Iqbal Bano (1935-2009): Payaal Mein Geet Hain

Posted on April 21, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Music, People
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Adil Najam

The magical voice of Iqbal Bano was silenced by death today.

The magical voice of Iqbal Bano will live on in our hearts forever.

Running this blog on a daily basis is not an easy task in these dark dark days. Having had to write as many obituaries (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, etc.) as we have had to has made the task only more draining to the soul.

Today was already not a good day for Pakistan when it started. It became all the more unbearable with the death of legendary singer Iqbal Bano. May she rest in peace.

Shahab Ansari writing in The News:

The last of the iconic woman singers of Pakistan and internationally acknowledged legendary artiste Iqbal Bano, who was widely known for immortalising Faiz Ahmed Faiz famous poems, died at the Ittefaq Hospital Tuesday. Iqbal Bano, 74, has left behind an unforgettable trail of thousands of immortal melodies since the day she started her singing career at a debut concert at the Lahore Arts Council back in 1957.

She was sick for quite some time and at 5am she was taken to the hospital, where she died at 3 pm the same day. Iqbal Bano married a landlord in 1952 and had two sons Humayun and Afzal and a daughter Maleeha. Her daughter Maleeha and her son Humayun were in Lahore at the time of her burial. Afzal could not attend the funeral of her mother since he had left for Saudi Arabia the same day at 3 am. Iqbal Bano was buried at 9.30 pm at the Garden Town graveyard near her home. A very small number of people mainly close relatives, neighbours and friends of the family attended her funeral while no one turned up from the film industry and the world of singing, except Shaukat Ali the folk singer, to pay last respects to the lady who ruled the world of singing for over five decades.

Iqbal Bano was born in 1935 in Delhi, India – died on April 21, 2009 Lahore, Pakistan) was an outstanding Ghazal singer and a singer of both classical and modern ghazals. Bano was brought up and raised in Delhi. She was musically talented, with a sweet and appealing voice. From a young age, Bano developed a love for music. It was a crucial moment of her life when her friend’s father told her father, “My daughters do sing reasonably well, but Iqbal is blessed in singing. She will become a big name if you begin her training.” Because of Bano’s love of music and persuasion from others, her father allowed her to study music.

In Delhi, she studied under Ustad Chaand Khan of the Delhi Gharana, an expert in all kinds of pure classical and light classical forms of vocal music. He instructed her in pure classical music and light classical music within the framework of classical forms of ‘thumri’ and ‘dadra’. She was duly initiated ‘Gaandaabandh shagird’ of her Ustad. He forwarded her to All India Radio, Delhi, where she sang on the radio. In 1952, a landlord from Pakistan, married seventeen-year-old Iqbal Bano with a promise that he would never stop her music, but try to promote her. Her husband fulfilled his promise until his death in 1980. After her husband’s death, Bano moved to Garden Town, Lahore. It was observed that her temperament was particularly suited to vocal genres like ‘thumri’, ‘dadra’ and ‘ghazal’.

Iqbal Bano was invited by Radio Pakistan for performances, she being an accomplished artiste. She was considered a specialist in singing the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. She has given such musical relevance to the ghazals of Faiz, that Bano and Faiz are apparently inseparable in popular imagination. Because of Faiz imprisonment and hatred of the Pakistani government towards him, Bano roused a strong crowd of 50,000 people in Lahore by singing his passionate Urdu nazm, “Hum Dekhenge”.

Iqbal Bano could sing Persian ghazals with the same fluency as Urdu. She was always applauded in Iran and Afghanistan for her Persian ghazals. The Iranians and Afghans thronged to her shows in large numbers to hear her ghazals in their mother tongue. Once she said in an interview, that she had a collection of 72 beautiful Persian ghazals. Before 1979, there was a festival of culture called Jashn-e-Kabul every year in Afghanistan. Iqbal Bano regularly received an invitation to this annual event. She was known for singing a new Persian ghazal each time she appeared. The king of Afghanistan liked her recital very much. Once, on such an occasion, the king was so pleased with her ghazals that he presented her with a golden vase in appreciation of her music.

