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Striking a Note

Tehmina Ahmed

Excerpted from an essay that first appeared in The Aleph Review, Vol. 2 (2018), solicited by Ilona Yusuf. Curated by Mehvash Amin for the website, keeping in line with her musical theme for the fortnight.

One was plump, to the point of being rotund. The other, slim and bespectacled. They blew into my life on a sunlit day, almost by chance. Except that there really is no such thing: when the student is ready, they say, the teacher comes. And I had been on the lookout for a music teacher.

Speaking of music, there was the first time I heard the Beatles sing. A cousin returned from a trip to Japan with a bunch of long-playing albums, among them the Beatles who had just appeared on the music scene. The discs were played over and over again on a gramophone in my khala’s bedroom, the place for young people to hang out in the summer holidays.

There were varnished, wood-faced combos in the living rooms of the time. They would bring you news on the radio when you twirled a knob. You could play records too, lifting up the playing arm, setting the needle down on the surface gingerly. My aunt, who enjoyed music—unlike my mother who says she has no music in her soul—had a Grundig tape recorder as well. A squarish, dumpy looking machine, it would play large spools, from one side to the other. The grey façade had a perforated look, but the acoustics were something else.

My sisters and I grew up on a diet of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richards. Pat Boone came a distant third. Going to convent schools, we spoke, from the start, Punjabi and English with the same degree of proficiency. But the music we knew was ‘western’ music. Karachi had its Goanese RJs, Eddie Carrapiet ruled the airwaves, and we tuned in week after week. Fauzia Maung came later.

In Tune by Fatima Nadeem. Courtesy 'My Art World'

When I was in my teens, we lived in Rawalpindi, a garrison town, in a string of interconnected rooms from World War II, strung along a veranda. Margalla Barracks was home. The music we heard was on the radio—we had no other gadgets to speak of, not even a telephone. I was in my teens when my father came back from a trip to Iran with a surprise gift. He handed it over without a word. It was a green plastic album, a bunch of 45 rpm records inside. They were recordings of film music from India. I spun the records at first out of curiosity, then because I liked them and then because I was totally hooked. Pankhaj Mullick and Geeta Dutt, Mukesh and Hemant Kumar, film music touched by the magic of the ragas. The discs were smaller than long-playing records and they had a punched-out centre. My father was kind enough to buy me a small record player. It had an elevated wedge in the middle. You plonked the disc around it and the music came on. It was love at first sight or first sound, if you prefer.

The years went by. Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard had fallen by the wayside and we now listened to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.


Tehmina Ahmed is one of the founding members of Newsline. She contributes to the arts and culture section of the magazine and has published poems, articles and essays in Pakistani Literature, the International Gallerie and Borderlines. Her work also appeared in The Aleph Review, Vol. 4 (2020).

About the artist: Fatima Nadeem is a Karachi-based artist who completed her BFA from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture with a major in printmaking and a minor in painting, she received the Zahoor ul Akhlaq award for the best drawing portfolio. Apart from her artistic practice, she is also a writer.


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