“Tell us about any incident that you would never forget, Mubarak Ji? Something that brings a smile to your face or brings tears to your eyes…”
“Andhere Chha Rahe Honge, Ke Bijli Kaundh Jayegi, I had just sung till this line from the song Kabhi Tanhaiyon Mein Yun from the film Hamari Yaad Aayegi when” - she paused for a moment to look at the anticipation in the faces in front of her – “the lights went off!” We laugh out loud; she smiles. “Gaane ka aisa asar kisine kabhi dekha nahi hoga,” she says with a twinkle in her eyes. Mubarak Begum chose something amusing over the myriad melancholic things that keep bothering her.
During the three days that I got to spend with her, there were talks about the difficult times and the uncertain future. But there was no resignation in those talks – only a glaring resolve. An acceptance of reality, an amnesia of an absolved past. She agreed for every interview I arranged, without even asking her. “No personal questions, no controversial questions.” She seemed not to be an interviewer’s delight. When asked about how her passion for singing evolved she says, “I never wanted to sing, I was forced to sing by my father.” She is not very happy either about the long walk at and even longer drive from the
But if you persist you are treated to chunks of delightful incidents. When asked about her reaction to getting things easily these days and the big money involved in even smaller shows, she does not tell you anything about it. Instead, she breaks off to a story. “There were times when I would sing and wait for the payment. Sometimes, it was never made. It used to be around 150 rupees per song that time. I remember once I was very upset at not being paid. And even when we came out and sat in the taxi, I was grumbling about it to my father. Hearing me, the driver turned and asked me how long I had been singing? ‘A few years,’ I said. ‘Even then you are thinking about money?’ he asked me over his shoulders.”
“Work started to cease for me after 1965,” she puts it matter-of-factly. Further questions are not answered. So are questions about her past. The stern façade quickly comes off in tears as you ask her about her parents. “However old I get, how can I accept that they are not there with me?”
“Take me to her now,” she demanded when told that Jamuna, the beautiful actress who lipped her most popular song from Humrahi, stayed in
She was to sing about three songs that evening. Without even a proper rehearsal, she was cynical of the performance. But as everyone collectively broke out into a deafening applause as she entered, one could sense that this audience would not be satiated for less. She went on to sing 7 songs amidst undying applause. The audience was not particularly expecting her to sing ‘Devta Tum Ho Mera Sahara’ – a classic 1953 duet with Rafi Sahab by Jamal Sen from Daera. She sang the whole song from memory, even the lines by her revered co-singer. One yearned for the excellent use of the chorus in the song, but was nonetheless left in awe. Scores of people came with her to the waiting car. For the only time during her stay, I saw a glow of joy in her face. It did not matter that she did not leave the place with a heavy purse, the warm embrace of her loving ‘heroine’ and the resonant applause of her fans more than made up for it.
People took notice. “When is she coming back?” “Meet me sometime; we will plan something big next time together.” “Does she practice daily even now? How come her voice has not lost the kashish?” Smiling, I could just hope that this initiative augurs well for one of the most neglected singers. A singer whose fledgling career dipped to the ground in her youth, but still promises to attain newer heights to overhaul the mammoth obstacles that block her way.And as I put on Kabhi Tanhaiyon Mein Yun Hamari Yaad Aayegi yet another time, I try, in vain, to recollect another song that is as haunting. When I finally give up, her jest rings in my mind again, albeit in a different context – “Gaane ka aisa asar kisine kabhi dekha nahi hoga.”