Posted on July 30, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Music, People, Photo of the Day, TV, Movies & Theatre
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Adil Najam

Today ATP gets to feature the work of two people whom I hold in great respect – even awe – each at the top of their craft.

The first, of course, is Madam Nur Jehan (Noor Jahan). Whatever the word might mean to others elsewhere, for Pakistanis ‘Madam’ refers only to Nur Jehan; and one need not say anything more (except, maybe, that her real name was Allah Wasai).

(You can also view and hear a pictorial tribute to her here).

Because it is so difficult to even begin writing about Madam, I want to just refer you to the words of a second person I have been meaning to write about: the indomitable Khalid Hasan; erstwhile compatriot and Press Secretary to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and journalist par excellence.

Whether you agree with Khalid Hasan or not (and I don’t just about as often as I do), one has to agree that as a journalist – especially as a columnist (as opposed to just an opinion-monger) – he is at the top of his craft; the standard for all others to follow. How can you not be enamoured by a journalist whose website opens with the following line from Chiragh Hasan Hasrat:

No one should take journalists too seriously, especially journalists themselves because what they write in the morning, is used to wrap fish in the same evening.

Like so many Pakistanis, Khalid Hasan followed Nur Jehan’s career in intimate detail. Unlike most, he knew her well and have written about her with a palpable depth of affection. For example:

When Nur Jehan first suffered a heart ailment, I remember saying, “But of course it had to be the heart, considering how many claimants it has had and how often it has fluttered for those on whom she has chosen to smile, even if fleetingly and on a mild summer evening.”

This post came about because I recently stumbled upon this wonderful clip from the 1958 movie Anarkali, produced and directed by Anwar Kamal, music from Rashid Attre, starring Noor Jahan in the lead role with Sudhir as Prince Salim, and also with Shamim Ara in the cast.

Click on arrow at center, or view it directly here:

Of course, there are many other movie and song versions of Anarkali, and ATP has written about them before (here and here). But this one reminds me not only of the glory days of Pakistani cinema but also of the magic that was Noor Jahan. Most people thought that both she and Sudhir were ill-cast in this movie, yet the sheer brilliance of her songs took it to Silver Jubillee hieights. (Apart from this song, another memorable song in the movie was: “Sadaa houN appne pyar ki“).

As soon as I first saw this one of my first instincts was to go back to re-read a long piece that Khalid sahib had done on Madam; a piece whose substance captured the essence of Nur Jehan, and whose style captured the essence of Khalid Hasan:

Her music lives as it has lived from that distant time over sixty years ago when her nightingale voice was first heard in the music halls of Lahore and the smaller town of Punjab. It was an electrifying voice, never false on pitch, never striking an untrue note, but something perfect God had fashioned on a good day. She did not fritter away her gift. She worked hard, unceasingly, devotedly, indefatigably, uncomplaining, all the time honing and polishing this abundance of genius she had been invested with. She worked hard to become great. She was an extraordinary woman who lived on her own terms. She went through good times and bad, marriages, divorces, heartbreaks, casual and serious love affairs, fame, fortune, loneliness and, in the last years of her life, unremitting ill health. She bore it all with quiet confidence and much grace. She never felt sorry for herself, never looked for pity.

In typical Khalid Hasan style, the piece is full of insightful and juicy details, including on Madam’s varied love life and fabled antics. I will leave it to the reader to explore these — especially the detailed account of how debonair cricketer Nazar Mohammad was lost to Pakistan cricket because of his amorous affair with Madam — in Khalid Sahibs essay. But here is a particularly memorable bit:

Madam’s liaisons were part of her legend. Did someone ever directly ask her about them? One person whom I can name who did indeed ask her was Raja Tajammul Hussain. “All half truths,” she had told him. “Then let’s have some half truths,” he ventured, “the serious half truths, that is.” She was in one of her throwaway moods and she said, “All right then,” and began to pull out names from her photographic memory. After a few minutes, she asked Tajammul, “And how many do you have?” “Sixteen so far,” Tajammul replied with a straight face. Her response in Punjabi remains a Nur Jehan classic. “Hai Allah! Na na kardian wi solan ho gai nain!”

