Classical music in the subcontinent is at its lowest ebb nowadays, and there are many reasons for this decline. Availability of modern technology, less time with the music lovers to enjoy extended music concerts, discouragement of the use of traditional instruments in live music concerts (replaced by electronic instruments), low turnout of students for learning the intricacies of classical music (as it involves years of Riazat), lesser number of teachers willing to teach this form of art (as they are paid less), poor performance of Arts Academies, almost negligent support of government quarters etc. are only some of the reasons for this decay. Before the creation of Pakistan, things were not bad at all. Even in the first three decades after the creation of Pakistan we had a significant number of classical music performers and listeners. Trends were all set to listen to classical and semi-classical vocalists and instrumentalists in Radio Pakistan’s ‘Jashn-e-Baharan’ and All Pakistan Music Conference and alike. Despite the presence of Bare Ghulam Ali Khan, Chotte Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Sardar Khan, Ustad Akhtar Hussain Khan, Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan-Ustad Salamat Ali Khan duo, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan-Ustad Fateh Ali Khan duo, Zahida Parveen, Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchwaley and alike, the female representation was missing barring Malika-e-Mausiqui Roshan Ara Begum and Suraiya Multanikar. Iqbal Bano and Fareeda Khanum were more established in the field of light-classical singing despite the fact that they knew classical music. A few years later Shahida Parveen joined this bandwagon. Disgruntled with the bleak prospects of classical music, Roshan Ara Begum retired in her husband’s house in Lalamusa and she did not mind blowing milk from the cattle she was breeding. Hayat Ahmad Khan of APMC approached her and convinced her to become the founding member of All Pakistan Music Conference and saved the queen of classical vocalisation from going into oblivion.ContemporariesEven in India, in a recent seminar organised by Swaraalay Music Academy at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, it was felt that little information was available about contributions of women in classical music. All that was known is those women who were professional women musicians – courtesans; Gauhar Jaan, Begum Akhtar, Mogubai, Kurdikar and Kesarbai Kekar, among others had a vast contribution towards the formation of Indian classical and semi-classical music. I looked for some other names till I came across an article titled ‘the voices that have been forgotten but not lost: women singers of 1900s’ by Tanvi Dubey. She said ‘Over the years, a lot of the glorious music has been forgotten. The women who once graced mujras, the mehfils and the drawing rooms of the rich and the famous have been swept under the carpet and forgotten. Many have not even been heard of or spoken about for decades’. Among the names she mentioned includes Zohrabai Agrewali (1868–1913). Let us know a little more about her contributions to music. She hailed from Agra school of thought. Zohrabai sang a variety of genres such as khayal, thumri, and ghazals. Trained under Ustad Sher Khan and Ustad Kallan Khan, her music survives as 78 rpm recordings. She recorded over 60 songs during 1908-1911.The next name is Gauhar Jaan (26 June 1873 – 17 January 1930) as mentioned above, from Calcutta. Though born as Angelina Yeoward of Armenian descent and born to Anglo-India parents, William Robert Yeoward and Victoria Hemings, Victoria’s birth place was Azamgarh; an Indian by birth. She embraced Islam after she divorced William and became Malka Jaan and changed Angelina’s name to Gauhar Jaan. The mother-daughter duo had migrated to Benares in 1881 and in 1883 moved to Calcutta. Inspired by her mother, who was a courtesan and an accomplished dancer, she trained in pure and light classical singing from Kale Khan of Patiala and others, Kathak and Dhrupad dharmar from the best teachers.Another jewel in the necklace of classical music was Akhtari Bai Faizabadi (7th October 1914 – 30th October 1974). Born in the Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh, she sang the genres, ghazal, dadra and thumri. She also sang light classical pieces and has to her credit nearly four hundred songs trained by stalwarts like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan of Lahore. She finally became a disciple of Ustad Jhande Khan. She was encouraged to learn music when she was seven. She was sent to Patna to get trained under Ustad Imdad Khan, the Sarangi exponent, and later went to Calcutta to get trained in classical music. Her first public performance was at the age of 15 and was much appreciated by Sarojini Naidu. This encouraged her to pursue a career in music. She regularly performed on All India Radio and also cut records. She also sang and acted in movies. The ghazals she sang were mostly Raag based and composed by her. Begum Akhtar got transformed from a hereditary professional singer to a married woman who gave up her music career only to emerge into the public domain transformed into a national symbol iconic of courtly musical culture, which had shaped her. We have only mentioned a few names here as talking about other female singers would divert our attention from our main singer Roshan Ara Begum.Roshan Ara Begum was a classical singer par excellence. Her original name was Waheedunnisa Begum. She was born in Calcutta