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Paeans to the pioneer

Noted vocalist Rita Ganguly in New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

“At last the penance of 40 years is over,” says eminent vocalist Rita Ganguly. It was 40 years ago, on October 30, 1974, that her guru, peerless singer and “mother of Ghazal” Begum Akhtar passed away. Ever since, her senior disciple has been keeping her memory alive with concerts, a book, a documentary film and other activities. “And now it’s the 100th year of her birth,” says Ganguly, who is preparing for the two-day centenary festival “Jamal-e-Begum Akhtar” that begins Monday. The festival is presented by Kaladharmi in association with Teamwork Arts.

“She was a founder member of Kaladharmi. She named it,” Ganguly says, reminding us of her guru’s inclusive thinking process that considered all artists has having but one religion — art. And it is only because she herself established Kaladharmi that her disciples and admirers continued to celebrate her contribution to music, she points out.

The run-up to the centenary began in 2007. For the past several years on the Begum’s birth anniversary, the Begum Akhtar Academy of Ghazal (BAAG) — an organisation founded by Ganguly to promote Urdu and the art of Ghazal — has been conferring awards to artists in senior and junior categories. This year, celebrated ghazal exponent Pankaj Udhas has been selected for BAAG’s Lifetime Achievement Award, while the BAAG Award goes to Amjad Islam Amjad, eminent poet of Pakistan.

In a unique highlight, Udhas and Ganguly will take the stage with Talat Aziz, Anup Jalota, Chandan Das and Penaz Masani to sing one of the Begum’s ghazals on the first day. The second evening features shayaari recitals by, besides Amjad Islam Amjad, Sheen Kaf Nizam and Rajesh Reddy (both BAAG Award recipients from earlier years). “They will be joined by two young people, Madan Mohan ‘Danish’ and Manzar Bhopali,” she says, explaining that the latter is a young poet expressly invited because “he gives you an example of how earlier the ghazal was sung by poets. It was sung as a musical form by Begum Akhtar. That’s why she is known as mother of Ghazal.”

Ganguly is happy that the government is taking note of the importance of this occasion in a number of ways. “This year a road in Kolkata is being named Begum Akhtar Sarani. In Lucknow, the street she lived on will be named Begum Akhtar Marg. An unnamed road in Faizabad, where she was born is going to be named after her. And the house she was born in is going to be turned into a museum. It is adjacent to a garden created by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. There you have the mausoleum of his wife,” she says, noting that this too should be a tourist attraction and if an annual festival were held there in honour of Begum Akhtar, the event would bring revenues and popularity.

What doesn’t please her so much is the response from the municipal authorities in the Capital to her request for naming a chowk after the Begum. “I got a reply saying ‘NDMC on principle doesn’t given any chowk in anybody’s name’.” Then how did Rajiv Chowk, Indira Gandhi Chowk and Ram Charan Agarwal Chowk (ITO) get their names, she wonders.

Meanwhile, she notes, the Ministry of Culture earmarked a budget of 2.5 crore rupees for Begum Akhtar’s centenary celebrations. But no part of the funds have reached Kaladharmi, she maintains, though she will as an individual artist be singing at an official event on October 7 morning, the birth date of the Begum, and has been part of other government arranged centennial events. Referring to the Ministry’s plans for the centennial, she says, “I feel they are wrongly diverting their attention towards other genres.” These include Qawwali, Thumri and Dadra. Though her guru sang Thumri and Dadra too, she admits, “There are others who sang them better. She should be celebrated for her contribution to Ghazal.”

She concludes with a significant comment. “It (Ghazal) is a secular medium. All the others are about Radha and Krishna.”

“Ai Mohabbat”

Rita Ganguly is teaming up with Anup Jalota to produce a feature film on the life and times of Begum Akhtar. The film is to be directed by Ketan Mehta, with music by A.R. Rahman and script and dialogues by Ganguly. So far Jackie Shroff and Irfaan have confirmed their participation. The lead actress is yet to be finalised.

“Jamal-E-Begum Akhtar”, October 6 and 7, Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, will also feature Rita Ganguly’s documentary film on her guru on both days. Entry through donor passes available on Book My Show or at the venue.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 8:50:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/rita-ganguly-on-begum-akhtar/article6468956.ece

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