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Music for the Soul
Sunday, 1 June 2008. A couple of hundred true aficionados of Hindustani classical music made their way to the Ravindra Natya Mandir at Prabhadevi for the rare pleasure of listening to Begum Afroz Bano, a well-respected name in the world of Indian classical and semi-classical music. These were die-hard fans of the genre – they decided to put it ahead of the IPL cricket final telecast at the same time.

This fourth MoneyLIFE event was sponsored by Axis Bank and provided an unusual musical treat to our readers and the Bank’s priority customers because of the very infrequent public performances by this senior artiste. Begum Afroz Bano is among the very last of the old-time singers of the lighter variants of Hindustani classical music (thumri, dadra, kajari, chaiti, hori, mand and ghazal) like Begum Akhtar, Siddheshwari Devi and Shobha Gurtu who had audiences spell-bound with their open-throated renditions. In her stage presence and style of singing Afroz Bano is perhaps among the last of that generation of outstanding and radiant singers who create a magical old-world charm and leave a deep impression on the listeners’ minds with her utter simplicity of approach, intense musical involvement and complete commitment to the great traditions of her gayaki.

Born in a family of traditional vocalists, Afroz Bano was trained under Ustad Sadullah Khan and Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan of the Patiala gharana and Ustad Fayyaz Ahmed Khan of the Kirana gharana. Her husband Ustad Hidayat Khan is the famed tabla maestro-musician of the Jaipur gharana.

The small auditorium decorated with bright marigold and filled with the fragrance of jasmine provided the setting of a mehfil and set the mood for the performance which flowed effortlessly from one rendition to another with barely a pause. Begum Afroz Bano regaled the audience with her opening thumri in raag manj-khamaj. A tuneful dadra was followed by a sprightly chaiti and the longing of viraha ras was expressed in a melancholy kajri.

As Pandit Nayan Ghosh, the tabla expert, explained: “Kajri is a form of folk music from the Benaras region. The word is derived from kajra or kajal, meaning a dark shade and, therefore, implying the monsoon with heavy grey clouds. These are sung in anticipation of the monsoon and describe the various moods and sentiments of a nayika with pangs of separation.” The playfulness of the well-known mukhada, ‘Hamar kahi mano Rajaji’, made famous by the great Begum Akhtar, had the audiences in raptures. The artiste brought out the subtle and provocative warning of the wife to the bounder not to get swayed (bhilam mat jana) by the long tresses and charms of the other woman, while being vicariously appreciative of her! Begum Afroz Bano closed her performance with the well-known Bhairavi “Jau tose nahi bolu” a plaint of the newly wedded bride who refuses to lift her veil (ghungata kaise kholun), thereby suggesting (without explicitly saying so) to her rather dull-witted beau to do the honours himself.

ai’ While she sang each of her pieces with awesome authority, what made her presentation so enchanting was the lilt and lift she gave to the words. This is literally called vajan (weight), which sets apart great masters from also-rans. Thus she imbued each of the well-worn pieces (exceptions being the rarely heard Mand and the Kalingda-Gauri type of virahini) with a freshly-minted aspect that almost invited the listener to make comparisons, only to demonstrate how futile the exercise was. Such was the serene confidence of the diva who seemed so enviably, completely grounded in her tradition and talim.

The artiste was accompanied on the tabla by Khadim Hussain of Vadodara, a disciple of Ustad Hidayat Khan, on the harmonium by Naseer Khan of Jaipur and on the sarangi by Mumbai’s Anwar Hussain. Her eldest daughter, Farida Begum, lent her vocal support. The evening was possible due to the efforts of Pandit Nayan Ghosh of Sangit Mahabharti and his team, who have been archiving Hindustani classical music for many years.

While MoneyLIFE’s earlier events have been focused on workshops aimed at sharpening investment skills and safeguarding one’s assets, this one focused on the ‘life’ aspect embedded in our brand. We are encouraged by the huge reader response to all the events so far and hope to do more such events that cover Life as well as Money.

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