Beyond Paper : Doodh Patti – Chasing stories
An interview with Doodh Patti
Conducted by Hilal Khan and Mahnoor Abdullah
Mahnoor: So, Doodh Patti, what is “Doodh Patti’?
Hassan: It’s like chai.
Mahnoor: Why is it ‘Doodh Patti’ and not karak chai?
Aetazaz: Because Jaffar Abbas named it that way.
Our first manager. He was the first person to really have faith in what Abdullah and I were doing as individuals. Before that we were working on our own and of course there was Najam and Sir Salman, but Jaffar was the first person to have faith in the fact that we could create good stuff. That is why our first proper gig was for NEC Earth Day which is just unforgettable.
Abdullah: That was the first time we performed Yaadon ka samandar, an original.
Hassan: This was before I was in NUST
Hilal: There must be some motivation behind naming your band ‘Doodh Patti’ . What was that?
Hassan: To understand that you must first understand ‘Ajooba’
Aetazaz: Yes. Everything that we have done is very personal to us. When I came to NUST, I was sure of one thing and that was to do music. I didn’t know back then that whether I would ever take the path towards becoming a songwriter or how I would pop out as a vocalist or what my strengths or weaknesses were. I knew nothing. All I knew was that I wanted to sing and play. That is, it. So, from SEECS, I met two seniors who introduced me to NMX (Now NUST Music Society) and that is where I found him(Abdullah). Every day, I would come to jam and I would text in the group that any of you may join me from 1pm to 2pm daily. I just didn’t want to quit on it. In all honesty, before this I was made fun of so much that I thought that I just had to work harder than everybody else. We started, we met and then we jammed. There was then no stop to it. Every single day it was two of us.
Abdullah: Just the two of us.
Aetazaz: So, one day we were sitting in the TV studio after 5pm and Hashim Shakeel sat with us. The three of us were sitting and I just casually said that let’s make a band. They were like ‘fine’, but they didn’t know what they were getting into. I had some idea, but they were clueless.
Abdullah: Just vibing.
Aetazaz: I said let’s name our band ‘Ajooba’. What the word really means is wonder or miracle, because at times that is exactly what you need, and sometimes just what you would want to live for, because without miracles the world would just be monotone. Imagine a world without seven wonders…
Mahnoor: It would still be the world…
Aetazaz: It would still be the world, but how much of its colour would it lose. A lot of it. You wouldn’t be inspired or marvelled by anything. I know it is the most generic statement of all time, but nature is perhaps the biggest miracle God has created. I wanted to have miracles and at that point they were essentially necessary for keeping me alive. And that was Ajooba.
So, we did ‘Yaadon ka samadar’ as Ajooba. Then we did a lot of work. The first song we managed to make, it never really stopped after that. ‘Yaadon ka samandar’ was recorded in March. And the first time we performed it was in one of S3H’s classrooms. It was for an open mic CSL event. After that we performed on Earth Day. As soon as we were done with that, we started on our next song. And our spot to this day is a very specific bench at the lawn in front of IESE.
Abdullah: There is this specific bench you will see on your left if you are standing facing C1 in IESE’s lawn. Very inspirational.
Aetazaz: I think that place is quiet and serene, so it makes it easier to sit and think there. If we ever manage to become anything moving forward, I think IESE would get more credit than half of our parents.
Mahnoor: So, Hassan, what is music to you?
Hassan: It is something that is constantly changing. What music was to me and what it is to me now is entirely different. When I first started playing music, it was an awkward scenario, but not really. I didn’t really use to sing. Back then I applied for the position of President of my school’s music society, And I ended up getting that position. So, the problem was I wasn’t really a musician, now I had to somehow make it work. I borrowed my friend’s guitar and did it with some other friends. Back then it was all about it being cool to sing and known by everyone and loved by everyone and fulfilling the “rock and roll” dream.
Mahnoor: Cool teenagers
Hassan: Yeah, more or less. It changed when I came into university, it started to become more of an obsession than an activity. I always wanted to do it. Although it didn’t seem rational to want to do it all the time since it was obvious to me that I would probably not succeed as a musician and I would be wasting my money and time in it but regardless, it was something I still wanted to do. Music kind of became the centre of my life. Music can make someone cry or smile, or perhaps even close their ears and not listen at all. The concept itself is very intricate, exciting, and fascinating considering that it’s just air being pushed that can make someone cry or smile or not even close their ears. So, for me it basically condenses down to my identity and who I am, and it pushes me to question what I would be if I weren’t a musician. An economist, perhaps? I am not sure. Probably successful (laughs out loud).
