The legendary Begum Akhtar was a doyen of Hindustani classical music, particularly in the ghazal genre. Her musical tradition was so unique that she came to be associated with her own distinct style of singing. She was rightly called the ‘Mallika-e-Ghazal’.
Born in 1914, she came to be associated with Hindustani classical music, excelling in ghazal, dadra, and thumri. As a child, Begum Akhtar or Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, began her classical music training rather early as she reportedly showed sparks even as a kid, captivated by the music of Chandra Bai, a touring theatre artist of the day.
Her first public performance, aged only 15, was in front of freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu. In no time, her good looks and silken and sensitive voice would take her places. Soon she was the most fancied voice for ghazal gayaki.
Inclined towards music from a very young age, she was initially trained in music by her mother Mushtarbai. Abdul Wahid Khan of Kirana Gharana, Ramzan Khan of Lucknow, and Barkhat Ali of Patiala imparted musical guidance to her in her early years. Her later gurus, successively, were Sarangi Nawaz Imdad Khan, Ghulam Mohammad Khan of Gaya, and Ata Mohammad of Patiala.
She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for vocal music, and was awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan (posthumously) by Govt. of India. She was given the title of Mallika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals).
Begum Akhtar also acted in a few Hindi films which include Ameena (1934), Mumtaz Begum (1934), Jawani Ka Nasha (1935), Naseeb Ka Chakkar (1935). In all these films, she sang all her songs herself.
At the launch of a book called Begum Akhtar-The Story of my Ammi on the legendary singer, Gursharan Kaur, wife of then Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, had said: “She is rightly known as Mallika-e-Ghazal. Her inimitable style of singing, the haunting sweet notes with which she mesmerised the audience, her uncanny ability to choose the right kind of ghazal has left an indelible print on the minds of those who got a chance to listen to this great exponent.”
Speaking at the occasion, former chief minister of Delhi, late Sheila Dikshit had said, “The exponent’s music still sets the standard for connoisseurs of this genre to this day. Begum Akhtar’s rendition was so endearing that every note gripped the hearts of the audience. She possessed all the qualities that are so vital for a good ghazal singer.”
She breathed her last on 30th October 1974.
Lt’s have a look at the ghazal sung by the maestro.
Wo Jo Humme Tumme Qarar Tha
Written by Momin Khan Momin, this ghazal takes one back to their own time. The pain that Begum Ji has evoked with her voice is simply matchless.
Hamri Atariya Pe Aao
One of the famous ghazals of Begum Akhtam, this track narrates a story of a lover who asks her beloved to visit her dwelling so that they can see each other. This quintessential number was written by Mustafa Zaman Abbasi.
Mere Humsafar Mere Humnawa
This beautiful ghazal has a number of retentions but the one by Begum Ji takes away one’s breath. The lyrics were written by Shakeel Badayuni. This track is about a heartbroken who asks her beloved to leave her to her plight as she doesn’t need his sympathy.
Kuch To Duniya Ki Inayaat Ne Dil Tod Diya
Considered to be a gift of Lucknow to Hindustani music, Begum Akhtar’s soulful voice adds warmth to this track. The lyrics and voice are interwoven in such a way the ghazal will lose its touch if one is taken out.
Ae Mohabbat Tere Anjaam Pe Rona Aya
This ghazal is from the album Malika-E-Ghazal : Begum Akhtar. Sung by the Queen of Ghazal herself, this track was written by Shakeel Badayuni. This ghazal depicts the tale of a heartbroken person who criticises the feeling called ‘love’.
Begum Akhtar performed on All India Radio and Doordarshan, and was honoured with Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan.