Art’s job is to catalyse things: Sounds of Kashmir singer Aabha Hanjura

Suanshu Khurana

Aabha Hanjura grew up listening to Jagjit Singh, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and rustic South Asian sounds, “especially music from the Pakistani band Junoon”, among others.

The Hukkus Bukkus telyi wan tsch kus

(Who are you and who am I, then tell us
who is he the creator that permeates through both you and I)

Bengaluru-based Aabha Hanjura, 32, was a young girl when her grandmother would sing this Koshur rhyme to her, initially in Srinagar, and post the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in the ’90s, in Jammu, where Hanjura’s family settled. A piece, which is likely to have been written by Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded, Hanjura would hum along. “It was much later that I understood that these songs, the culture, poetry and rituals is all that was left with my family. When your roots are brutally cut off, you try harder to save them,” says Hanjura, whose version of Hukkus bukkus along with a guitar and drums is like a simple monophonic melody. It’s modern yet rooted, a somewhat Parisian chanson-style piece.

Hanjura grew up listening to Jagjit Singh, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and rustic South Asian sounds, “especially music from the Pakistani band Junoon”, among others. But while she was humming in Hindi, Dogri and Punjabi, Hanjura chose to sing in Koshur and made a very conscious decision after a visit to Srinagar seven years ago. Before that she was a finalist on the TV show Indian Idol, and post that, was trying to figure a corporate life. As for music, she kept looking for purpose. She didn’t want to be a playback singer. And she found a purpose in Srinagar, when she visited their old home in Kannipura. “Before that, I had a very distant connection with Kashmir. It was kept alive culturally. The magnitude of the tragedy had not dawned upon me until I made that visit. Anybody can sing anything and so can I, but I wanted it to mean something so that I stay motivated. On my way back, I kept weeping when I passed by abandoned homes, and something stirred inside,” says Hanjura, who decided to find a route to peace in the Valley “where every community has suffered pain for decades”.

“At some point, someone needs to make an effort, find peace and move on,” says Hanjura, who, two years ago, decided to have a concert in Srinagar. “My family was worried,” says Hanjura, who had 3,000 people at Sher-i-Kashmir Convention Centre, with young and old dancing at the concert. “It still remains the most special concert ever,” says Hanjura. “How many times do you see Kashmiri pandits and Kashmiri Muslims dancing together? Art’s job is to catalyse things at the end of the day,” says Hanjura, who released her album six-track album Sounds of Kashmir a year ago.

When the abrogation of Article 370 happened, Hanjura started by being optimistic. “If this meant growth and peace, a wave of change that could help, it seemed like a good move,” says Hanjura, whose opinions began to change as internet and phone lines were suspended for months.

“The internet situation is unfortunate and it’s extremely disheartening, small businesses are and suffering; I never thought it would take this long to remove the communication blockade. It is not an ideal situation in 2020,” says Hanjura, who will be performing at Jaipur Literature Festival, at the music stage, today, and is working on her second album — a mixed-bag of recent experiences in her life and that of Kashmir’s.

“I will sing about things I genuinely feel strongly about,” says Hanjura, whose songs Roshewalla and Kinaro ke ghar have found a lot of attention online.