Sufi singer Mir Mukhtiyar Ali from Bikaner in Rajasthan is one of the few who can claim to have carried on a family tradition that is about 800 years old. Hailing from the Mirasi community whose traditional occupation was singing Sufiana Qalam, Mukhtiyar learnt to sing from his father Vasye Khan who in turn, learned from his father and so it goes on.
Sitting far away at Pugal village where he lives, Mukhtiyar spoke over phone about his love for Sufism, his upcoming concert Sufiana and the state he says has given him his identity. “Whatever I am it is because of Karnataka,” he gushes in Hindi, referring to his first performance in Mysore and numerous performances in Bengaluru. “After I was featured in Had- Unhad, a film that was part of the Kabir Project by Shabnam Virmani, my popularity shot upwards which is probably why I have been invited to perform her so many times.”
The city, according to him, understands and appreciates music, especially the ‘bol’ of Kabir, and shows respect to artists. “The audience resonates with the underlying message of brotherhood and love in Kabir’s poems which is why I have been invited to perform in Bengaluru several times.”
As he explains, in Sufism there is no name of Allah, Ram or Krishna, but a “bond of love”. “Artistes must spread this message of brotherhood as it has become our responsibility. And Sufiana breaks away from the Hadiths and holy books like the Quran.”
Invited by the Ekatvam Trust that provides a platform for musicians across genres, Mukhtiyar prepares to sing a medley of songs of Kabir, Meera and Bulleh Shah, as is the norm of his family. He calls it a ‘mile jhule performance’ where the stress is on the words of ‘sants’ who had message of love and brotherhood. “No race or religion come in between,” Mukhtiar explains. And the message of these saints’ rings “true” which is why it remains endearing and enduring. “There is nothing without love,” he declares as life is incomplete and aimless without love.
His father, Mukhtiyar says, was an accomplished Sufiana singer and well known in the village for being a unifying factor between the Hindus and Muslims living there. “He was famous for this and I am lucky to have been able to hear him sing ever since I was born.”
As was the family tradition, Mukhtiyar tagged with his father whenever he performed which was actually the only way to learn. He had to understand the verses they sang through the discussions that the singers would have. “Otherwise you cannot sing convincingly.” That is what his father told him and it is what he tells his son, Waqar Ali Khan. “We don’t give any technical training. Our students have to accompany us and learn by listening and observing. Raag and taal (melody and beat) are not stressed. The ‘sahitya’ (text) is important but its presentation is flexible.”
He gives the example of a Kabir’s bhajan: Moko kahan doondhe bandhe, mein tere paas hoon… “It is important to first understand why Kabir wrote the bhajan and what did he mean. Only when the singer understands Kabir’s message will he able to sing and impress upon the audience.”
Mukhtiar has been spreading the message of Sufi saints across India and abroad. He interjects, “I have travelled abroad at least forty times for my performances. I have sung all over India. But in the end, I always come back to my village. This is where my family have lived for years and years and this is where I belong.”
The phone line crackles with electricity as he recites a Hindi sufi poetry by Kabir bhakt and poet Achal Ram. ‘Dekha apne aap ko, mera dil deewana ho gaya; Na chhero yaron mujhe, mein khud mastana ho gaya.’ The love for a universal God is the wisdom that has percolated over generations of the Mirasi community. As the 26th generation Sufiana singer, Mukhtiyar is taking the message across a divided and troubled world.