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"Mujhko Apne Gale Laga Lo" - Mubarak Begum

13 Apr, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Mubarak Begum. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Residents of Mumbai's satellite town Jogeshwari (West)'s Behrambagh area are probably unaware that the famous yesteryear singer whose songs Mujhko pne gale laga lo aye mere humraahi and Kabhi tanhaaiyon mein yun hamaari yaad aayegi tug our heartstrings till today, lives amidst them. But perhaps, they don't have the leisure or inclination to know the state in which she is living in today. The truth is that she resides in Behrambagh's Sultanabad Chirag Society’s Building Number 22, Flat No C-111 in a state of penury and neglect. Arthritis has affected her legs so much that most of her time is spent indoors.

She has always had a feeling of aversion towards people of the media world. She says that, “No one has ever tried to understand my condition. Everybody made fun of and exploited my position. The manner in which my poverty and helplessness were portrayed left a bad taste in my mouth. This is the reason why I entered this area 8 years ago with a sense of relief although it is difficult for me to forget the place where I spent 65 years of my life”. 
 

Mubarak Begum. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Residents of Mumbai's satellite town Jogeshwari (West)'s Behrambagh area are probably unaware that the famous yesteryear singer whose songs Mujhko pne gale laga lo aye mere humraahi and Kabhi tanhaaiyon mein yun hamaari yaad aayegi tug our heartstrings till today, lives amidst them.
After a lot of effort, I was able to acquire just a partial address of Mubarak Begum for my Sahara Samay column Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon. After asking many a people someone finally told me that she could be residing at Lamington Road. In search of Mubarak Begum, during the last week of October 2003, along with my cameraman Santosh Rai I went to one of Mumbai’s oldest and densest business area viz. Lamington Road’s Congress House Street which passes through crumbling buildings that are almost 100 – 125 years old. When I asked a paan vendor on the street about Mubarak Begum, he very matter of factly pointed towards a dilapidated building. We were standing at the back side of the building. 

To reach the building called Noor Mohammad Baig Mohammad Building we had to cross a filthy crisscrossing street. On crossing the moisture dampened staircase, we finally reached the second floor where we finally found Mubarak Begum in a room that was hardly 10 X 8 feet big. But it was not at all easy to cover the merely 100 meters’ distance from Lamington Road to Mubarak Begum’s residence. During that few minutes, visuals of made up faces, sleazy gestures of uncovered bodies and whispers of dealers asking us if we needed anything, made us hang our heads in embarrassment. We kept getting stressed and frightened thinking of stories we have heard of police raids and of stories of crackdown by the so called elite class or white collar people. Really, this area is not the most defamed area of Mumbai for no reason. 
 
Mubarak Begum. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Mubarak Begum's forefathers belonged to Rajasthan’s Nawalgarh while her mother was from Jhunjhunu. Mubarak Begum recalls, “I was born in my maternal home. Though I don’t know the exact date, approximately 75-80 years must have passed. I couldn't get educated since my conservative parents were afraid that an educated girl would run away from home. My grandfather had a tea shop in Ahmedabad. So, my father with his family moved there and started operating a fruit cart. My first memories are of the same place. My father played the tabla as a hobby so well that Ustad Thirakwa Khan Saheb accepted him as his disciple. Sometime in early 1940s my father took all of us to Mumbai”. 
 
It was but natural that Mubarak Begum received the tenets of music from her father. Seeing the enthusiasm with which she sang songs of Suraiya and Noor Jehan, her father made her a pupil of Kirana Gharana's Ustad Riazuddin Khan and Ustad Samad Khan Sahab. Mubarak Begum started getting opportunities to sing on All India Radio thanks to this.
It was but natural that Mubarak Begum received the tenets of music from her father. Seeing the enthusiasm with which she sang songs of Suraiya and Noor Jehan, her father made her a pupil of Kirana Gharana's Ustad Riazuddin Khan and Ustad Samad Khan Sahab. Mubarak Begum started getting opportunities to sing on All India Radio thanks to this. She recalls, “One day, Rafiq Ghaznavi, the famous composer heard me sing on the radio and he called me to sing for a film. The lyricist was Agha Jani Kashmiri, but I froze on seeing the crowd at the studio and could not sing. A similar incident repeated itself for Ram Daryani's Bhai Bahen (1950) whose composer was Shyam Sundar. In view of these failings, for a time, I had made up my mind to not sing for films. But gradually I overcame my fears and made efforts to overcome those days of struggle. My efforts bore fruit and I gave my first playback for Yakub's Aaiye with the song Mohe aane lagi angdaai. This Yakub and Sulochana Chatterjee starrer was released in 1947 and its composer was Shaukat Hyderi Dehlvi who became famous as Nashad in the years to come. The song was penned by Nakhshab”.
 
