The magic of Farida Khanum, the Queen of Ghazal

Farida Khanum wears the title of Queen of Ghazal with panache. Every song of hers bears her unique identity and soul.

 |  7-minute read |   02-12-2020
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Sometimes a creation becomes bigger than its creator. In this case, two creators — Sohail Rana and Fayyaz Hashmi. Sohail Rana is the Pakistani film music director par excellence, composer of Mehdi Hassan’s inarguably best Pakistani film song — Mujhe Tum Nazar Se, and one of Ahmed Rushdi’s finest — Haan Isi Mod Par, both the songs from Doraha (1967). Fayyaz Hashmi is the well-known Pakistani film lyricist whose very first song — Sab Din Ek Samaan Nahi Tha — in 1941 launched Talat Mehmood.

And then there is the singer who initially presented the creation to the world — Habib Wali Mohammad. This MBA from Syracuse University, New York, was based in Bombay and hailed from the family of an industrialist. While he eventually migrated to Pakistan in 1957, he was well-known in India, having recorded Lagta Nahin Hai Ji Mera under the music direction of Saraswati Devi (India's first female music director). The ghazal became very popular since it was broadcast on Radio Ceylon. However, it was Rafi who brought the ghazal into the national consciousness.

A similar fate befell Habib Wali Mohammad regarding this song. The song would forever be linked to only one person who came to the party later. But that is the destiny of some songs. Their new interpreter turns the original creation into an ‘institution’ and gets indelibly associated with it. The original creators and singer can only take a backseat and watch their creation being majestically moved to the universal stage by the sheer genius of the cover singer.

Farida Khanum. The song that her name conjures is Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Na Karo from the film Badal Aur Bijli (1973).

main_farida-khanum_f_120220015844.jpgIt will be very unfair to treat Farida Khanum as a one-song-wonder. She is more. Much more. (Photo: Facebook/ @FaridaKhanumOfficial)

Here is the original version of the song:

No two live versions will be exact copies. It all boils down to the audience, the mood, the setting, the musicians, the emotions. The introduction and placement of the musical ornamentations — kan-swar, meend, gamak, khatka, andolan and murki may vary from performance to performance. The emotions invested, the throw of the honey-sweetened rich voice, the style of delivery, the lyrical flourishes, the adaa, a hint sometimes of coquettishness even while dealing with yearning and anguish, the coil of the lips, the twinkle in the eyes, the poise, the gestures — each rendition is new. That is why it remains fresh and timeless. It is a nazm beyond compare, and with Farida Khanum helming it, it attains divinity.

She has an inner muse which constantly inspires her every time she sings it. Listen to her version here:

She does not require musicians for this song. Unplugged, the song is even more beautiful, haunting and seductive. Musicians just detract from the intensity of feeling imbuing not only every word but the silence between the words too.

But it will be very unfair to treat Farida Khanum as a one-song-wonder. She is more. Much more.

She was born in the fall of 1929 in Calcutta. Her family moved from Amritsar to Lahore in Pakistan when she was 18 years old. She followed in the footsteps of her famous elder sister — singer Mukhtar Begum. Under the tutelage of the renowned Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan of Patiala Gharana, she learnt khayal, thumri and dadra.

In one of her interviews, she has stated that she would have been a classical singer had she not migrated. In Pakistan, the classical singers were so good that she would not have been able to match the extremely talented ustads. She was always interested in poetry and decided to shift to the semi-classical genre, rather than struggle in a difficult field. She was, of course, being modest.

She gave her first public concert in 1950 at the young age of 21 and then joined Radio Pakistan, where she gained recognition for herself. She became a well-known singer when President Ayub Khan invited her to a public recital in the 1960s.

After that she tasted massive success. Her outstanding songs are too many to count. To name a few, Woh Ishq Jo Humse Rooth Gaya, Maine Pairon Mein Payal To Bandhi Nahin, Raat Jo Tum Ne Deep Bujhaye and Woh Mujh Se Hue Ham Kalam.

All these decades, she has been sitting atop the pedestal of love and affection showered on her by her vast legion of fans. Every song bears her unique identity and soul. The Queen of Ghazal’s songs are redolent with emotion and virtuosity. Her contribution to the genre has been immense. This is borne out by not only her sellout records and stage shows, but also the awards she has been bestowed with — the Pride of Performance Award in 1970 (Pakistan), Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2005 (the second-highest civilian award in Pakistan) and the Hafiz Ali Khan Award in 2005 (India).

She has visited India often. Her fans are on both sides of the border. I was very fortunate to see her perform live in New Delhi. The Siri Fort Auditorium was packed to the rafters. The concert was pure magic. She mesmerised the audience, had them in raptures and applauding endlessly, asking for more. The diva sang one soulful ghazal after another. She would elegantly acknowledge every applause with an aadab and a kiss of her hands. She was truly majestic. Her performance was overwhelming, her aura graceful. And yes, she did sing Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Na Karo, which was the highlight of the show. “One can lie with words, not music,” she said.

She is still going strong. In 2015, at the age of 86, she sang this nazm in Coke Studio (Pakistan) Season 8.

In March this year, she rendered yet another nazm during an Instagram live session with musicians Vishal and Rekha Bhardwaj.

It was natural that this iconic song, this eternal love ballad, would be re-sung by many artists. Asha Bhosle sang it in her album Asha Bhosle: Love Supreme (2006).

The song was used as background music in a scene in Monsoon Wedding (2001). It was recreated by Pritam and featured in 2016 film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) in the voice of Shilpa Rao. And the list goes on.

This veteran singer and legend, now 91, will continue to live in our hearts. The thrall that she held us all in, will never diminish. Her immense legacy will yunhi pehlu mein baithe rahegi.

Also Read | India versus Pakistan: How quickly we have forgotten that 'they' were once 'us'

Writer

Ajay Mankotia Ajay Mankotia @ajaymankotia

The writer is an author, former revenue official, former NDTV executive and a music aficionado.

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