Malika Pukhraj lived in an era that hardly many in today’s world are aware of, but she created an imperishable impact, and was undoubtedly the most powerful voice in ghazal that no-one could parallel.
Her daughter and singer Tahira Syed, music composer Arshad Mahmud and musicologist Ayla Reza talked at length about Malika Pukhraj at the KLF session ‘Abi Tau Mae Jawan Hoon’. Mahmud remembered her as having a peculiar voice, “which had its own characteristic, one that could only belong to an iconic star of the sub-continent.”
When Syed started singing, Malika wanted her to have a “full-throated” style of voice projection, something that she had pioneered. “But times had changed,” said Syed, “So much so that the music producers insisted that one needs to modulate his or her voice according to the microphone. Mommy’s style was unique unto itself. Her pitch voice was strong enough to go without a microphone.”
A key factor in Malika’s success was the undeterred support of her husband Shahji. Her priorities changed after marriage and she became more interested in bringing up a happy family rather than solely focusing on music. “Mommy used to spend all her time with us, her children. However, Shahji insisted she should continue to sing,” revealed Syed. Following Shahji’s death, Malika became exceedingly depressed and withdrew herself from everything – it was music that eventually came to her rescue.
“With time, my career became her ambition. That’s exactly how she came out of depression,” shares Syed.
“Pukhraj was an intelligent woman. She was aware of the fact that I was a composer and I had to sell my product too,” said Mahmud when asked about his chemistry with the singer. “She knew exactly who would do a better job with composing a certain ghazal of a particular poet. I would term her a perfectionist to the core.”
Syed asserted that Malika’s perfection knew no bounds, “She had set high standards for everything, be it principles, morals, or household chores like gardening, cooking and embroidery.”
She was an ardent food lover at heart as she cooked meals for herself, made entirely from organic products. She also learnt the art of making stuffed toys besides patch-work quilting, which bears adequate proof that she indeed had a multifaceted personality. “She had no formal school-going education, but was eager to learn something new every day,” added Syed.
Syed also shared that her mother was exceedingly blunt and always spoke her mind. “Lihaaz tou tha hi nahi”, she quipped.
Later, while addressing the crowd during the Q/A session, Syed sang two of her songs that were once a great re-run on PTV, Abhi Tou Mein Jawan Hoon and Woh Baatein Teri, both of which received a huge applause from the audience.
Syed lamented that she predicted a bleak future for ghazal singing in the country, to which Mahmud begged to differ, saying “Music will continue to charm us, till the very end of times.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2016.