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Second visit to Sindhology Audio Archives

This time, I got to check out the DVDs and CDs that had been gifted to the archive. Many were from the Indian Sindhi community. It was interesting to see a glimpse of Sindhi culture from India and around the world, but there was not much in the way of music that could be relevant to my film.

All the real folk music I have seen is still very much here in Sindh. Things I have seen and listened to from Sindhis outside of Sindh tend to be pop and never up to the quality of what I see here, except for some folk musicians in Rajasthan and Gujrat who also sing Sindhi music.

I just don’t see the appeal of a lot of the watered down pop singers when you can support the real deal.

Since the library collection consists mostly of audio cassettes and records, I need to buy a tape player as the institution does not have a working tape or record player apparently.

Oh, the hoops…


Biding time

Sometimes you find beauty in the simplest places. Here in the hostel I am staying at, someone placed these pink, translucent flowers in a spot in the grill with beautiful results.

Just biding my time, doing some drawing and planning for next steps on “Risalo”. Reaching out to people for help with the Sindhi script.

I went and spent some time with the super talented Najib Rashdi. It was fun talking art and eating some delicious watermelon. Perfect for a hot day.


Bystander at the Ludo Championship

I listened to the rest of my music collection and noted down the best voices I found. There is no lack of musical talent in Sindh. The various traditions are rich and beautiful.

I spent the day contacting friends to see if they knew of other people that might be able to help Javaid Solangi and I work out the Sindhi verses for the script for “Risalo”. There are some possibilities, but I really need to keep things moving.

I spent the afternoon at Shahid sahib’s home and caught the guys playing a game of Ludo. I hung out and mostly talked to Javaid. It was a welcome respite from being holed up in the dorm room with my own thoughts.

Just before sunset, I walked back to the dorm to write down a few musicians’ names. Tonight is quite a bit hotter than the night before. I think I will listen to some music to take me away from here for a bit and slather on some wonderfully poisonous Mospel.

Last workshop at CEAD

I taught the last session of my classes at CEAD. The students wanted me to stay another week, but this is it for now.

Afterwards, I hung out at the dorm and started listening to my Sindhi music collection to find voices that I feel could fit well with the sections of “Risalo”. Some voices seemed to clean, others to muddled. While each of the voices is beautiful, I want to find voices that have the rich texture that only folk music has, while maintaining the emotional impact of the poetry and also making sure it works on an audio basis even for people who can’t understand the words for longer sections of poetry.

It felt good to listen to such rich voices. I wrote down names and possible Surs (chapters) that could go well with them.

hanging in there

Another day, another class taught. I came back and did some work, waiting, hoping to hear news of this other Latif poetry expert who might be able to help transcribe the original Sindhi verses based on the Urdu translations I selected.

Shahid sahib picked me up and we head to a spot to shoot the sunset. I need some sunrise and sunset footage of landscapes here, but without the insane amounts of trash and plastic bags littering every inch of land. For that, we had to drive a bit away. We both took cameras. It was fun to get out to one of the not quite developed spots. Soon it too will be covered in plastic bags.

For now, I found some spots where I could capture the stones and sand hills. It was fun to just get out and do something as opposed to struggle and fail. Though I have allotted time for this work, the time is not meant to be spent just waiting and not doing work. The more I wait, the less time remains to do the actual work. I am trying my best to use the time as best as I can.

Afterwards we grabbed some faluda ice cream, which makes me happy. We had some dinner at his place afterwards along with Javaid Solangi. It was good to just hang out and feel like a human being instead of feeling like I am in limbo.


typing woes

Shahid sahib picked me up early for class, and I ended up figuring out the Sindhi keyboard issue before my class began. Things were looking up. I got Solangi sahib’s phone number.

There was a weekly meeting and discussion on Shah Latif’s poetry at Shahid sahib’s place, in the evening so I head there. I understood the first part of the discussion in Sindhi, but once we started on the passage of the day, I was completely lost, so I just read my Urdu translation to myself and bided my time.

At the end we all said goodbye, then Solangi sahib and I went inside to start typing. I thought this would be great. We could more or less paste passages, relieving Solangi sahib of a lot of the tedious work. Once we got started though, we hit many more road blocks. For one, each addition of the poetry includes and excludes different Surs (chapters), so we found a pdf version with the chapter we needed.

Then we noticed that there were different numbers of verses and a different order. This is apparently common. So how do you find the corresponding verses? The original Sindhi language is old and challenging for people today. The Urdu verses are a poetic translation of the meaning. We spent hours trying to find the first verse. I really appreciate the enormous help, but I also felt very disheartened at how difficult each step is. We could not find it, but Solangi sahib called an expert friend who knows the verses and is familiar with this translation. That he offered to give us two hours of his time the next day, was hugely generous. That Solangi sahib is still undeterred and willing to trudge on with this is also incredibly kind. Everyone is busy with their lives and responsibilities. Who am I to come here with my weird projects, and yet people help me.

