Pakistani folk- classical singer Asad Abbas passed away late last month after a long battle with chronic kidney diseases. He was on dialysis for long and was having it 4 times a week which meant they had largely ceased to function.

He needed a kidney transplant which also meant a large sum of money, it was probably too late. Neither time nor money was there and it all ended with pleas and appeals by himself and his fellow travellers going in vain. His last days were drowned by the sounds of his dying and one of the finest voices in contemporary Sufi music in South Asia was stilled. Rest in peace , Asad Abbas.

So far and yet so near

Asad Abbas was from the new generation of Pakistani singer whom few Bangladeshis would know obviously. Luckily, in today's digital world, much has gone regional and global. He had been singing for a while but his one great performance on Coke studio Pakistan 6 gave him a fan base in India and a few elsewhere in South Asia including Bangladesh. Some people do like and a few love him. I am one of them.

Asad Abbas was a person with a soft voice and a softer media presence. It's also true that his genre is not mass popularity driven unless a superhero type walks in. He belongs to the North Indian Sufi gharana, the most eminent exponent of that being Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Unlike Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, he had no brilliant razzmatazz, no fireworks in his performance and no role as a pioneer as the maestro. In fact the space he walked on was considerably birthed by Nusrat, Abida Sultana and others.

Abbas was a simple but a heart touching singer with great voice and technical skills. He had a few popular songs and of the lot one song is very popular indeed. It represents the gharana very much. His mournful singing style and the melancholy verses suited his voice very well. Perhaps he was that singer who was blessed to have that voice that let him express the Sufi soul so well.

North Indian Sufi music

"Mahi Gal" as that song title says, is a North Indian Sufi song whose roots are not in the village dargahs /shrines but the North Indian courts of Indian Sultans. Essentially Indian Hindustani classical music is a product of the Mughal courts including its mystic songs. Most are the musical children of Amir Khasru and his kind who developed a ritualized form of paying homage to their Sufi mentors through music that became one of the bed rocks of North Indian Hindustani rag based music too.

This Sufi music is different from the many rural versions of Sufi or soul music which in Bengal became the "moromi" song of Lalon Fakir for example. These songs are rooted in the great rural traditions of spirituality and also more syncretistic and open to indigenous and Vedic traditions.

The North Indian Sufi tradition is on the other hand more about the twin concepts of "faana" and "'baaka". And the relationship between the acolyte and the Sufi master resembles the relationship between God and man as well. True love means true merger and that brings in the non-duality that makes all One.

One of the great exponents of such songs was the court poet of Emperor Akbar, Urfi of Siraj. An Iranian by birth, he brought in the classical Sufi traditions that had spawned the great masters such as Omar Khaiyam and Rumi. And the poetry he wrote became the musical inspiration of many including Amir Khasru. And that tradition has gone on till it reached Asad Abbas in these years of ours.

Asad died sick and tired, his body shorn of spirit and strength though he so desperately wanted to live. But like the song itself which he made famous and showcased his enormous talents, he was "returning home" and in the same tradition to God though not by choice.

We shall miss him. May he rest in peace.


Mahi Gal is an old Punjabi Persian song which Asad sang brought to life like few other songs. Its appeal Lyrics:

Title: Kade Aa Ve Maahi Gal - Come sometime, beloved -Language: Punjabi, Persian

"Shaam payi muk aasaan gaiyaan"

Evening has fallen and my yearnings have reached an end

The crows have flown from their perch above my wall.

My parents and all my friends

Taunt me with my love for you

Even birds come home at the end of the day

So why does your heart not urge you to return?

Come, my master, and make this dwelling flourish

Come and see this miserable beggar sometime

Come sometime, beloved, and gather me to your heart

Seeing you is the supreme pilgrimage for us poor beggars

Let love remain constant

And come visit your home sometime

Even birds come home at the end of the day

So why does your heart not urge you to return?

Urfi, don't worry about the uproar your rivals create

The barking of dogs does not diminish the humble beggar's daily bread

I'm not beautiful, nor have I any great virtues

Please hide the flaws of this miserable wretch

Seeing you is the supreme pilgrimage for us poor beggars

Come sometime, beloved, and gather me in your heart.

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