I had heard a lot about Niaz but never gotten the opportunity to meet him before. His story has been unequivocally an inspiration for me and others like me. One of his interviews to Humans of New York was reverberating in my mind when I was on my way to meet him at his studio in Johar Town, Lahore. In that interview, given in August 2018, he encapsulates his life journey as: “I was born paralyzed from the waist down. (But) Everyone (in the family) treated me as normal. I got everything my older brother got, including punishment. The only thing my family told me not to do was play music because they thought it would distract me from my studies. But eventually, I got so good, they couldn’t even tell me to stop that.”
Although he was born Paralyzed, he never let it be a scourge for him. Instead, he grew up acting normal, played with normal kids, went to regular school, he did everything the other kids at that time were doing. He believes physical disability to be inherently mental not physical. “If you think normal, believe normal, and dream normally; you are normal. Disability traps you only when you happily let its clutches trap you in its fierce and ruthless arms.”
Differently-abled people are what you force them to be. He believes people’ attitude toward differently-able people shapes their behavior. He advises not to treat them as special or inferior, just treat them equally. It will equip them with self-confidence and the necessary energy to move forward.
He believes if God Almighty strips any of your faculty, he reciprocates it with two other talents. “I am the Usain Bolt of playing Rubab”, he says jokingly while sipping the tea. His motto is in Helen Keller’s words, “If much has been denied me, much, very much, has been given me…”
“If I look back at my life, I thank God that despite hurdles and shortcomings I have come a long way. And I believe the sky is the limit.” His satisfaction and contentment were evident from his straight forward answers to my queries.
He is, currently, working on his next projects with Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan at Teental studio. Firstly, he is mixing Faiz’s ghazal “Hum Log Muhabat Walay Hain” with Faraz’s famous Ghazal “Hum Daikhain Gay; and the second is a song comprising different languages (Shina, Burushaski, Urdu, and Punjabi). In these songs, expected to be released on 22nd March, the slice of classical Rubab and flute will add to the beauty of the lyrics. He is also invited to a cultural show on eastern music genres held by the federal government in Islamabad on April 17th. His long-term goals pertaining to professional life are to establish himself as a versatile and veteran Musician and to play his part in the revival of classical music.
Niaz got his initial inspiration for music from his elder brother who had an inclination toward music, who later used to rebuke him for his excessive indulgence in music.
“My elder brother and a cousin used to scold me for losing interest in studies and excessively engulfing in the world of symphonies. They even confiscated my musical instruments so to stop me from, what according to them was, wastage of time. However, I, along with my younger brother, used to escape them somehow either by going toward the mountains or to the river banks so that there we would practice our art without any interruption,” he reminisces with comic relief in his face.
His mother was very supportive of his passion; she left no stone unturned in helping him realize his dreams. “My mother bought a flute for me during my school days, the first musical instrument I owned. I believe mother’s prayers and blessings are the reason for my success in this field in very little time.”
Music was, initially, merely a passion and a source of escape from the outside miseries for him. He never imagined in his wildest dreams that he would pursue a career in music. His entrance to the world of professional music was accidental. On persuasion of a friend, in 2005, he participated in a cultural event in Marriot Hotel Islamabad and demonstrated his raw skills. Afterward, Sarah Hashwani of Marriot hotels, inspired by his skills, offered him a job as Rubab and flute player at Marriot. He joined Marriot and that, according to him, was the impetus of his pursuing music as a career.
“Everything was set, life was going good but I wanted to do more. Something more productive, something riskier, something more adventurous, and something which would give me more kick.”
Bored of the static life at Marriot, he left the job in 2013 and moved to Lahore to teach classical music to kids at Lahore Grammer School Johar Town Boys (LGS JT Boys) where he now heads the music department. He also teaches at LACAS A level-official. He has founded a Music studio at Johar Town Lahore “Teental Studio” and a band namely “AUDAV” in 2018. These are, according to Niaz, the chief achievements of him in the field so far. At night, dozens of students, from kids to mature men, come to his studio to learn the classical music which is, unfortunately, losing its charm these days.
He was born to a middle-class family in Ultit, Hunza on March 17, 1986. His name, by birth, is Niaz-ud-din, but he is known as Niaz Hunzai, an attribution to his native valley. He is married in 2015 and has a daughter one-year-old. He is currently settled in Johar Town, Lahore with his family. He has three brothers and three sisters. His father is no more, while his mother lives with him.
Niaz’s two inspirations in music are Ustad Homayoun Sakhi, famous Afghan Rubab player and Ahsan Pappu of Meekal Hasan Band. He believes learning to be a continuous process which should never cease with age. He is currently in contact with Homayoun Sakhi who is his guru and teacher. Last year, he traveled all the way to Kabul to meet him and learn from him. He also listens Ustad Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan and Madam Noor Jahan, two of the maestros of art. He loves to read Molana Rumi.
At his studio, Teental, while conversing, Hunzai was leaning on the floor with a pillow on his back, the traditional way usually artists sit. His beard in French cut style and the long shining hair were giving tough competition to his brimming face.
I was astounded by the aesthetics of his studio. The walls were studded with artistic paintings and musical instruments. Hunzai was surrounded by musical instruments the way kids surround mothers: a piano and a flute in his front; a Rubab, an electric guitar, and a Balma saz on his right; a set of modern recording on his extreme left; and some other instruments such as Sehtar, Dulcimer, sitar were dispersed unevenly in the room. Although he can play all the instruments, he is specialized in Rubab, Piano, and Flute.
According to Niaz, music can be used to bring positive changes in society. Music can heal the wounded hearts, and enrich the troubled minds with peace. Niaz is also a social activist who wants to alleviate the woes of the people in need. He idolizes late Abdus Sattar Edhi. He is profoundly concerned about human rights violations, women rights, education, civil liberties, and political prisoners.
His personality is so charming, his ideas are so clear, and his attitude is so empathetic that one feels so close to him in a very little time. I interviewed him for more than an hour, time was slipping like a gentle air breeze leaving the symphonies behind. When I was saying goodbye to him, I was much richer, much contented and way more steadfast toward my goals than before meeting him.
Indeed, Hunzai’s life is a source of emulation and inspiration for the public of every sort. His story is an eye-opener for those of us who try to justify our inactivity by citing minor hurdles which can be tackled with a little effort. Differently-abled people can definitely emulate him, how he debilitated his shortcomings and how he mastered in life. His story also stresses the role of family and society in shaping personalities. His story tells that if your belief is strong, if your commitment is stout, your path itself becomes easier, and the people themselves become more appreciative.
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”–Theodore Roosevelt.
The contributor is a student of LUMS Class of 2021.