I first met Ally Adnan in Islamabad where he was conducting a seminar on qawwali. I remember being apprehensive at the thought of three hours of qawwali and PowerPoint presentation, but the evening was so adroitly managed by Ally, seamlessly moving between song and story, music and explanation, that it was as though a spell had been cast and even time had stopped. The evening stayed in my mind a long time, and so when the Consulate of Pakistan in Hong Kong asked me to help arrange a cultural event – something that would be both educating and entertaining, something to bring together the international and Pakistani community – a seminar on qawwali and a concert emerged as the first choice. And this is how my interaction with Ally started. Before long, I discovered qawwali was just one of Ally’s fortes. He could speak with equal authority and passion on poetry, art, food, craft, song, design, dance, jewellery, film, and the dying traditions of basant and sending Eid cards. Like a cultural polyglot, he weaves together a variety of discourses that make up the rich tapestry of South Asian culture. What brought him on this path? Do you have any formal training or academic background in art or music? I really do not. I did study tabla with Muhammad Tufail Sahib in Islamabad and with Ustad Miyan Shaukat Hussain Khan in Lahore for a few years but that was to understand rhythm and not to become a tabla player. How did you develop your expertise in South Asian art and culture? My father used to collect South Asian art and antiques and my mother was a writer with a great interest in literature and poetry. I grew up in a home full of art, where literature, culture, history, and poetry were discussed on a regular basis. I inherited my parents’ interests. The interest in music, however, was my own. I did not inherit it. As a child, I had the opportunity to spend time in the company of artists like Ali Imam, Sadequain, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Kamal Ahmed Rizvi and Jamil Naqsh. The exposure helped me learn a lot. I lived in Lahore in my early 20s and spent virtually all of my free time either at Radio Pakistan or with musicians. I used to visit Ustad Salamat Ali Khan on a weekly basis in those days. Each and every moment spent with the greats helped me learn. Even within the field of art and culture, how have you managed to cultivate such a diverse range of expertise? I do not sleep much – consider it a waste of time – and, therefore, have more time to spend on my hobbies than the average person. I am also a voracious reader and have a genuine love for learning and gaining knowledge. What would you count as your main accomplishments in bringing Pakistani culture to the world? I would say it is the work that I have done to present the culture, history and art of Pakistan to people all over the world in a simple, easy-to-understand and relevant manner. Despite having such a rich and syncretic culture, why are the arts not flourishing or appreciated as much as they could or should in Pakistan? Money, status and power have come to be important for Pakistanis. They really do not care about culture or the arts. The few that have an interest, use it to enhance their social status and establish their intellectual credentials rather than promote the arts. Art cannot flourish in the absence of genuine, sincere people who love the arts. Do you see a revival or renaissance of Pakistani arts? What is driving it? I think that there is a superficial level of interest in the younger generation but it is not as great as it needs to be. Moreover, Pakistani kids like to become subject matter experts overnight. That is just not possible. It takes a lot of time, energy and study. How can we invest an interest of art and culture in our young generation? Proper parenting and good education would do the trick. If you were in charge of cultural policy in Pakistan what would be your main 5 directions or recommendations? Enhance the curriculum of our schools and make courses in the liberal arts compulsory. Promote a culture where proper values, education and substance are valued over material wealth and power. Establish cultural exchange programs with other countries. Promote institutions like OLOMOPOLO Lahore, KUCH KHAAS Islamabad and T2F Karachi. Hold cultural festivals, workshops, conferences for the public – and not the elite – on a regular basis. There seems to be a wide belief that music, dance and even art are not compatible with a pure practice of Islam. How would you counter this idea? This belief stems from utter and total ignorance. The Quran clearly states that, other than food of a certain kind, only five things are haram. Music and dance are not in the list of five items but declaring something else to be haram is. Of the different expressions of art – literature, painting, music etc – which is your favourite and why? Dance, because it can incorporate the elements of many art forms. If you could put one piece of art, music, film, or literature in a time capsule for people 1000 years from now to know of, what would it be? Without a doubt, it would be the songs of Noor Jehan. What projects are you currently working on and we can hope to see in the next year or so? I am working on developing workshops in the following areas: The Culture of Tea The History of Art Wrestling in South Asia Dastan Goi I am all but done with my book about Noor Jehan and have just started working on a television serial and two films. I am also spending a lot of time digitizing my collection of South Asian music. The writer tweets at @FridaKhan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, November 26th 2017.