in her maternal aunt’s (Mrs. Azmat Begum Noori) house. She was a naughty child and in order to avoid her mother’s beating she would go round and round a tree in her courtyard till her mother got tired running after her. She was fond of pets such as cats and she was nicknamed ‘Mumu’; short of ‘Meaoo’. Exact date of birth is not known except that aunt Azmat used to say that it was month of 12 Wafaat (Rabi Ul Awwal) in 1915 or 1916. In Bombay she lived in a flat in an environment akin to music. When she practiced, her neighbours would listen and the rents of the adjoining flats rose because of their vicinity with Roshan Ara Begum’s residence. In an interview to PTV, Ustad Kabir Khan stated that listeners would not realise how much time elapsed while she was performing just for the sole reason that she sang so well. Her mother’s name was Chanda Begum but her aunt used to sing and get training from proper teachers. Roshan used to watch her practice sessions and learn also. Roshan Ara’s father Abdul Halim had no interest in music as he ran business of furniture. Chanda brought her to Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, an eminent representative of the Kirana gharana, who accepted her as a pupil. Roshan Ara Begum disclosed in an interview that a visitor to their house, a Faqir (Maza Pyari Saheb) from Warsi dynasty (near Lukhnow) named her Roshan Jehan as she would spread light the world through her music.Initial trainingIn an interview with music composer Khalil Ahmad and M. Iqbal for PTV in the programme ‘Mulaqaat’ (meeting), Roshan Ara Begum disclosed that she was a born singer and could emulate all the tunes she listened. She was nine years old when she started getting tutelage from her teacher Khan Saheb Laddan Khan, a Sarangi player. This teaching continued for three to four years. She was in Calcutta at that time. She had difficulties in starting her practice sessions but not that much as a novice would face. Then Khan Saheb Bahadur Khan, a friend of Laddan Khan mentioned that Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan in Bombay made people cry when he sang. Since she was the only daughter, her request to meet Karim Khan was granted and her mother took her to Roshan’s aunt in Bombay.Entry in filmsIn those days there was no system of playback singing. The hero and heroine had to be singers as well as those films were musicals. Roshan Ara was selected as heroine and Ramanand as hero in the film ‘Noor-e-Islam’. Due to this film, her name was changed from Roshan Jehan to Roshan Ara. She did three or four films in that era.She made her debut as a singer in Bombay, where her songs were broadcast on Radio. In 1936, she found an opening as a playback singer for the famous director Sohrab Modi in his historical film, ‘Pukar’. Later, she rendered Feroze Nizami’s compositions for the films ‘Jugnu’ (Dais Ki Purkaif – the film’s story was based on the story told through this song) and ‘Kismat’. It was at this juncture of time that Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan forbade Roshan Ara to take any further film assignments and concentrate full time on classical music. He went with Roshan Ara for her performance in Hublee near Poona. Her contemporary singers were Moqo Bai, Gangu Bai, Heera Bai etc. Normally he did not accompany any of his students and vice versa. Her tutelage continued for four years.As for the impact of a Raag, Roshan stated that a good performance does create a certain desired impact on audience. She recalled an instance in Hyderabad Deccan when listeners cried during her performance. It is not only the bandish of the Raag but the voice of the performer that creates such astounding impact. However, Roshan Ara said that sometimes the desired impact of happiness for example in Raag Basant is not attained but in Raag Bahar it is attained. About her likeness of Raags, she liked to perform Raag Bairagi but not Raag Sohni; a matter of choice.Marriage:In 1944, Roshan Ara Begum received an offer of marriage from a music lover, Chaudhry Ahmed Khan, a senior Punjabi police officer in Bombay. She consulted her teacher, Ustad Abdul Karim, and agreed to be married on one condition: that she would not give up music. She kept her promise and continued to sing throughout her life. It was an arranged marriage in the sense that her husband-to-be was a music lover and used to attend her concerts. The matter was resolved with the consent of Roshan Ara’s mother but Roshan was vehement that Chaudhry Saheb would allow her continue singing. Roshan Ara stated that when she would not carry out music practice sessions, her husband would encourage her to do so. At the time of creation of Pakistan, she had to travel to Calcutta for operation of her Aunt Mrs. Azmat Begum Noori. After eight months Roshan and her husband came to Pakistan in 1948 and settled down in Lalamusa, a small town between Gujrat and Jhelum in Punjab where Chaudhry Saheb had a house and a piece of land.Initial hindranceFor a year and a half Roshan Ara Begum did not sing as her in-laws did not accept her music till pressure was developed by her fans and search from her Bombay fans coupled with offers from Radio Pakistan made Chaudhry Saheb allow her to sing again. Her first performance was in a music conference in which Bare Ghulam Ali Khan also performed. He was still in Pakistan at that time. About the gaps in her public performances she was content in practicing at her home as she had recorded tanpura and tabla (by Ustad Shaukat Hussain) as accompaniment on a tape recorder, thanks