A Date With Malika-E-Ghazal Farida Khanum
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Imagine a situation when the main singer of a concert was told before the show that she has to perform with local musicians as those accompanying her were stranded in the previous airport and could no way be available on stage. In such a situation any singer of repute would straightaway ask the organizer to cancel the show rather risk her reputation by experimenting with rookie musicians on stage and that too in front of a jam-packed audience.
This however was not the case with Pakistani Ghazal singer Farida Khanum who took up the challenge by the scruff and regaled the music loving Chennai crowed with her vast array of vocal talent to be remembered by those present at the opening of the November Fest organized by The Hindu group of newspaper from 10 to 19 Nov.
When the full-throated voice of legendary singer from across the border filled the auditorium’s air at the Music Academy, India Pakistan barrier broke down and a mood of trance prevailed that could be described, as sublime in it’s content. It was apparent that there existed a huge constituency that likes to enjoy the common cultural heritage of the two country and remains above the din of the political rhetoric that we read in our daily newspapers.
The diva from Lahore mesmerized one and all with truths from her heart. Clad in yellow chiffon sari that sparkled in the arc lights, Khanum spoke in Hindustani when she addressed the Chennai audience. “One can lie with words, not with the music, I have come from Pakistan to sing for you and you have come to listen me, so, "Aaj jaane ki zid na karo," she said amidst thunderous applause.
The 71-year-old singer began her performance with Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Gazal and it appeared for a moment that the musicians could not coordinate with her vocals. However when her voice completely dominated the musical instruments, the musicians got their act together and adjusted with the pitch of her voice to fill the void created by those who were suppose to perform in their place.
The septuagenarian singer did not cared thereafter and went on to sing one after the other all her favorite Ghazals that has brought her name and fame. “Aaj janne ki zidd na karo…,” “Mohabat Karne Wale kum ne honge…” “Mere humnafas mera humnawa…,” “Sanjan toa se laagi nayan man ma...” “Woh maikada na jaate to kuchh aur baat hoti…,” “Allah Allah..” and many more were up for grabs.
The dignified Chennai crowed that turned out in large numbers to see her perform live on day that was marked with intermittent rains and thundershowers gave spontaneously burst of applause to all her presentations.
Farida Khanum’s style of signing was replete with emotions. Her dignified presentation infused life to the poetry of the celebrated poets whose works she sang. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Daagh, Shakeel Badauni, Agha Hasher Kashmiri and Sufi Tabassum are to name a few of her favorite poets. Khanum reminded the audience the name of the lyricists whose composition she was to sing next but some how some of her Ghazal’s has become so popular that they have inextricable became associated with her name.
“Ghazal means bride. Just as one do makeup to the bride to make her look more beautiful, the mastery of the Ghazal singer is in the art how beautifully it can makeup to poets verses through his or her voice” says Munna Shaukat Ali, a Ghazal singer based in Chennai and lyricist of the Hindi movie ‘Fiza’ fame.
“Farida Khanum’s wizardry lies in her high-speed taans and sargams (note patterns). She picks up a stanza of poetry and takes it to a height where it touches the borders of the classical singing and then brings it back to the sublime level of the Ghazal. This layakari (rhythmic wizardry) in Khayal tradition has earned Farida Khanum the title Mallika-E-Gazal, (Queen of Ghazals)” said Shaukat Ali who is also the president of Amir Khusro Academy that promotes Hindustani classical music in Chennai.
P.M Belliapa, a retired officer from the Indian Administrative Services, says he had come to listen to Farida Khunam because she epitomizes an era of common India Pakistan culture. "I hope that artistes from India will be able to create the same place in the hearts of the people across the border as Khunam has done here," he adds.
Frida Khanum is a darling of Ghazal lovers all over the world. She was born in Calcutta and brought up in Amritsar. Her sister Mukhtar Begum and the reputed maestro of Patiala Gharana, Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, who also tutored legendry Indian ghazal singer Begum Akhtar, initiated her into a rigorous tradition of classical music.
In 1947, she migrated to Pakistan where kept up her practice and excelled in the genres of Ghazal and Thumri. She rendered her first public concert in 1950 in which renowned singers like Zeenat Begum and Iqbal Begum too had their performance. The next five decades in her life saw her become an iconic singer who was equally popular on both sides of the border. She was awarded the Hilal-e-Imtiaz - Pakistan's highest civilian honor by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in 2005.
"I am honored to be for the first time here in Chennai. I had heard that this city loves and respects an artiste and I see this how much this is true in the overwhelming response showered on me. I thank you all from my heart," Khanum said in her closing remarks.
The crowed however did not let her go and started shouting one more, one more. She was in a fix what to sing next when she spotted one Sikh gentleman shouting; “Punjabi song maam, Punjabai song!”
Khanum responded to him with an equal spontaneity with “Balle Balle,” number that put the crowed into a foot-tapping and hand-clapping spree. Some even stood up and started performing Banghra on the sideways.
In the end the date with Malika-E-Gazal turned out to be a memorable evening. The queen of Ghazals etched an impression of her class on her fans in Chennai. Every one who watched her perform would remember her for a long time to come.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at email@example.com