Farida Khanum: Memories New and Old

Posted on December 12, 2007
Filed Under >Zakintosh, Art & Literature, Music, People, TV, Movies & Theatre
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The last two or three performances by Fareeda Khanum that I attended had saddened me at the rapid downhill slide in this great artiste’s abilities. Shortness of breath – and the unusual brevity of the pieces she sang – left me wondering whether one should continue attending her performances as a respectful duty of an old fan or stop and remember her only as she was at her peak. At the last APMC Annual Conference in Karachi I recall saying to Khalid Ahmad: yaar – lütf haasil karnay kay liyay quvvaté sama’at say ziyaadah to müjhay yaad-daasht say kaam layna pa? rahaa haé! So, when someone invited Nuzhat and me to a concert by her last night, I admit to accepting it with some trepidation.

As the evening began, the fear of what could turn out to be a horrible night – and from which one could not escape, because our hostess (Ameena Saiyid) was sitting right behind us – began to be exemplified, given that the huge and impressive-looking sound system turned out to be faulty. A short test-run by brothers Ustad Idrees Hussain (harmonium) and the scintillating Ustad Khursheed Hussain (tabla), had gone well (despite the high audience-noise) … so who was to guess that the microphone for one of our most respectable artistes would have been left unchecked and necessitate three replacements during the course of her performance. Maybe the recording team thought the hosts were called Saaz OR Awaz!

I can recall a couple of considerably younger performers who, under far less trying circumstances at two of the APMC Karachi concerts, had either walked off or given performances that were filled with equal parts of skill and irritability. It is to FK’s temperament that the audience owes thanks. She made light-hearted comments on the mike situation on several occasions and, undaunted, moved ahead, perhaps having braved the fiasco of an evening in India.

Her first piece, an uninspiring but mercifully short Pürya Dhanãsri, fell far short of what one would want from someone of her stature. Shivers! Looks of disappointment and worry from Nuzhat. My face expressionless as my eyes and ears took in the not-surprising applause from an auntie-ful house.

Then, something started to happen and, soon, inspired by some inner muse, Farida Khanum began to become her wonderful self again, bringing to mind a piece of writing about her that described an earlier concert scene: “That all-too-familiar coil and quiver of the lips, the relentless twinkle in the eyes, the poise and aplomb that can still send many-a-hearts reeling”.

It has been years since I have heard her in such voice. With each piece (though many remained much shorter than what we have been used to from her – but, c’mon, she’s 72!) she went a little way further until she became, in voice and gestures, almost indistinguishable at some point from the Farida I had always known and loved.

My earliest memory is of listening to her at the house of her amazing sister[?] Mukhtar Begum, whom my father – with me in tow – had gone to visit professionally. His profession, not hers! (He was a medical doctor and a tremendous lover of poetry and classical music). I recall him saying to MB that he loved (who didn’t?) her rendition, in Raag Darbaari, of Agha Hashr’s Choree Kaheen Khulay Na Naseemé Bahaar Kee – and a live performance of the ghazal was the visiting fee he’d collect when she was back on her feet again. MB laughed and said, “Agar trailer (which she pronounced ‘tayler’) daykhna hae to iss bachchee ko suniyay, daaktar saaheb!” And, so, Abi and I were treated to the voice of young Farida.

Unplugged!!! Beautiful. Haunting. Seductive. Especially because it was without the clatter of musicians – the best way to truly gauge a voice. To this day, whenever I hear her sing that ghazal, as I did yesterday, I am reminded of that first unique introduction to her singing.

Oh … one more thing: Boy, was she stunning as a teenager!

Last night’s concert, with a break for snacks, lasted over 4 hours. A range of thumrees, ghazals, and her popular and catchy Punjabi numbers (Ballay Ballay and Baajray Di – almost party-anthems for us when we were young) were sprinkled over the evening. The post-interval session was devoted to farmaaishes and she graciously agreed to start with mine, a ghazal by Daagh Dehlavi in chhoti bahr – a form she always sings amazingly well (in contrast to that other marvellous grand old dame, Iqbal Bano, who – generally – excels at longer bahrs).

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Uff. It sent my heart aflutter again … though not dangerously loudly enough for Nuzhat to hear.

Another piece brought back memories of a different kind, entirely.

