Begum Akhtar

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Akhtari Bai Faizabadi (October 7, 1914 October 30, 1974) was a legendary Indian singer of Ghazal, Dadra, and Thumri known by the sobriquet Mallika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals). She also acted in a few Hindi movies in the thirties. She was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for vocal music, and Padma Bhushan (posthumously) by the Government of India.


  • People don't want to listen to an imitation. If they want to listen to my style, they will go and buy my records.

About Begum Akhtar

  • The much loved classical diva of 20th century India Akhtaribai Faizabadi, or Begum Akhtar was the last of the great female singers from the courtesan (tawaif) community.
  • As a tawaif, she was trained to charm the system and subvert narrow patriarchal practices by means of highly sophisticated seduction. At another level, she was a hapless victim, constantly tormented by the twists and turns of her own destiny. She braved on regardless, driven by a deep inner quest to pursue love in its purest form, as an end in itself; be it in music or in life.
    • In "New Release: Begum Akhtar: Love’s Own Voice".
  • ...singing sensation in the Indian subcontinent, feted by the cognoscenti and the commoner alike.
  • Begum Akhtar's life perhaps mirrors an image where we too may briefly perceive ourselves and question the veracity of our own lives.
    • In "Ae Mohabbat--: Reminiscing Begum Akhtar".
  • Akhtar was gripped by constant melancholia. “Ya Allah, ab kya hoga?” was her constant refrain through her life that made her pour her heart and soul into couplets like “Mere Humnafas, Mere Humnawa, Mujhe Dost Ban ke Daga Na De, Mujhe Zindagi ki Dua Na De”.
    • In Tribute to Begum. Telegraph India (19 October 19 2008). Retrieved on 2 January 2014.
  • Today it's a challenge for me to sing with her portrait looking at me. Begum Akhtar's voice was a blessing and would touch the hearts of all.
  • We live in an age where people are constantly trying to find remedies for pain, instead of learning how to sublimate it into divine music, the way Begum Akhtar did. For, the mercurial diva from Lucknow sang the poetry of Ghalib and many others in a manner that would make even pain seem desirable.
  • A striking example [Poetry and Music] is Begum Akhtar who used sounds borrowed from language with such amazing skill. In her utterance the flowing lines of the vowel became graceful arches, and the hard consonants, supporting pillars. The edifice is then animated by vast range of hard, soft, nasal, throaty, sibilant and breathy sounds which became an integral part of her musical calligraphy. She is commonly thought of a ghazal singer,...

What a life


By Rita Ganguly on AkhtarWhat a life. Livemint and The Wallstreet Journal (7 November 2008).

  • Begum Akhtar is a classic example of how personal tragedy is often that differentiating edge between a great performer and a truly exceptional one.
  • ...her taseer (soulful sound) was the result of years of loneliness, pain, suppression and silence.
  • Akhtar was a master of what Brecht called the alienation effect; she had the ability to sing the saddest song with a bright smile.
  • the early trauma of Begum Akhtar’s life resulted in the singer being consumed by melancholy. She always felt a deep vacuum in her life and lived in constant fear of “Ya Allah, ab kya hoga?” (Oh god, what next?).
  • Her forte was not necessarily the audibility of her music, for she had a defective area where her voice cracked at a high-pitch, with a limited one-octave range, but she turned it into her virtue for she knew how to mould her voice.

Begum Akhtar the Undisputed Malika of Ghazals


"Begum Akhtar the Undisputed Malika of Ghazals". New Age Islam. 28 September 2012. Retrieved on 2 January 2014. 

  • She had lovers and, if the secret must be out, she drank. What else accounts for the naughtiness of her eyes? Like so many tawaifs (geishas, courtesans) there were ups and downs in her childhood, the father leaving the mother and so on, but she was blessed with the divine gift and her art transcended the various accidents of her life. In the end all else was forgotten. Only the legend and the accomplishment survive.
  • I stumbled across a concert performance of the Begum singing Faiz Ahmed Faiz’sAaye kuch abr kuch sharab aaye, uss ke baad aaye jo azaab aaye” and I have been in a trance ever since.
  • But Begum Akhtar who had trained long and hard under various Ustads is I think, and forgive the opinion of a rank amateur, in point of classical technique the more consummate artist.
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