In Memoriam- Liaqat Mian
Last week we heard the terrible news of the sudden death of Liaqat Mian, husband of Shama Ali, and a very dear friend, mentor and extended family to my daughter-in-law’s parents- Fauzia and Javaid Syed. Sadly he had departed from his home in America and his family only to land in Pakistan and depart forever from this world a few hours after landing. We all knew him as a musician firstly, and as a friend secondly, as his life was all about music. He immigrated to US in the 80’s via Saudi Arabia. As Javaid told me, his two passions were music and food.
Liaqat’s family was very musically oriented- his brother Javed plays harmonium and his mother used to sing. He grew into his own in the Pakistani community of Staten Island and later on performed for many of the tri-state communities. Elsewhere in my blogs, I have talked about the love of music on the Subcontinent, and Liaqat was an exemplar of that love. Not only did he spread the music, but paid forward his talent with generosity and great love. For example, he discovered that Fauzia had “sur” (literally tone of a note, or more figuratively, a gifted voice) and became her voice coach, teacher, and musical partner taking her talents to a different level entirely. We loved to hear them both singing duets by Mohammed Rafi and Lata, two Indian legendary singers, each unsurpassed even now and famous for their duets. For many in the community, Mohammed Rafi died a second time when Liaqat died. At parties, he would silently set up the equipment and prepare for the session with a single-minded focus. All he wanted to do was to share his love and gift of music with the world and nothing made him happier than an engaged audience. I was always amazed at his energy and stamina as he could go late into the night, encouraging less developed singers and motivating them on to step into the limelight and shine their talent! Even if he had a previous engagement, he would show up late at the Syed’s residence and perform again with no visible signs of fatigue. It was as if music nourished his soul and made him stronger.
His other love was food. Like most Punjabis and other northern Indian Muslims, he loved meat dishes especially, like roasted lamb or lamb chops, karela (bitter gourd) gosht (meat mostly beef) and Javaid would bring these special dishes for him whenever they hung out. Liaqat loved to bring back “kachnar”, a flower petal in Pakistan, that is used in a dish with beef. He would bring back the frozen petals, and then Fauzia would cook them for a group of us. While it took me a while to develop the taste, our group would sit and enjoy this gourmet dish as if it was a dish from heaven. Like all Lahoris in Pakistan and Dehliwallas in India (or Pakistan), food is a sacred passion and has to just right and just so hot (both temperature wise and spice wise), otherwise they are not pleased. As someone who missed that type of a childhood, I watch in wonder as they keep alive memories of bygone Dhabas and foods from their childhood. For me, just listening to them speaking the very informal, intimate Punjabi language- which my parents did not allow me to learn lest it spoil our Urdu accent-is an echo back to my ancestors culture!
We will never forget Liaqat’s buoyant walk, energizing performances and his gifted voice that brought joy to our community and so many people beyond our circle. I always envisioned him as a music teacher with his own studio somewhere in Manhattan but God had other plans. May his family- wife Shama and children, his extended family and all other admirers and fans-find comfort and peace in his beautiful soul and his legacy, Ameen. The verse from a very famous classical Indian song comes to mind when I think of Liaqat Mian:
“Pyar nahi hai Sur se jisko, woh murakh insaan nahi” meaning
He who does not love music
is not only a fool, but is not human as well.