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Melodies and memories

May 03, 2009


The dawn of April 21 brought with it the shocking news of the passing away of Iqbal Bano (born Iqbal Bai), the recepient of the Pride of Performance Award (1974). The response of media, showbiz circles and art organisations to this tragedy of national and to some extent of international proportions was really disappointing as only a few channels aired half-baked programmes/ documentaries to pay tribute to her services for Pakistan's TV, radio and film industries. Much of these contained inaccuracies about Iqbal Bano's personal and professional life and the print media also carried wrong and distorted facts and figures about her 82-year long association with the performing arts.

I rang Dr Omar Adil, an intellectual and TV compere, and got details about the different phases of Iqbal Bano's life to set the record straight. Dr Omar is considered an authority on cinema history and classical music on the basis of his inordinate interest in these fields. He is a big fan and was in close contact with the legendary singer till her death as she was under his treatment at Ittefaq Hospital in Lahore. The facts about her early life were told to him by Iqbal Bano herself.

She was born in 1927 in Rohtak (East Punjab). Her grandmother and mother (Zohra Bai Rohtak Wali) were well-known singers of their times. She studied under Ustad Chaand Khan of the Delhi Gharana, an expert in all kinds of pure classical and light classical forms of vocal music. He trained her in pure classical and light classical music within the framework of classical forms of thumri and dadra. She was duly initiated gandabandh shagird of her ustad. He also introduced her to All India Radio, Delhi, where she made her voice public. Iqbal Bano started in Lahores film industry before Partition and sang her first film song for the film Chupke Chupke in 1945. It was a folk song and had been already sung by Miss Dulaari in 1932. Her second singing venture was for the film Rehana (1946). Qadir Faridi was the first musician who got his songs sung by Iqbal Bano for these films.

After Partition, Iqbal Bano migrated to Pakistan with her mother and settled down at Haram Gate in Multan. She acquired her skills in Seraiki and Punjabi singing genres during her stay there. She also continued her studies and got her degree in Adeeb Faazal. Later, she married a South Punjab landlord, Chaudhry Mansab Ali Khan, and had three children. Her two sons now live abroad while her daughter Maleeha lives in Lahore and attended her mother till her death.

As the singer had to visit Lahore from Multan on regular basis for her recordings, she purchased a small house in Lahore's historical Bengali Gali and started living there with her mother. Afterwards, she filed a claim of her ancestors' property in Delhi and was allotted a bungalow near Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in return. Later, she also got a house in New Garden Towns Ahmed Block and shifted there in 1980s. After Partition, she sang for Agha G.A. Gul's film Mundri (1953). This performance raised her professional stature to the heights of fame with the famous song from this film, Palla maar ke bujha gayee deeva, tey akh naal gal ker gai chhayee. G.A. Chishti was the music composer of that song and it was picturised on the famous dancer Cuckoo, in then Bombay. This was also Ilyas Kashmiri's first film as the main lead while the late Raagni played the female lead in it. Another popular song was Channa teri yaad wich ausiyan pawaan for the '50s film, Bodi Shah. She was also the first to sing Bulleh Shah's popular kaafi, Chaiti mordin vey tabiba nahin te main marr gaiaan for the film Nooran (1956). Her famous number, Sitaro tum to so jao for the film Ishq-i-Laila is also one of her best songs. She was very much focused on and careful about pronunciation and raags. Her other evergreen songs are Laagi kisi se najaria, Sajan bichhva baajey re and Gora mukhra te gol kalayan, tey chandi dian punj choorian.

As Bano was a classical and ghazal singer, she contributed to films only when the genre of the classical songs, thumri or mujra was the requirement. She got associated with Pakistan TV and Radio also and sung memorable ghazals, nazms, thumris and classical songs.

Bano was always very fond of the late Madam Noor Jehan and cherished a photograph in which both of them were in a close embrace which shows her respect and devotion to her profession and contemporary artistes. Author, poet and educationist Amjad Islam Amjad said about the passing away of Iqbal Bano, “It is a great setback to our traditional, classical and ghazal singing. I don't see anybody amongst the present generation of artistes compensating for the loss of such a qualified and competent singer. She did not have a very attractive or soft voice by birth, but it was her swaying talent and hard work that made her a marvelous performer. She prepared my ghazal, Dil ke darya ko kisi roz uttar jana hai, within half an hour. As a human being, she was very kind and nice person.”

Dr. Omar Adil added, “Iqbal Bano performed for PTV from 1964 to 2000, and the channel has all the recordings of her melodies. She should have been remembered in a more befitting manner.” — Muttahir Ahmed Khan