Lucky Fellow Arshad!

Sultan Arshad lived a full life, a life we all aspire and try to live but very few see our dreams come true in our lifetime.

By S.M. Shahid | May 2023

He came. He did something great. Then he quietly left. I suppose that’s the way to go. Leave the stage for others to benefit from your work. They call it an “untimely death” but I think my friend Sultan Arshad lived a full life, a life we all aspire and try to live but very few see our dreams come true in our lifetime. Ironically, our single-minded endeavors are usually taken as our eccentricity and criticized by our own loved ones and friends as long as we are still around!

Lucky fellow Arshad. He was brought up in a family that lived well and loved the things worth loving: humor, peaceful co-existence, celebrating small mercies, enjoying literature, poetry, music. His aunt, the cultivated daughter of the Nawab of Jaora, and life partner of his dear uncle, the famous Sultan Mohammad Khan, had a large collection of gramophone records; she sowed the seed of those songs in the young nephew’s heart. The boy grew up falling in love with those songs and dreaming of meeting their creators someday. Like most intelligent youngsters he had an inquisitive mind; he not only enjoyed the melodies, he also wanted to know who wrote these songs, who converted them to music, who sang them, when were the songs recorded?

He woke up from his dream not before 1987. Ah! It was real! Serving in Pakistan International Airlines at home and abroad, he had got this new posting at the city of his dream, Bombay (now Mumbai) as Manager for North India. He spent 9 glorious years in Bollywood. Here, he not only served and promoted the national airline but also got the opportunity to brush shoulders with the high and mighty of the Indian film world. His amiable disposition helped him to come close to and befriend many icons: composers, singers, lyricists, directors. His passion for film songs came alive in full bloom, as he interacted with the greats whom he had hero worshipped all his life.

From left: Naushad Ali, Sultan Arshad, O.P. Nayyar and Anil Biswas.

Three years later, in the winter of 1990, my late wife Razia, daughters Aisha and Sadia and I found ourselves at his apartment at Cuff Parade in Mumbai. Both families at once integrated and became one family. Our 15-day stay turned into a non-stop picnic with his wife Najma, son Shehreyar and daughter Kiran, while Arshad got down to fixing appointments and we had the opportunity to call on a number of film icons: Dilip Kumar, Gulzar, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey, Asha Bhosle, Naushad, Luxmikant, Peyarelal, Ravendra Jain, Kalyanji, Ustad Allah Rakha, Pandit Hariprashad Chaurasia and many others. It was unbelievable.

After his long sojourn in Bombay, Arshad was transferred back to Karachi in 1996. His interaction with the film world’s personalities had greatly enhanced his knowledge of film music, and when I threw the idea at him that it was now incumbent upon him to record the history of the work of the great Melody Makers, he agreed. I assured him that I would help him in the project with whatever I could.

Gulzar Saheb and Sultan Arshad.

His pre-mature retirement from PIA, in January 1998 had now time at his disposal to devote to the project and he got down to research and data gathering in full earnest. Visualizing and designing the book started at our advertising agency Oscar. It was later taken up by Pervez Iqbal and Shahid Iqbal of BBCL Communications. My namesake very ably gave the book its shape. News of the project had spread and testimonial messages from people as eminent as Anil Biswas, Naushad, Gulzar, O.P. Nayyar, Robin Ghosh, Nisar Bazmi, Sohail Rana and Ameen Seyani came and served as great motivation for Arshad.

The book’s contents are so outstretched that it is not possible to review the entire work in a limited space. Suffice to say that it was no easy task to put together 652 pages covering as many as 101 music directors, 228 lyricists and 223 vocalists, plus filmography of the composers and countless songs, each with mention of their respective film, year, vocalist and lyricist. Arshad also had to collect as many as 1177 photographs to go in the book! The final product turned out to be a priceless research, an encyclopedic publication.

Back in Karachi, he started a music club named Amateurs’ Melodies in 1999 in collaboration with classical and ghazal singer Sahabzada Akhtar Ali Khan of Bhopal and other friends. Akhtar was nominated as AM’s senior founder member and held this position till his demise in November 2002. Consequently, Arshad being the most active among the founding members was elected as AM’s senior founding member.

It is through Amateurs’ Melodies that Arshad discovered and promoted a number of talented singers – Kamran Saggoo, Ameer Ali, Fateh Abbass, Rosemary, Florance Thomas, Payam-i-Khurram, Imrana Naeem, Zara Madni and others. Some of them have made a name for themselves as commercially successful stage and TV performers. Keeping the club alive for more than a quarter century was no mean feat.

Coming to “101 Melody Makers”, his magna opus, the book takes the reader on a fascinating musical journey starting in the third decade of the last century to the present time. Not only for the libraries, universities, art and culture institutions in and outside the country, and the coffee tables of the connoisseurs, it is meant to enrich the shelves of those who still love books.