Before the advent of broadcasting service in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, the print media was broadly confined to the coverage of current affairs and occasional literary and other social subjects. In fact, they were going through lean years due to various restrictions imposed on the freedom of expression by the authoritative rule. As the sub-continent was faced by turbulent situation created by the emergence of two sovereign dominions, a faster medium was envisaged and contemplated. Broadcasting brought in a quick but revolutionary change in the aptitude and attitudes of the people.
After successfully commissioning a radio station at Jammu in December 1947, the urgency of having yet another radio station at Srinagar was brought out forcefully by the new rulers and the Central Government had to yield quickly. The second radio station in the state was established within six months at Srinagar on the 1st of July 1948, with both medium and short waves transmitters, more by political compulsion than other reasons. While the medium wave transmitter was catering local listeners, the short wave transmitter was utilised for broadcast of 30 minutes Pushto programme for listeners across the cease fire line and Afghanistan.
The broadcasting activity was fraught with scores of hurdles and problems, in the selection of artists, presenters and talkers. Though there was no dearth of writers in Kashmiri, Urdu and English languages but they had to be cultivated for the new medium. Most of the casual participants were males. Hence the search for female members of the presentation squad as well as musicians attained top-priority both at Jammu and at Srinagar. As Miss Bhasin was the first lady announcer at Jammu, Miss Amina Shireen and Mrs Shanta Koul wore the mantle of presenters at Srinagar.
As far as the female music artists were concerned, there was dismal response in the beginning in Kashmir. Jammu had been somewhat lucky to allure a village female performer, Shakuntla Devi but Srinagar had no such professionals in and around. Jammu had till the dawn of independence, a class of amateur and professional female musicians such as Mallika Pukhraj who would perform at weddings and festival celebrations. In Kashmir,” Hafiza” of Sufiana Musiqi had disappeared in the early forties of 20th century for to want of adequate patronage. The knowledgeable literate woman would not condescend to perform at public places other than selected educational institutions, where they would have been trained in the vocal or instrumental music.
The strenuous endeavour and hard work in the talent–hunt brought almost scouting of small reward in 1949 in the shape of Naseem Begum of Jammu, based at Srinagar and later on folk artists Zoon Begum and party. Naseem Begum was the first female soloist, who had to work hard to do a Kashmiri song. I was looking after the music section then, in addition to some other programmes. During those days everything was broadcast “live”, including music. After many a rehearsal and correcting enunciation and diction of Kashmiri Ghazal of Maqbool Shah Kralwari…Wesye Gulon Aawye Bahar…before broadcast Naseem Begum went on air. It was an instantaneous success.
Naseem Begum added a little colour to Kashmiri light music. Efforts continued to increase the number of female soloists of Kashmir music. And one fine morning I came across yet another female crooner, through a contact of Ghulam Qadir Langoo. She was Raj Begum, and later on followed by Naseem Akhtar. Both of them had to be guided well at the time of audition. Adept in memorising verses of ghazals they could not read a script. They needed adequate training in picking up a given tune with proper rhythm. It might amuse the readers that one member of the Music Section would whisper a line or a verse of the selected ghazal in their ears as a prompter while each of them was “live “on air. This was a novel experience although enforced by need of the time.
Raj begum’s first song was again Maqbool Shah Kralwari’s ghazal…Wesye Gulon Aawye Bahar…with better diction and pronunciation. Within a short span of time Raj begum understood the requirements of the medium, and put a considerable effort in following the given tune. You would recall the rendering of Rasa Javidani’s ghazal…Mushravthas Janane…Tschi Kar Yaad Peymeeay Bea…besides many of the popular performances of her under my direction and with my composition of music. Both raj Begum and Naseem Akhtar have innumerable songs to their credit composed by me. Mirza Aarif’s lyric…Rumm Gayam Sheshas Begurr Ghom Bana Meyoun…is one of the many outstanding presentations. Both these ladies also presented compositions of Mohan Lal Aima and Verinder Mohan during the first decade of Radio Kashmir Srinagar. Later on, Nassarullah Khan and G.N.Shaikh and M. Ashraf carried on the production of light music in Kashmir.
Naseem Akhtar and Raj Begum were followed by some literate female soloists as Nirmala Devi, Prabha Devi, Miss Shangloo and a few others over a period of next ten years.
At a later stage, Asha Kaul, Shameema Dev, Kailash Mehra, Jahan Ara Janbaz, Haseena Akhtar and now Jamila Khan and some other soloists were introduced within last three decades of 20th century. The educated women such as Zia Durrani, Kumari Shakun and Rajeshwini Dhar also participated in programmes. These female soloists with their artistic expression attracted greater respect.
The credit of widening the circle of performing female artists squarely goes to a few devout members of the staff of the Music Section. Now the situation appears to be vastly different from the early period of Radio Kashmir Srinagar because there is a regular inflow of female musicians even through the programmes for the specific audiences as also the general services. There are no two opinions about my frank assertion that the quest and sustained effort of Radio Kashmir, Srinagar helped to introduce the female artists to the listeners. It was obviously a revolutionary change for the good.
The soloists were squarely followed by some groups of women folk music singers. The concept of folk music as a device for enlivening programmes for rural audiences only was done away with. The folk songs attracted the attention of music lovers and won the hearts equally of the sophisticated. Just think of Zoon Begum and party presenting Rasool Meer’s ghazal…Bala-ma-reyoo…or Dina Nath Nadim’s…Bombro Bombro…This party was followed by Mehtab Begum in fifties.
The endeavour of Radio Kashmir, Srinagar continued to produce high quality Kashmiri light music in the shape of chorus songs and as a part of operas such as “Heemal Nagrai”, “Bombur Yemberzal” and “Vyeth” of Nadim, Lol Yale Motas Phor of Rehman Rahi and many more. My compositions of Vyeth became all-time favourites of every generation that followed and have often been plagiarised.
To keep pace with the changing time and developed tastes of listeners, I succeeded in getting the famous playback singer-Asha Bhonsle-to sing a ghazal of Rasool Meer “Lalas Vantanee Chum Sawaal” composed by me. Bashir Butt and Virender Mohan also got Sarla Kapoor, Anees Khatoon Begum, Sandhiya Mukherjee and some other non-Kashmiri musicians to do Kashmiri songs with skill and professional perfection to the liking of vast majority of Kashmiri audience.
In balance, the green pastures of light music are still open to the desirous male and female artists to display their talent and attract the listeners.
This talk was scripted by Sayyed Qaisar Qalandar in 1996 for Radio Kashmir Srinagar programme English Talks. Almost two years before his death. Mr. Qalandar retired as Deputy Director General of All India Radio and is a renowned Urdu poet, musicologist and music composer.
We are thankful to his son, Sayed Humayun Qaiser who let us publish this script.