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Tomb tribute to Begum Akhtar

- no hitch in grave renovation despite faizabad clashes

Lucknow, Oct. 29: Call it the power of music. Death has struck twice in this spiral of violence but hasn’t been able to cast its shadow on a tomb being “rescued”.

Admirers of Begum Akhtar are gearing to rediscover her legacy by restoring her grave in Lucknow at a time Faizabad, where the ghazal singer was born nearly a hundred years ago, is simmering under curfew even three days after riots left two persons dead and hundreds injured.

The violence broke out last week following a clash over an immersion procession.

Inspector-general (Lucknow range) Subhas Chandra said jawans were marching through the streets of Faizabad to restore law and order in the Uttar Pradesh town barely 10km from Ayodhya, the flashpoint of the 1992 Babri riots.

No such tinderbox emotions raged in Lucknow, 125km away, where followers of the ghazal and thumri singer prepared to mark her 38th death anniversary with a series of events starting tomorrow.

The events will culminate next month with her grave being rededicated to the city, where the “queen of melodies” came to live later in life.

The grave is located in a squalid, congested area in old Lucknow where shanties have sprung up. “The singer’s grave needs to be rescued from obscurity and squalor and put on the historical map of Lucknow,” said Salim Kidwai, a Lucknow-based writer who is working on a book on Akhtar.

“Begum Akhtar’s ghazals are suddenly being played by her admirers everywhere,” said a member of Lucknow’s former royal family.

Work on renovating the grave began two months back when artisans from Agra applied their expertise to restore its Pietra dura design — an Italian technique through which semi-precious stones are embedded in monuments. The resetting is complete and a green ring has been constructed around the grave.

Delhi-based architect Ashish Thapar, who volunteered for the project, has been supervising the renovation.

“The Government of India’s culture department has released a grant for the project,” said Madhvi Kukreja, director of Sanatkada, an NGO in Lucknow, which is working on the renovation. “We have approached the state government for funds for maintenance.”

Begum Akhtari Faizabadi, later renamed Begum Akhtar, was born in 1914 in Baradarwaja in Faizabad. Trained under Ustad Imdad Khan, a sarengi exponent in Calcutta, and later by classical singers like Abdul Wahid Khan in Lahore, she first performed at the age of 15.

In 1945, already famous as a singer of national repute, she married a Lucknow-based barrister, Ishtiak Ahmed Abbasi.

She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and was awarded the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan (posthumously) by the Indian government and also bestowed the title “Mallika-e-Ghazal” (queen of melodies). She died on October 30, 1974.

“It is my good fortune that I am involved in strengthening the legacy of my dear Ammi, who is still my guru,” said Shanti Hiranand, a septuagenarian ghazal singer who not only learnt singing from Begum Akhtar but also wrote a book on her, Story of my Ammi”.

Hiranand, herself a Padma awardee, would lead a concert on November 7, after which the new-look mazar would be opened to the public. A documentary, Hai Akhtari, by art critic S. Kalidas, will also be shown that day.

In Lucknow, a number of workshops have been organised in Begum Akhtar’s memory in various parts of the city.

Some 125km away, people in Faizabad were still seething in anger over the destruction of dozens of shops and vehicles in the violence that broke out on October 26.

Police officer Subhas Chandra said the administration had taken measures to check the movement of criminal elements.