalm in dejection of the despicable behavior of my compatriots.
But then the world changed with Covid-19 and people couldn't even safely facepalm anymore. Our grandiose opinions of ourselves, all our progress and our refined cultures came tumbling down with the entire world's stock markets. We were all locked down and bummed out when Taher Shah released his new song. And he just couldn't have timed it any better.
It wouldn't be exaggeration to say that upon its release, I was smiling from "eye to eye".
The new song 'Farishta' is an Urdu rendition of 'Angel' with a brand-new animated music video. As I watched, then rewatched the new music video and listened to the lyrics, I became more confident about the assumptions of my initial theory.
Now I can confidently state my findings as established facts and in doing so, I will also shut down all haters coming up with stupid reasons to dismiss Shah as a talentless hack once and for all.
So first up, people complaining about the new song barely being an Urdu translation of 'Angel', should know that all Taher Shah music is always released in both Urdu and English. If you are not familiar with 'Aankhon Hi Aankhon Mein', then you have not swum the true depths of 'Eye to Eye'.
Taher is clearly a strong believer in the universality of his work and insists on making it approachable for foreign audiences as well as audiences at home.
For those complaining about the four year gap between the two songs, may I remind them that it took Taher 20 years to write 'Eye to Eye/Aankhon Hi Aankhon Mein'? To those who didn't know that, I find it hard for you to appreciate how quickly he wrote and finished 'Angel' and 'Farishta'. For those who knew that and chose to ignore it, you disgust me.
With that said, it could also be argued that 'Angel/Farishta' is Shah's longest-running musical art piece that took four years to complete and release as opposed to 'Eye to Eye/Aankhon Hi Aankhon Mein' that were completed and released together.
Secondly, this is addressed to the people complaining about Taher Shah not appearing in the video himself, I present my "Taher Shah, the absurdist" theory to you.
What could be more absurd than a man in a purple robe singing about being an angel in heaven? An animated child soaking in the splendor of a psychedelic dream sequence.
But even more than that, the slow depreciation in the quality of the visual style, from the sophisticated cinematic set-pieces of Angel, to the plastic animated adumbrations of 'Farishta', signifies how the mask of human refinement was so easily undone by a mere germ.
What could be more absurd than the pandemic the world is going through? Releasing a more absurd version of an already absurd song in these absurd times. A true work of art.
Lyrically, 'Farishta/Angel' talks about finding meaning in the meaningless nature of human progress, in a world that desperately lacks love and compassion, an otherwise infected world. Albert Camus in his existentialist novel The Plague made similar arguments about recognising the absurdity of life and revolting against it through compassion.
The lyrics of 'Farishta' also argue that "love thy fellow man" should reign as the supreme idiom during all times no matter how absurd a time we are living through.
Shah in 'Farishta/Angel' becomes the voice of Camus’s protagonist Dr. Bernard Rieux, as he argues for the virtues of compassion in the face of absurdity;
Within a human
Is an angel
Love is the
You are my lovely sweet angel
My love stays alone
Like a mermaid
When I found you
I was so glad
As I came
But on the other hand, our national response to Taher Shah’s art, our criticism of his work, the way we threatened and ridiculed him for putting himself out and not meeting our “requirements” remind me of these lines The Plague;
“I know man is capable of great deeds. But if he is not capable of great emotion, well, he leaves me cold.”
During these testing times, let's take Taher's song and Camus's novel as the light that will guide us through the darkness. Let's find the 'Angel' in our heart that is "love”, accept the absurdity of this pandemic together as mankind’s angels, and fight this plague with Taher Shah blaring in the background.
We can nag and complain about what our hopes, dreams and expectations are, but until the day we are all farishtas, we won't get what we need from Taher Shah, we will just get what we deserve.
This article is categorised as humour/satire. Its content is not meant to be read literally, and the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the writer or the views of the IMAGES editorial staff.