I clearly remember the first time I heard Begum Parveen Sultana on stage. It was at an open-air venue in Mahalakshmi in the early 1970s, and I must have been just eight or nine years old. I didn’t understand the nuances, but I remember the huge applause she got. The next performer, the seasoned Kirana gharana vocalist Hirabai Barodekar, received a standing ovation too.
Parveen was in her early 20s then, and was already a star in the world of Hindustani classical music. Though established vocalists like Barodekar, Gangubai Hangal, Kersarbai Kerkar and Kishori Amonkar ruled the female scenario, the young singer from Assam was considered the next big name. The fact that she represented the Patiala gharana, which over the years was dominated by male singers, added to her exclusivity.
Over four decades later, Parveen continues to get a tumultuous applause every time she sings. I saw her on Saturday, August 23, at the first anniversary concert of InSync channel, and her performance was nothing short of breath-taking. Though she had been allotted limited time, and came after tabla maestro Suresh Talwalkar and his troupe, vocalist Venkatesh Kumar and santoor player Rahul Sharma, she charmed the audience with the sheer beauty of her voice and range of her singing.
Parveen is now 64. And having heard her closely over the years, one must admire how she has maintained the purity of her voice, and her ability to repetitively alternate between the higher and lower registers so effortlessly. Over time, she has also added elements of the Kirana gharana style, after training under Ustad Dilshad Khan, whom she married.
There are only a few concerts which stay with you much after they’ve ended, and this was one of them. Beginning with raag Puriya Dhanashree, Parveen was bang on target from the very first note, with the talented Ojas Adhiya giving tabla sangat. The vilambit part ‘Laagi mori laagan’ was built up beautifully, displaying some perfect taans and sargams, and the drut comprising the popular bandish ‘Paayaliya jhankaar’ had feet tapping.
After the khayal, Parveen asked the crowd what they wanted next. While some requested a thumri, others asked for ‘Bhawaani Dayaani’, her signature piece in Bhairavi. Though she joked that the fusion musicians who were to play after her would not her appreciate her singing Bhairavi at that time, she fulfilled both requests, first singing the thumri ‘Rasiya mohe bulaye’ in Khamaj, and concluding with the bhajan.
Most people in the hall had their gooseflesh moments. This was one recital which was memorable in every respect.
TALKING of the Patiala gharana, one was privileged to attend a private mehfil featuring Lahore-based singer Ustad Hamid Ali Khan on August 7. Coordinated by Rajiv Sethi, it was held at a mini-auditorium in a residential complex in Prabhadevi, Mumbai.
The youngest brother of renowned singers Bade Fateh Ali Khan and Amaanat Ali Khan, Hamid Ali Khan sings a wide cross-section of styles, ranging from khayal, thumri, ghazal and geet. He began with ‘Ghan garajat baadar aaye’, a composition in raag Malhar, after which he rendered the famous Amanat Ali Khan thumri ‘Kab aaoge tum aaoge’ and the light ghazal ‘Mere dil mein samaa gayee thi woh’.
The Mehdi Hasan-popularised ‘Pyaar bhare do sharmiley nain’ and the intricate ghazal ‘Guzar gaya jo zamaana usey bhulaa hi do, jo naqsh nahin ban sakta usey mitaa hi do’ were highlights of the first half. After the break, he rendered the famous folk song ‘Laagi re tosey laagi’, and presented rare compositions of the Patiala gharana. He had announced he would conclude with Khusro’s ‘Chaap tilak’, but it was already past 1 am, and this blogger didn’t stay till the end.
Khan has a mellifluous voice, and remarkable control. However, this being an informal session, he chose to talk a lot in the middle of the songs, and that somehow affected their overall feel, specially when one was just getting into the mood of a composition.
That flaw apart, it was another great evening. One got a true jhalak of Patiala gharana charm from across the border.