July 31, 2020

By Ahmed Saeed


Lahore: The soothing yet exciting beats of percussion fill the room as Master Sajid Ali uses his precise and complex finger taps to play his beloved tabla.

Master Sajid Ali has been associated with this art for the last 35 years. He has experienced various ups and downs in his career, but nothing has had a worse impact than the aftermath of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic which has more or less killed his professional life.

“Musicians cannot do anything else other than music,” Ali said. “We artists are very important people [of society], but we have been terribly affected by the lockdown.”

He mentions how the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) had asked artists to submit their documents after which they would be given monetary awards. But absolutely no financial aid has been sanctioned by the department until now.

“Right now, the most important thing is to help struggling artists financially. The PNCA took the papers from some artists to provide them a stipend but no one has received any amount yet. The government also promised to provide some ration to the artists but that too has not happened.”

Ali is very skeptical about the ability of this government to provide relief to artists, since the it has itself a habit of asking citizens for donations every few days.

“What can we expect from a government who asks its citizens to give it sacrificial hides so a dam can be built? Can’t they do it on their own?”

He feels the reason behind this dismal state of affairs of performing arts in Pakistan is the fact that art departments are not being run by artists themselves, rather by people who have no understanding of this field of work.

Ali has demanded that the government must immediately come up with a relief package for the artist community so that artists can be freed from extreme financial pressures and can concentrate freely on their work.

Due to a decline in the number of art events as a result of the lockdown, Sajid and many other artists have been living in extreme difficulty. The government has repeatedly made promises of providing relief to them but, until now, there has been no practical progress on the issue, resulting in an increase in homelessness among the community.