Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (in red vest) receives his award on Tuesday. —Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (in red vest) receives his award on Tuesday. —Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

Renowned singer Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was given the lifetime achievement award and honorary membership of the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi at a small but impressive ceremony in the council’s Jaun Elia lawn on Tuesday evening.

Speaking on the occasion, the council’s president Ahmed Shah went down memory lane to tell the audience how humble a person the artist is. He spoke about the time when the vocalist did a concert at the venue for the first time and there were too many people who wanted to gatecrash it. So much so that the deputy commissioner at the time remarked that even if the prime minister wanted to come to the gig he wouldn’t be able to enter it. He said there was also a time in Khan’s life when he didn’t have enough money to buy ration (food) for himself.

Mr Shah said Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is the first artist from the world of music to get the award. Before him Zia Mohyeddin, Anwar Maqsood, Iftikhar Arif and Amar Jaleel had received it. After that he read a citation: the singer is the nephew of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and grandson of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. He was three years old when he took his first lesson in music and only seven when he started to get training in classical music. He has come out with 50 albums, sung many a song, including as a playback artist, and has performed all over the world. He is also the recipient of the Sitara-i-Imtiaz (2015).

After the citation, the award and honorary membership was given to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

Provincial Culture Minister Syed Sardar Shah in his speech said the tradition of music in the subcontinent is 6,000 years old. Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did a unique thing: he combined folk and classical traditions in his music. And Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is continuing in that vein. The minister also expressed his wish to have Abida Parveen and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan sing together in Karachi.

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan kept his speech brief. He started off by saying how big a fan he is of writer Anwar Maqsood (who was on stage) which was why he was finding it difficult to express his thoughts in words in front of him. He thanked the council for giving him the award and membership. He, complying with the request from the public, sang the song ‘Mera paigham Pakistan’.

After the speeches Anwar Maqsood engaged in a conversation with the vocalist. Rahat intelligently dodged the question about the fact that his showbiz life is devoid of scandals. He also told the audience, by narrating a story from a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan show, how knowledgeable about classical music Mr Maqsood is. In the end, on his interviewer’s insistence, he sang the opening bit of Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s ‘Rang’. It visibly moved everybody present in the arena.

Originally published in Dawn, March 17th, 2021

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