Madhumati (1958). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
It was the Snehal Bhatkar composed title song Kabhi tanhaaiyon mein yun hamaari yaad aayegi of Kidar Sharma’s film Hamaari Yaad Aayegi (1961), which brought her overnight glory. 
In the 1950s, apart from singing all songs of Hansraj Behl's Phoolon Ke Haar (1951), she sang many solos and duets like Mera bhola balam (Kundan, 1955 / composer: Ghulam Mohammad), Devta tum mera sahara (Daaera, 1953 / Jamal Sen), Mehlon mein rehne waale (Shabaab, 1954 / Naushad), Chala chal musafir (Maa Ke Aansoo, 1959 / Sardar Malik), Aaj gharwaale ghar nahin (Aulad, 1954 / Sardar Malik), Jal jal ke maroon (Sheesha, 1952 / Ghulam Mohammad), Wo na ayenge palatkar (Devdas, 1955 / S.D.Burman), Hum haal-e-dil sunayenge (Madhumati, 1958 / Salil Chowdhury) and Kya khabar thi yun tamanna (Rishta, 1954/ K Dutta). But it was the Snehal Bhatkar composed title song Kabhi tanhaaiyon mein yun hamaari yaad aayegi of Kidar Sharma’s film Hamaari Yaad Aayegi (1961), which brought her overnight glory. 

(Well informed people of cinema tell us that Lata was supposed to initially sing this song.  All preparations to record the song had been completed. Everyone was waiting for Lata but despite having given her dates, Lata didn’t turn up for the recording. When Lata was contacted it came to light that she was already busy with a V. Shantaram recording. Kidar Sharma couldn’t take this unprofessional attitude of Lata’s and immediately called for Mubarak Begum and recorded the song with her. There is no two ways about the fact that if Lata had sung this song it would have been one of her best songs. But the song would not have gotten the novelty that Mubarak Begum’s voice lend to it.) 
 
Mubarak Begum with Shankar and Mohammed Rafi. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
According to Mubarak Begum, “After recording the song Kidar Sharma gave me a 25 paise coin. I didn’t understand why he was giving me that coin. Noticing my hesitation Snehal Bhatkar said, don’t refuse this, this is Sharmna ji’s blessings. He gives this when he is very happy with someone’s work." 
According to Mubarak Begum, “After recording the song Kidar Sharma gave me a 25 paise coin. I didn’t understand why he was giving me that coin. Noticing my hesitation Snehal Bhatkar said, don’t refuse this, this is Sharmna ji’s blessings. He gives this when he is very happy with someone’s work. And really Sharmaji’s blessing given in the form of the coin proved to be very holy for me. Kabhi tanhaaiyon mein yun hamaari yaad aayegi got such fame that the way to success became much easier for me. 

In the 1960s she sang many popular songs like Mujhko apne gale laga lo (Hamrahi, 1963 / Shankar Jaikishan), Neend ud jaaye teri chain se sone waale (Juaari, 1968 / Kalyanji Anandji), Shama gul karke na ja (Arab Ka Sitara, 1961 / Saadat), Nigahon se dil mein chale aaiyega (Hameer Hath, 1964 / Shanmukh Babu), Humen dam dai ke sautan ghar jaana (Yeh Dil Kisko Doon, 1963 / Iqbal Qureshi), Bemuravvat bewafa (Sushila, 1966 / C Arjun), Mere aansuon pe na muskura (Morey Man Mitwa, 1965 / Dattaram), Ankhon ankhon mein har raat guzar jaati hai (Marvel Man, 1964 / Robin Banerjee), Itne kareeb aake bhi kya (Shagoon, 1964 / Khayyam), Ae dil bata hum kahaan aa gaye (Khooni Khazana, 1965 / S Kishan) and Wada humse kiye (Saraswati Chandra, 1965 / Kalyanji Anandji). 
 
