Page 4 of 4
Noor Jehan was a wonderful and indulgent mother. As a daughter, she supported her family for as long as needed. A great sister, she paid for the treatment of her mentally challenged brothers for as long as they were alive. She was a dutiful and devoted wife to both her husbands. As a mistress, she was a true enchantress. Noor Jehan was a seductress, indulgent yet playful, as a lover. She knew how to love and how to be loved. She was a dutiful shagird who supported her Ustad and his entire family for most of their lives and an Ustad who faithfully tied a ganda to only one but a talented student - Tarranum Naaz. She had led the life of a mother, a daughter, a sister, a student, a teacher and a friend and led it honestly. She had keenly observed the dynamics of each relationship and experienced the entire spectrum of emotions involved with these relationships. She had felt them all.The understanding of emotions and the intensity with which she maintained all of her relationships added a unique - and incomparable - dimension to her singing.
Noor Jehan created artistic truth in front of the microphone using her memories to express emotion and feeling. Stanislavski's method was best employed by Noor Jehan while preparing to sing. She would get into the right mood and requisite frame of mind for a song well before starting to sing and sometimes take hours after the singing to return to her normal self. Noor Jehan was a master of raag and taal, gifted with a brilliant voice, a broad vocal range and remarkable tonal quality. She had a great knowledge of music and was a master of both aakaar and alankaar. Yet none of these qualities made her Malika E Tarranum; it was her unique ability to add emotion, feeling and sentiment to her music that made her the greatest singer of her and, perhaps, all times. No other singer - not even the great Kundan Lal Saigal - has ever been able to match the emotional veracity of Noor Jehan's songs. No one.
Noor Jehan had a great magnetism in her personality. Always the center of attention, the life of the party, she held most people in awe with her beauty, voice, social skills, wit and a naughty innocence.
I interviewed Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma for a monthly publication many years ago. Among other things, I asked him about musicians from Pakistan. Noor Jehan was the only one he wanted to talk about. Pandit Ji was not just enamored by her musical prowess but was also a fan of persona and presence. He told me that he wanted all other sound to stop when Noor Jehan's songs were playing so he could listen intently. He reminisced about a dinner party at poet Zehra Nigah's flat in London where Noor Jehan was the guest along with Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Shuakat Hussain Khan, Ustad Sultan Khan and several other senior musicians who were in London to record for Navras Records. After dinner, Madam Ji chose to sing for the guests and started by singing Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry using the dining table for percussion. She followed with a khayal in raag Jaijaivati singing the bandish, Binti Ka Kariye, made famous by her Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. She ended the evening with the thumri, Gori Tore Nainan Kaajar Bin Kaare. Her rendition of the thumri in Pilu lasted over an hour. Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma remembers the night well. “Some of the biggest names in music sat at the dining table listening to Noor Jehan all night, with rapt attention, “ he told me. “She kept us entranced for hours. Her Pilu brought tears to our eyes. The quality of her voice, the sangat of the komal Gandhar and tivar Nikhad, and the roohdari touched my heart. One does not hear such singing often. ”
Noor Jehan loved to visit London. She loved shopping for Sari's at Selfridges, meeting touring musicians from India, eating at the Shezan restaurant at Cheval Place, and generally enjoying the city's bright summers. But not all her trips to London were made for pleasure. She visited the city several times to help bail her ex husband, Ejaz Durrani, out of trouble he got himself into by trying to smuggle contraband drugs into the United Kingdom. And while Ejaz never did anything to earn her love, Noor Jehan had never gotten over her feelings for Ejaz. During one such visit, she was particularly depressed and asked Ghulam Ali and Ustad Tari Khan, who were touring, to pay her a visit. She wanted to listen to good music and promised to cook for them. Tari Khan told me that Noor Jehan had prepared Qorma, But Karelay and Aaloo Ki Bhujia for them. "I remember the food even today," Tari Khan told me. "I don't think I will ever forget her cooking. She made chappatis for us herself. Just before serving Bhujia, she cooked some whole spices without oil in the frying pan and then crushed them after tying them in a napkin.