Music lovers have noted some similarities between Bano and Begum Akhtar, especially some marked resemblances in their style of singing. Iqbal Bano does not consider the contemporary ghazals as ghazals at all. Her recitals stick to the old classical style that lays more stress on the ‘raag’ purity. Basically, a ghazal singer, Iqbal Bano has also sung many memorable Pakistani film songs. She has provided soundtrack songs for famous Urdu films like Gumnaam (1954), Qatil (1955), Inteqaam (1955), Sarfarosh (1956), Ishq-e-Laila (1957), and Nagin (1959). She won the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Pride of Performance) medal in 1974 for her contributions to the world of Pakistani music.

For many people the music of Iqbal Bano is personified in her rendition of Dasht-i-Tanhayee (video clip below). It should not be a surprise to readers of this blog that for me it is Hum Daikhain Gay which embodies Iqbal Bano’s music. The words were from Faiz Ahmad Faiz but but the soul of the song was captured by Iqbal Bano as by no other. We have carried my own interpretation of her rendition many times on these pages. Today, we carry Iqbal Bano singing the song in all its – and her – glory. Singing it as only she could:

I remember hearing it live at the very first “Faiz Mela” in Lahore. It was not then the anthem it would later become. Indeed, it became an anthem that evening. I don’t remember how long she sang it but it seemed to go on forever. I do not think she or anyone else had planned it that way. She sang it as just another song. But it never was just another song. Nor were those just some other days. This was at the height of the Zia era and that gave all sorts of new meaning to the song.

The crowd went mad in ecstasy. Everytime she tried to end the song, they chanted along with her, “hum daikhain gay… hum daikhain gay.” It was an amazing rendition of some amazing poetry for an amazing moment. And everything came together in that magical moment. My memory may well have transformed the moment into what it has become for me. But, then, that is the magic of great poetry, and of great music.

Thinking of that magical moment, of the moments that were to follow when I was lucky enough to meet her – and of the fact that she is no more – swells up my emotions. So, let me not even try to write all the thoughts and feelings that coming flooding into by mind but which I am unable to say because of these gushing emotions. Maybe, later, I will be able to say what I feel. But, for now, let me just end with the few images and sounds of Iqbal Bano in this post and the hope that we all can celebrate her life rather than just mourn her death.

36 responses to “Iqbal Bano (1935-2009): Payaal Mein Geet Hain

  1. israr says:


    How old are those recordings? Do you have any plans to digitize them?

  2. AMITABH says:

    A legend never dies
    Iqbal Bano
    ( 1935- 21 April 2009 Indian and Pakistani.):
    A Tribute

    Rarely has just one song, in a single performance, Immortalized a singer. In the case of Iqbal Bano’s rendition of Faizs’ ghazal ‘Hum Dekhenge’ in Lahore, in front of more than fifty thousand people, rousing them to a frenzy unparallel while daring the oppressive regime of Zia Ul Haq…
    ‘Jab arze khuda he taabe se Sab but uthwaye jaayengee
    Hum ahle safa mardood e haram masnad pe bithaye jayenge
    Sab taj Uchhale jayenge sab takht giraye jayenge..Hum Dekhenge…’
    was such a moment. For those blessed people who were present at that venue the moment has passed. But she will no doubt live amongst us for ever through her magical voice, and music.
    The privileged who have heard her music are aware that even without that one evening, or that performance, the wealth of her music, she will always be remembered as one of the ‘Greats’
    Her voice is melodious no doubt, her expertise phenomenal, her performances soul stirring; but towering above them all is her virtuosity in being able to transfer her belief in what she sings to the listener, whicch makes her one of a kind.
    Her repertoire from Persian to ‘ Brij Bhashaa,’ her perfect understanding of Urdu and her selection of poetry, displays versatility beyond compare, it is not just music, it is more: If one did not know it would be hard to believe it is the same person. A sublime mixture of melody and heart wrenching feeling. She often makes one believe that the poet had written the composition just for her.
    Need I say more?
    To be able to bring out the true meaning of Sufism, through the poetry of Persian poets, notably the poem by Nizami (1141-1209): ‘Mar ba ghaamza…. is a divine gift. The ease with which she slips into the subtle nuances of ‘Brij Bhasha’; the famous Thumri…’Ab ke saawan to ghar aa ja is just one example of something which only the naturally gifted can do. It is a measure of her understanding of Urdu poetry that she was equally at home with Ghazals and Nazms of Faiz or Ghalib. In fact some people go to extent and say, “She has single handedly taken Faiz to the common man, and has made this ghazal ( Hum Dekhenge ) into an antehem”. Even the great Begum Akhtar failed to rouse such emotions.
    It is not important, where she was born, or who taught her, it is equally unnecessary to chronicle her life or list her achievements. What is meaningful is how her music has touched the very core of the sensibilities of people who have heard her, which makes me wonder if theirs would have been the same if they had not heard her? Mine certainly would not have been. To change a famous ‘Naat’, a bit, and at the risk of being called a heretic, I would say:
    “Jalwa kisika ho ya ghazal kisi ki ho
    Aye Jannat tujhe salaam, Bano tujhe sunnee ke bad
    Sajda Karoon tumhe to Kafir kahenge log
    kisi aur ko sun na hai haram, Iqbal tumhee sun ne ke bad”

