We Nizami Bandhu are descendants of a family that has been offering qawwalis at the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya for 700 years. To be born in such a clan and to carry on the tradition of Sufi singing is a great blessing. One of the other boons given to us by Mehboob-e-ilahi (an affectionate term used for Nizamuddin) is to have A.R. Rahman saab in our lives.
Before going further, I wish to add that we Nizami Bandhu, along with other qawwals in the dargah, have always been known to the Hazrat Nizamuddin devotees who regularly make a pilgrimage to his shrine. They often hear us perform the qawwalis in the courtyard, especially on Thursday evenings. But it is because of Rahman saab that we are known today to millions of people across the world. A great number of Hindustanis simply know us as the qawwals who sang the Kun Faya Kun qawwali in Rockstar. Here, though, I must tell you a secret. Not many people know that while I, along with my nephews, Shadab and Sohrab, were seen singing the qawwali in the film, we did not actually sing it. We were only lip syncing! The actual singers were Rahman saab himself, along with Mohit Chauhan and Javed Ali.
Also Read | A. R. Rahman: ‘I am an instrument’
My whole family loves this qawwali... many of them have it as the calling tune on their mobile phones. There is another thing that not many people know. The music of Rockstar was launched right here in the dargah. It was then that I really got to sing Kun Faya Kun (Be, and it is) while everybody else in the audience watched. (Actor) Ranbir Kapoor was also there.
It is now almost six years since Rockstar was released. The film made us very famous but our lives haven’t changed and fame has not made us arrogant. I’m also grateful to have grown close to Rahman saab. He has become like my elder brother. Our relations actually go back to much before the movie. I was first introduced to him about 15 years ago through Afsar Nizami saab (a dargah khadim, one of the shrine’s hereditary caretakers). The one person in the dargah who is truly close to Rahman saab is our Afsar saab. Every time Rahman saab visits the dargah, and it is at least seven-eight times a year, he spends some minutes with Afsar saab at his huzra (the khadim’s chamber). As a matter of fact, Rahman saab was first introduced to my elder brother, qawwal Ghulam Farid Nizami.... Let me tell you that whole story, for it all began from there.
Also Read | The A.R. Rahman fan club
Once, during Rahman saab’s brief visit to the dargah, Afsar saab asked my elder brother to perform Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s kalam for his important guest. After hearing the solo recital, a very impressed Rahman saab told my brother that one day he would invite our group to perform for him. Unfortunately, my brother died 10 years ago, but Rahman saab remembered his words and summoned us when the opportunity arose, with Rockstar. It was then that I started getting to know him personally. He is extremely polite. His voice is very gentle. I feel very calm when I hear him speak.
A few years ago, maybe a year or so after Rockstar, he had come to the dargah and our group had performed a few classical bandish for him. Rahman saab liked them so much that he invited us to his studio in Chennai to teach the same classical bandish to his son, Ameen. We stayed there for a week. Rahman saab booked us into a nice hotel near his house and we got the chance to meet his entire family. Such nice people: his son, daughter, wife, mother, and also his sister. They all are full of mohabbat (love). We also taught bandish to Rahman saab’s niece.
Also Read | What’s your Rahman song?
Despite being so successful, Rahman saab remains a humble man. He never misses his five daily prayers. I myself once performed the jumme ki namaz (Friday afternoon prayer) with him in Chennai. He is a great devotee of Hazrat Nizamuddin, as well as of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz (Moinuddin Chishti).
A few weeks ago, our group was in Chennai for a show but we could not meet Rahman saab. He was in Canada. But we still visited his studio, where my sons, Kamran, Gulkhan and Gulfam, recorded a few qawwalis and bandish.
Last year, Rahman saab came to Delhi for a show, in Dwarka.Thousands of people were there. I was also present in the crowd. When the show ended, I walked backstage, hoping to meet him. There, as soon as Rahman saab spotted me, he said in Hindi—though his Hindi is not good—“Kaise ho, Kun Faya Kun (How are you, Kun Faya Kun)?” Can you believe it? It was a very, very big thing for me.
Also Read | Teaching the choir
Rahman saab had told my late brother that one day he would have him perform a qawwali for a film. We were seen in Rockstar but we did not sing the qawwali. But because of that film we did get a break in another big film—Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan, in which my nephews and I performed an Amir Khusrau bandish. I am hopeful that when Rahman saab films another qawwali at Hazrat Nizamuddin’s dargah, he will again call us and, this time, he will have us actually sing the qawwali. That is the promise.
As told to Mayank Austen Soofi