The voice of Farida Khanum has enchanted listeners for decades, on both sides of the border. The legendary artiste, when she was in Delhi recently, said she had always got a lot of love from India, and that the arts made a huge difference to cultural relations – something that an initiative like Aman Ki Asha has reiterated often.
“Lijiye hum aa gaye, pahunch gaye aapke paas,” is what she says genially when the conversation begins. “Yeh pyaar mohabbat humein kheench laye. Bahut bhaag daud karke visa liya hai. ICCR and Roots to Routes ne bahut bhaag daud ki, bahut mehnat aur lagan se kaam kiya hai,” she says, in a heavy Punjabi accent.
Farida Khanum was born in Amritsar and spent the early years of her childhood in Kolkata before their family moved to Pakistan during Partition. How often has she come to Delhi? “Bahut martaba aa chuki hoon. Eighteen years ago, I came here for a performance for the Gymkhana Club. Getting an NoC was a big problem at that time. That was my first time in Delhi,” she says.
Narrating the story of her years in India, she says, “Meri padaish Amritsar ki hai, belong toh hum Punjab se hi karte hain, par hamari family ka rehna Kolkata mein ho gaya. My elder sister worked in theatre and films there. “Waise hum Punjabi hain, par asli soch toh meri Bengal ki hi hai, uske liye bahut kashish hai mere dil mein. Dono mix hoke kuch achha hi ho gaya ki Allah ne fankar bana diya, aur aap bachcon ko sunke khushi hoti hai,” she says.
“We left home at first because it was announced that India and Pakistan were to be partitioned and so was the state of Punjab. Uss waqt kashmakash hui, ghar jalne lage, maramari ho gayi. Toh hamare logon ne kaha ki Pindi (Rawalpindi) chalte hain, paas hai, mahine mein wapas aa jayenge. We took just enough stuff for a month, but we could never come back after that. Announce ho gaya ki Amritsar Hindustan mein chala gaya. Bachpan ka time tha, humein laga ki yeh kya hua. We started living in Pindi and then moved to Lahore. Hamare liye toh Lahore bhi naya tha, Pindi bhi naya tha. Iss wajah se do-teen saal uljhan rahi. Jo gaana seekha tha usmein difference aa gaya. Then I joined Radio Pakistan. Jab Allah Taala ko izzat deni hain, kisiko naam dena ho, toh aawaz mein bhi khoobsurti daal dete hain, aur logon ko achha laga. Naam toh mera Farida tha sirf, radio ke liye Farida Khanum kar diya.”
In the context of Aman Ki Asha, what difference to bilateral ties does she think art and cultural exchange can make? “Bahut farak padta hai beta, government ka bhi mood cool ho jaata hai, artiste ke aane mein ijazat de dete hain. Usse artiste bhi khush hota hai – unhe mauka milta hai ki Hindustan jaa ke apne fan ko sunayenge, apnon se milenge, tarse hote hain Hindustan dekhne ke liye, sochte hain sair hogi, dosti hogi, mohabbat badhegi. Zahir hai, aapki mohabbat mein koi kami hai nahin, woh yaadein bahut hi khoobsurat le ke jaate hain, woh kehte hain ki hum dobara aana chahenge. Yeh mel-jol, pyaar-mohabbat purana hai, lekin ismein zara si jo rukawat hoti hai, uske baad jo ijazat milti hai, usmein aur hi mazaa aata hai,” she says emphatically.
And what sort of response has she got from her fans here? “Jab bhi main aayi hoon, pyaar ke lafz hi likhe hain aapne. Artiste ka dil bada ho jaata hai ki itna toh main gaati hi nahin jitna inhone likha hai. Bahut achha lagta hai. Allah ka shukr hai, haalaat behtar se behtar ho rahe hain. Duayein hi dete hain hum bhi.”
The listeners here in India have always been connoisseurs of music, and regard for the arts is only growing. “Ustad Amjad Ali Khan sa’ab ke sahabzade kitna khoobsurat performance dete hain, mausiki toh yahan ki zindagi hai. Abhi ki baat nahin hai, purani baat hai ki Hindustan mein gaana hoga toh uska aur hi rang banta hai. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sa’ab bhi issi pyaar se yahan aa gaye, ki fan ko bhi aage badhana hai, naye bachchon mein,” she says.
And which younger performers has she heard and liked? “There are many, so many!” she exclaims. “Nazia Hassan and her brother did some good, light music, their kind of pop was very different and did so well. Lekin jo humara idhar ka kaam hai (classical music and ghazals, etc), ismein bhi bachche dilchaspi le rahe hain, zahir hai usmein bhi unka riyaz badhega, ismein bhi tarakki hogi.”