By Ufaq Fatima
Srinagar: Gulam Mohammad Zaz is the eight generation of a family that crafted the unique Kashmiri musical instrument, Santoor. He is also the last of his tribe. Now in his 70s, Zaz is the only Santoor-maker left in Kashmir. His house in Zaina Kadal which served as a workshop for the making of musical instruments is a pale shadow of its past. Zaz says that when he departs from this world, the Santoor will also depart from Kashmir, forever.
“This art was passed on to me by my father Abdul Rehman Zaz. I did not receive any specific training for it. It’s my heart which guides me while making the Santoor,” Zaz said while talking to Kashmir Reader.
The Santoor, Zaz informed, was in the past made from a wood called Vireen, which is not available now. He makes the Santoor from wood of Mulberry and seasoned timber.
“A fine Santoor requires seasoned wood to produce a fine tonal quality. I invest my mind and soul in preparing a Santoor, which may take me three months to complete,” Zaz said, adding that the crafting of the Santoor requires unwavering attention.
Santoor, Rabab, Sitar, Sarangi and Tanpura were musical instruments that were crafted and played by many Kashmiris, especially the Pandits, but few musicians and craftsmen now remain in the Valley, though the instruments themselves have become popular across the world.
“Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma made a few changes in Santoor by adding four extra bridges to it,” Zaz said. “He introduced it outside Kashmir and became famous in the Bombay film industry as well as in foreign countries.”
Zaz said that seven generations of his family were in the business of making the Santoor. Zaz, the eighth and last generation of this ancestral craft, believes that the Kashmiri Santoor has a unique soulfulness which cannot be matched by any Turkish or Iranian music, which also use the Santoor.
Zaz said that trees hear the music of nature and they express it when their timbre is turned to Santoor. “Pure devotion is needed to produce that music out of them,” he said.
The Kashmiri Pandits, traditional exponents of the Santoor, took the knowledge and the tradition with them when they left. Zaz said, “Migration of Pandits was a big blow as they were the main exponents of this culture in Kashmir. Now this art is on the verge of extinction and the appreciation it gets comes not from local patrons but from foreigners.”
Zaz said he was disappointed with the government for having no plan to preserve the rich culture of Santoor music. He said it was the Santoor that earned him respect and recognition. His customers, he said, were mostly tourists and foreigners.
Daughter of Zaz, Rifat Jabeen, who is a teacher by profession, said that the craft of her father had always been sufficient for his children’s education and other expenses.
“The craft of my father makes me very nostalgic. My childhood memories are attached with it. Since I was a kid, I have seen my father immersed in this craft and I feel proud that he is the sole and master manufacturer of Santoor in Kashmir,” Rifat said.
“I really feel proud when people from the outside world visit us and appreciate my father,” she said.
On the extinction that the Santoor faces in Kashmir, she said it is Allah’s wish and one cannot go against it.
“This craft is associated only with my father and will end with him. It will thus belong forever to us and to us only,” she said.