The Djinn Of Aiman

Farida Khanum returns to sing in Calcutta

courtesy Farida Khanum
01 April, 2014

IT WAS A DIM JANUARY AFTERNOON IN LAHORE, there was a power outage on Zahoor Elahi Road, and Farida Khanum had finally woken up.

We were sitting among shadows on the floor of her living room: I on the carpet and she on a cushion that was at once a mark of her prestige (she is “The Queen of Ghazal,” the last of her generation’s iconic classically trained singers) and advanced age (she can no longer sit as she used to, like a mermaid, with her legs folded beguilingly beneath her). I had come to prepare Khanum for a concert she was to give in a week’s time in Calcutta, and was trying to engage her, in this fragile early phase of her day, with innocuous-sounding questions: which ghazals was she planning on singing there, and in what order?

Do-tin cheezaan Agha Sahab diyan” (Two-three items of Agha Sahib’s), she said in Punjabi, her voice cracking. She was referring to the pre-Independence poet and playwright Agha Hashar Kashmiri.

Daagh vi gaana jay” (You must sing Daagh too), I said. “Othay sab Daagh de deewane ne” (Everyone there is crazy about Daagh)—Daagh Dehlvi, the nineteenth-century poet.