When Farida Khanum cast her magic spell
The seats were full, the aisles had no standing room and the happiest were those on the floor, seated ahead of seats reserved for diplomats, for they were closest to Farida Khanum, the ghazal legend.
That the concert, hosted by Hindustan Times, Fever 104 and Routes 2 Roots in association with Indian Council for Cultural Relations, was a big hit was evident in the way Khanum’s velvet voice and flawless talaffuz (pronunciation) had spectators yearning for more.
But what the hundreds didn't witness was the 74 year old's magic off stage. In the green room, the Pakistani diva looked every inch the Mallika-e-Ghazal. A portly 50-something fan is prostrated at her feet, as she sits on a sofa wearing a silk saree gifted by Lata Mangeshkar.Musicians, minders and hangers-on latch on to every word. "Hamari taanpure wali ladkiyon ko Motiya ka gajra do (Give my accompanists the gajra — flowers used to decorate women’s hair), she commands and a bouquet appears, almost out of thin air.
From among the group of reporters trying to barge into the green room emerges a tall figure in a Pathani suit who greets her in chaste Punjabi. He turns out to be Shahid Malik, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India. After some banter, Khanum’s friend mentions the need for a five-year India visa and the diplomat accedes. "Jad tusi kaho (Whenever you want it),” he says and takes leave.
I use the opportunity to slip in a question: What’s special about performing in Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s city? “The understanding of poetry. I wonder about whom Ghalib wrote this: Yeh Na Thi Hamari Kismat Ke Wisaale Yaar Hota. (I wasn't fortunate enough to meet my beloved),” she says.
Khanum’s singing had connoisseurs thanking their fortune. Beginning with (Yaad Rakho Sartaj), to the poetic (Uzr Aane Mein Bhi hai); the sensual (Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo) to the sublime (Mohabbat Karne Wale Kam Na Honge), she had them under a spell.
It was about to be broken, after she had unleashed: Wakt Ki Qaid Mein Zindagi Hai, Chand Ghariyan Yahi Hain Jo Azaad Hain, the crowd sang along: Aaj Jaane Ki Zid…(Tonight, don't insist on leaving…)