If you have not already gone over to read the full article, here is a final teaser that should have you rushing to Khalid Hasan’s website (he is describing how he got his first meeting with her in 1967):

I phoned the number several times but found it either engaged or unresponsive. But I persisted and was at last rewarded when Madam answered it herself. “Hello,” she said and I knew it was her. That hello was like music to my ears. When I told her who I was and why I had called, she said, “You people never write the truth.” “Try me,” I replied quickly, “What you say, will be printed exactly as you say it.” When she asked what paper I was from and I told her, she sounded reassured. The Pakistan Times had a great deal of prestige, the National Press Trust notwithstanding. But I wasn’t home and dry yet because the next thing she said was, “But that is an English newspaper and I can’t give you an interview in English.” Then she laughed, a teasing, flirtatious laugh, very Nur Jehan. “But you know I am not an anparh. I can do a bit of gitter-mitter.” She also told me I had an honest voice and would I come that afternoon. She also asked me if I knew where she lived. “Yes, Madam, I indeed do. The entire world knows where you live. Bang in front of the United Christian Hospital, the big white house with the black steel gate.” The Liberty Market was still somewhere in the future.

29 Comments on “Madam!”

  1. sabizak says:
    July 30th, 2006 3:45 pm

    Loved this piece Mr. Najam as I too am a great fan of both Noor Jehan and Khalid Hassan, though I made my class at Kinnaird do an exercise in which they worked on the lines of Muhammad Asaduddin’s article on Khalid Hasan’s translations of Manto, where he contends that Hasan is not faithful in his transaltions and embelishes them. Nonetheless his language flows like no other translator I know.
    What an interesting, lively, fun person Noor Jehan was, loved that quip ‘na na karday…’

  2. MSk says:
    July 30th, 2006 4:02 pm

    wonderful post about wonderful people. like everyone I grew up with Noor Jahan’s voicce but she was not really a major influence on me until I got in my late 20s and then started hearing her old songs. the stuff I had heard earlier 70s and 80s was not that powerful but the old stuff is synamite… great selection on teh song too… now i have to find and watch this moview somehow…. I have also recently discovered Khalid Hassan via the Daily Times and he is on my must read list

  3. Fawad Zakariya says:
    July 30th, 2006 4:55 pm


    Always wonderful to read a piece on Paksitani culture and particularly one on Madam Noor Jahan. I have to heartily commend you on the frequency and quality of your posts as well as the world of Pakistaniat that you have helped create.

    One quick correction: Madam’s birth name as far as I know was Allah Rakhi not Allah Wasai.

    Also your blog reminded me of the the single most interesting profile written on her. That profile of her by Saadat Hasan Manto was written in pre-partition Bombay and has some memorable episodes of Manto’s meetings with her in the company of other filmi friends (Rafiq Ghaznavi etc.). (Unfortunately, I am not at home so I am unable to consult my collection of Manto’s essays to quote some gems). In that collection there are also two wonderfully touching portraits of Ashok Kumar and K.L Saigal who were both close friends of Manto.

    One joke I remembered about Madam was told by a friend. Somebody in Pakistan’s film industry wanted to do a remake of Anarkali and asked Madam if she would consider doing the role and she responded: “Kamal Sahib, hun main Anarkali nahin Purani Anarkali ban gai aan” (Both Anarkali and Purani Anarkali are neighborhoods of Lahore)

  4. Khalid_s says:
    July 30th, 2006 8:36 pm

    This picture of Nur Jahan at the top is just spell binding. No wonder a whole generation was in love with her.

    I was wondering about the two pictures with, I presume, Khalid Hasan. Who is the man with teh beard and the hat. Could it be Dr. Abdus Salam?

  5. Owais Mughal says:
    July 30th, 2006 11:12 pm

    While growing up, I didn’t like Noor Jahan’s songs much because listening to her was out of fashion as copmared to pop trends of 80s and 90s. But now if I revisit her songs, I may like them. Just like the one from Anarkali in this article. It is a very good song.

    Couple of things i do remember about her. I have read Saadat Hasan Manto’s write-up on her titled as ‘Noor Jahan’. But Manto being Manto; he has written all the street language and talked about lots of ruumors about her. I believe not all of them could be true

    Another thing I remember was an Anwar Maqsood’s interview about censorship during Zia regime. Anwar sais he was once interviewing Noor Jahan. I forgot the exact question but it was something like. ‘what do you do if your husbaand asks you to change ‘. She replied: ‘then I change husbands’ (meiN shauar badal leti hooN) :) Anwar Maqsood said this was the funniest sentence of the program but got censored by PTV of those days.