Aetazaz: For the longest time the ability to write a story, converse with others and share an emotion to connect with others through those words and having them connect with me, is primarily the reason that I gel well with musicians and people who like music and not with other people.
For three years you’ve been commuting with me in the same van, and you have probably noticed that the person in the van is way different from the person who is sitting in the studio, because that is the only place I feel connected to people who want to pursue the same thing. It is not just music. It is the expression. It is storytelling, after all.
Abdullah: For me, it was simple. I don’t really have a lot of creative outlets such as writing or singing. So, the first time I listened to Ed Sheeran I was like man can sing and play. That’s when it clicked and then I picked up the guitar and started playing. It’s all simple stuff but when you keep listening to music you are stuck by a melody, instrumentation or some lyrics that keep you hooked and in the loop. That eventually got me into music. On the surface, it seems as though there’s only so much you can do with music. However, all things considered you gradually realize that there is a lot of art you can create from merely a few instruments. Certain poetry strikes you as being very profound at times. So, the way we create our music is that we utilize ordinary things but tie them in with those special elements to appeal to the listeners. For every song, the experience is ever so slightly different. All 3 of us look deeply into things associated with music, to analyse the structure and elements being used so we can use those things in our work. The element of uniqueness and surprise is what’s so special about music.
Aetazaz: And I think that is what makes us work. The obsession to tell a story in the perfect manner. We all tend to break down our work in our own domains, for instance I am a lyricist. I can listen to something like “Wish you here” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” and check out all of its history, references as well as characters. You study it and attempt to create content worth 35-40 minutes. These are just the lyrics. These 2 effectively analyse the chord progressions, vocal techniques, the production and so on. Each one of us obsesses over things that lie in our domains and I think that is how we make it work.
Hassan: Quoting Huzeifa Waseem, the legendary guitarist here. He always says that music is a language, and you have to learn how to speak that language. For us, it is often taking a story and making it into an experience. It is about picking the chords, the melodies and vocal tones that can best represent that feeling, that story and experience. We obsess over finding the right combination of all these factors involved in our work.
Hilal: What makes ‘Doodh Patti’ different from other bands?
Aetazaz: In all ingenuity, we are no different as people and as musicians. What is different is the story that we want to put out there.
Hilal: What is that story?
Aetazaz: It is a different story every single day. Even back when we formed ‘Ajooba’, we had this consensus that we will not make it Pop culture, just tell stories that are still desperately needed to be told. When you fall in love with someone or you lose someone, you can listen to a song and connect to it and similarly when you connect to a song when it happens the other way. But what do you listen to when your best friend dies or when you have to quit your passion because of money? These are very real, shaping experiences and these are the stories that should never be pushed under the rug of pop culture. We want these stories to be heard through our songs so that others can connect. This separates us. This makes us different.
Hassan: Another differentiating factor for us is that whenever we write something it is always done to do justice to a story and not for a commercial success. Obviously, making something presentable is a part of the process but this is not our driving force. The perception and interpretation for us is secondary to the story being told. Our priority is to keep telling stories our primary focus as opposed to money, success, or recognition.
Aetazaz: This is what I like about these guys. You’ve listened to them; you’ve talked to them, and I’ve worked with them. The two of them have a unique ability to keep themselves behind, even if that may come at the cost of their physical and mental well-being and keeping the story up front, the story will be told no matter how many tears it costs them. That is important.
Mahnoor: So, you are three people and one of you has a story to tell, how do you three come together and tell that one person’s story?
Hassan: So, for now, it’s Aetazaz’s story. That’s because Aetazaz had driving forces behind him that made him formulate those stories and made those stories we told. He was more pushed, or he had more motivation to tell those stories. I have stories, but I don’t think it’s time that they’re told yet. They will be told eventually but you know, it doesn’t really matter whose story it is, necessarily, it can be Aetazaz’s, Bhalu or it is mine. It just happens to be Aetazaz first.
Aetazaz: Since it’s mostly been me, so far, I can tell what I’ve seen in these guys. I think it was most obvious when we started writing “Titliyan” or when we wrote “Kho gaye.”. At that time, it was Abdullah (aka Bhalu) would play the chords and I would make the melodies and we’d write and the song would be ready in 2 days. As soon as you tell these guys the concept, these guys are somehow naturally able to understand what the emotion is, in that story. Plus, it’s also how I tell them the story in that exact order. They will use their instrumental knowledge. For example, if the first section is a butterfly feeling, the second section is melancholy, and the third is acceptance, then it means that he knows that he has to play with major chords, he knows when he has to bring up minor chords. This is technical stuff. That is more so the resolution of music and their understanding of it and also the chemistry both of them have had after working with each other for so long. I think for me it is that once we understand the emotional pattern of what it is, what the story demands. The lyrics just come naturally.
