Begum Akhtar, b. circa. 1904-d, 1974, a legend in
her own lifetime, is one such person on whom there is no available biography. A
pioneer in the field of Indian light classical music she helped popularize the
traditional form of thumri and ghazal gayaki and took it to the
concert level all over India and abroad.
Unfortunately, despite her talents, an entire generation of Indians has grown
up listening to only gossip connected with Begum Akhtar's life; be it the
controversy surrounding the Nawab of Rampur or her other alleged affairs.
This is what Shanti Hiranand has attempted in her memoirs. It is a book that
will hopefully provide a salve to all those open wounds surrounding Begum
Shantiji has examined her beloved Ammi with the objective philosophical gaze
of a woman and has shown us a side of Begum Akhtar that was hitherto hidden in
the dusty corridors of House No. 1, Havelock Road, Lucknow.
"...It is interesting how these two women from seemingly diverse
backgrounds could come to such an exalted level of understanding between
themselves, in times that were not very conducive to such social interactions.
Shantiji belonged to an upper middle-class business family. She had a liberal
education and was used to a certain space and freedom to pursue her own
passions, while Begum Akhtar lived within the cloistered environs of a typical
feudal home in those days. On the one hand Shantiji was an austere Gandhian and
Begum Akhtar was a person of deep indulgences. It is amazing that
Shantiji's parents never stood in her way: they never stopped her from being
with her 'Ammi'. On the contrary on occasions it was Shantiji's mother who
encouraged her to follow her Guru right until the end..."
About the Author:
Shanti Hiranand was born in a business family in Lucknow. Her penchant
for music goes back to her childhood. Soon it became an all consuming passion
for her. Starting her early training at the Music College in Lucknow, she had to
shift to Lahore in the early forties because of her father's business interests.
Her first performance was on Radio Lahore in 1947. After partition her family
shifted back to Lucknow and she started training under Ustad Aijaz Hussain Khan
of Rampur. Alongside she continued performing on AIR. She met her Guru, Guide
and Mentor in Begum Akhtar in 1957. Ammi trained her in the traditional forms of
thumri, dadra and ghazal singing. Begum Akhtar's passing away in
1974 drove her to dedicate her entire efforts to excel in the art given to her
by her Guru.
North Indian Music (285)
Original Texts (60)
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