Under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and supported by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), NaadSaagar Archives & Documentation Society for South Asian Music has conceptualized & is implementing the Begum Akhtar Centenary Commemoration Project. The first festival as part of this Project is being held in collaboration with University of Hyderabad on 3 & 4 July 2015.

1 - Photograph by Vardhna Puri

The first event of the two-day festival was a screening of the documentary film ‘Hai Akhtari…’ (1994), directed by senior music & art critic Shri S. Kalidas. He spoke in detail about the context in which the film came to be made, citing the release of a commemorative stamp featuring Begum Akhtar in 1994. It was a conversation with Mallika Pukhraj, the chief guest on the occasion, that prompted him to consider the story of Begum Akhtar’s life in detail. Over the course of the year, S. Kalidas made several trips to Lucknow and met with people who were closely connected with various aspects of her life – Ustad Nizamuddin (Munne) Khan, the Tabla player who stayed close to Begum Akhtar for over four decades; Smt. Saeeda Ahmed who worked in All India Radio and was instrumental in getting Begum Akhtar married to Janab Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi; Shammo Apa, who was Begum Akhtar’s younger sister and lived with her for much of her life; Smt. Shiela Dhar who was herself a vocalist and a close confidante of Begum Akhtar, among others.

2 - Photograph by Vardhna Puri

The film itself is presented as a series of conversations about Begum Akhtar with the aforementioned and other people that were then tied together as a narrative. Some of the iconic renditions by Begum Akhtar, such as “Deewana banana hai toh deewana bana de…”, “Mere hamnafas mere hamnawa…” and others are featured on the soundtrack of the film, adding to its appeal. The old house of Begum Akhtar on Havelock Road in Lucknow comes alive again in the film with her memories and the musical instruments she used for concerts add nostalgia value to the experience of her narrative.

3 - Photograph by Vardhna Puri

In the discussion following the film screening, there was a stimulating conversation between Vidushi Shanti Hiranand, the senior-most disciple of Begum Akhtar and Smt. Laxmi Raj, senior music connoisseur from Hyderabad wherein the latter recalled her memories of Begum Akhtar’s recitals in the city. On her part, Vidushi Shanti Hiranand reminisced on her guru’s personality, recounting incidents related to her style of teaching, her learning under Ustad Ata Mohammed Khan & Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, concert experiences, etc.

2 - Photograph by Vardhna Puri

In the evening of the first day of the festival, the performances commenced with a thumri-dadra & ghazal recital by Smt. Shubha Joshi, a student of the Bhendi Bazar gharana of khayal gayaki having learnt from Pandit Pandurang Amberkar, Pandit Ramesh Nadkarni & Master Navrang. She learnt thumri-dadra from Smt. Shobha Gurtu, Shri Ninu Mazumdar and Smt. Koumudi Munshi and ghazal singing from Ustad Taj Ahmed Khan. She sang thumri in raga Des, dadra in Mishra Gara and ghazal-s by Jigar Moradabadi, Mir Taqi Mir “Ulti ho gayin sab tadbeerein…” and concluded with a kajri composition “Gheri gheri aayi badariya…” She was ably accompanied on the Sarangi by Ustad Ghulam Sabir Khan, on the Tabla by Shri Kishor Pande and on the Harmonium by Janab Salamat Ali Khan.

8 - Photograph by Vardhna Puri

This was followed by a qawwali recital by Ustad Mohammed Ahmed Warsi Nasiri Qawwal & Group from Rampur. Given that the festival is dedicated to the memory of Begum Akhtar, the Qawwals decided to only open with the customary qaul “Man kunto maula…” before commencing to sing a selection of ghazal-s by Jigar Moradabadi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz & Shakeel Badayuni, all of whom were close to Begum Akhtar. Shakeel’s pain-filled “Har qadam zehmatein…”, was followed by Faiz’s “Gulon mein rang bhare…” in what proved to be a poetic & musical delight. The Qawwals then sang a composition of Amir Khusrau “Ghar naari ganwari…”, Jigar’s ghazal “Jalwa dikha ke yaar ne deewana kar diya…” and concluded with Shakeel Badayuni’s “Wohi abile hain…” to a thunderous applause.

-By Irfan Zuberi, Project Coordinator, IGNCA