dailypeghamKARACHI:Months after his sacking from the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa), Fuzon guitarist Shallum Xavier has accused music department head Nafees Ahmed Khan of favouritism and discrimination against religious minorities. The academy, however, has denied all such allegations.

Talking to The Express Tribune, the guitar virtuoso said it’s time someone blows the lid off the “boys club that Napa has become”. Holding that no one in the past has reported about what goes on inside the state-owned arts school, he said, “I had joined Napa in 2013. For three years I saw nothing but frustration. This school was set up by Musharraf to reward his friends, and this gift is still giving.”

Things went south when Shallum was on leave from Napa to work on the I Am Karachi Music Festival last year. “When I returned, I was told I am no longer needed. They should have issued a show-cause notice first but they never did so. I was forced to quit,” he said.

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Shallum said people running the show at the academy have no standing in the industry. “The director is paid Rs0.4m a month. Heads of departments take home Rs0.25m every 30 days … they’re old and inefficient.”

When asked why he chose to remain silent all these months, Shallum said, “I was on tour abroad. We played eight gigs in February alone and also many close people passed away during this time.”

He said whenever a foreign band arrives for a performance, instead of letting the students perform, the faculty itself takes to the stage. “They have a negative opinion about everyone and everything,” he said. “Before me people like Salamat sahab, Amir Zaki and Adnan Afaq were here. They were treated the same way as I was.”

He alleged Nafees discriminates against religious minorities. “Where in the world does a teacher pose and say ‘Hallelujah’ when a Christian walks in or ‘Vande Mataram’ when a Hindu walks in? I even wrote to Javed Jabbar sahab [board member] but to no avail.”

Contacted by phone, Nafees said he does not want to respond to Shallum’s allegations. “I don’t think it is the right thing to do … to stoop to that level,” he said. Nafees said his track record is enough to speak for him.

Shallum Xavier

On the other hand, Napa Programmes Director Arshad Mahmud said he admires Shallum for his work but does not appreciate the colour he has given to the issue. “I find his objections far-fetched,” he said. Arshad said during his several meetings with Shallum, he persuaded him to not leave. “Disagreements take place everywhere. This doesn’t mean we get personal,” he said. Mahmud said Shallum’s prolonged absences forced the academy to take the decision in the best interest of the students. Citing the example of Amir who also served a brief stint at Napa, he said, “Amir is an outstanding guitarist. But he is not a good teacher.”

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Another top office-bearer of the academy, requesting anonymity, said Shallum never took the issue up with relevant authorities. “He did not verbally reiterate the extreme nature of his written complaints. On the contrary, he reportedly expressed an amiable, reconciliatory attitude,” he said in an email. The complaint (that he sent to the board of governors) was examined in detail and not found to be true. “Napa encourages participation without reference to race, gender or religion,” the official said, adding that all of Shallum’s dues have been fully settled. “One hopes that any frictional aspect of his personal relationship with Mr. Nafees Ahmad Khan is reconciled in a cordial and mutually respectful manner,” he said.

Citing an example to counter Shallum’s accusations, Arshad said, “Right now, about 14 of our students are at UT Austin. Three of them are Hindus.”

Personal feud?

Adnan feels Shallum has taken the issue personally. “I won’t take sides. I think both parties are at fault,” he said. However, the former Napa faculty feels favouritism is there when it comes to fellowships. “There was this student of mine, Zawwar. He went into depression because he deserved a chance but someone else was sent,” Adnan added. When asked whether students are allowed to exclusively perform at events, he said, “This is the reason why I quit. But I know a lot more than Shallum. The thing is he couldn’t deliver.”

Mixed reactions

On the other hand, a Napa music department 2015 alumnus said, “I agree with what Shallum bhai has said.” The former student said the department follows no designed curriculum. “In what insitute do you find faculty going on fellowships?” Referring to allegations of discrimination against religious minorities, he said, “That is Nafees sahab’s usual style of talking to people. He has spoken to me like that on several occasions. I don’t mind but I know many who do.”

The Napa graduate said 11 years is a long time for an institution. “It is sad that so far we have produced only two noteworthy musicians, Ahsan Bari and Asif Sinan,” he added. “There is no denying Nafees sahib’s ability as a sitar play but it is unfair to the students that he is always the one performing at shows and festivals.”

Meanwhile, current students threw weight behind Nafees and rejected the allegations. “He doesn’t hog the limelight. Most of the times it’s the students performing,” said a junior year student. “Due to his responsibilities, he does at times find it difficult to attend the classes but even if he conducts one class per week, there is enough to learn,” he added.