Editor’s note: Aiman Udas was a singer and songwriter in Peshawar, Pakistan. Udas had frequently performed on PTV television and AVT khyber a private pashto channel in pakistan. She won considerable acclaim for her songs but had become a musician in the face of bitter opposition from her family, who believed it was sinful for a woman to perform on television. In 2009 she was shot dead in her apartment in Peshawar, allegedly by her brothers. Her final song was titled, “I died but still live among the living, because I live on in the dreams of my lover
IN THE first quarter of the last century, Virginia Woolf, famous for taking on subjects as complex as the streams of consciousness and a vociferous feminist, wrote that in a hundred years woman will have ceased to be a protected sex, and logically she will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied her.
Though her countrymen were then stationed in the Northwestern Frontier Province of India, Virginia could not be expected to have heard too many accounts of Peshawar, none favourable at least, and thus traveled to this simmering hotbed of tribalism in any state of mind including, of course, delirium.
But while the great writer thus conjectured, less than a century later a woman candidate, with masters in English literature, appearing in an interview for a position in the civil service was asked about her favourite writer. “Virginia Woolf,” the gorgeous lady answered with a well pronounced chuckle. “What! But wasn’t she mad?” the interviewer hit back at the young lady with a grin and then getting back to the question asked her about her favourite novel. “Mrs Dalloway,” the candidate replied with an exaggerated level of confidence.
The young aspirant to the civil service came from the same conservative climes of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the same age that produced Aiman Udhas, a singer endowed with unique talent whose career was cut short in infancy when she was killed, allegedly by her own siblings.
Feminism is a dangerous territory; one is compelled at treading it cautiously. Any arguments advanced in support of granting women any amount of freedom to pursue a career of their liking could prove to be self defeating. The issue could boomerang quite unwittingly, forcing one to eat humble pie with counter arguments like, “okay, will you then allow your sisters and daughters to sing and dance in public?”
But listening to Aiman Udhas’s melancholic voice touching plaintive themes, three years after her passing away, one cannot help stop comparing her to the present day wildly popular western classical and soul singers like Adele and Agnes Obel. Aiman Udhas (sad), as the singer would prefer to be so called, could indeed have been our answer to Adele and Agnes. Unfortunately, however, Aiman’s legacy is a single album consisting of only half a dozen songs rendered most beautifully and which are unbelievably evocative.
Both Adele and Agnes have won a record number of awards in short spans of their respective careers. In 2009, Adele won five Grammy Awards including one for best new artist, and in 2012 she improved on that score by winning six Grammy Awards including one for album of the year. What did Aiman win in 2009: it brought ‘death’ knocking at her tranquil little door and claiming her scalp thus bringing to an end her brief but immensely promising career in the field of Pashto music.
Death is the most popular game in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for quite some time now. One of the worst tragedies to have fallen the people of this land is the manner in which the art of ‘death’ has been perfected. Everyone’s life appears to be hanging by a thread but the lives of wretched poor female singers look to be simply awaiting the assassin’s bullets. It is heart wrenching to hear Aiman foretelling her comeuppance:
Aiman Udhas wai da dastur dey dalta
Zama na kam shawey qasur dey dalta
But it must also be said to the abiding shame of those dealing in the game of death that contrary to their puritanical pretensions they do not have cure even for a minor ailment afflicting the human body and would quite often be found out begging at the doors of secretive hospitals when harm comes to their bodies.
Aiman was a world apart from the rest of the Pashto singers, who are popular for various reasons dictated by the market. Her numerous admirers recall Aiman as a lady gifted with intelligence, personified in quietude and restrained in manners who would not give in to the galleries by pandering to the base desires of the marketers.
Pashto music is quiet popular these day. Young and good-looking singers from some good families with creative ideas have managed a sizable following across the ethnic and linguistic borders. But still a vast majority of the Pashtun populace turns to the murky and highly offensive parallel Pashto cinema and music. One would really need a tutorial in euphemisms to describe the Pashto entertainment world to the people with delicate sensibilities. Men, of middle age, and women much younger to be their daughters, in highly disagreeable and unpleasant getups gyrating improperly to a wild kind of music has unfortunately captured the imagination of a major segment of the Pashtun audience.
In the midst of such putrefying environment, Aiman’s deep captivating voice was like a whiff of fresh air. She sang of her miserable circumstances to such an effect that she did not at all sound like another love besotted girl shunned by the society but the true symbol of women deprivation and afflictions. The lingering theme of one of her songs is her maiden love of which she says:
Pa zindagai ke me yo zal kare wa meena khalqa
Khabar za na wum che lamba da bya ba na kom meena
(I had loved only once in my life, O folks! I will not do so again since I did not know that this flame will burn me.)
Aiman Udhas, one notes, had so much in common with her western counterparts. All three wrote their lyrics in addition to composing them. And Aiman was also modern without recourse to the western musical instruments like piano, guitar, bass and percussion.
Two top of the charts songs, one each by Adele and another by Agnes Obel have palpable shades of the common ground that the three singers played on. Adele’s classic song:
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like home again
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am whole again
However faraway, I will always love you
However long I stay, I will always love you,
And Agnes Obel’s soul song would forever remind one of the heights that Aiman could have scaled:
Down by the river by the boats
Where everything goes to be alone
Where you won’t see any rising sun
Down by the river we will run
Oh my God! See how everything is torn in the river deep
And I don’t know why I go the way
Down by the river side
Aiman couldn’t have survived in a land where reason does not exist, and where guns hold the sway. Her brilliance was silenced with a single shot, or perhaps two, but as Virginia would say, ‘lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.’ Rest in peace Aiman, this land is sadder without you.’