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
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.
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
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.