Rita Ganguly’s biography of Begum Akhtar is called ‘Ae Mohabbat: Reminiscing Begum Akhtar’
In North India October is a month of festivity and of coming winter. Looked at from the comfort of a well-stocked kitchen and a warm home, it is a gift from the gods. From the perspective of the pavement dweller, there may be more of a touch of bleakness. The ability to see behind the façade is considered a quality of the sensitive artiste. And sensitive was the word for ghazal queen Begum Akhtar, in whose life story the month of October holds special significance. October 7, 1914 was her date of birth, and October 30 marks the day she breathed her last 50 years later.
The life of Begum Akhtar has been projected from different perspectives — ranging from the straitjacketed morals of the urban middle classes, to the untenable limits of celluloid romanticism.
Disturbed by the misconceptions, her disciple, eminent vocalist Rita Ganguly, who runs the Begum Akhtar Academy of Ghazal (BAAG), has been engaged in a number of projects to “set right” the atmosphere of conjecture. Musical programmes, lectures and her much talked about solo play Dastan Kehte Kehte were among her initiatives. Finally, though, says Ganguly, she decided to put pen to paper. The result is Ae Mohabbat: Reminiscing Begum Akhtar brought out by Stellar Publishers. Perhaps no book on a performing artiste is alive until it leaps out from the pages in three dimensions. In Kolkata, this aspect was taken care of by Aparna Sen and Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee, who read from the book. Rita Ganguly also sang some ghazals of Begum Akhtar. In Mumbai, it was Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah — who have been students of Ganguly — who read extracts from the book. And in Delhi, it was the job of well known stage personalities Sushma Seth and Sunit Tandon to bring the narrative to light.
The events across the country are part of the elaborate centenary celebrations of Begum Akhtar. Ganguly regularly used to commemorate the punya tithi (death anniversary) of Begum Akhtar, whom her disciples ubiquitously refer to as Ammi. But from last year, she has been building up to the birth centenary of her guru. The centenary will culminate on October 7, 2014, but the multi-faceted artiste is approaching it in the manner of an intricately worked alap.ANJANA RAJAN