A Tribute to Mohtarma Iqbal Bano
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Another chapter recently closed in the realm of classical vocals in Pakistan. Mohtarma Iqbal Bano departed from this world at the age of 74 on April 21, 2009, leaving an increasingly orphaned state of the arts, especially for what is my generation.
The world of the Ghazal singing art form is already on shaky footing as Ustad Mehdi Hassan fights for his life as this article is being written. And with the passing of Iqbal Bano, the Urdu- (and Persian-) speaking world has lost one of its finest Ghazal singers. .
Born in 1935 and brought up in Delhi, Iqbal Bano received formal training from Ustad Chaand Khan of what is known as the Delhi Gharana of South-Asian music during which the young Bano excelled at the classical thumri and dadra. We know that her first major performance was on All India Radio, Delhi and later she had a chance to dazzle many listeners of Radio Pakistan after she moved there during the early 1950’s. She sang for the Pakistani movie industry for a brief period during the 50’s in Urdu films, but her forte remained the Ghazal especially her mastery at singing the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (plus other poets) is now legendary.
In Persian she sang the works of Hafiz and Bedil, to name a few. Her popularity in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent Iran (both before 1979), is a feat rarely duplicated by Indian-Pakistani singers.
Now that was a very short history but this brief article is about more. Baqi Siddiqui’s lyrics and Mohtarma Iqbal Bano’s singing of “Daag-e-Dil HumKo Yaad Aanay Lagey” comes to mind here. Tameez, tehzeeb, talaffuz and other descriptions are embedded in this song, a superb delivery from a perfectionist, with non-political lyrics and just the right touch of romance.
But we all know that it was in the theatre of politics that Mohtarma Iqbal Bano earned her fame. Her singing of Faiz Sahib’s “HumDekhainGe” still resonates loudly amongst the revolutionary Left and all thinking people in Pakistan to this day. “Jab Arz-e-Khuda ke kabay se, Sab Boutt uthwaaiy Jain ge, Hum Ehle-Safa Mardood-e-Haram, Masnad pe Bithaaiy jain ge, Sab Taaj Uchalay jain ge, Sab Takht Giraaiy Jain ge…” became an anthem of oppressed people everywhere, delivered with such passion by Iqbal Bano Sahiba that friends to this day tell me that they still get goose bumps while listening to this particular song.
Faiz Sahib left one of the richest legacies of verse for South Asians everywhere within his poetry. But if I may add, the late Melody Queen Noor Jehan’s “Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat Mera Mehboob Na Maang,” and Iqbal Bano’s “HumDekhainge” ended up as inseparable parts of a generational experience. And if one can add Ahmed Faraz’s “Ranjish Hi Sahi” sung by Mehdi Hassan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Allah Hoo” what we have here is almost the complete bouquet or guldasta of the finest form and fragrance of our times. It is sad to know that only one out of the four of these great vocalists is left amongst us now. And the world no longer has Faiz and Faraz Sahib either.
There have been some moments when a moment of silence for departed ones is held more than once. Mohtarma Iqbal Bano’s death combines many such silences. For our readers let me leave here with Faiz Sahib’s words and Mohtarma Iqbal Bano’s other masterpiece: “Aaayiyey Haaath Uthain Hum Bhi, Hum Jinhay Rasm-e-Dua Yaad Naheen.”
Shukriah Mohtarma Iqbal Bano Sahiba for giving our generation a much needed song of hope and for enriching our lives with your God-gifted voice.