Remembering Begum Akhtar

Begum Akhtar was a most outstanding Indian singer of Ghazal, Dadra, and Thumri.
Begum Akhtar was a most outstanding Indian singer of Ghazal, Dadra, and Thumri.

O  P Sharma
Begum Akhtar  was a most outstanding Indian singer of Ghazal, Dadra, and Thumri. She had earned the title of Malika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals)  and the year 2014 is being observed as her anniversary year.
Begum Akhtar real name Akhtari Bai Faizabadi was born in Bada Darwaza in Bhadarsa Bharatkund in Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh on October 7,1914 and breathed her last on October 30, 1974 at the age of 60 years.
For her rare contribution in the field of  music and singing, she received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for vocal music, and was awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan (posthumously) by Government of India. Her modulation of voice, matchless singing  style especially of Urdu Ghazals of most reputed poets made her the most admirable singer.
Begum Akhtar was born in Bada Darwaza in town Bhadarsa, Bharatkund, Faizabad district in Uttar Pradesh. Her father, Asghar Hussain, a young lawyer who fell in love with her mother Mushtari and made her his second wife, subsequently disowned her and his twin daughters Zohra and Bibbi (Akhtari Bai).
Tough Start
Ms Akhtar was barely seven when she was captivated by the music of Chandra Bai, an artist attached to a touring theatre group. However,  at her uncle’s insistence she was sent to train under Ustad Imdad Khan, the great Sarangi exponent from Patna (Bihar) and later under Ata Mohammed Khan of Patiala (Punjab). Later, she travelled to Calcutta ( West Bengal) with her mother and learnt music from classical stalwarts like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan of Lahore, and finally she became the disciple of Ustad Jhande Khan.
Her first public performance was at the tender age of fifteen. The famous poetess, Sarojini Naidu, appreciated her singing during a concert which was organised in the aid of victims of a Bihar earthquake of 1934. This encouraged her to continue singing ghazals with more enthusiasm. She cut her first disc for the Megaphone Record Company. A number of gramophone records were released carrying her ghazals, Dadra, Thumris which instantly shot her into limelinght and her popularity graph  rose up.
Begum Akhtar’s good looks and sensitive voice made her to jump into  a film career in her early years. When she heard great musicians like Gauhar Jan and Malak Jan, however, she decided to forsake the glamour of the film world for a career in Indian classical music. Her supreme artistry in light classical music had its deep roots impure classicism. She chose her repertoire in primarily classical modes: a variety of raags, ranging from simple to complex. After the advent of talkie era in India, Beghum Akhtar acted in a few Hindi movies in thirties. East India Film Company of Calcutta approached her to act in “King for a Day” (alias Ek Din Ka Badshah) and Nal Damayanti in 1933.
A rare feature was that she sang her songs herself in all her films. She continued acting for only some years. Subsequently, Beghum Akhtar moved back to Lucknow where she was approached by the famous producer-director Mehboob Khan, as a result of which she acted in “Roti” which was released in 1942 and its music was composed by maestro Anil Biswas. “Roti” contained  her ghazals. All her film ghazals are available on Megaphone gramophone records. Beghum Akhtar, later on left and returned to Lucknow.
In 1945, Akhtaribai married a Barrister, Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi, and became known as Begum Akhtar. However, after marriage, due to her husband’s restrictions, she could not sing for almost five years and subsequently, she fell ill, that is when her return to music was prescribed as a befitting remedy, and in 1949 she returned to the music world. She sang three ghazals and a Dadra at Lucknow Radio Station. She wept afterwards and returned to singing in concerts, a practice that lasted until her death!
Her voice matured with time, adding richness and depth. She sang ghazals and other light classical pieces, singing them in her inimitable style. She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit. She was a regular performer on All India Radio. She usually composed her own ghazals and most of her compositions were raag based.
Urdu being the official language of Jammu and Kashmir, Begum Akhtar’s Ghazals and songs are frequently broadcast  on pressing public demands. She has paid visits to this part of the country and regaled the audience with her sweet song and melodious Ghazals.
During her last concert in Ahmedabad she raised the pitch of her voice as she felt that her singing had not been as good as she had wanted it to be and she felt unwell. The additional demand and stress that she put herself under resulted in her falling ill and was rushed to the hospital.
She died on October 30, 1974 in the arms of Nilam Gamadia, her friend, who invited her to Ahmedabad, which has become her final performance. But Begum Akhtar is still alive in the hearts of lakhs of fans of her matchless style of singing.
(Starline Syndicate Service)


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