Chal Raha Hoon
by Ayesha binte Rashid
Umair Jaswal wrote Chal Raha Hoon in the throes of the heartbreak that followed a breakup; a heartbreak, “to the point where you don’t see the sun rising. It’s a very dark space when you feel like you will never get over this,” he now remembers. While the song was written during his university years, it is only now reaching his audience and represents a vulnerability that is increasingly becoming apparent in his music.
Written from a place of loneliness and helplessness, Chal Raha Hoon captures the grief of losing someone you love. With them gone, life continues to move forward, days passing into nights, nights into days, but it feels hollow and devoid of joy. “The sunlight, it burns me. The distances, I am counting them. But I am still walking onwards because life can’t stop. Life is always moving,” says Umair, summing up the essence of the song. He doesn’t agree with the old adage, “time heals everything,” – time doesn’t heal anything at all, he says, you merely get used to the pain so that it doesn’t seem unbearable anymore.
For Umair, this was a relationship that changed his life. Some relationships are unlike any other – they show you a part of yourself which you weren’t aware of before. This one was it for Umair. When you lose a relationship like this, he says, it’s hard to replace it with another bond.
In losing the person Umair loved, he learnt important lessons – looking back now, he muses that it’s necessary to lose that one person who captures your heart. With time, you realize that it was perhaps a good thing that you did not attain their love. Even if the experience did not lead to the outcome you had wished for, your pain becomes a pathway to personal growth. Umair’s eventual takeaway from the pain was the desire to do better and show that he can be good enough, not for anyone else, but for himself. These undertones can be seen in Chal Raha Hoon, which, even in its grief, draws on the hope that shines through the dark cloud of sadness. “You’re still living, you’re still breathing. The sun is still shining, life goes on and so do we.”
For an artist, loss and the pain that comes with it eventually turn into the light that nourishes inspiration, as it did for Umair. “People like me take any little heartbreak and nurture it for fifteen years and keep extracting things from it. One heartbreak can give you fifteen different emotions and feelings, as lessons and stories. I think we use it as an advantage.” Heartbreak, it turns out, is a goldmine for an artist like Umair, albeit one that comes with certain opportunity costs.
The creation of Chal Raha Hoon has shaped Umair’s association with the experience and how he remembers it now. To write these lyrics, or any song that comes from a place of truth, Umair finds himself feeling what he writes, a process that exaggerates the pain for him – this collateral is not entirely unintentional. Sometimes one becomes used to sadness, almost comfortable in it, Umair ponders, especially musicians who find their creativity in it. He admits he sometimes finds himself burrowing into the darkness in search for that fuel of inspiration, as loneliness and sadness become muses for his songwriting.
Performing a song, even if it is years after the experience of living it, is like latching on to residual feelings from the past and reigniting them. “When an artist writes a song, no matter what the lyrics are, they are his own. No matter how many times he sings it, or performs it on stage, the song will take him back to that feeling. It’s never easy, it’s like reliving it over and over again, feeling that emotion again and again. You get used to it, but you never get over it.”
Bringing the song off the shelf, dusting it off and bringing it to life has also offered perspective. “It’s an interesting age, when people are discovering themselves. In those days, a little bit of pain would seem monumental and loving someone was a big deal. Now, you feel like laughing about it, but it’s great that (the) emotion in time was captured and was written down” Umair now says.
Eight years have now passed since Umair had his heart broken, and Chal Raha Hoon has come off the shelf. On Coke Studio Season 12’s set, as he sings into the mic in what is almost a croon – his signature growl somewhat muted – the mood on set shifts with the song. In this rendition of his song, Umair finds a literal treatment, notes and rhythm matching the shifting moods of the poetry, inviting the audience to experience the passing of time. Life moves on, days passing into night, and so it does in Chal Raha Hoon.