Naushad passed away three days ago. His music was unbelievably beautiful. I will not say more, because there is no use in restating the obvious. Anyway, I was watching the reports on TV with my father, and I saw his body being taken out of his house, and I suddenly realized that the men carrying his body were Muslims. "Oh!" I said, "He is a Muslim. I hadn't realized." My father laughed, and recalled an incident that had occurred many years ago.
Back then, I had just observed that some Hindustani musicians were called Pandit, and some Ustad. I had asked my father why that is so. He had told me, "Simple, Hindu musicians are called "Pandit", and Muslim musicians are called "Ustad". See, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Dinkar Kaikini are all Hindus, and are called 'Pandit', whereas Ustad Alla Rakha, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan are all called 'Ustad'". "Oh!", I said, "I hadn't realized that they were Muslims."
I was not thick in the head, nor was I a kid. I was old enough to know one religion from the other. Yet, this minor detail had escaped me. Just like I had not realized that Naushad was a Muslim. And why should it have crossed my mind? It is just not relevant. They are all the same to me - great musicians. Nothing else matters.
Even as my father and I recalled this incident, the reports showed a file clipping of Naushad, speaking on stage in an assembly, where, I think, he was being honoured. He was thanking everybody, and saying, "....I am very fortunate that .... Mujhpe Maa Saraswati ka Ashirwad hai.. " [I have the blessings of Goddess Saraswati]. Whaaaat??? Saraswati? Naushad? Muslim???
My father reminded me that this was nothing new - Ustad Allauddin Khan was a staunch devotee of the Sharada temple at Maihar, reportedly going so far as to refuse to move away from Maihar for medical treatment, saying that if he had to die, he would rather die close to Sharada (Another name for Saraswati). Ustad Bismillah Khan is also a devotee of Saraswati. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, among many others, sang beautiful compositions in praise of Hindu Gods. Likewise, There are many Urdu compositions which are religious or spiritual in nature, and are sung by all musicians, religion notwithstanding. And why should it matter? After all, it is just music.
No wonder it is said that Music has no Religion.
[Do check out the comments for some more heart-warming examples!]