Donning a pale white shirt and chequered lungi, Jahangir Qawwal greeted us with an embarrassed smile at his home in Geneva Camp. It was almost lunchtime, but he had just woken up. His performance last night ended late, and he had gone to sleep at dawn.
The first floor of his fifth-storeyed house served as the living space where he sat on a wooden bed. A tiny television was crammed between rows of plastic bottles and shelves. Pots and pans of varied sizes took over space beneath the bed. An energy bulb imitated sunlight that perhaps never reached this room.
A man in his forties – Jahangir's bold brows and dark hair made him look younger. It was hard to believe he was a grandfather, but it is normal inside the camp where many residents get married in their teens and father children at a young age.
We exchanged cards, his one had his name "Golam Jahangir Qawwal" printed on big red letters. On the backside was a picture of a group performance. He pointed at a young man sitting beside him on the picture, "That is my son, he died in his sleep, had a stroke. He would perform with me all the time." Although his voice did not shake, his eyes became moist.
The Qawwal group of six has been performing for over 22 years and this was Jahangir's only profession. His father was a Qawwal too and he learned the art from him.
While Jahangir took off upstairs to get dressed in his costume, his youngest son dropped in from outside. Carrying a stout hen in his arms, the little boy looked bewildered at the presence of guests. But as soon as his picture was taken, he was all smiles. "Would you not take pictures of my murga?" he requested.
After a while, we joined Jahangir upstairs in his rehearsal room. Every day after the evening prayers, his group joins him here for their daily practice. They practice for at least two hours with the instruments such as keyboard and tabla.
On a worn carpet, he sat cross-legged with a harmonium. Barely recognisable now in a black and gold anarkali cap, white panjabi and a brown waistcoat, he was no longer an ordinary man – no longer the man tired of life, saddened about the sudden death of a young son, worried about running his family. He was a performer now. He was a Qawwal.
Much to our surprise, he began with a Bangla song. His deep voice echoed in the near-empty room, his fingers smoothly played with the harmonium keys. He was entranced in the music.
He upped the tempo within minutes and switched to a popular Rahat Fateh Ali Khan track. Energy was radiating from his voice and he did not stop as he went on to sing some more tracks by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
We asked him what kind of music he preferred. "I like sufi and ghazal songs, or the kind, you know the kind one can listen to for hours. My favourite artists are Mehdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali," he shyly said.
His group usually charges between 5,000-15,000 Taka per night. The bakhshish or tip that they receive sometimes cross thousands and even lacs. Jahangir recalled a particular performance in Baridhara where they received Tk70,000. "We accept whatever people can happily offer us, we do not mind the amount," he said.
The sun was setting just as we left his house. The dying light brought us out of the pleasant haze created by Jahangir's music and put us back into reality. Truly wondrous it is, how such a gem of a musician is toiling away for a living in this grim corner of the city. It made us wonder that if we searched enough, maybe many more such talented individuals would come to light.