Hamrahi (1963). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
"One day when an interview of mine was being broadcast on the radio, my phone rang. On the other side was a famous playback singer who said, 'Remember us? If we didn't love you, you would have been out of this industry long back.' Perhaps, she had been listening to my interview at that time. I have still not understood, if that was love or a veiled threat because I had to go out of the industry by the beginning of the 1970s."
According to Mubarak Begum, “As I became more popular, conspiracies against me also began to gain steam. As a result, songs like Pardesiyon se na ankhiyaan milaana (Jab Jab Phool Khile) and Agar mujhe na mile tum (Kajal) which had been originally recorded by me, entered the market without my voice. One day when an interview of mine was being broadcast on the radio, my phone rang. On the other side was a famous playback singer who said, 'Remember us? If we didn't love you, you would have been out of this industry long back.' Perhaps, she had been listening to my interview at that time. I have still not understood, if that was love or a veiled threat because I had to go out of the industry by the beginning of the 1970s. Although I got the chance to sing few songs, now and then, not a single one of them reached the market.”
 
Shagoon (1964). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

(During a meeting with director Suraj Prakash of the film Jab Jab Phool Khile he clarified that the song Pardesiyon se na ankhiyaan milaana was indeed originally recorded in the voice of Mubarak Begum. But he refuted any claim that there was any politics or pressure to eventually dub it in Lata’s voice. According to Suraj Prakash, the decision to replace Mubarak Begum with Lata was mutual as the desired result hadn’t been met.)
 
 
Ramu to Diwana Hai (1980). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Mubarak Begum recorded her last song for the film Ramu To Diwana Hai in the year 1980. Her last two songs sung under the direction of Chandru were Aao tujhe mai pyar karoon and Sanwariya teri yaad me. For more than the last 3 decades Mubarak Begum has been sitting at home living a haphazard life. Her family consists of a son – daughter-in-law, a daughter and 4 daughters of her son. Her son makes a little money doing small odd jobs. Her 46-47 years old daughter Shafaaq Bano is affected with Parkinson’s. Mubarak Begum has a lot of respect for (Late) Sunil Dutt because of whose efforts she got a small house in Jogeshwari through government quota. Mubarak Begum doesn’t want to make any comments on the subject of her husband. Almost 3 years back when she was shooting for a documentary being made on her, Mubarak Begum commented on camera “What do I say? I don’t even remember what his name was”. 

(People who know Mubarak Begum closely say that her husband was one Jagannath Sharma who was a film producer. In 1950 Jagannath Sharma had made a film with Dev Anand and Nargis called Birha Ki Raat)
"I can never forget when I sang for a program in Hyderabad in July 2008 because all through the program famous yesteryear actress Jamuna was sitting in the front row. When I started singing, Mujhko apne gale laga lo o mere humrahi, she became emotional and started lip syncing to it because it was her on which it had been picturised.”
Mubarak Begum says, “Even today I am sometimes called by people for stage shows but my fast deteriorating feet don't allow me to go out of my home much. I can never forget when I sang for a program in Hyderabad in July 2008 because all through the program famous yesteryear actress Jamuna was sitting in the front row. When I started singing, Mujhko apne gale laga lo o mere humrahi, she became emotional and started lip syncing to it because it was her on which it had been picturised.”

Some years back, Films Division had made a documentary on her which was premiered in the Goa Film Festival. Her name is taken with deep respect among music lovers and they enjoy the songs sung by her even today. But many years back a line from a letter by a reader published in the magazine Shama-Sushma beautifully depicts the state of Mubarak Begum in the film industry – “Mubarak couldn’t even take flight that her wings were clipped.”

Mubarak begum passed away in Mumbai in the late evening on 18 July 2016 after a prolonged illness . 

Original version translated from original Hindi to English by : Mr. Gajendra Khanna

Final version translated from original Hindi to English by : Aksher Apoorva

Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din blog series.

 
 

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