On World Storytelling Day – South Asians Who Tell Stories With Their Music

4 min

As we have civilized over the years, one of the art forms that has brought the world closer together and allowed others to glimpse into various cultures has been through writing and music. Today, on World Storytelling Day, we would like to highlight some South Asian writers and artists who tell their stories through writing and music.

Saadat Hasan Manto

World Storytelling Day - Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto was a Pakistani writer, playwright, and author born in Ludhiana, British India. Writing mainly in Urdu, he produced 22 collections of short stories, a novel, five series of radio plays, three collections of essays, and two collections of personal sketches.

He was a daring writer. His stories told the harsh truth of the society around him. Storytelling landed him in court to be tried over obscenity for using words such as “breasts”. Here are a few memorable lines from his works:

“To tell you the truth, the world seemed full of sad people – those who slept on the uncovered stoops of shops as well as those who lived in high-rise mansions. The man who walks about on foot worries that he doesn’t have decent shoes to wear. The man who rides the automobile frets that he doesn’t have the latest model car. Every man’s complaint is valid in its own way. Every man’s wish is legitimate in its own right.” – Saadat Hasan Manto, Naked Voices: Stories & Sketches

“You would have realized that it wasn’t Mumtaz, a Muslim, a friend of yours, but a human being you had killed. I mean, if he was a bastard, by killing him you wouldn’t have killed the bastard in him; similarly, assuming that he was a Muslim, you wouldn’t have killed his Muslimness, but him.” – Saadat Hasan Manto, Toba Tek Singh: Stories

“Her pores were like those of an orange, its skin filled with juice, which, if you applied the slightest pressure, would squirt up into your eyes. She was that fresh.” – Saadat Hasan Manto, Bombay Stories

Sampooran Singh Kalra (Gulzar Saab)


Sampooran Singh Kalra (born 18 August 1934), known popularly by his pen name Gulzar, also Gulzar Saab, is an Oscar-winning Indian film director, lyricist, and poet. His sensitive work and romantic poetry will haunt the world and hearts of millions. Storytelling is like an elixir to him.

Musically, Gulzar was unbeatable. Being a lyricist and collaborating with film composers, he always had a high quality of music in his films, especially with Rahul Dev Burman. And while Burman became a pop icon with his tunes from Procession of Memories (1973) and “Hum Kisise Kum Nahin” (1977), he also gave Gulzar classic pieces with which to work in “Khushboo” (1975) and “Permission” (1987).

Here is what Gulzar said about music:

“Music has a natural place in our lives. Right from the shloka you recite in your morning puja and the milkman who comes whistling on his cycle, to the fakir singing as he begs for alms and your mother humming around the kitchen. Music fills our spaces naturally. It will always be dear to us.”

Here are some of our favorite lines from Gulzar’s work on pain and love:

“Aap ke baad ye mehsoos hua hai hum ko jeena mushkil nahin aur marna bhi dushwar nahin”

“Tere khayal mein doob ke aksar achi lage tanhai”

“Kaaghazon ki kashtion ka kahin kinaara hota nahin”

Farhan Akhtar

World Storytelling Day - Farhan Akhtar

While most of us know Farhan Akhtar as the handsome chocolate boy with a great voice, did you know that he is a brilliant lyricist who often sings his own songs in movies and is quite the poet?

He is what we like to call the quintessential renaissance man of today. Let’s take a look at some of his penmanship that has left an impact on all of us near and far.

“Pighlay neelam sa behta hua yeh samaan, Neeli neeli si khamoshiyaan, Na kahin hai zameen, Na kahin aasmaan, Sarsaraati huyi tehniyaan, pattiyaan, Keh rahi hain ki bas ek tum ho yahaan, Sirf main hoon meri saansein hain aur meri dhadkanein, Aisi gehraiyaan, Aisi tanhaiyaan, Aur main sirf main, Apne honay pe mujhko yaqeen aa gaya.”

(The moment flows by like molten sapphire, Deep Blue silences, No Earth below, No Sky above, The rustling branches and leaves, Saying that only you are here, Only me, My breath, My heartbeat, Such depth like this, Such loneliness like this, And me only me, I now believe I exist.) (Credit: Sudha)

He also wrote the dialogues for many celebrated and accomplished films like “Rock On,” “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,” and “Dil Chahta Hai!”

Lilly Singh AKA Superwoman:

Lilly Singh is not only the first South Asian late-night talk show host, but she is also a writer, YouTube star and has dropped a few singles in collaboration with other artists. In her song featuring Humble The Poet -‘Leh’ which really put them on the map in 2016, the artist talks about today’s youth and how they are in the current society.

Check out the video right here:


M.I.A., born Mathangi Arulpragasam, is probably one of the biggest and most seasoned South Asian artists in the world. Born in London, M.I.A. originally studied to be a filmmaker and designer, but in 2005 put out her first rap album and has now established herself as one of the most influential rappers of the 21st century. Some of her most notable and catchy works include ‘Paper Planes,’ ‘Bad Girls,’ and ‘Bring the Noize.’ She famously uses classical Indian instruments and styles in her music, and her art is heavy with political references and commentary. Most recently, a documentary called “MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.” was released following her life and fame and won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award at the Sundance Festival.

Here is one of our favorites by her MIA

MIA has been a voice for women’s sexual prowess and equality through her music in addition to speaking up for individuality against organized political mindsets.

More power to you girl!

Hira Zubair

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Hira Zubair

Hira Zubair is a Pakistani born New Yorker living in Brooklyn. She dances her way through life, dreaming of a world without borders. Wanderlust, dancing, soul connections and gastronomy form the epitome of her human existence. 


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