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 – lÃ¼tf haasil karnay kay liyay quvvatÃ© sama’at say ziyaadah to mÃ¼jhay yaad-daasht say kaam layna pa? rahaa haÃ©! 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 PÃ¼rya DhanÃ£sri, 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 NaseemÃ© 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).
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.
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.
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):
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: