Sunday, December 23, 2018
Zile Huma called me on the phone and said "The doctors have strictly forbidden mama from singing on stage because of her heart condition. It can be a matter of life and death. She doesn't want to refuse you under any circumstances.It was the 23rd of December 2000, according to the Muslim Calendar it was the 27th of Ramazan, the night when the doors of Jannat are open for all. The luckiest breath their last on this night of forgiveness when all such people are promised Jannah by the Almighty. Noor Jehan had some time before recorded a song Dum da ki Bharosa, Dum avay na avay…’ which was probably released in 2000.
The song was recorded earlier and followed an unpleasant interaction with the financer who was disrespectful and threatening. Noor Jehan was a very bold, defiant and self-respecting person, she snubbed the man so hard that he had to tender apologies but she refused to sing any other song in his film. Strange coincidence it turned out to be. Noor Jehan was at that time conscious of her growing health problems. But did not make these problems known to public. I requested her to sing in a show in Dubai and she accepted. However, Zille Huma called me on the phone and said “The doctors have strictly forbidden mama from singing on stage because of her heart condition. It can be a matter of life and death. She doesn’t want to refuse you under any circumstances. Please talk to her about her health”. I did and found out that Zille Huma was absolutely right. Prophetically her song “dum da ki bharosa….” (You cant trust your breathing, it may or may not be there at the next moment… .”) had been recorded. It so happened that while recording this song she had sung her last song with prophetic lyrics. On 23rd Dec. 2000 she had gone to the Almighty for her eternal life in heaven. She left a vacuum in this material world which can never be filled. Never.
Soon after, she came to of the threat to her health, she decided to record her ‘will’ and called me to be a witness.
In around 1997 she sold her house in Gulberg. It was almost on the Liberty round about. There is a huge commercial building at that spot. The road from Liberty Market in Lahore to Hussain Chowk is appropriately named as “Noor Jehan Road”.
The sale of the house was partly intended to finance her treatment in USA. She did that to maintain her dignity and not ask for help.
Noor Jehan was a fighter and had learned to struggle to achieve her goals. She had dealt with a merciless ‘men’s world’ and attained a position of respect and distinction. Noor Jehan was not a person who could be bullied or treated as ordinary. She knew that she had attained a status, respected her own self, and expected to be respected by others. I recall in 1957, Field Martial Ayub Khan had proclaimed Martial Law and the Punjab Director Public Relations Agha Shaukat thought of doing a music program in Punjab University Hall. He thought that if Noor Jehan would perform it will be a plus for the new government. After a great effort Noor Jehan agreed. This was the first time Noor Jehan had agreed to sing in public. The hall was packed. Faiz Ahmad Faiz was in jail. She arrived and wanted to sing Faiz. The government functionaries panicked and she was asked not to sing Faiz’s poem. She walked out. The house got out of control. Government had to concede and she sang ‘mujh sae pehli si mohabbat merey mehboob na mang’. People in the house were mesmerized. She had got her way.
When she sold her house she knew she had to fight her failing health. She needed expert treatment. She was advised to go to United States. The best hospital was in Cleveland. I was in California doing some research work for my book on Indus Valley Civilization. Yasmin called me and asked me to be with Noor Jehan. I went to Cleveland. When I arrived in the hospital she had just been moved from emergency ward to her room. She was unconscious but I could meet her doctor. This doctor told me that he had taken special permission to attend to Noor Jehan round the clock on his own request. This was unusual because the patients were looked after by doctors on duty as a matter of practice. But this doctor was so struck by Noor Jehan’s courage, resilience and will to fight that this doctor had never seen before.
Noor Jehan then kept talking and suddenly made a strange request. “Bhayya aap meree zindagi ki kahani likh daen” (‘please write the story of my life’). I was taken aback because I was not prepared for this request. I said ‘Noor Jehan there are so many writers keen to do that.’ No bhaya they gossip and you are the only one I opened my heart to’ she said. This stunned me and I responded “ But whatever you told me was a trust, so I thought”. She said ‘That is why, because I trust you’. In retrospect I realized that she felt that I knew her person more intimately and respected her and I wouldn’t make a ‘tamasha’ which ‘others’ may be tempted to do.
I first met Noor Jehan in 1956 at Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj Sahib’s house at a dinner. After dinner there was usual music session. Yasmin sang a ‘Thumri’ in raga ‘malkaus’ as a starter and then it was all Noor Jehan. She soon came to know of my engagement with Yasmin. From then onwards it was a relationship between the elder ‘sister’ and her ‘Behnoee’, with all the accompanying love and respect.
Our relationship was that the family members. In 1962, Noor Jehan and Ejaz led my ‘barat’ in their black Mercedes to Taj Shib’s house. Faiz Ahmed Faiz had written the ‘Sehra’ for us , The only Sehra he ever wrote. Noor Jehan sang that Sehra on that memorable night of 24th March 1962. The only Sehra that Noor Jehan ever sang.
After Taj Sahib’s tragic murder in 1970, Noor Jehan continued her relationship as a family member with Hijab Imtiaz Ali Sahiba, Yasmin, myself and our sons.
I respect Noor Jehan’s wish that I write her life story. If life permits, I will attempt to do it.
However, our current young generation needs to know and does need to know more about this great person in our history.
Therefore a very brief sketch.
Noor Jehan was born on September 21, 1926, into the family of Amma Hasso in Kasur. Amma Hasso was loved by the citizens for her voice and her magnanimous charity. The wife of Amma Hasso’s son, Madad Ali, died leaving behind two daughters, Bharo and Umda. He then married Fateh Bibi who was of Kashmiri origin. The marriage produced five sons and two daughters, Eiden and Allah Wasai. Not a single person in the subcontinent ruled the hearts of the people longer than Noor Jehan. She was the singer of the millennium. Her voice had the power to stop the moving world and create pin drop silence.
At the age of five, on the advice of their relative Nazir Begum in Lahore, the two girls Eiden and Allah Wasai were made pupils of Ustad Fazal Hussain for music education. He in turn entrusted them to his disciple Ustad Ghulam Mohammad. Ghulam Muhammad was shocked at how God had blessed his youngest student. Her capability to understand the classical and her personal creativity amazed the teacher.
The economic recession after the First World War was telling and by 1932 Allah Wasai started singing in a theatre in Lahore along with her sister Eiden and a cousin, Hyder Bandi. The theatre was probably known as Parbhat Talkies. Traditionally, they appeared before the show during the interval. Allah Wasai sang a naat (hymn) ‘Hanstey Hain Sitarey, Ya Shahe Madeena’. The audience loved the naat and the pretty little girl, so it showered money on them.
Soon this team of singers was to be discovered by the talent hunters of Karnani’s theatre in Calcutta. The family moved to that centre of all show business. The group was known as ‘Punjab mail’. Noor Jehan told me of her experiences in Calcutta, which were good, bad, and even tragic. The best thing for her, perhaps, was being given the title of Noor Jehan by the owner, Seth Kulkarni.
In 1942, baby Noor Jehan was ready to be a star. The family had returned from Calcutta and was in dire financial straits. Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj at that time was the prime writer of film stories and worked with Pancholi. Pancholi had Shaukat Hussain Rizvi and Ghulam Hyder in his team as well. In desperation for work with some respectability, Noor Jehan decided to stand outside the gates of the Pancholi Studio and sing to attract attention. She knew she could do it. Of course when she sang, time froze and she was admitted into the Pancholi family. She was the star of Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj’s ‘Khandan’, to be directed by Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi.
The story of the superstar Noor Jehan is not a secret.
In 1971, I was designated by Government of Pakistan to arrange Pakistan’s participation in “ First World Song Festival in Tokyo”. Entry was restricted to the best in the world and high standards were laid for the participants. I worked for weeks, day and night. Noor Jehan was our best bet. Many recordings were made. On the other side of the border Lata Mangeshkar was expected. Finally one composition was selected which explored the great range of singing that Noor Jehan had. It was” Shahbaz karey Parwaz…’’’ by Nazir Ali. We participated. Lata had not arrived. Noor Jehan was selected among the best of the best in the world and her song was included in the album of final 11 songs. It was the last week of November 1971 and politically difficult times.
Dacca was under military action and we were to return via Dacca. When we arrived in Dacca the Pakistan Army commanders requested Noor Jehan to sing for the injured personal in the hospital. She did. She was always very nationalistic and supportive. She was asked to stay on for a few days and visit some hospitals. She was willing but I was very apprehensive. So I requested her to travel to the Karachi according to my plan along with all members of the troupe and conclude this assignment.
We stayed the evening in PC hotel. An air attack took place and a bomb dropped near the hotel. All commercial flights were discontinued. In any case if we had stayed on in Dacca then we would have been prisoners of war for a long time. Dacca fell soon afterwards.
In Pakistan Noor Jehan sang for the valiant forces as she did in 1965.
In year 2000 March, I met her for the last time in Karachi. She had been ill for a long time. Because of traffic issue I arrived two minutes late at her daughter’s house. She was waiting, dressed in her favourite pink sari, leaning against the bannister of the staircase in the lobby. She knew my habit of being always on time, she expressed surprise. I apologized. We moved to the sitting room. Her doctor, nurse, and her cousin, Majeeda Bibi joined us. Noor Jehan wanted to talk at leisure. She was asked repeatedly to go for rest. She wouldn’t. Finally she asked me again to write her life story and I promised. Then the meeting ended. We were never to see each other again in life time.
On the most sacred day, Noor Jehan, left for her final abode. Her charity, her love for humanity, her devotion to the country, her love for intellect, her determination to protect her respect, and whose sincere devotion to friends, is known to many.
A song that she sang was “gayae gee dunya geet marey…” So true.
God bless her soul. Noor Jehan was ‘Malika’ and she will remain a ‘Malika’ in the creative world.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani named two former heads of the intelligence services to key security posts in his government on Sunday in a step that could affect both next year’s presidential election and moves toward peace with the Taliban.