I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Friday, May 1, 2009

...Of Iqbal Bano

I think I was seven or eight years old, my folks were living in Jhelum when my mother fell ill and had to be admitted to the hospital. Hospital admissions weren't a very rare thing in my household back then, so I wasn't unduly worried. What worried me however were the frequent trips back and forth across the Jhelum river, because the hospital was on the other side of it, and the (legendary) bridge was a single lane affair where traffic from one end had to stop for hours on end to let the traffic (or trains) from the other end pass. I hated making daytime trips across it in the hot, dusty and noisy summer afternoons.

The trips late at night however were a completely different thing. At around 9 or 9.30, dad, me and my kid brother would set out from home with dinner and other stuff for mum and just before we hit the now quite empty bridge, dad would turn on the car stereo. As the car rolled over the then wide expanse of murky water which was now glittering with the reflection of the many roadlights, we would listen to Iqbal Bano singing Faiz.

I was a 2nd or 3rd grader at that time and of course most of what was being sung was going over my head, or at least most of the literal meanings. But I used to sit there in the back seat, leaning forwards till my head was almost on the gearbox, my ears perked up as I tried to absorb as much of this wondrous music and remember the words and melody so that I could practice it at home. I can safely say that that one week of nighttime river crossings made me fall in love with music.

The one thing I noticed about Iqbal Bano's voice even back then was the remarkable 'bite' it possessed, the ability to navigate daringly different compostitions, and the ability to do justice to Faiz sahab's nazms (which only Nayyara Noor and sometimes Tina Sani can match). I busted my guts trying to learn "Na Ganvaao Navak-e-Neem Kash" till I finally managed to do so, and the ability to finally sing it at a school function in 4th grade in front of unsuspecting kids is one of my happiest memories.

The debt I owe to Iqbal Bano is immense. Awakening in me a love of ghazal, nazm, Faiz, Nasir Kazmi and Qasmi sahab is something that she can claim the credit for. My dad loved her voice, so I got to hear a lot of her ghazals, nazms and the few but breathtankingly brilliant film songs all my childhood, and I can't thank my stars enough for that.

Faiz Sahab had a charming habit of 'gifting' his ghazals and nazms to the singers who had sung what would later come to be recognized as the definitive performances of his work; Mehdi Hasan with "Gulon Main Rang Bharay", Noorjehan with "Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat", Nayyara Noor with "Hum Ke Thehre Ajnabi"....and Iqbal Bano with "Dasht-e-Tanhaai", arguably his greatest nazm. The near perfection of her performance of "Dasht-e-Tanhaai" is right up there with the greatest achievements of North Indian music. Add to that her spontaneous and thunderingly electric performance of "Hum Dekhaingay" at Lahore in the '80s makes her arguably Faiz's greatest interpreter.

I have seen a lot of my childhood heroes pass away one after the other in the last five or six years. Zameer Jaafri sahab, Qasmi sahab, Ashfaq sahab, Inayat Hussain Bhatti, Mallika Pukhraj, and now Iqbal Bano. The reaper has to make his round and deprive us those we love, but the inevitability of death doesn't lessen the grief that accompanies it. I have been feeling terribly low for the past week, trying to shore up my meager collection of her works and trying to find time to write a few words in her memory.

Whenever I plan a trip to Lahore, the one thing my dad always tells me to do is to visit Mehdi Hasan's house and pay my respects, but because of one thing or another (mostly my laziness and Khan Sahab's illness) I haven't been able to do so. Now with Iqbal Bano gone, only Mehdi Hasan and Fareeda Khanum remain of the golden generation of ghazal singers, and the next time (if there is a next time) I visit Lahore, I'm going to gather up courage and go visit the greatest singer this country has ever produced.

In the end, I'm reminded of the sweet irony that Iqbal Bano passed away on April 21st, 71 years to the day Allama Iqbal passed away. May her soul find eternal peace....

Sabhi kuch hai tera diya huwa
  Sabhi raahatein, sabhi kulfatain.....


  1. Musab, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment which has led me to your blog. I really enjoyed reading your entry on Iqbal Bano. If nothing else it reminds me how much we are indebted to our parents for exposing us to literature and art at an early age. Those childhood memories inevitably constitute the building blocks of lifelong interests.

    Mehdi Hassan is indeed the greatest light classical singer of his generation in the sub-continent. Unfortunately at 85 I understand he is now very fragile. He also resides in Karachi now and not Lahore. To me it is amazingly sad that he is not living out his old age in Lahore. Noor Jehan, too, whose life was almost synoymous with Lahore's film and music culture died in Karachi and is buried there.

  2. @ Mr. Zakariya; Thanks a ton for returning the favour. Very true, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been exposed to such brilliance in childhood.
    I read about Khan Sahab being in Karachi yesterday, apparently in precarious health. I hope Allah allows him to live out his remaining days in relatively better health and comfort.
    Thanks again for dropping by.

  3. I know what you mean, I was going through another bout of qawwali's and ghazals when I heard she died.
    It is tragic how the death of people like Bano doesnt shake the world as much as it should...there are only silent tremors for those who follow her voice.