Iqbal Bano — ghazal personified

April 22, 2009


IN a country where frightening things are happening on a daily basis, and where one has stopped expecting to hear anything that could lessen the pervading sadness, the news of the passing away of yet another icon of music has come as one more rude shock. Iqbal Bano, the darling of lovers of ghazal, thumri, dadra and kheyal, passed away in Lahore on Tuesday.

For a number of years now, we have been living with the tension of Mehdi Hasan's debilitating illness - and now this heart-breaking realisation that Iqbal Bano is no more with us. As I write these lines to mourn her death, her powerful and passionate voice rendering Faiz's “Hum dekhen ge, lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhen ge” rings in my ears and I cannot help feeling a tinge of irony in these lines!

Nature has been quite generous in sending all the wrong characters to this tumultuous world but, strangely enough, She has been tight-fisted when it came to gifting us with artists! Take ghazal singers, for example - only a few names come to mind K.L. Saigal, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, Talat Mahmood, Akhtaribai Faizabadi, Mehdi Hasan, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum in a crowd of more than a billion souls inhabiting the subcontinent. Of these greats, only Mehdi Hasan and Farida Khanum survive today.

Iqbal Bano was born and brought up in Delhi. She studied under Ustad Chand Khan of the Dehli Gharana who trained her in classical and light classical genre of music. After her training, she started to sing on the All India Radio, Delhi. Came partition, and the family migrated to Pakistan where in 1952 the 17-year-old girl was married to a zamindaar. He made her promise to him that she would never stop singing! What a strange thing to happen in the Islamic Republic! The husband stood behind her until his death in 1980.

Iqbal Bano made her presence felt in a public concert in 1957 at the Lahore Arts Council before an elite crowd. In due course she generated more and more public appeal and became a specialist in singing the kalam of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Her rendering of dasht-e-tanhai mein aye jan-e-jahan larzan hai, donon jaahan teri mohabbat mein har ke and many other nazm and ghazals are masterpieces.

In the realm of light classical, her presentation of Thumris in raags Khammach (kahay sataey mohe), Tilak Kamode (sautan ghar na ja), Des (Naheen parey mohe chaen), Peelo (gori torey naina karaj bin kalay) and others are renderings which have become all time great.

There are similarities in the style of Iqbal Bano and Begum Akhtar in that both stuck to the classical style that lays stress on raag. She could also sing Persian ghazals with the same fluency as Urdu and was quite popular in Iran and Afghanistan. “Before 1979, there was a festival of culture called Jashn-e-Kabul every year in Afghanistan. Iqbal Bano regularly received a warm invitation to this annual event.

She was known for singing a new Persian ghazal each time she appeared. The King of Afghanistan liked her recital very much. Once, on such an occasion, the king was so pleased with her ghazals that he presented her with a golden vase in appreciation of her music.”

Iqbal Bano also sang many memorable songs for Pakistani films. To name a few Gumnaam (1954), Qatil (1955), Inteqaam (1955), Sarfarosh (1956), Ishq-e-Laila (1957), and Nagan (1959).