She then covered the Bhujia with the spices and covered the dish so that the aroma of the spices would sink into the potatoes which she had cut into very small pieces, and cooked in a way that their insides were soft and the outsides crisp. I have never had something as delicious in my life. I am not just a fan of her singing but also of her cooking. I will forget Noor Jehan's cooking only when I forget tabla." After the dinner, Ghulam Ali sang for Noor Jehan with Tari Khan on the tabla. A few hours later she decided to sing. She picked Nisar Bazmi's composition from Meri Zindagi Hai Naghma, Tera Kisi Pe Aaye Dil. During the third antara, Madam Ji broke down and started crying uncontrollably. Ghulam Ali, Tari Khan and her companion, Achi Mian, all failed to console her and she left the room and retreated to her bedroom. A full thirty minutes later, she emerged from her room, having refreshed her make-up, and asked them, "Tussi Dasso, Kehra Gaana Suno Ge?" All of them started laughing, spending the rest of the night singing and sharing anecdotes and jokes. She was emotional, temperamental and sensitive, but always in control.
Noor Jehan held Faiz Ahmed Faiz in very high regard. She canceled her recordings to visit him at his residence after he returned home after a protracted period of incarceration to celebrate with him and their friend, Sanjan Nagar's Raza Kazim. Faiz Saab asked Noor Jehan to sing some of his poetry for him and Raza Kazim seized the opportunity to record her without any musical instruments and equalization, just her pure voice. Raza Kazim recounted the events of the evening for me when we met years later at a wedding at the Islamabad Marriott and very graciously shared his recording with me a few days later. Faiz Saab kept picking poems for Noor Jehan to compose on the spot and sing for him, that evening. Mujh Se Pehli Si Muhabbat, Aaj Ki Raat, Donon Jahan Teri Muhabbat Main Haar Ke, Aa Ke Wabasta Hain, and many other poems were sung by Noor Jehan for the first time that day. A few hours of music, poetry recitation, food, and drink later, all three were high on Cherry Brandy when Noor Jehan started to sing her famous Punjabi song, Ve Mundiya Sialkotiya, flirting innocently with the newly released and young Faiz Ahmed Faiz who, of course, hailed from Sialkot. Only Madam Ji could do this with class!
In 1989, I decided to do a detailed and comprehensive interview of Madam Ji. I called her to set the interview up and was surprised when she immediately agreed to sitting down and talking to me about her life and her music. She did not give me a date and time but asked that I call her in a few days to make an appointment. I did just that a few days later and many times subsequently. Madam Ji always answered her phone herself and always had a good excuse to postpone the interview she had promised. I asked film actor Muhammad Ali to help me secure the interview. He immediately called Madam Ji who told him that she herself wanted to sit down with me but had been busy. She promised Muhammad Ali to call me herself with a date and time. She never did.
I was far too young and far too much in love with Madam Ji to give up, and enlisted television actor Azmul Haq's help to get me the interview I wanted. He and I visited Madam Ji's near Liberty market at two in the morning. Her home was alive and bustling with activity even at that hour. There were several guests sitting on the floor in a room next to the dining room eating a late dinner. Daughter Tina and her friends were planning a trip to Peshawar to buy clothes and kept asking Madam Ji for more money, ten grand at a time. Several young maidservants were sleeping on the floor all around the house. Madam Ji's companion, Acchi Mian, kept bringing saris on hangers to help Madam Ji choose what she would wear the following day. An older gentleman, dressed in a suit and wearing a necktie, sat in the drawing room having tea and sandwiches, served elegantly from a well laid dumbwaiter tea cart. And a few beggars kept trying to enter the home and ask Madam Ji for money. Madam Ji was at the center of this very active, if somewhat chaotic, household and paying attention to each and everyone. She seemed to be in full control of all the activity in her home and aware of all that was going on. When Azmul Haq introduced me, she told him that she already knew me well and had been planning on sharing the story of her life with me for some time. She turned to me and said, "Mujhe maaf karna beta. Life is very busy. Main chahti hun ke aap jaise parhe likhay naujawan ke sath interview karoon magar waqt nahin milta." She promised an interview within the month. The interview never materialized and in August that year, I left Pakistan for the United States. When I called her to say goodbye, she was very kind. "Beta, wahan ja kar mehnat karna, maan baap ko khush rakhna, mulk ki izzat barhana." she said. "Do not forget us when in the United States. Hum ab wahan aa kar tumhein interview denge." She never did.