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When lady luck visited two sweepers in Delhi

Noor Anand Chawla

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In these morbid times, any beacon of light is appreciated. The sweet and simple story of two sweepers in Delhi – brothers Mohammad Hafiz Ul-Islam and Mohammad Habibur Islam – who seem blessed with both talent and luck, will certainly help lift some spirits.

One afternoon in late February 2021, Hafiz was ambling along the tree-lined streets of Delhi’s posh New Friends Colony, on his daily route to collect garbage, singing Mohammad Rafi’s popular ditty ‘Bahaaron Phool Barsao, Mera Mehboob Aaya Hai’ to pass the time. Anjali Bhargava from Dubai, on a visit to her parents’ home, happened to lean out of her balcony at that very moment and was immediately struck by the beauty of the voice she heard.

Where most others would have moved on with their day, Bhargava implored the singer to stop and allow her to film him. At first shy and unwilling to take her seriously, Hafiz made excuses, but she would not take no for an answer. Quite gallantly, Hafiz pushed his brother Habib forward, claiming him to be the better singer. And that is how Bhargava essayed the role of lady luck by capturing these two singing sweepers on video. She gathered their details from her neighbour Rohit Khanna and began circulating the video on her WhatsApp groups. It reached the hands of film producer Rohit Khattar and from there to businessman Anand Mahindra, whose retweet made it viral, and secured them an invite as honoured guests on India’s favourite singing contest – Indian Idol.

“Clearly there are no limits to where talent can spring from,” stated Mahindra’s tweet, as he asked netizens to suggest a music teacher in Delhi to train them under his and Khattar’s sponsorship. Despite Mahindra’s belief, a conversation with the brothers and their family reveals that their talent is not unfounded. The boys’ father, Mohammad Shah Jalal Qadri, belongs to a long line of Sufi qawwals from Assam. He moved to Delhi 32 years ago in pursuit of better economic opportunities, working as a sweeper by day and performing Bengali songs at religious gatherings or Sufi mehfils whenever invited to do so, with no expectation of payment. When his brood grew to include nine children, the older boys, even though barely in their teens, readily took the mantle from their father – both as sweepers and singers – albeit without gratification.

Fortunately, the tide seems to have turned, as they are now receiving regular tutelage under Nizamuddin Saab of the Dilli Gharana, who runs the popular Sangeet Gurukul based in Daryaganj in Delhi. The most famous student of this music school is Fareed Hasan Khan – son of Nizamuddin Saab – who sang for the popular Amazon Prime series Bandish Bandits, and now teaches there along with his guru and father.

Hafiz and Habib visit the Gurukul three times a week in the evenings, while continuing with manual labour in the day time. According to their guru, they have beautiful voices and depth but need ample practice to become professionals. They face many hurdles on a daily basis, the most important of which is a severe lack of finances. Though the team behind Indian Idol paid for the brothers’ airfare and accommodation from Delhi to Mumbai, the boys could not afford to buy new clothes to appear on the show. Anjali Bhargava and her friends pooled in money to ensure the boys would look presentable while making their stage debut.

When asked about their journey to Mumbai and the sets of Indian Idol, both boys ecstatically describe it as a chamatkar – a miracle they would never have believed possible. Their older brother states his pride with utmost frankness and expresses hope that they may succeed in their endeavours, in turn pulling their family up from its lowly straits.

Khattar sums it best when he says, “Their talent is raw but obvious and we hope to provide them the environment to hone their skills. Setting a target to participate in the next season of Indian Idol has given them a purpose in life.” If lady luck stays firmly by their side, this purpose may be fulfilled too.

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