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Movie memories. And memories of a more personal kind: It was the last movie I saw with my father who died later the same year. The film was Baji, directed by Suleman, brother of actors Santosh Kumar and Darpan. I am unable to find a video of the film, so if any of you spot a copy (vhs/vcd/dvd … anything) , please email me. I just have to own it! Not just for the story, which was of the kind one usually finds in Bengali films (billed as ‘social drama’ in my childhood), nor for Nayyer Sultana’s convincing performance, but for one of the finest musical scenes in the sub-continent’s movie history. My memory isn’t perfect but, as far as I can recall, the scene was packed with everything I could have wanted. Let me try and recall, as best as I can:

The wedding ceremony shows a spanning shot of the guests. Since the hero is (if I recall right) a character from Lollywood, he has invited hordes of stars as guest. Thus, the shot features a dazzling array of cameo appearances by any stars that were left out of an already star-studded movie. Name him or her – and you could catch a glimpse among the seated guests. (The people in the movie hall were outdoing each other at shouting out the names as the stars appeared.)

Unlike the usual style of movies then (has it changed much, I wonder), where everyone breaks into an aria, or prances about in the mistaken belief that s/he is dancing, at every opportunity – here was an occasion that actually demanded a song and dance sequence. The decorated stage came into view and two of our greatest classical singers, Nazakat & Salamat Ali performed a superb long piece to the accompaniment of India’s great Tabla player, Ustad Allah Rakha. Yes, things were different then. But not too different. The authorities decided that they’d not allow the visuals to feature him so (I think) we probably had pans and other shots while he played. EMI did release the brilliant solo, one that seamlessly bridged the Nazakat-Salamat performance and what followed, as a separate recording!

So what did follow? To the brilliant tabla sound that remained after the classical duo had ended was added the sound of ghungroos … and from the stage wings, to the cheers of the people in the hall, appeared the two most popular dancers of the time, Amy Minwalla (whom I remember as a lissome ‘lil girl – a far cry from her later appearances – at my first Christmas party in Karachi, at Hotel Metrople, where she performed a Ballet!) and the alluring Panna, the real-world wife of Director Sulaiman. In a well-choreographed dance sequence, they lip-sync’d to two playback singers singing Sajan Laagi Toree Lagan Sajna: Farida Khanum and Madam Noor Jehan!

Could any Pakistani filmgoer, then or now, ask for a better treat?

Back to reality!

Farida Khanum is set to perform again in Karachi, for an audience she loves.

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Don’t miss her performance. I am not sure, but I think the date is the 8th of this month … and the venue is the Karachi Arts Council. Check out Danka closer to the time. And while you are at it, bookmark the site or add it to your RSS feeds.

See you there …

Postscript: I apologize for not putting up more than short bits from FK’s performance of last night on the ‘net. To be fair, Saaz Aur Awaz – the society that hosted her for the evening – will be selling the professionally (:D) recorded CD set. My recordings are from way back, sitting in the audience, so they lack clarity and definition.

But, to make up, here’s one more treat (Mukhtar Begum in all her glory):

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ATP Editor’s Postscript: ‘Zakintosh’ or Zaheer Alam Kidvai is a man of many virtues and even more passions. Amongst the many things that he is known for (and should be even better known for) one is his outstanding interactive DVD tribute to Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Aaj Kay Naam. His blog, Windmills of my mind, is amongst our very favorites and his ‘introduction’ there says it all: “They laugh at me because I am different; I laugh at them because they are all the same.” This post was first published at Windmills. As is common for Zakintosh’s blog, it was not just the post but the comments that were also worth reading. One in particular – from Rashid Latif Ansari – is worth sharing here:

This brought back the memories of FK when I first met her at Dhaka in January 1961 at then Hotel Sahbagh (Now converted in to a hospital) along with Nazakat and Salamat. They were performing at Dossani’s cinema turned into an auditorium for that performance which lasted till early morning.The Bengali audience were so enthralled that, apart from a jam packed hall, the adjoining streets were full of people who kept standing on those streets throughout the night. I admired their love for music. They stood patiently for almost ten hours listening to the classical music. Loudspeakers were installed outside the theater also.

The LP of Nazakat and Salamat was recorded by me. It is a very interesting episode. The recording engineer, Akhtar Abbas Peerzada, had mastered the Japanese skill of sleeping anywhere at any time. During recording, as it proceeded past midnight, I noticed that Akhtar was sitting motionless over the sound mixer. When I looked a little more closely I found that he was fast asleep. It would have earned great adverse publicity for EMI, if it had come out that during Pakistan’s ace singer’s recordings the recording engineer had gone off to sleep. So I asked Akhtar to go off to sleep on the carpeted floor of the control room while I sat at the mixer.

