Veteran vocalist Rita Ganguly on the forthcoming programme in memory of her guru Begum Akthar

In these fraught times when folks don’t hesitate to try and squeeze humankind’s most recreational and soul expanding activities, like classical music and dance, into tight regional and communal compartments, it is refreshing to hear veteran vocalist Rita Ganguly remember how her guru, Begum Akhtar, suggested a name for the cultural organisation Kaladharmi. “We started Kaladharmi some time in 1968 or 69, but by 1970 it was registerd. Begum Akhtar was a founding member. She said, ‘Our religion is art, so let’s call it Kaladharmi’,” recalls Ritaji as she prepares to celebrate her guru’s life and contribution with and evening titled “Jamal-e-Begum Akhtar” this coming Sunday.

Begum, or ‘Ammi’, as Professor Ganguly fondly refers to her guru, was an active member of the organisation. When Kaladharmi was formed, among the first artists patronised was Imrat Khan, brother of late Vilayat Khan, on her recommendation. Since Kaladharmi was for all practical purposes a pioneer in the Capital then, it introduced many artists at its programmes who later went on to become famous. Among them were Leela Samson, whose Bharatanatyam arangetram was organised by Kaladharmi, says Ritaji with a smile. Kishori Amonkar too, she states, was presented in Delhi for the first time by Kaladharmi.

Kaladharmi is now 45 years old. It has always had a panel of stalwarts associated with it. Among founding members, apart from Begum Akhtar, were Dilip Kumar (who was also chairman of the organisation from 1970-2006) and Komal Kothari. Other eminent personalities from various fields have been associated over the decades as board members and advisors, including Kaifi Azmi, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Raj Babbar, Vasant Sathe and NKP Salve to name a few.

In 1974, the organisation was preparing for a special performance by young artists interested in experimenting within the classical format. Begum Akhtar embarked on a short concert tour from which she promised her disciple she would return soon. Return she did, but in a coffin, recalls Ritaji, as a shadow crosses her face. The performance on November 4, 1974, four days after the Begum’s demise, became a homage to the ghazal queen. This Sunday in New Delhi, Kaladharmi and its sister organisation, Begum Akhtar Academy of Ghazal (BAAG, founded to encourage the almost dying language of Urdu and the art of Ghazal in 1994), presents the 39th such homage.

This programme will also mark the flagging off of Begum Akhtar’s centennial celebrations. “We’ve appealed to the Culture Ministry to make it a national event. We’re trying for a centenary stamp, a coin, and a road to be named after her.”

The highlight of the event is a 30-minute audio-visual presentation on Begum Akhtar, “Jamal-e-Begum Akhtar”, made by Rita Ganguly as a tribute to her guru. There will be a concert by Ahmed Hussain and Mohammed Hussain and recitation by Rajesh Reddy, Urdu shayar from the Deccan. While the Hussains are being conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award, Reddy has been selected for the BAAG Special Award.

Programmes are also slated to be held in Kolkata, Lucknow, Bhopal, Hyderabad and Mumbai.