The news that Sufi singer Abida Parveen had to undergo an emergency heart surgery in Lahore on Sunday was a shocker. Why, just last fortnight, we exchanged Ghalib couplets over ghee-laden laddoos. She even gave us an impromptu performance during the interview.
In Delhi for a concert, the 55-year-old Sindhi singer behaved nothing like the diva her handlers made her out to be. She wasn’t in a hurry, she announced even after I’d overshot the interview slot by 20 minutes. “Aisi koi jaldi nahin. Humne lunch kar liya hai.(I am in no particular hurry, I’ve had lunch).”
O tere ishq nachaya karke thaiya thaiya, written by Bulle Shah and sung by her was famously adapted into the
sizzling Chaiyan, chaiyan in Dil Se. Parveen said she was happy with the way it was filmed on Malaika. She likes Shah Rukh, but, no, thanks, Bollywood wasn’t for her. As for live performances, she doesn’t need to be asked twice.
At her suite in the Ashok hotel, as soon as Parveen broke into Tere Ishq Nachaya, my photographer went trigger-happy and I had goose pimples listening to the greatest exponent of the Sufiana kalam in the subcontinent after the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
She has great respect for the legendary qawwal and was delighted when I questioned her on Pathaney Khan, another Pakistani singer whose stature can be compared to Nusrat’s and Abida’s.
She dedicated her fame to the nigahe karam (benign blessings) of Muhammad Najeeb Sultan, her spiritual mentor. “It is because of the blessings of my Shehenshah Aulia huzoor that I can pursue my passion.”
But nothing gives Abida greater pleasure than nuktachini (hair-splitting) on the nuances of Urdu poetry in Ghalib’s city. “His depth can’t be fathomed. Even after an album on his poetry I am discovering the layers of meaning. On February 15, his death anniversary, every TV channel in Pakistan pays tributes to Ghalib.”
Toward the fag end of our conversation, after her fashion designer daughter offered us laddoos, I got my Abida moment. She hadn’t heard of a couplet that I recited. Could she
borrow my pen and jot it down for use in a future concert, she asked. I almost fell off my chair and thanked chacha Ghalib for providing me a moment of reflected glory. The sher she liked: Thi khabar garm ki Ghalib ke udenge purze, Dekhne hum bhi gaye par woh tamasha na hua (The rumour was rife that Ghalib would be shred to pieces, I, too, went to see it but the spectacle did not happen).
Here’s hoping she recovers in time for the Jahan-e-Khusro festival and we get to relish that voice which sends people into a trance.