I had already spent two months on finding puppeteers. The only reason it took so long, is because my first puppeteer contact did not want to connect me to any other puppeteers in Multan, so I instead of going there right away, I needed to find another contact. None of the arts organizations that I was able to speak to had any numbers and the one that did, does not give them out. What a mess.

I can’t tell you how many leads I have followed. I filled a notebook with contacts and leads trying in every way I could to find puppeteers. Then when I found them, there was the challenge of sifting through people who were real puppeteers, and those just looking to make a bit of money as I was paying people to show their work. There was the whole dance of trying to not get cheated and get the info you need. It was physically and mentally draining, and none of this had to do with the enormous task of adapting the source material, which I had undertaken before even coming here.

So, every step of the way, I struggle to make plans and backup plans, and find the right people, with help from so many friends, and yet despite that, I hit so many brick walls along the way. The creative aspect was understandably challenging, but so many of these other steps really should not have taken this long or been this challenging, but that is how my work in Pakistan has been. I am tired of reading the news back in the US, here in Pakistan and around the world about all the horrible tragedies and crimes that make my “suffering” pale in comparison.

The puppeteers and Jogis often tell me that their prayers are with me. For that and all the people trying to help, I am endlessly grateful. I couldn’t sleep most of the night, as I weighed options, tried to figure out ways to keep moving forward and reminded myself that this can be done and is worth doing.

beautiful painting of Sindhi culture in a University administration buidling.

woo typing

beautiful painting of Sindhi culture in a University administration buidling.

beautiful painting of Sindhi culture in a University administration buidling.

Second day of class, was not so impressive. The students are not particularly good at drawing and don’t seem to be interested in working to improve on it. They seem interested enough in the work I present, but art isn’t something you listen to and absorb, you listen and apply it.

My job is to teach, so regardless of their effort or output, I give it my best. You never know where someone might catch hold of an idea and leverage it in the future, so I would rather not count anyone out.

Unfortunately, whenever I teach, I end up getting roped into longer sessions that make it impossible to do other tasks during that time. I wanted to teach from 9am to 11am so I could go to the Sindhology research library every day for research, before it closed at 3pm daily to find musicians and musical styles for my film. What ended up happening is that I teach from 10:30am to 2pm and get back around 3pm due to lunch in between and how slow the students are to knock out a few sketches. This is how the weeks go by.

That evening, I was trying to get ahold of Shahid as we were supposed to meet at his place down the street in the evening to work with his friend on Sindhi typing. I tried for hours with no response. I walked to his home and he was not there.

Finally, I gave up disheartened, and sat down for dinner. Just as I was finishing dinner, his friend Javed Solangi came looking for me. I felt very grateful. We went over to Shahid sahib’s place and started working.

There were many technical issues. I was searching for a Sindhi language keyboard install for Mac. We managed to find some PDF files of the Sindhi text. We were hoping to copy and past as much of the verses we needed as possible as typing with all the pronunciation etc is laborious and very time consuming, but there were issues in pasting and I could not find the keyboard.

Solangi sahib was typing away on a PC and cross referencing the Sindhi book I bought for the short intro of the film. He kept at it, as I tried to get things going on my mac as pasting seemed to work better on it, but I needed additional Sindhi characters that are not in Urdu.

Hours went by, and it was time to go home and sleep. He finished the first Sur or chapter, then dropped me home. We did find a Mac install, but it would need some additional troubleshooting which I would try in the morning.

CEAD truck art inspired benches

First day of class at CEAD

I started my first day of workshops at CEAD. Shahid sahib picked me up and we were off. The class was filled with 3rd and 4th year students. There is a lot of beautiful art in the courtyard, created by students, including these truck art themed benches. I gave the usual intro to my work, and process behind my short film, along with suggestions on how to use local culture to support it, and present it in new ways in your work to set yourself apart. As usual, students are pretty unresponsive in the beginning, which makes it a bit of an uphill battle to get through the class.

You just have to trust that you are giving them something useful. I assigned some character designs for homework, then met the VC and with Shahid visited a friend of his who was interested in what I was doing and willing to help me transcribe the original Sindhi verses that correspond to what I had put together based on the Urdu translation of Shah Jo Risalo for my film “Risalo”.
I went home and rested.

typing surs

Typing up the Risalo script

It was Sunday, and I had just started typing the Urdu verses for the script the night before. I spent the whole day typing verses and notating cross references. Thankfully the page numbers I had written from the previous edition were almost the same, just 8 pages off, so it was not difficult to find the verses.

