When Altaf Ahmad Mir, then 22-years-old, left his home in Janglat Mandi in Anantnag and went to Pakistan in 1990, he wanted to become a militant. Almost three decades later, while Mir is yet to return home, he has sent back a song that is winning hearts in Kashmir and outside.
A rendition of legendary poet Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor’s famed classic, “Ha Gulo” is the first Kashmiri song to make it to Coke Studio Pakistan’s new venture — “Coke Studio Explorer”.
Produced in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), the folk melody, “Ha gulo tuhi ma sa vuchwun yaar muen (Oh flower, have you seen my friend), Bulbuloo tuhi tchandtoun dildaar muen (Oh bulbul, you search for my beloved)”, got over two lakh ‘views’ on Coke Studio’s YouTube channel in the first two days of its release on July 12.
“He was an expert chain stitch artisan,” said his brother, Javeed Ahmad. “He was inclined towards music from childhood,” he said.
Four years after first leaving for Pakistan, Mir returned to Kashmir in 1994, but didn’t join militancy. The militant landscape had changed and the counter-insurgent force, Ikhwan, wielded strong influence in the Valley, especially Anantnag.
The fear of Ikhwan forced Mir to cross the border again in 1995, this time to settle permanently in Muzaffarabad.
In Muzaffarabad, he started to work for an NGO which trained boys in the art of chain stitch, and then set up a band called Qasamir. He got his big break towards the end of last year, when a team of Coke Studio sought new talent in Pakistan. The “Coke Studio Explorer” is produced by two Pakistani musicians, Ali Hamza and Zohaib Kazi.
Mir and his band — Ghulam Mohammad Dar (sarangi player), Saif-ud-din Shah (plays the tumbakhnaer, a popular Kashmiri folk instrument like a drum) and Manzoor Ahmad Khan (plays the nout, another Kashmiri instrument), all originally from Kashmir — was chosen.
“Ha Gulo by Qasamir steers the listener towards the richness and power of Kashmiri folk music and poetry,” says Coke Studio in its introduction to the song on its YouTube channel. “Altaf Mir’s emotion-packed vocals are anchored by the gentle sarangi, the pulsating tumbaknaer and the iconic garha (nout). An effortless mix of traditional and electronic, get ready to groove to this song,” it says.
For Mir’s family, his sudden fame is as good as his return to the Valley. “We tried our best that he should return to Kashmir but that wasn’t possible,” says Javeed. “Now that we have seen him becoming so famous, we are very happy… it’s as if he has returned home.”