Mahnoor: How many songs do you have out there yet, out there for the world?
Aetazaz: Well, I tell you what, Doodh Patti never recorded and released any original tracks. What we did instead was that we worked with other people, like I’ve worked with Arsalan Hassan multiple times. One song that I wrote for Arsalan was “koi aur” that actually went pretty well. He wrote half of it as well. But, as Doodh Patti, nothing is out yet. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that we really worked hard for the past 3 years, like if you ask how many songs do we have in store, I think there’s a couple of hundred there. Like, there was a year when each of us, every single day…
Hassan: So I am the newest member by the way..
Aetazaz: (continues) But I think Hassan did it as well. We do experiments daily and make new stuff, that’s just a habit that we have. Back in 2020, I was obsessed. I took this thing that yar mainay puray sal ma har roz 1 naya gana likhna hai.
Mahnoor: What! How do you do that! You have 365 songs?
Aetazaz: Here’s the thing. I threw all of them away, like most of them. When you start writing your first 100 songs, 95 of them will be terrible.
Hassan: But there’s going to be that one song that will make it all worthwhile..
Aetazaz: (continues) Yes, I was just lucky that it was my first song “Yadoon k samandar”
Hassan: Sometimes there are songs that you write through a process, and sometimes, songs just come to you.
Mahnoor: What do we call that in Urdu, there is that one word for it.
Hassan: Amad, yeah, it’s amad. Sometimes, you don’t even know, words just come to you. It’s like you wouldn’t have used those words before. And all of a sudden, you are writing and you just put it down on canvas and it’s just there. It makes sense, and it is complete. That is a rare thing, obviously. But it is..
Aetazaz: But it is there and the thing is that 365 days means 365 songs. The only reason why I did it was because ordinarily when you are not skilled and inspiration comes to you, then there are a lot of times when we don’t use those inspirations correctly . You can’t take the best out of them. To take the most out of your inspirations, it is very necessary to develop a process. But when you’re writing there’s a stark difference in how two songs will progress.
Hilal: Different? How so?
Aetazaz: Let me explain. Yaadon ka samandar is about how humanity in general has this habit of putting strong people on this mantle of strength and thus, at times, isolating them, because we believe that they don’t need us and that they can handle themselves. Kho gaye, on the other hand, talks about how a person is very strong emotionally. Like, the things that come to mind when you hear the word “Stoicism”. It talks about those traits, yet in the bridge, it comes down and says, tu gham ki Andheri khala ma ha, har pal ksi ki dua ma ha, tu yado ma ha to Jahan ma ha, khushiyan teri asman ma ha. The last line, “Khushiyan teri asman pe ha”, maybe the stars have written some sense of joy in them for yourself but when we wrote, “Kho gaye”, it was supposed to be letter from a suicide victim to her now suicidal best friend, which tells him to live on. And it goes exactly in the form of a letter. We were stuck on the 2nd verse. When the second verse came in, I was mildly inspired. The lines that I wrote were, and when you analyse that letter, the first part is basically just asking the person why they are doing it, and just telling them not to do it. The second part is then a “reason”, to not do it and live on. And it’s supposed to make the victim’s existence meaningless. The writer, who is writing the letter, tries to make the other person realize that her existence doesn’t matter in his life, it’s not the only thing you are living for and thus, it goes like, jo puchay koi to kehna k sawan yahi ha, sawan is khushiyan, jis aangan mein bheegay thay hum do, wo aangan yahi hai. The setup, the stage for your joy, is also there. Kahe mujhe me udhoora ha jo sab ye kehna, Keh yaadon ke mele main ab bhi wo chupta yaheen hay, to kho nahi khud to yahan, suno guzartay lamhay ki yeh dhun jo kehti hai tum say. I think that just wouldn’t have come out. Like it’s not to toot my own horn, but I think it’s pretty good.
Aetazaz: This would have never come out without those 300 songs, or anything, without him working every day, because you listen to the song, and you see how everything gels in with everything else. It’s very difficult to find people who play instruments and at the same time, understand why they are doing so. And people who do it for reasons of expression, rather than reasons of material. And that’s what fascinates me about these two. Because in all honesty, according to their skill level, they could easily go to a producer and start working with them and within 6 months, 1 year, start working for brands, making lacs. Because we have seen this happen. But the only thing is that these guys aren’t running after cash or after anything else, that is for them. These guys chase stories because those stories deserve to be told.
