Shamshad Begum was born in Lahore, not Amritsar: Daughter

Published: May 3, 2013
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Shamshad Begum. PHOTO: FILE

Shamshad Begum. PHOTO: FILE

MUMBAI: Shamshad Begum was born in Lahore, not in Amritsar, the legendary singer’s only daughter, Usha Ratra, has clarified, also opening up about her mother’s shy nature, personal struggles and professional achievements.

“She was born in Lahore but on each website they say she was born in Amritsar. But please rectify she was born in Lahore. She comes from a Muslim family and her father was a ‘mistry’ (mechanic). They were seven to eight siblings and her family was very conservative,” Ratra told IANS in an interview.

Shamshad Begum, the voice behind evergreen numbers like “Mere piya gaye Rangoon” and “Kajra mohabbat wala”, died here April 23. She was 94. A widow since 1955, she lived with her daughter here.

The singer’s talent was first spotted by her school principal but “in those days, a girl singing a song was not really a good thing”, said Ratra, adding: “My nani (maternal grandmother) was very conservative.” It was Shamshad Begum’s uncle who used to encourage her talent.

“His name was Aamir Khan. He used to like songs. Her chacha used to encourage her and she used to sing during Muharram. She used to earn 1 paisa. One paisa was equivalent to today’s Rs.50 in those days,” said Ratra. Professionally, she got her first contract with composer Ghulam Haider.

Shamshad Begum’s songs were famous among rich people.

“Whatever she used to sing was famous only among rich people. Gramophones used to come for Rs.250 and one record for around Rs.2, which was very expensive at that point of time. Only rich people used to hear them. She was well-known among the rich,” said Ratra, who has one son and two grandchildren.

Amongst the first women playback singers in the Hindi film industry, Shamshad Begum got her first break with a radio station in December 1947. It opened several doors for her – she was even asked to act while singing, but her father flatly refused to permit it.

Veteran filmmaker Mehboob Khan was the one who brought Shamshad Begum into Bollywood. “Mehboob sahab told my father, ‘I will take her to Mumbai and give her a flat, car, conveyance and even if four to six people accompany her, it’s fine. Please let her come to Mumbai’. My nana (maternal grandfather) was not convinced but he had to give in because my mom wanted to go to Mumbai,” Ratra said.

“She earned respect and affection from the people because of her hard work and dedication… She helped everyone, but later people just took advantage of it and used her. I always used to tell her, ‘Why do you help everyone, they are not even thankful’.”

“But she used to say, ‘Whatever I have got, I have got from my God; I am not going to take anything with me. And the law of life is whoever goes up and tastes fame and name has to come down today or tomorrow. So I have tasted success and am happy about that and I am prepared for everything’,” Ratra added.

Shamshad Begum’s voice with a nasal tinge became iconic during her times. She sang numbers like “Leke pehla pehla pyar”, “Kahin pe nigahen, kahinpe nishaana”, “Chhod babul ka ghar”, “Saiyan dilme Aana re” and “Teri mehfil me kismat ajmaa kar hum bhi dekhenge”.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Genius
    May 3, 2013 - 10:49PM

    We are able to see her photgraph today but most of her life it is said, she was living in and singing from behind the veil or purdah.
    Yes among the many of her memorable songs I still get on my lips “Chamun main reh kay weeraanah mayrah dil ho tah jaataah hai”. This song was sung by her for the film named “Deedar” made in early 1950s.

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  • Mirza
    May 4, 2013 - 9:07AM

    A long innings well played with honesty, hard work and integrity. It is the end of an era. However she would live forever by means of electronic devices. Thanks SB for making so many of us happy for so long. Thank you, RIP

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  • Rakib
    May 4, 2013 - 9:23AM

    @Genius: Yes, she was one of the finest. Looking at photographs taken in her youth it is unlikely that Shamshad Begum was in purdah ever. She married a Hindu lawyer (GL Battoo) & had a daughter (Usha) who too married a Hindu Colonel Ratra of army. Therefore, she wouldn’t have been even under societal compulsion to wear a veil.

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  • Cynical
    May 4, 2013 - 10:51PM

    @Rakib

    Shamshad Begum is a legend. You are right (@Genius) on the veil issue. Often times myths are passed on as facts and often the victims are legends like Shamshadji. People were even confused about her place of birth within a span of only 94 years, until her daughter put it at the right place.
    Like it happens with so many legends from the days gone by, there are many interesting facts about her life and career which are not known even to her admirers. Like how many of us know that she almost saved the career of Talat Mahmood or gave referrals to a young Md Rafi, or sang a rare song on Mahatma Gandhi’s death. At least I didn’t. As a connoisseur of music and an admirer of Shamshadji you might find the following links useful.
    http://www.shamshadbegum.com/
    and
    http://www.shamshadbegum.com/her-career/biography.html

    Regards

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  • Rakib
    May 5, 2013 - 2:41PM

    @Cynical: Thanks for the post; also, for the links. It’s a treasure trove!

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