Music in the ruins of Aleppo

Maskwaith Ahsan
Art & Literature
Music in the ruins of Aleppo

Another morning walks into the ruins of Aleppo, where every night seems longer than ever. Abdel pays little attention to radio news. Same old, same old, nothing new, nothing good and every news means bad news. War has taken away everything. Abdel lives in a war-smashed house torn apart with mortar shells and the vengeance of a warlord living somewhere in luxury. Many tell him to shift to Damascus or join his son in Manhattan.

But Abdel loves every inch of Aleppo; the smell of air is familiar, lovable. He survived the war; the only thing he tried to save was an old gramophone. It doesn’t need electricity. He can roll the handle like one does with a sewing machine and listen to his day’s songs. Asmahan, a Syrian-born singer who migrated to Egypt, is his favorite. She sings:

“And the breeze blew gently, carrying their beautiful sound
Flowers emanated the fragrance of longing and the brook sang along with them.”

As if she’s lamenting the destruction of Aleppo, Abdel closes his eyes and tries to feel his beloved city full of beautiful sounds, lights and smells. He looks through the window; everyone is busy repairing the city.

A few party-in-power people roam around in jeeps with flags tempered with the screams of nationalism. Common men are no more interested in flags and -isms; they have seen proxy war after war of flags and -isms at the cost of their own lives and hopes.

Photo Courtesy: National Public Radio (NPR)

Two young men come up to his home; greet him with respect and love, for Abdel is appreciated as a man of music and depth. He once owned a cold storage business and tried to employ as many people as he could. One young man tells him, “We want to repair your house.”

– Don’t worry. I have decided to stay in this war museum for the rest of my life.

They look at each other sadly, knowing that the old man is broken up with the barbarous war that took away everything from him including his wife. She was a good person, did a lot of charity work silently, leaving behind many well-wishers including these two young men whom she helped to study.

One young man says,

“You can’t survive without power, at least let us fix your electricity connection.”

– Isn’t it better to live without electricity, internet connections? This way I can stay disconnected from all the bad news. I wish I could make warlords listen to the haunting voice of Asmahan:

“The air filled with tenderness sends away my longing and disgrace
Oh how I hope his affection and love and favor will be mine.”

A restaurant owner in Abdel’s neighborhood enters with a platter full of Mahshi on a base of lamb, nuts and rice. Eid Mubarak, Eid Mubarak, he chants.

Abdel stares with surprise. The restaurant owner continues,

“Today, we reopened our restaurant. Your hunger strike is over.”

The four of them sit, eat together and Abdel plays Asmahan for them.

Later, the two young men take Abdel to his abandoned cold-storage site. Already his workers were rebuilding it.

The enthusiasm of his workers forces Abdel to regret the defeatism he had been exhibiting since the war. For a bit of time, he has lost purpose because Aleppo was and will always be his home, even after it became ground zero in the war of proxies.

He sits in his office for some time while his workers wait outside to hear from him about their future. No longer able to resist the music of winds, the twittering of birds and the fragrances of Aleppo, he steps out in the sunshine.

Maskwaith Ahsan. Maskwaith Ahsan is an international journalist, educator and the author of over 14 books. His columns appear in several Bengali newspapers, magazines and websites across the globe. He also hosts his web TV show E-SouthAsia. With socio-political satire...

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