I typed the whole thing up with a few naps in between. The electricity would go frequently, and through the sweat, I kept typing until it was done. Afterwards, I had some dinner and went to sleep.

typing surs

typing surs

pakistani bus interior

Meeting in Hyderabad and Funkadelic Bus

I had made plans to visit my friend Ustad Amb Jogi at Radio Pakistan in Hyderabad to discuss the music for “Risalo”. It takes a while to get to Hyderabad from Jamshoro via bus, so I thought I would try a rickshaw. Not a good idea.

The rickshaw took at least as long, and went much slower. We stopped for gas for 20 minutes, then to make repairs, got stopped at a check point and the driver had no papers. It was quite a ride. Eventually, I got there and it was great to see Ustad Amb Jogi. After the roughness of the past week, he was a much needed friend.

We grabbed some delicious lunch at a dhaba near by. The fish, karalai, and more fish were really good. I am even more strict on the bottled water thing now, after that last experience in Umerkot. I just don’t have the time or energy to deal with that.

After lunch, we head back to the radio station, where we sat down and discussed the vision for the music. Ustad sahib gave me a bunch of names that came to his mind. Basically, we need to find people that can do the task of reading and performing poetry in a form and order that I have put together and fit into my budget. There is a lot to do, but having Ustad Amb Jogi on board is a huge relief.

Afterwards we set aside the work talk and just caught up. It made me really glad to hear how with his generation in the family, they had gone from centuries of being wanderers like gypsies and had now settled down and focused on educating their kids. Many artists, including these Jogis and the puppeteers I met in Multan have had to face these drastic changes in their sources of income due to changes in how society consumes entertainment. Ustad sahib lacks literacy, but from a young age he focused his energy on becoming the best musician possible.

Afterwards, I walked down the street to Hyder Chowk, to look for a few books I needed for “Risalo”. My copy of the Urdu translation was left somewhere, during all this crazy travel. Thankfully, I kept good cross referenced notes, so I can find all the stanzas of poetry I referenced, but I need that book. I checked one store, and they claimed that no one had that book. That seemed odd. I walked over to the book selling street carts in front of the building and the book seller assured me that he could get me several options.

He offered me tea, then walked off to get the books for me from nearby shops. I waited, and watched the mad traffic around me. He came back with a few books. The same translation had been published by a different publisher as well, but I really wanted the same one so that I could reference the page numbers I had noted to find the bits of poetry I had chosen for the film.

I also wanted a proper Sindhi version, as Ustad sahib and I had discussed the need for a script for both all the Urdu text and the Sindhi original verses so that singers could start learning them and working on it. That was my next task. After a couple of rounds of searching, I remembered that the publishers of that book were in the building upstairs across from me. I did not want to cut the book seller out of his commission either, but I needed to see the books myself to make a selection, so I let him know and walked up to the book shop telling him that I would just pay him whatever commission he would charge for the books. He was very nice and we had met briefly once before.

Shah Latif’s poetry, upon which my film “Risalo” is based is huge. There are so many books on his work. Some contain partial verses, some contain a ton of commentary and explanation. I found the Urdu translation I was looking for easily enough. Next I needed to find a copy of the original Sindhi version that best matched the translation I was working from in terms of containing all the verses I needed.

Since I don’t really read Sindhi, it was challenging. I found huge tombs filled with commentary and smaller sections of verses. I kept looking until I found an edition that was almost entirely verses and decided to pick up those two books. I got a sweet 40% discount from the publisher, then walked out with these huge books to the book seller on the street.

He was very nice about it all. He did not want to take any commission for books he had not sold me, on principle. We sat down and drank some tea together. We got to talking about a few other books, and I ended up picking up a couple from him that sounded interesting, including a book of his own poetry, which I will need someone to read to me.

I picked up a cheap, used digital camera from shopkeeper who seemed intent on not selling anything. I think because I was wearing traditional clothes, he assumed I was just looking and not going to buy. Weird, but hey, I pass as a local. What an honor to be treated like crap like a regular old local. At least the price wasn’t raised. I did not have the heart, or frankly the funds to buy a camera like the one I had, so I got this one.

I hopped on a crazy neon bus to head back to Jamshoro. The bus would stop every few moments and start shaking. The lights would go out. One time, a woman panicked and tried to get off the shaking bus. The conductor spent about 10 minutes calming her down, reassuring her that we would get back.

The inside of the bus was more decorated than most. We chugged along and somehow made it to Jamshoro by nightfall. I hopped on a rickshaw from there to get the rest of the way home. The rickshaw driver was a wirey guy, with jamming tunes. It was actually a lot of fun after all that other mess. Once we got there, I thanked him for the musical ride and head inside to rest.