to her friends from Radio Pakistan. She used to practice in basement and her bed room, she disclosed in an interview with PTV. She had no qualms about the fact that sometimes she was not remembered by Radio and TV. About transferring her art, she was a little skeptical as a couple of students who approached her desired to sing four Raags in a month whereas one Raag needed minimum of four months to learn. Classical music takes a long time to develop in a performer: voice training and technique wise. The students must be steadfast in their passion to learn and teachers in transferring the art. The end result has to be soothing to listen to. Roshan Ara stated that in case two persons performed together as a duo, it helped in creating variety of presentation of a Raag. About her impressions on the performances of other singers, she was of the view that every singer has a certain number of years of practice behind him/her so every artist needs appreciation. About any problems encountered while recording LIVE for television, Roshan Ara complained that since she is used to have Tanpura close to her ears while singing, the stage setting takes the instrumentalists away from her ears putting all the load and responsibility on her vocals without instrumental support. Having two Tanpuras (played usually by her disciples Khursheed Shahid and M. Iqbal) she is more comfortable. Roshan Ara Begum is equally competent in rendering all branches of classical music but she takes special care in remaining close to the Raag in which she renders a Dadra. According to Wikipedia ‘Dadra is a light classical vocal form in Hindustani classical music, mostly performed in Agra and in Bundelkhand region. It was originally accompanied by Dadra Taal (from where the term for the genre was borrowed), but later Dadra compositions are often found in other light Taals (such as Keherwa). The peculiarity of Dadra genre is that the Asthai is in Braj Bhasha while the Antara is sometimes in Urdu. It is one of the illustrations of how cultures have amalgamated and coexisted in Indian classical music’.PersonalityCritics observe that though universally acclaimed as ‘Malika Mauseequi’ (Queen of Music) in Pakistan and Saraswati (a goddess of the Hindu Pantheon) in India, Roshan Ara Begum was a remarkably simple person. Her humility, sincerity, and gentleness added to her stature as an artist. A devout Muslim, she was an early riser and began her Riyaz (musical practice) after her morning prayers. Being childless, she adopted a boy and girl, upon whom she showered her maternal love. She was fond of keeping pets like cats, dogs, pigeons etc. On her lands she raised cattle and even kept a horse on her husband’s lands.Important features as a vocalistAs a vocalist, the most important feature of Roshan Ara Begum singing was her stress on melody. She had an outstanding adroitness and control over an affluence of Raags. At a 1954 musical conference in Bombay, her renditions of Jinjhoti Thumri and Bhairvi Thumri, the Raags for which she is still considered the ultimate interpreter, astonished a group of distinguished Ustads and Pundits with her divine and soul-stirring voice. I don’t know whether singing small embellishments in her Raag rendering was due to her affiliation with Kirana Gharana or not but she was outstanding in this style. My all-time time favourite Raag rendered by her is Raag Anandi. Her Durrat (teen Taal) portion ‘Aj Hun Aye Balam Buhut Din Beete’ shall vouch for my observation. This Raag due to its construction has its limitations but the way she brings variations in ‘taans’ and ‘zamzamas’ is amazing.Ustad Ghulam Haider Khan in his submission to a local daily comments ‘In fact if there was any comparison to be made with a contemporary of hers, it was with Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan. I remember one occasion on which the two great singers happened to share a stage. It was one of Radio Lahore’s annual Jashn-e-Baharan festivals of the 1950s, and it spanned over 7 days. On the first day Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan rendered his favourite Raag Malkauns with full vigour and strength, and after him Roshanara sang her own favourite Raag Shankara with zeal and aplomb. The audience was riveted by both performances; there was no agreement about whose song was superior. The next evening Roshanara was scheduled to sing first, and she picked Raag Basant. Now it was the month of March, and Lahore was drenched in the smells and colors of spring. Roshanara’s rendition of the taunting-joyous Raag seemed to dance with the elements, and was so enchanting that the audience threw flowers on her while she was singing. Next up was Bare Ghulam Ali, and though he tried his very best to continue in that vein of delicacy and enchantment with an accomplished rendition of Raag Kafi Kanra, he could not even enter, let alone break, the spell cast by his magical predecessor. In the end the great Ustad was compelled to praise and bless Roshanara Begum before the audience; and she stooped to his knees in a gesture of humility and graciousness’.AwardsRoshan Ara Begum won the President’s Pride of Performance Award in 1960 from President Ayyub Khan and was the first female vocalist to be awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz.Demise: Roshan Ara Begum’s died due to cardiac arrest on December 06, 1982. Her demise left the Kirana Gharana in Pakistan totally bereaved, although there are still a few exponents of this school of music in India.Published in Daily Times, June 12th 2018.