Nusrat’s father Fateh Ali Khan was diagnosed with throat cancer and died in March 1964, just when Nusrat was appearing for his school-leaving exam.
Shortly before his death, one of Nusrat’s sisters, Kaniz Fatima, recalls an intense moment: ‘When our father was going to leave us forever, he called us all around him and asked us to chant the Kalima. We were doing his bidding, though while doing this, our hearts were sad and heavy. At that moment, we felt that he looked hard at Nusrat and he seemed to transfer all his knowledge and power and skill to Nusrat through his eyes.’
During the forty days of mourning after Fateh Ali Khan’s death, Karim Dad, Nusrat’s first cousin, recounts a strange event that occurred. Although he had received a small amount of training from his father, particularly in terms of voice technique, Nusrat had not yet learnt enough to lead the family group, as he should have according to family tradition, being the eldest direct descendant. Now, during this mourning period, Mubarak told his son Karim Dad that in a dream he had seen the family Pir, Khwaja Muhammad Diwan, who had died a few years before. In the presence of Fateh Ali, the latter had blessed Nusrat with his own saliva, and declared he would sing and be known the world over.
A few days later, when certain members of the family, but not Nusrat, were gathered in the main hall of the common house, a letter arrived from Ajmer (also known as Ajmer Sharif) in Rajasthan, India. It was from the guardian of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine. In this letter, he mentioned that while the guardian and his family were praying in memory of the late Fateh Ali Khan, seeking Allah’s blessings for a successor to be found rapidly, they received a divine sign, informing them that the successor had already been found. While they were reading the letter, Nusrat entered. Then at Nawazish Ali Khan, Fateh and Mubarak’s elder brother’s request, he sat down at the harmonium and sang a poem by Allama Iqbal: ‘If you truly desire the other world, do not consider this world your own.’ His singing was so intense that everyone present was overwhelmed.
However, the most important sign, cited by Nusrat himself, and which leads us back to the fundamental place Ajmer occupies in the hearts of all qawwals and Nusrat in particular, appeared in the famous dream he had a few days after his father’s death. We will leave aside the various other versions of the dream and concentrate here on the account Nusrat himself gave in the wonderful documentary film, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Last Prophet, made in 1996 by Jérôme de Missolz shortly before the artist’s death: ‘After my father’s death, I didn’t know what to do. I went through a very difficult time. Later, five or ten days after his death, I had a dream that my father took me to a place and asked me to sing. I told him, I couldn’t sing. He said he would sing with me. He encouraged me to sing with him. So I began to sing with him. But when I slowly woke up, I was singing! I told my dream to my late uncle Mubarak Ali Khan and also Salamat Ali Khan. I described the place in detail and also the ambience. He identified it as Ajmer Sharif, a tomb where my father had often sung. He was sure that was the place!’
A few years later, when Nusrat was finally able to go to Ajmer Sharif, people say he immediately recognized the place and went and sat down to sing in the very spot he had seen in his dream, a liberty he was permitted.
From Nusrat: The Voice of Faith by Pierre Alain Baud.