“Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar,
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar’’- Khusrau
I jumped in to drown and when I drowned I went across the barriers of fear. In 2002 I went alone to Kashmir for the first time. At the time it was still considered to be unsafe. But I guess God works in mysterious ways. I guess I was destined to go there, to meet Zila Apa and to fall in love with a place I would be hung up on for all eternity.
There she was on the bank of the Dal Lake dressed in white. A lady I didn’t know. She seemed so pristine, untouched by the world connected only with the Almighty as she sat there singing surrounded by a group of musicians. I remember being so utterly in awe of her connection that my hands shivered as I made the pictures.
At the time I had no idea that she came from a lineage of generations of musicians and that she was the daughter of Ustad Vilayat Khan, the sitar maestro. That she had been a homemaker and had a little boy. I had no clue that she was a famous Sufi singer or that making pictures of her at that moment meant that I would get to work with her extensively for over a decade.
All I could see was someone who could move me to tears. Apa said to me once that when she sang a Sufiana Kalam, she reached a sublime state and the purpose of singing in front of an audience was to help them achieve that. Even after hearing her live umpteen times she still manages to make me reach that state!