One voice that has remained contemporary across generations is that of the majestic Begum Akhtar. Each performance of hers' is magical, ecstatic and divine. So sublime that each one in the audience would have liked to cling on to anyone moment, that perfect note and make it their own. Every individual felt that Begum Akhtar was singing exclusively for him or her and this is what made her mehfils unique.
It is said that today there is no visual record of these magical performances anywhere, save perhaps this VCD/DVD produced by Doordarshan of a recording it made of a mehfil in seventies. For the younger generation especially, it would provide that rare glimpse into the art of Begum Akhtar.
Music came naturally to her. So did success somehow one has a feeling that even adversity treated her kindly and equipped her with that edge and empathy with which she could bond instantly with the individual in her audience and to personally reach out and gently nurse that area of the heart which feels tanha - lonely. A sorrow that was also her own: deep and solitary, lived and "felt. Born at the cusp of a resurgent yet turbulent India in October 1914, in the twin city of Ayodhya and Faizabad, Bibbi was exposed to the vagaries of life even as a child. Daughter of a Saiyed, she and her mother Mustari were forsaken by her rich lawyer father at an early age. This befell her after she survived the poisonous attack by a jealous and cruel relative that claimed her twin sister. Her proud mother would not tolerate the intrigues of the extended family and decided to raise Bibbi alone.
She shifted to Gaya from Faizabad and it is here that the prodigy started to get formally trained in Hindustani Classical Music under the tutelage of Imdad Khan. Later on she started learning from Ustad Ata Mohammed Khan of Patiala Gharana. Mustari and her daughter moved to Calcutta with the Ustad where at the age of ten she gave her first public performance and when twelve made her first recording. The song Diwana Banana Hai to Diwana Bana De made Akhtari Bai Faizabadi a household name across India and set the tone for what would be an enduring legacy. Thumri, Dadra, or Ghazals, she became well versed in each form of Hindustani Classical Gayaki. Her virtuosity did not go unnoticed by either stage or celluloid and this amazing blend of beauty, voice and acting skills made her an actress to be reckoned with.
Because of her mercurial temperament she very soon got tired of the razzmatazz of Bombay and decided to move to Lucknow, the city of old world charm and grace where she felt she could find the true Rasiks. Embraced by the elite, a presence at her Mehfils became de rigueur for the city's aristocracy. She had an unquenching desire to keep improving as a singer and she became the disciple of Ustad Wahid Khan, doyen of Kirana Gharana. The result of this rigorous training was her crafting a new indescribable style where three schools - Purab, Kirana and Punjab - blended. She went on to become the state singer of almost all the major states of pre-independent India.
It was in Lucknow that she met the Nawab of Kakori, Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi. She decided to give up music and entered family life with the Nawab. The joy of motherhood was denied to her despite several pregnancies and this shattered her completely. It was music that came to her rescue after eight long years. A new star appeared on the horizon. This time by the name of Begum Akhtar. Burnished by bereavement and sorrow, her return to music was greeted with electric joy.
Her second innings is what we remember. Her extraordinary prowess matured by age, Begum Akhtar's music found patrons among the high and mighty of independent India. By giving Ghazal singing a platform of its own, she made it an integral part of Hindustani Classical repertoire. At the same time she breathed fresh life into Urdu Shairi embellishing it with her unique imprint. Immortality was assured for this mesmerising voice which transcended all the set precedence norms and form.
It is with deep reverence that one will continue to remember Begum Akhtar's music. Alive and electric in her songs, music that has found instant connection to souls who know that pain is personal and yet universal. The beauty of her music has been her characteristic simplicity. Stripped to its essence, her voice eschewed any exaggerated vocal mannerisms or maudlin sentiments. At the same time this music elevated the listener.
Doordarshan is proud to have made a rare recording of this legend and presenting it to a larger audience who would otherwise be deprived of a glimpse into her magical live performances. A high point of this concert is her rendition of the Sufi Saint Aziz Miyan of Nai Zia School of Bareli Sharif a Bedardi Sapne me aa ja, an acknowledged gem from her vast repertoire. Digitally enhanced for sound and picture quality this proves to be an exquisite experience by itself. Introduced by the maestro Pandit Jasraj, one hopes that this unique offering paves the way for a fresh set of admirers, adherents and performers set in her vision.
Hori (dur.12 mins. 03 Secs.)
The Hori Thumri is a form that combines the wistful romance of the 'Thumri', a North Indian light classical form of singing with thematic content related to the colourful spring festival of 'Holi'. and more often than not, the divine interplay of the love-pranks of Krishna and Radha.
Khamaj and kafi are popular in which Horis are rendered. Kaisee ye dhoom machaayi is a masterpiece of the genre and one of the most enduring renditions of begum Akhtar.
Ghazal (dur. 09mins. 30secs.)
Traditionally believed to denote a conversation with the beloved the Ghazal is a short sequence of couplets in which each couplet is thematically complete in itself. It is a testing form of Urdu poetry.
Jigar Muradabadi was one of the greatest poets in Urdu and his forte was the Ghazal. In the post-Iqbal phase of Urdu poetry while most poets- were experimenting with new forms of poetic expression, Jigar adhered to the genre and produced his unforgettable collection titled 'Aatish-e-Gul', Tabiyat in dinon .. : is a Begum Akhtar classic that captures the romantic depth of Jigar's poetry through the poet's satirical opening lament on how the loss of sorrows has reduced the joys of living.
Ghazal (dur. 10mins. 15secs.)
Faiz Ahmad Faiz was one of the greatest Urdu poets of the Indian sub-continent and a trailblazer in the world of modern Urdu literature. Faiz enthroned social and moral values and the force of change on the seat occupied by the traditional concept of 'the beloved' in the empire of the ghazal and gave the ghazal a new fervour. He believed that poetry was also 'a struggle', and participating in it was not just a demand of art, but also a demand of life.
'Aye kuchh abr kuchh sharaab aaye' is one of his most popular ghazals. Literally translated, its opening lines mean ' Let the clouds come, let the wine flow ... and then let any oppression come this way:
Dadra (dur. 16mins. 09 secs.)
The 'Dadra' is another very popular form of North Indian light classical vocal music. Generally performed after a Thumri, it has a charming, at times coquettish cadence that highlights the romantic content of the form. The lilting tempo is medium-paced and expression of emotions is a key element of rendition. Dadras are generally set to the six- beat rhythm cycle also called 'dadra', but not as a rule.
'O bedardi sapne mein aa ja.: is one of the most famous dadras sung by Begum Akhtar. Like most dadras, it provides room for lyrical improvisation as well as interpretation at the physical and spiritual levels.
One voice that has remained contemporary across generations is that of the majestic Begum Akhtar. Each performance of hers it magical ecstatic and Divine. So sublime that each one in the audience would have liked to cling on to any one movement that perfect note and make it their own.
Project Director: L.D. Mandloi
Devised &amp;amp; Designed by: Kamalini Dutt
Associates: Ved M Rao &amp;amp; Kali Prasad
Lyrics: Jigar Muradabadi
Lyrics: Faiz Ahmed Faiz