Updated on the occasion of her birthday! NO one had a voice like hers, full of dard that welled up from her life experiences!
Born Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, Begum Akhtar began her training as a singer at age 7, and gave her first public performance at age 15 and soon became the voice of ghazals, dadras and thumris. In a biography of Begum Akhtar, Rita Ganguly and Jyoti Sabharwal tell us of how her father abandoned her, her mother and twin sister, a parting that led to a constant search for approval from her father, and one that she never ever got. At the age of 4 the siblings were poisoned and Begum Akhtar survived but her sister died, and a second parting left an indelible mark of sorrow on Akhtari Bai’s soul. A series of abusive relationships began with her first guru – a respected name in Indian Classical music, and was followed by an assault by a known royal patron of music from Bihar. At age 13 she gave birth to an illegitimate daughter whom she could never acknowledge as her child and always called her a sister! These traumas shaped a life full of melancholy that was channeled into the most divine music.
After marriage to a respectable lawyer, she was told to stop singing, until poor health led to a prescription that she be allowed to sing to heal. Somewhere along the line she had 7 abortions, and a bout with cocaine addiction, and eventually died of a heart attack after a concert at Ahmedabad – at the age of 60 years!
Somewhere along the line also followed a career in films (the last role was in Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar) and a phenomenally productive career as a singer for All India Radio, concerts and many many records. Her performances moved female singers out from the shadow of kothas, royal palaces and onto the stage with the attending aura of respectability! A Padma Shri, followed by a Sangeet Natak Academy Award, and a posthumous Padma Bhushan are not really needed to appreciate the unique voice that resonated with pain. Begum Akhtar sang at numerous mushairas and concerts and left behind a discography of close to four hundred songs, mostly classical numbers that she herself composed.
My favorite Begum Akhtar ghazals that have a permanent home on my iPOD, include:
Woh Jo Hum Mein Tum Mein Qarar tha; Na Socha Na Samjha; Diwna Banana Hai to; Uzr Aane Mein Bhi Hai aur Bulate Bhi Nahin! Those who care for the more classical Daadra and Thumri numbers can find much to enjoy in Begum Akhtar – the Golden Collection, a 2 disc bonanza for a blue mood!
Filed under: Music |