Meherwan and I were discussing the lines from a ghazal this morning, and the talk came around to Akhtar Begum, who was the foremost proponent of the Thumri style of Hindustani Music, and who sang the ghazals that Baba loved. She was very famous and Adi Snr. thought her performance would please Baba so he invited her to sing for Him. She quoted a very high fee, and when Baba was told about it, He said, “Let it be.”
A few years later, Prof. Golwilkar (himself a very talented musician and composer) became the Director of All India Radio, Poona. He was very taken with Baba, and so whenever a well-known singer came to perform for the radio station, he’d bring them before Baba. At some point, he must have told Akhtar Begum about Baba, and following an inner prompting, she landed up at Meherazad where Beloved Baba was in seclusion, around His Birthday time. Meherwan recalls that she turned up at Mandali Hall, and asked to sing before Baba. Baba was asked, and He told one of the Mandali to bring her in. She came in, and sang before Him. Baba was very pleased and took a paper on which a poem for His Birthday had been sent by a close lover named Prof. Dastagir. Showing the paper to her, He asked her if she could put it to music and sing it for Him. She read it through and said, “Of course, I will do it right now.” Thus saying she put it to music and sang it to Baba. Then she asked to sing a final song, and Baba agreed on condition that she would come to sing before Him in Poona, for the three days of His Darshan there. She readily agreed, and sang her third song. Then she wept before Baba and from that day she was His.
Akhtar Begum kept her promise to sing at Guruprasad. I remember the three days she sang, though to my 6-year old mind her singing wasn’t all that wonderful. But she was very approachable, and when (on one of her beedi breaks – she smoked beedis and Baba would stop her every so often so she could go have a quick smoke - she was greeting Gaimummy and Manu, and I happened to be there, she gave me a hug and her blessings (it is traditional for elders to bless young ones, usually with long life and happiness). Meherwan recalls that one time she had a congested chest and still sang so well Baba said to the gathered lovers, “See, she has a chest full of phlegm, but how lovely her voice still is!”
Akhtar Begum loved Baba a lot. She always regretted that she wasted all those years when she could have been close to Him, her wasted time. She died a few years after Baba dropped His Body, and is still remembered in the Baba world as one who gave pleasure to the Highest of the High. To quote a few lines from the ghazal that Meherwan and I were discussing – “Each syllable on my tongue praises Him, my every footstep on this earth is my salutation to Him. I Your lover am going towards my annihilation with as much rejoicing as if I was on my way to the Kaaba.” Maybe Akhtar Begum has reached her Kaaba too! Jai Meher Baba.
At the start of this post is a link to a ghazal that was a great favourite of Baba's, which Akhtar Begum sang before Him many times.