  6. Naveed says:
    July 31st, 2006 6:07 am

    I owe my following of Nur Jehan to Khalid Hasan. His book Scoreboard captivated the imagination.

    I am sure everyone is familiar with Nur Jehan’s rendition of Faiz’s mujha say pehlee see muhabat..

    The Mohatta Palace Museum has come out with “Requiem For An Unsung Messiah:The Great Interpreters” containing a rare gem, Nur Jehan’s “unplugged” version of the nazm that Faiz “gifted” to her. This link has a review of this collection.

    Highly recommended for fans of the great poet

    There is another Faiz classic that leaves the listener mesmerized. It is Aa kay vabastay hain. Sadly it does not feature on major faiz audio collections available in the market.

  7. pakpics says:
    July 31st, 2006 7:31 am

    Really she was a master piece. though she is no more but she still exists in our hearts.

  8. Asad says:
    July 31st, 2006 3:34 pm

    How ‘golden’ was this supposed ‘golden age’ of Pakistani movies?
    How good were those movies. Or are new movies so really really bad that the old ones start looking golden?

  9. Roshan Malik says:
    July 31st, 2006 4:58 pm

    In addition to her melodious voice, enchanting delivery of lyrics and with her innate facial expressions was matchless. Her collection of Saris and Jewelry was unique. My parents were big fan of Melodious Queen. I still remember, the long discussions between my parents about her. They used to discuss about her movies like Koel and Chanway. I still remember when i went to home on Eid holidays, the year Noor Jahan died, and my mother was very sad about the departed soul throughout the Eid festival.

  10. July 31st, 2006 9:37 pm

    What is happening with her children? Did they not enter music as well. I remember a rather heavy fellow (with afro hair) often showing up on PTV to sing. He wasn’t that good but it was rumored he was Madame Sahiba’s son-in-law and hence got the air-time?

  11. Roshan Malik says:
    July 31st, 2006 10:08 pm

    Her eldest daughter Zile Humma was on the screen for a while and lot of people liked her as she has resemblance with her mother but is no comparisan as far as singing is concerned.

  12. sabizak says:
    August 1st, 2006 11:18 am

    @ Bilal. That man (noor jehan’s ex son-in-law) is Khalid Waheed, whose only claim to fame (notoriety more like) musically speaking; is ripping off western tunes and making songs from those, one I actively recall ‘mairay jeevan mein aana’
    ‘inspired’ note to note by John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’.

  13. Naveed says:
    August 2nd, 2006 8:25 am

    Other family members that I have seen in the limelight are probably third generation, her grand childen. One is lead vocals for EP (Entity Paradigm) a local rock band. Other grand son appeared in Zille Huma’s remake of “Jadee holee jae laina maira naa”. If I am not mistaken both these guys are brothers and probably Zille Huma’s sons. As far as the “rocker” fellow is concerned, he appears in TV sitcoms & is actually pretty good as a character he plays a wierd mutation of James Bond & Mola Jutt.

    Sabizak – The first track that I remember as far as Khalid Waheed is concerned is “Pakistani fauj kay jawan hain hum”. If I am not mistaken, this got played an awful lot following Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law.

  14. August 4th, 2006 9:23 pm

    Naved you made me laugh at the sentence ‘wierd mutation of James bond and Mola Jutt’. This was too funny a remark :)

  15. Zeeshan says:
    August 6th, 2006 1:43 pm

    Adil Saab,
    Amazing! How great it is to re-visit old times and old legends. In the hussle bussle of our daily lives, we forget that we should stop once in a while to smell the roses; in this case, to listen to Noor Jehan’s songs…
    I wrote an article on a few years ago on Noor Jehan and Lata. It can be found here:

  16. Mustafa Zulqarni says:
    August 10th, 2006 10:01 pm

    I agree with the starting thread…”madam” is a bad word to refer to someone and I always wondered Pakistanis felt no hesitation in calling Noor Jahan a “madam”.We may call it ignorance or jahalat.