Mahnoor: Realistically speaking, until when can you chase stories, and not run after cash?
Hassan: See, that’s the thing, right. Sometimes, people think that there are stories that are more deserving to be told than other stories. I don’t think that’s true. I think you can never run out of stories, ever. I think there’s just an infinite number of things that demand to be told, a lot of things that need to be said. And the day we run out of stories is the day we stop making music, I guess.
Mahnoor: I think that would be the day when humanity just stops existing.
Aetazaz: I don’t think we are ever going to stop getting stories.
Hassan: I think a story can be anything. It’s even like the smallest or most insignificant of stories can, you know, change the universe. It’s insane, you know, even just something you see while passing by. It may seem something insignificant, or something that is just part of your everyday life, can be an impactful work of art. It can be something that can make people smile or cry, or laugh.
Aetazaz: How many times have you seen two people fighting or arguing in a parking lot? Like we go to SADA parking daily, and we witness arguing between 2 or 3 persons. One of our songs was made on that. “Rang Re”
Hassan: It’s those stories that bring us together, that’s also the beauty of it. You know, if it wasn’t for those stories, I wouldn’t be friends with Aetazaz. But the power of stories changes how you view a person, you view a situation, how you view your own self in context of others. And, I guess, it’s something I want more people to witness as well, that you can find connection and you can find beauty and you can find things that you never expect to find, only if you start listening.
Mahnoor: I think that I comprehend and get creative with things better when I’m outside, so what’s your, I won’t say, creative space, but you know…
Abdullah: Most of my creative output has been through music, for me it’s not very much about places. I don’t look at something and recreate it sitting at a specific place. If I’m playing something, and I see something, I’m like, I’ll take it with me and I’ll work on it. So, I sit for a day, I’ll make sure that before I get up, I have something, something to expand on. It is not something revolutionary but it’s something that can express a story, so that’s where it comes out. It’s like I hear things, I see things, generally from anybody in the society and then it comes out, in the tunes of a guitar.
(Goes on to tell the story of how Bobby the guitar got its name from the rapper Bobby Schmurda)
Mahnoor: What is the highlight of Doodh Patti for you guys?
Abdullah: For me, when we’re working on a song, we’re chilling. But whenever we are working on a song and we are stuck, even for a month or two, we come up with a concept or we leave it for a year. And then, if it comes back at some point, we are like, ‘Oh, so this is the link to the chain we were missing.’ That’s the highlight for every song. We reach that point, and we are like, “Ah! Yeh theek hai, yes!” And then you remember that moment, that element of surprise, that comes in.
Aetazaz: We’ve had a lot of this like when we were doing the ON anthem, he made the baseline and, on its basis, Huzaifa wrote the chord progression. It’s called “Khawabon ka Jahan” and the whole hall gave us a standing ovation, not once but twice! Or when we sat right there in that chair and we saw a sunset and wrote the section of “Titliyan” and that moment, I think to this day, I have never seen purple in a sunset. I saw a deep purple in that sunset. That is a highlight!
Hassan: One addition; I think, Doodh Patti is a concept, not the people. So, it’s still Doodh Patti even if it’s not me or even if it is. The highlight is the process itself, breaking down concepts, listening to the stories, understanding their weight, understanding the absurdity of it all.
Mahnoor: When is “Kahaniyaan” coming out?
Abdullah: Probably this year.
Aetazaz: Our first song is in production. Payam Mashrequi is still working on it. He’s a genius, absurdly so. Here’s a story of how he thought the verse ‘Shamon ki madham hawa’ was ‘Shamoon ki madham hawa’ and asked us why are you writing about Shamoon Ismail’s gastric problems.
Mahnoor: So, how do you guys ever look at this song the same way?
Hassan: You don’t, you embrace the absurdity. Every time we sing the song, we giggle a little internally. It’s the concept that everyone takes from the song, whatever they can catch. And that man took Shamoon Ismaeel. That’s what he found!
Aetzaaz: The only thing I want to say is that our album is nearly done. It is coming out before we graduate. I just hope that at the end of the day we, with our current skill level, manage to do justice to the stories we tell. Because at the end of the day when it’s all said and done, no one remembers who Vincent Van Gogh is. But they do remember the emotions with which he painted and connected with the people. These emotions are his legacy. And I think that’s the sort of thing we want as well to not be remembered as people, just if our story stays there, people listen to it, and it makes their lives easier. That’s it, that’s what Doodh Patti is.
(Parts of this interview have been edited for sake of conciseness and clarity.)