Due to one reason or the other that session went on for 30 hours of non-stop recording, but after that marathon session we all succeeded in producing a good LP record.

Finally, we at ATP have not yet been able to unearth a video of the clip from Baji that Zakintosh has described so eloquently, but we did find a much later video of Fareeda Khannum singing the song at a concert. (Other video recordings of her performances here). Here it is:

21 Comments on “Farida Khanum: Memories New and Old”

  1. Daktar says:
    December 6th, 2007 11:46 pm

    Wow! What an wonderful bouquet of memories. An absolute pleasure to read. The recordings from the live concert, although not highest quality, are so real and it is great to be able to listen to what she sounds like now. And she is still amazing. What a great treasure she is. Thank you so much for this post.

    Thank you also ATP for being true to your name : ALL THINGS PAKISTAN. Even in these testing times you are able to lift our spirits even as you keep the flame of freedom alive through.

  2. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 7th, 2007 4:35 am

    @Faridah Khanum

    It was rare to hear classical or semi as playback songs
    in Pakistani film music, “Sajan laagi tori lagan man ma”
    has a value no one realises, you can forget Indians, this
    duet has never been reproduced anywhere, sarengi gave an
    alure beyong comparision. Films like Baaji, Mausiqaar,
    Koiel. Gumnaam,etc etc are historical.
    Voice is certainly a gift,
    Khanum had an advantage to her and the biggest was the
    utilisation of all the Akars of her voice, thorax or gala, she
    had definitley a very sound Riaz & a good Ustad.
    As according to the rules you are defective if you
    sing in your nose. Where as in India it is tolerated, puncham
    and in the nose, its a horror, sorry. I had the honour to hear
    in private mehfils, Amanat Ali, Fateh Ali, Mehdi Hassan,
    Faridah Khanum, Nazakat Ali Salamat Ali, its fascinating.
    They, among others, are monuments of music.
    I think Faridah Khanum is the only female in the
    sub-conti, atleast her caliber, there is no second.
    The joy listening Khanum can not be inked.

  3. December 7th, 2007 5:40 am

    main nay hatoN maiN kung-gan to phena naheeN.

    who wrote this fuuny song, any clue??

  4. mrizvi says:
    December 7th, 2007 8:31 am

    What a great start for a Friday morning! I enjoyed reading this. Thank you Zakintosh and thank you ATP.

  5. Qandeel says:
    December 7th, 2007 9:22 am

    I enjoyed your personalized style of writing; somehow your memories made ME feel nostalgic! Ghazal maestros like Farida Khanum are such a beautiful component of our culture.

  6. Adnan Ahmad says:
    December 7th, 2007 11:27 am

    Zakintosh, It is age. Statue, in the end, is made of ice and it melts. It is sad to see that she has reached that age. I am amazed to see that even a post like this can be turned into India Pakistan comparisons and rivalries. The other day I saw Lata in one of the recent videos accepting an award and I felt the same pain seeing her physically deteriorate that I felt today reading about Farida Khanum.

    One observation rather than suggestion for ATP is that I see a distinct difference in the quality of comments between posts on arts/lit. and politics/currents affairs. I have almost stopped reading comments on posts on currents affairs and politics because, to put it bluntly, they have been so bad. I just read comments from familiar names that I have known for a while and respect. In that, I can also understand your suffering in reading all that ‘junk’ and editing and deleting. If out of 200 comments only 10 are worth reading then what a waste of bandwidth and time it is.

  7. Ahmed2 says:
    December 7th, 2007 12:37 pm

    Mr. Adnan Ahmad;
    Ditto to our comments in para 2 re. ATP.

  8. Fauzia says:
    December 7th, 2007 12:43 pm

    This is a beautiful tribute to a real legend. Wonderfully written. Love the line about “Surr OR Awaz”. Ha ha.

    I firs time I fell in love with Fareeda Khanum was when I heard “woh mujh say hoee hum-kalam allah allah” and the most recent time I fell in love with her again was when I saw here new patriotic video here on thie website.

    Hers is an extraordinary talent. Not only in singing but the grace, the charisma and the elegance that she brings to her performance.

