Song of the soul Farida Khanum

‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo, haaye mar jaayenge ham to lut jaaenge, aisii baatein kiyaa na karo’.
Strains of her most popular ghazal in all the grandeur of her voice wafted all over the room. Rehearsing for a concert organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the NGO ‘Routes to Roots’ at the FICCI auditorium in New Delhi this week, Pakistan’s legendary ghazal icon Farida Khanum, looked svelte and poised even in her 70s. She was busy chiding the tabla accompanist, asking him to tone down the percussion. “Flow gently with the music,” she told him. Turning to me with a welcoming smile and immense warmth, she said, “There is too much cacophony and too little mellifluous music these days. Often, I am completely put off by the raucous play of percussion and refuse to sing even in Pakistan.” The irritation was palpable. The rehearsal continued as I soaked in the rich voice. Music that is manna! Age has only added to the infinite variety of her music. Finally, she broke off and asked for another percussionist.
The ultimate Diva of Ghazal who has won zillions of hearts with some hugely popular ghazals like ‘Aaj jaane kii zid na karo’ penned by Faiyyaz Hashmi, ‘Uzr aane mein bhii hai aur bulaate bhii nahiin’ by Daag Dehlvi, ‘Mohabbat karne vaale kam na honge’ by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri, ‘Dil jalaane ki baat karate ho’ by Javed Qureshi was back to regale the Delhi audience. It is not just her legion of Indian fans who keep echoing, ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’. She too longs to reach out to her roots in India. Excerpts from an interview with the ‘Mallika-e-Ghazal’:

You have your roots in India. And have honed your musical career in Pakistan and been conferred the highest civilian award, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, there. Do you think art transcends borders and will finally break the barriers between the two countries?
Oh, it is a wonderful thing, returning to the music lovers in India. There is so much ada, so much of love …for art and artists. Well, when I first came to India after several decades in Pakistan….it was such a terrific, overwhelming feeling. There is so much of mohabbat in the music and also in the music lovers of the subcontinent. And since then, over the past 25 years I have been coming. The music of Ravi Shankar, Hariprasadji…Amjad Ali Khan…. It is simply divine. And Lataji….oh! I get goose bumps when I listen to her. I tell budding musicians in Pakistan that they must train like her! Of course, there is rich music in Lahore too, and yes my career touched its zenith there. But, music knows no barriers and there will be entente between the two countries. There may be delays, but, this is all one land, one people, it is our land and people.

There is such purity in your music and the deep classical moorings are evident as you take your listeners to sublime levels with the sheer power of your voice and virtuosity in singing.
My training was rigorous back then in the early years in Amritsar and Kolkata. First under my sister Mukhtar Begum and the reputed maestro of the Patiala gharana, Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan. And then the deep unfluence and mentorship by other stalwarts of the gharana …. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and especially his younger brother Ustad Barkat Ali Khan sahib. And of course Begum Akhtar has had the most profound influence…I love her ghazal ‘Mere ham-nafas, mere ham-navaa, mujhe dost banake dagaa na de’.

You have lent your voice to the best poets of the continent. Who is your favourite poet?
Yes I sing a lot of the contemporary poets’ songs — Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Agha Hasher Kashmiri and Sufi Tabassum. A lot of Faiz saheb’s songs in fact.

And Daag, and Mir and Ghalib?
Yes, but, their poetry calls for tough composition skills. (She croons Ghalib’s immortal song from the film “Mirza Ghalib”, “Ye na thi hamaari kismat ke visaal e yaar hota, agar aur jeete rehte yahi intezaar hota”.)
Suraiyyaji had her own version in the film…inimitable.

You have blazed an iconic trail that few can emulate. What would you like to do in the coming years?
I would like to keep coming to India. In fact, if I was given a blanket five-year visa, I would keep coming back several times, be with Gen-Next musicians and help them hone their talent.