  17. Mustafa Zulqarni says:
    August 10th, 2006 10:04 pm

    About that picture of Bhutto smoking a cigar,how can I see it bigger?
    Is there any link or can this picture be enlarged enough to be seen clearly?

  18. MSk says:
    August 10th, 2006 11:47 pm

    No. ‘Madam’ is NOT a bad word. For most people its a word of respect, used for someone of the female gender. The PRIMARY meaning of the word according to the OED is “a polite form of address for a woman.”
    It can be used, in semi-slang/street language to refer to a woman who runs a brothel, but the root of that also comes from the assumption of power, and therefore respect.
    For some people – usually those with a dirty mind – it can be a dirty word (but for that crowd, any word can be a dirty word). But NOT in proper English langauge.
    No, Pakistanis are not ignorant or jahils. Yes there may be ignorance or jahalat at work here. But NOT by those who called Nur Jahan Madam… for them and her it was only a measure of respect.. all others, please wash your dirty minds with soap :-)

  19. Raheel Jalal says:
    August 20th, 2006 4:29 am

    August 20, 2006
    I remember my school days in 1970′s when Noor Jehan ji was at her prime in Pakistani movies. I used to wait for her new numbers and collected hudreds of here records (vinyle discs). Her voice and her delivery of words is matchless. The greatest singer of all times, the diva ruled the music kingdom for 66 years. Thanks for remembering her, this remembrance has given happiness to millions of her fans.

  20. Video Wallah says:
    October 12th, 2006 11:11 am

    That is a great video. The great thing about YouTube is how much old desi stuff is on it.

  21. Farzana says:
    October 26th, 2006 1:33 am

    Great post….. my favorite columnist (Khalid Hassan) and favorite singer (Noor Jahan) in the same post… and a great video song too. thanks.

  22. Parveen says:
    October 26th, 2006 3:26 am

    The early Noor Jahan was both amazingly beautiful and a great voice. The later Noor Jahan was a legend but her songs were not what the early ones, like in this video, were

  23. December 14th, 2006 9:34 am

    Excellent tribute to the queen of music soothing the millions. Many compliments to all o you.

  24. Nomi says:
    July 6th, 2007 8:31 am

    When we think about nightangale our mind waves turn to Melody Queen Noor Jehan (Alaha wasai) and Umme Kalsoom. its not commen. But, when you listen both of then you’ll must feel immence pleasure and your soul must be go in trip to imaginratic world. She’s godess of music and she also very very right sung a song “gaey gi dunia beet mere, sureley ang mein, niraley rang”……..A Madam’s lover…..Nomi

  25. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    September 24th, 2007 6:34 pm

    Mustafa Zulqarni’s Madam,
    sorry the word is actually Madame, and in French speaking culture every woman is called Madame, in Urdu “Begum ,”or Mohtarema(reserved only for Fatimah Jinnah),
    similiarly Madmoiselle is for “Aanesa” in Urdu (unmarried lady), Noor Jehan was “greator” than Madam, you cannot name a”koyal” with any other alternative, well it will be insulting calling Bai ji to some one of that calibre, “MALIKA-E-TARANNUM, thats it !!!!!!and she will remain.

    Her eternal melodies, majestic miraculous voice, no comparison at all.

  26. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    September 24th, 2007 6:52 pm

    of course Mdame’s later songs in late 70s 80s some punjabi songs were like “mar sharappa ” style as voilant punjabi music,
    directors becoming “Baanjh” in novelties, but then just look at the punjabi films at that time, just load of crap with kg of blood
    Gundasas, Barkans, which many ministers and their hali mawalis imitate even today. Noor Jehans voice was dragged into commercialism and money making.

  27. October 15th, 2007 7:13 am

    [...] Saira Wasim is a prominent Pakistani miniaturist. I found a link to her website hidden in my unread emails. Some of her recent paintings are terrific. The image below is borrowed from here. It is dedicated to Queen of Meldoy, Noor Jehan. [...]

  28. November 4th, 2011 12:01 pm

    Noor Jehan is was a legend and her services for Pakistan are unmatchable how she devoted herself in the times of war…

  29. November 6th, 2011 4:31 pm

    Noor Jehan is was a legend and her services for Pakistan are unmatchable how she devoted herself in the times of war…

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