    Now, I will go back and enjoy some of these recordings you have again.

    Thank you.

  9. Aftab says:
    December 7th, 2007 3:48 pm

    Pleasure to read this. I do worry that the basis of classical music is dying. Even when people like Farida Khanum sing popular songs like baajray di rotti, the basic training in classical music shows and makes it so much more nice. That skill, I fear, is dying.

  10. Bhindigosht says:
    December 7th, 2007 4:44 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful post. I have had the pleasure, at the age of13, of hearing Farida Khanum live at a private mehfil. The overwhelming aura was of power and glamour. I still remember to this day her sparkly blue saree, her smoky voice, and of course the awesome rendition of “woh hum say….”.
    btw, Zakintosh what do you mean by the auntie-ful house :) ?

  11. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 7th, 2007 4:50 pm


    @yes, you said it, every body is singing either immitating
    western clips, disco music, silly poetry, just silly stupid, an
    insult to our language. Indian conspiracy, to eliminate
    Pakistan’s potential, we are playing in their hands, we were
    forced and lured into “loving them”, throw yourselves in
    their arms. The chickens.

  12. mrizvi says:
    December 10th, 2007 1:10 pm

    Rafay Sahab: How is it Indian conspiracy that we don’t appreciate the classical music as mush as we used to? I still think there is more appreciation for Classical music in India then in Pakistan.

  13. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 10th, 2007 2:13 pm

    Adnan Ahmed,

    @ you don’t have to worry at all about the comparision
    bet ween Pakistan and India, there is no comparision,
    Pakistan’s vocal, instrumental, poetic, classical, semi-
    classica, Ghazal, thumri Dadra, nothing to do with India,
    I can prove to you, certainly that Pakistan has no rival.

  14. mozang bijjli says:
    December 10th, 2007 10:43 pm

    Well i may be the only one who loves farida khanum and her music for an altogther diffrent reason.
    While preparing for my matric exams I discovered that maths goes very well with farida khanum. Its was an old lok virsa cassette that my chacha owned and i was playing it just to tease him while scribbling on the paper. I felt that the music give a rythum to the work and i have begun to undrestand the previuosly tedious calculations with no effort at all.
    so the i confiscated chacha’s tape and frida khanum saw me through matric, FS.c and university. The ghazals soothe you. you cant fall asleep, but are alert with your mind sensitively receptive of what it is seeing.
    Thanks Frida khanum for enabling a ‘nalaik panda’ like me sail through the acedemics.
    What i liked than was
    ‘jhooti tasaliyon se na behlao jao jao
    jao kay tum nahin ho meray ikhtiyar mein’

  15. SH Kavi says:
    December 10th, 2007 11:25 pm

    @ Zakintosh
    I like this post very much.It brings back so many nice memories of my college years.You mentioned film Baji in your post, I loved the music of this film.I was wondering if you help me find one song of this film over the internet, sung by Naseem Begum.
    Chunda tori chandni mey jiya jla jaey rey.
    I would really appreciate it.

  16. saleem moinuddin says:
    April 23rd, 2008 12:55 pm

    Please let me know how and where I can buy these beautiful recordings by Zakintosh. These are real treasures and I am happy there are still some people with taste to preserve our music.
    I will appreciate if someone can give me an address where I can collect Pakistani classical music.

  17. aloha says:
    June 6th, 2008 2:59 pm

    We Indians treat music as divine and consider it to be one of the sixteen art forms. Musicians are respected more in India than in Pakistan . This is especially true of women singers and musicians.

  18. aloha says:
    June 6th, 2008 3:00 pm

    Hey i loveeeeee that pink dress with rose embroidery that she is wearing. Wonder where i can get it?

  19. July 23rd, 2009 1:24 am

    pakistan is a very beautiful country.
    I love very much

  20. Mohammed Javed says:
    October 17th, 2009 11:11 pm

    The rendering of Salamat Ali and Nazakat Ali of “Kaun Gaat Bhaai” and the Noor Jahan & Farida Khanums “Sajjan Lagi Tausay Lagan Balma” have been uploaded on YouTube recently.

  21. Phunzai says:
    May 2nd, 2011 1:39 pm

    What is the name of the first link to the ghazal by Daagh Dehlavi in chhoti bahr? I have been trying to find it forever. can someone tell me the exact name?


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