Rashid Latif: The Master's Voice - II

Rashid Latif: The Master's Voice - II
Last April, The Friday Times - Naya Daur published my original piece. It was received well when first released, but we did not expect it to pick up traction in the following weeks and several readers requested for another dose of “the Master’s voice.”

Getting hold of The Master wasn’t easy. But then, every dog has his day: today, I am pleased to present the results of my recent endeavours.

(Siraj Khan)


Siraj Khan: Humans are the only species indulging in the mass slaughter of its own kind. Have you ever felt that all we need is to find that missing link between a human being and being human?

Rashid Latif: Before attempting to reply, just let me clarify that I do not seek any guidance from any scripture or cleric etc. I observe nature and find answers from it for almost all the queries that pop up in my mind from time to time. So, my answer will be based on natural phenomena.

Nature maintains a delicate balance to keep its various species in sustainable numbers. The food chain maintains the balance between the predator and its prey. Humans, with their technological mind-set equipped themselves with weapons and thus parked themselves at the pinnacle of this food chain eliminating any predator that could have kept their population within sustainable limits. They have to kill each other to control over-population.

Humans have cobbled up some ridiculous definitions that are far from the truth. For example, humans define brutality as a trait of carnivorous animals and consider a brutal murderer to be as brutal as a predator, which is absolutely incorrect. The predator never kills for fun. It only kills to feed itself and once its stomach is full, it does not harm any of its designated prey. On the other hand, humans kill for fun and call hunting a sport. Let me just say that the term humanity is a misnomer. Humans are the most brutal animals on our planet. So, humanity should be the most disgusting trait, instead of putting that on a higher pedestal.


SK: Religion has no solutions to offer. In fact, to me it seems to be the problem. I say this as I often feel that religion often comes in the way of Reason and Rationality. Do you think it has an impact on morality?

RL: May I disclose my belief that I do not believe in any religion, before replying to your question. You are right. Religions do create numerous problems and hardly solve any. There is one absolute truth, which the societies will keep evolving. Laws created thousands of years back cannot be implemented now. Some societies that try to blend older laws with the new ones create mega-problems for themselves. The word Religion is an antonym of Rationality. The two cannot go together. Religions have created immense hatred among humans, that has often resulted in untold miseries and bloodbaths. The sooner it gets replaced by rationality the better. With the progress in education and emphasis on rationality, religion is becoming redundant. No wonder many churches have turned into performing art centers or museums.

Morality has no universal definition. Different societies have different moral standards. What is considered a good standard of morality by one society might be an anathema for the other. The morality of Taliban is poles apart from that of a reasonably educated Muslim. Both profess to belong to the same group, Muslims, and yet their definitions of morality could be totally different. The standards of morality can best be set by a rational approach rather than by religious dogmas.
Purely from the technical point of view, the recording techniques and musical instruments have improved exponentially. For the aesthetic quality of music, there is no standard or instrument to measure

SK: With the technology on a fast track, in a way competing with itself, I often wonder about the future of sound. Do you think that sound which has dissipated in the airwaves, can ever be retrieved by technology?

RL: Based on our limited knowledge, it is difficult to visualise any retrieval or restoration of sound waves. What we generally hear is the pulsating waves of air compression.  These waves are generated by the speaker or any other device. Such waves keep on losing magnitude as they travel. Silence is a condition where such waves are either not created or their magnitude is too low to be perceptible to human ears. At present, we cannot think it is possible to preserve such temporary disturbances in the air, or any other medium but who knows tomorrow we might discover something more about sound waves.

From R-L: Rashid Latif, Mushtaq Hashmi, maestro Sohail Rana and Dr. Amjad Parvez


SK: Let us switch to a different note, while still remaining in the realm of sound. Looking back at life, are there any songs you could still recall and find yourself humming? The emphasis is on the songs that you found yourself humming unconsciously over the years (and this could change) including bathroom singing

RL: This is a difficult question to answer. My favorite songs would be at least 300 if not 3,000. Depending upon the mood, the humming pattern keeps on changing. I think I remember almost all of Naushad's earlier compositions, including the interlude music, by heart. There is hardly any song composed by him which is not on my list of favorites. Madan Mohan, Khayyam, Ghulam Haider, Ghulam Mohammed, S.D. Burman, Shankar Jaikishan, Kalyanji Anandji, Ravi, Chitragupt, Sohail Rana, Master Inayat, Nisar Bazmi, Rasheed Attre, Khwaja Khurshid Anwar and Feroze Nizami are also my favorite composers. Lata and Talat's 100% songs are my favorites. Since I prefer melody and tragic songs, you will not find your idol’s (O P Nayyar) rhythmic songs on my list, but yes, his melancholic compositions are definitely among them.


SK: How would you compare today’s sound quality of music to say fifty years ago? Are instruments influencing the landscape more, or technology, or is it the sophistication of the musicians?

RL: Music is an important component of art and culture. Culture keeps on changing with the lifestyle almost all over the world. 50 years back the tempo of life was slower than the present era. Hence, the tempo of music was much slower. During my childhood, the theatre used to start at about ten and lasted till dawn. The dialogues were mostly lyrical. A couple of musical instruments were used to accompany the artistes. People, including me, had the time to sit through those slow-moving performances for the entire night. Talkies started in 1931 but caught on in the early 1940s. Considered a substitute for theaters, the early movies were usually full of songs. The addition of background music, introduced most probably by Naushad, added great charm to the talkies. Cinema became an addiction to our population and the theater bowed out.

Purely from the technical point of view, the recording techniques and musical instruments have improved exponentially. For the aesthetic quality of music, there is no standard or instrument to measure. I reiterate that music is part of culture, and it does keep on changing with time. The younger generation has hardly an ear for the old compositions, while for an old foggy like me, the current compositions are merely a lot of noise, but hardly any music.

The author in 2019


SK: Looking back at your own life through the rear-view mirror, can you identify and share with the readers and I: a bit about some people who you have been most impressed with in your life and who you still hold high on your pedestal, despite the time going by?

RL: I can and I will. Unfortunately, most of these wonderful people have already left for the stars, but thankfully a few of these are still among us. We may not have the time or space for that discourse now. Could we pick please up this thread in our next session?


SK: Absolutely, and in the meantime, we will let our thoughts marinate. I am reminded of an old wisdom, which an elderly priest passed on to me many years ago on board an Alitalia flight from Rome to London. Interestingly, it happened to be his very first overseas flight and so when we experienced a serious turbulence, the situation became rather dicey. He held my hand tightly as he prayed frantically in fear. In the midst of that frenzy, he came up with this nugget.

"My son, it is not about the journeys you make. It is all about who you make them with."

Now, with my feet having touched the soil of 70+ countries, I could not agree with him more.

Sometimes, the greatest adventure is simply enjoying an absorbing conversation with a master.

The author is a Karachi-born, Boston-based global finance and audit specialist. A connoisseur of South Asian film music, he has written scripts and directed concerts in the USA, South Asia and the UAE. He believes in using art and culture to build bridges.