Born with an inability to see things did not make Wali Muhammad Hajam, a destitute. Instead, he enthrals and mesmerises thousands of people with his soulful singing. Bilal Handoo reports how hordes of people line up the streets of Kupwara to hear Hajam sing and play
A blind man with his harmonium has held captive audience in a buzzing market of North Kashmir’s Kupwara town. Sitting on roadside at the fringe of the market, the man is ceaselessly singing folksongs, one after another. For a few, lyrics of his songs have food for thought as they seem to be passing into a trance, shaking their heads in a religious rhythm. Some persons encircling him appear fascinated—their cheerful looks reveal it all. Others move on after catching just a glimpse.
Wali Mohammad Hajam, 48, of Dooniwar Lolab has managed to hold a lot of people captive to his mesmerising voice. It isn’t his first public appearance. He often makes his presence felt in the town with his musical instrument. And every time he steps in the rush pouring market, he straightaway heads towards his usual place—that too, without any assistance.
Figures surrounding him are surging. Soon after finishing his first song, he runs his right hand over the top surface of the harmonium to collect the money. His street-audience offers some amount on his harmonium as a token of appreciation for his musical skills. And this is how the blind musician is mainly feeding his family of three.
“You mention my name and people as far as in Delhi will tell you my address,” says Hajam, while putting the collected amount into his pocket. “I am known to everyone in Kashmir!”
His claims are supported by his audience, who stand like a wall around him, and separate him from the rest of the crowd in the market. However, he seems to be uncomfortable at the enquiries made by this reporter until someone from his audience assures him by saying that he and his works are being profiled for the print. The words spread a smile on his face, before he returns to weave magic with his voice and his beloved harmonium.
The folk songs he sings have been passed to him by some of his friends and fellow musicians. They read or sing lyrics of songs which he commits to his memory. And when his friends aren’t around, he sits before the music player and listens to the music. However, Hajam’s inclination towards music dates back to his early life. “I had an irresistible appeal towards music since childhood,” he says. And then, somebody informed him about the Blind School in Srinagar, which is also imparting music training to blind persons like him.
It was 1972. And Hajam was still far from singing and playing harmonium. During the same time, he headed for the institute. And soon he was learning how to play the instrument at Blind School in Kathi Darwaza in Srinagar’s Rainawari area. During the same time, he was studying Braille, the script for blind people.
Born blind, Hajam is a family man with a great sense of humour. He has been married for almost two decades now. His wife, in his own words, is “not-reachable!” It is his way to convey that his wife lacks speaking ability. His only son is a normal person who is supporting his parents by working as a bus conductor in his village.
Other than Kupwara market, Hajam makes his presence felt in Sopore, Lolab, Handwara, and other northern areas.
But the takers of singing skills aren’t confined to streets only. He says twice in a calendar year, he performs for Radio Kashmir, Srinagar. For each performance that stretches up to 90 minutes, he gets Rs 10,000. But the sum isn’t enough to run his home for 365 days in a year. To run and support the needs of his home, he often hits the streets and earns his livelihood.
Apart from airing his voice on radio, he is also being invited for singing in Sufi gatherings. These performances often last throughout the night. And he visits these gatherings 5-6 times in a month. “This is how my Allah has deemed fit to feed me and my family,” he says, spreading a big smile.
Other than earning a few bucks by day long singing, Hajam also puts extra effort to earn by recharging mobiles. “I usually sell the recharge coupons,” he says.
Well before he gears himself for another street performance, he adjusts his harmonium, clears his throat and starts pitching one more folksong.