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Published in the 1-15 December 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Begum Akhtar, queen of ghazals 

By Manzar Mehndi

Mushtari Begum would not have ever thought that her baby girl who was born on 30 October 1916 in Faizabad, would one day become a great classical singer. Her daughter came to be popularly know as Begum Akhtar and Akhtari Bai Faizabadi.

Singing was not the ancestral profession of Mushtari Begum. It was simply a means of livelihood which Akhtari too had to accept. Akhtari used to be invited in musical programmes because of her melodious voice and attractive manners. 

Once Mushtri Begum was in Calcutta. A big function had been organised for fund-raising for the victims of Quetta earthquake. Akhtari then a 13-year old had also gone with her. She sang on the stage on the request of her ustad.
It was the first time that Akhtari sang before a large audience. Her song, Diwana banana hai to diwana bana de/ Warna kaheen taqdeer tamasha na bana de received tumultuous applause from the audience. The director of the famous music company HMV was there and he became a great fan of hers. It was the turning point in Akhtari’s life. She became a famous ghazal and thumri singer. She sang and acted in some films also. Roti was her very successful film.

In 1963, she was married to Qazi Ishtiaq Ahmad Abbasi. He did not like her singing in the public. He put a restriction on her singing. Akhtari was hurt and disturbed, she fell ill, her health started deteriorating as singing was a passion for her. Doctors suggested her husband that he should allow her to sing if he wanted to see her alive. With restrictions gone, Akhtari started recovering. Now she began to sing on radio also.

In addition to a matchless ghazal and thumri singer, she was also a fine singer of dirges, elegies and salaams specially on the occasion of Muharram. She celebrated Diwali and Holi also. The best part of her character was her sympathy and love for the poor and needy. People wrote her for help and she liberally helped them financially. 

She died on 30 October 1976 in a hospital at Ahmadabad and was buried in Lucknow. People honoured her with the titles of Malka-e Ghazal and Malka-e Tarannum. She was awarded Padma Bhusan and Padma Shri by the government. But the people of the cites where she was born and buried did not give her the honour and position which she deserved. Guldasta Production Society, a literary, cultural and social organisation of Faizabad had organised a function, ‘Ek Shaam Begum Akhtar ke Naam’ in her memory five years ago. A proposal was made to municipal corporation to name the road passing in front of her residence as Begum Akhtar Road. But the civic body turned down the proposal. 

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