    I am sure that the revolutionaries from the jungles of Bastar, introduced to her famous ghazal by Arundhati Roy, to the forlorn ‘Expats’ from the subcontinent in New York City think the same.
    I am using today just as an excuse to write about her, because people like Iqbal Bano, are not remembered just on their birthdays, nor on the day which reminds us that nothing new would be forthcoming henceforth.
    Headlines, obituaries, sentiments expressed by many on the net bade farewell to her in 2009. ‘Good Bye Iqbal Bano’ …….most of them said however to one like me who was introduced to her music after 21 April 2009, it is WELCOME Iqbal Bano. You have moved ahead, but have passed on your legacy of optimism to not only this generation but to generations to come, not only in Pakistan, but to all those who believe in the beauty of God wherever they might be, and whatever the meaning of Divine is to them. The very fact that a 60 year old Hindu, living in solitude in Bhopal, salutes her brings to naught the harangue of power seekers who talk of Hindu -Muslim rivalry, and the India- Pakistan divide.
    Sadly there will be no more live performances, but her recordings will continue to bring to life, time and again, the memories of a singer who took Pakistan by storm, and who has left behind a legacy, for all music lovers to savour till there is music on this planet.
    I am positive that she is, at this very moment, sitting on the ‘Masnad’, and mesmerizing God himself with the purity of her music.

    Amitabh. 11th Aril 2010

  3. azeem says:

    I recorded her live several times, and I have recorded other Pakistani Mega Artists but none [except Asad Amnat Ali, I have recorded him live too] could come close in macthing the scale of her voice, male or female.

    Both could easily exceed 105 db SPL on my Nakamichi Recording System. These sessions were usally 4 to 5 hours long and I had my headphones on most of the time. This is like your ear being 12 to 18″ from the artist.

    I still have those 10.5″ Reel-To-Reel tapes.

    It will take many, many years fill out……
    or maybe never?


  4. Muhammad Shariq says:

    Iqbal Bano (May Allah rest her in peace).

    I don’t want to sound dramatic, but indeed after reading this dreadful news of her passing away some two months ago, has left me devastated as far as my musical world goes. No amount of words whatsoever spoken in her praise can do the justice. She was an artist par excellence. A singer who provided countless moments of joy and merriment to millions of listeners like myself.

    My most cherished memories of listening to music lies with listening her while strolling alone on busy New York streets and avenues. Her music was one of the things that kept me tied to my homeland and finally made me return to this beautiful peace of land – Pakistan. I still remember vividly how her renditions of Dasht-e-Tanhai, Hum dekhaingay, Payal mein geet hain and numerous other ghazals kept me mesmerized while wandering on streets searching for my own identity. Have heard several of her renditions of Dasht-e-Tanhai, and everytime while listening them in NY makes me feel as if she is singing it for me, for my solitude, for my lonliness.

    I was not fortunate enough to listen to her performing live and now it will be a thing to regret for the rest of my life.

    It is such a shame the way we honor our artists and heros. Specially after reading that almost no one (except Shaukat Ali) attended her funeral makes me even more sad, as she indeed was alone in her desert of solitude.

    The following goes for you M’am from the deepest beds of my heart:

    Is qadar pyaar se ai jaan-e jahaan rakkhaa hai
    dil ke rukhsaar pe
    is vaqt teri yaad ne haath
    yun guman hota hai
    garche hai abhi subah-e-firaaq
    dhal gaya hijr ka din
    aa bhi gaye vasl ki raat.


  5. taariq M. hassan says:

    ya Khudaa,haeiy haiey, bahoot afsos ki baat hai.

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