Rhythm and Raga The Making of…3
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Its true. Rafay misses his homeland. He appreciates America, but he thinks of his homeland in a romantic, patriotic way. He glosses over security concerns, and corruption, and talks about all of the people making a difference. And there are so many. He teaches our kids about eastern values, talks about his parents to Syra and Zyan.
And the truth is, everyone who knows Rafay, knows he is the most utopian optimist that has ever existed. He sees the good in people, he sees the good in his country, sees the good in America. He is literally whistling all the time, or singing urdu songs. And don’t get me wrong, Im right there along with him. I was voted most optimistic in my high school, so both of us don’t let harsh reality get too close for too long- if you know what I mean. Idealists for sure.
I am going to tell you something else. It’s hard to believe, but I promise you this is also true. Rafay is really intuitive. He just kinda knows things sometimes. He is intuitive. And Rafay had this recurring dream about Pakistan. About making a song and it being uniting, and bringing all of the provinces together, about this… Unity Song.
He first had the dream more than 7 years ago. And he would bring it up and talk about it so vividly. But, it was something that we didn’t think we could do, well I definitely didnt. At the time we were back and forth to China and that kind of incessant travel takes a tole. It was glamorous but also so hard. It was becoming more hard then glamorous.
Its like, you know when you get a new job and you are so psyched bout all of the fun quirky things of your new job, and you love your shiny desk and all of the people and you are just living your best life. Then months later its like, “not this guy again”, and all of those quirky fun things are full on painful.
Its not that dramatic, but you kinda know when its time to do the next thing. Its intuition. And the more me and Rafay talked the more it was about the Unity Song.
It was 2011 and what felt like the height of security issues in Pakistan. Karachi felt like a war zone. Rampant Target killings, full city shutdowns. I remember reading one human rights worker saying that it was a “free-for-all between heavily armed factions continuing to claim innocent lives – as the government plays a game of see no evil, hear no evil.”
We watched Rafay’s peaceful childhood neighborhood home become transformed into a battleground with check points.
I never knew until that point, what it felt like to not feel safe in your own home. It is an incredibly uneasy feeling that stays with you. It was a brutal reality when we were in Pakistan at that time.
Add to that, Rafay’s mom lost her battle with breast cancer during that time. She was in Boston and Rafay was overseeing her care, and his whole family was there. It was a dark time. Rafay was so close with his amma and he …well he wasn’t whistle anymore. And, He felt the pain of the Karachi streets even deeper.
So, late one night we decided to try to shed our darkness and take whatever action we could. It was time to fulfill the Unity Song dream. to Try to make that dream, it was by this point it was a recurring dream, that Rafay was having, to try to make it a reality.
We both had a lot less optimism at that point, I think many in Pakistan felt the same way. I know our friends and relatives talked about despair and this loss of hope. We felt that.
But it was time. There was this unexplainable esoteric push, to just try. Rafay kept mentioning Hakeem Said who had been a distant relative, he was an eastern medicine healer and we all met him after our wedding in Karachi. My parents, our friends, Rafay – we toured and talked with him at Hamdard university. Rafay was introducing everyone and he introduced me and said oh this is my wife she is a singer. And at the time there was a bit of an apologetic tone to his voice because he didn’t want the honorable Hakeem Said to think I was some cheap bar singer, but he picked right up on it. Hakeem Said said to Rafay “music is a universal language and a medicine for human soul” It really stuck with us. It was one of those amazing moments.
And there was something else.. Amma. Amma said to Rafay before dying.. don’t lose hope. Amma said to him “baytee umped per dunya qaim hay, Umeed na khona, Pakistan am log umped kho baytay hay” [hope is the foundation of this world, never loose hope, Pakistan needs to be United”
We felt like it was in her honor, whatever we could put together, however we could make this happen it would be for amma.
Well, guess what happens when you bring utopian artistic ideas to business leaders in Pakistan.
Oh, man. That was the most painful couple of months. We didn’t know anyone in the entertainment industry in Pakistan. We were not entirely sure if there was one at that time, it was so rough and dangerous. But we arranged these meetings with executives and business leaders and bank leaders and went back and forth to Pakistan a bunch of times just for these meetings, to get this done.
Everyone in Pakistan and in the US were telling us what a bad idea it was.
it’s not safe, its dangerous, no one will listen, no one will like it, you are white we don’t trust you, its hopeless here, please don’t waste your and our time. Lahore US embassy was shut down, travel advisory was in place and even at the airport staff was giving us advice to be careful, to register our address- as Rafay, Syra my son and I leave for Pakistan.
Add to all this the cost of time, loss of income and to of pocket expenses suddenly all felt impossible. The gravity of fear, hopelessness, so many negative nancys in the project kept on piling so much so that impossible now seems like a real word. It was an all time low, and it was now breaking down our walls of believe in Pakistan, its people and the project. I remember this was when our Dawn news story came out. They titled it “she wants to sing for Pakistan”, not she IS singing for Pakistan. But, she Wants to sing for Pakistan. Dawn news, very familiar with these idealist types had our number. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t, but she wants to. All true.
And there was a moment in Islamabad when we came back from a big bank meeting so see if they could sponsor the song and music video and this time they had not faked all of their compliments and flowery praise for our idea, but had stated what they thought that this was not a good idea and that we were wasting our time and they absolutely didn’t think we could pull this off. This unity song.
In one moment it was kinda of refreshingly honest, everyone kept stringing us along- oh what a great idea, you are so good to think of this… but they never had any intention of supporting the idea. This was actual honesty. But Rafay and I decided we preferred the respectful dishonesty more, this was too low of a low. We couldn’t continue.
and driving back to our friend ashraf’s house- thank god for their family we ate so much, I like to eat my feelings, and snuggled our kids and laughed at ourselves on tv and tried to pretend that we were not crazy to try to do this project. Rafay kept saying that it wasn’t that bad. ever the optimist.
That night, Syra and I talked, I told her what happened. Now, she is a sensible girl thank god. She said this will happen. It might not be exactly the world dominating takeover as you imagine, but you will do this. We will do this together and we are in this together. And that was all of the encouragement I needed.