Rasheed Ahmed plays the shehnai, a traditional musical instrument. He is invited to weddings of every religion and earns a lot of respect. Now, his son wants to take the legacy forward
“I go to weddings of every religion to play the shehnai and they all treat me well,” said Rasheed Ahmed, sitting on a cot in his house in the congested bylanes of a Kanpur suburb.
“Wherever we go to play the shehnai, we get a lot of respect. We are even honoured and given rewards. That makes us feel good and makes us realise how important the shehnai is for us,” said Ahmed who was wearing a white kurta-pajama and a white topi that covered most of his golden-brown hair.
Shehnai is a traditional Indian musical instrument that is usually played at weddings. “Shehnai is a must at weddings, as it is considered auspicious,” said Ahmed.
“I have been playing the shehnai for 40 years. I was 15 when I had my first public performance,” he said, wiping dirt particles off his shehnai in the small house where he lives with his wife and children.
Ahmed can play a wide variety of musical tunes on his shehnai — be it religious or from Bollywood film songs. While Ahmed plays the shehnai, his eldest son, Shamsheed, accompanies him on the naal.
“I love it when papa (father) plays the shehnai. I feel like losing myself in his performance. I have been learning to play the shehnai since I was 10 years old,” Shamsheed said.
The wedding season, when shehnai players are in demand, lasts only four months. After that, Shamsheed works as a salesman for a living.
“There’s work when weddings happen. When there is no wedding, nobody needs the shehnai. The shehnai season is only four months in a year,” Shamsheed said. “As soon as the weddings are over, I go and sell things door-to-door. I earn Rs 200 to Rs 400 in a day, which takes care of most of the household expenses,” he said.
Ahmed wishes to make a name for himself. He swears by his shehnai and said he will never give up playing it as long as he lives. His children, too, are as devoted to the musical instrument as their father.
“It (the shehnai) is linked to every breath of my life. I don’t want to lose this. I want to keep my father’s work alive even after him,” Shamsheed said.