While reading the book “My name is Gauhar Jaan” by Vikram Sampat and
In the book it is written that on the day of Nath Utrai, Malka Jaan -the mother of Gauhar Jaan drank and got intoxicated, similarly her daughter Gauhar Jaan was also given some drinks, thus in that intoxicated state she was put into the bed with the Raja, who might have bidded highest. In the morning on seeing the Raja next to her daughter on the bed, she became angry/annoyed. She sent daughter away to another place, where a still child was born to young Gauhar Jaan. That might have been a big Trauma to her, as she was just a child/girl.
Similarly we saw in the film Umrao Jaan, the girl Ameeran was kidnapped and was sold to a Kotha(no English translation is there to describe this word) usually the word borthel is used. Smt Shaukat Azmi played that role of Khanam jaan with perfection. The Umrao and the Bilkis the daughter of Khanum also had their “nath utrai” ritual. The famous mujra (dil cheez kya jaan lijiye….) was performed by Umrao at that very ritual of Bilkis….
The famous freedom fighter, the Azizan Bai of Kanpur (many places Ajijun is written), who was with the Peshwa at Bithoor and Nawab Ajimula (if i am correct?). She was also girl which fell into hand of such Tawaif groups. There were innumerable incidences where little girls hailing from tawaif groups were sexually exploited by Men of all caste, creed, color, religion. In this world of “darkness” the world of Tawaif, there was no barrier of religion or caste, nationality etc… there was just single minded approach by those men to get any girl…..to pawn upon…and this continued on for hundreds of years. In the day time all the MEN treated these girls and women of singing community as untouchable, but in evenings and in nights, all wanted to just go to bed with them.
Initially Gauhar Jaan, the child was sexually assaulted by an elder MEN and then her lovers- those men whom she loved.. but at the end, her life was dedicated to the Music, She maintained a discipline and learnt the art from various MEN (ustads) and performed for MEN. But she was the one who made the music ALIVE today or kept alive for today…… She was the first artist to record a LP record for a company in 1902 November. There is dispute over this, as few people say one Shashibala or some from Bengal was the first singer who was recorded.
She changed the history of Hindustani music in India, i think her liberal background at home was also one of the reasons.
The Janki Bai of Allahabad was also a gifted child, I read somewhere her mother faced lot of troubles-but in those times life of a woman was terrible. It was beyond imagination how a single woman could have survived? Their lives were just like Hell. Even in our time, crime against women is subject of debate. Back then what could be said about their plight. This profession and community of women gave shelter to many women, i think they were the great human beings. However the kothas did exploit women but for cause- the survival. This Janki Bai was stabbed many times, thus she was known as Chappan Choori, as she was having more than 56 wounds(stab of knife), a jealous lover thought to take revenge in this way, stabbing her and her mother.
From 1902 nothing stopped the Hindustani music from progressing and name of Gauhar Jaan will be written in golden words in HISTORY of music. Without her, the music could not have been in the shape which we see today….The male singers did not sing for the record making companies…but Gauhar Jaan, who was full of self confidence, broke away all restrictions and recorded for the company. Thus a music record was created for Hindustani Music and that too in a 3 minute. Whole of Raag was shrunk into a module of 3 minutes and yet it did not loose nuances of Hindustani Sangeet.
That time Gauhar Jaan demanded Rs 3000 for a recording and most amazing thing was that company agreed to pay her. In one memory an employee of record making company wrote that she never repeated dress and jewellery at her recording sessions? He (they) was surprised by the dazzle of her ornaments/jewellery and shining bright dress, Gauhar Jaan wore at her recording sessions.
Gauhar Jaan was most versatile artist of her times. Her mother the Victoria later named as Malka Jaan was a women of art and literature also. She herself was renowned Poetess and published a collection of poems in Urdu. To such mother was born Gauhar Jaan and became well conversant in Many languages including English and French. She was invited to sing at Delhi Durbar (may be in 1911??) alongwith Janki Bai of Allahabad. It was great honour of that time.
Thumri, dadra, Chaiti, Kajri, Khayal, Drupad bandishes, bol banana she was well versed in Bhav batana also, which was prevalent form of dance while singing in a Mehfils. Bhav batana of Lucknow was famous may be due to the influence of Wajid Ali Shah. Gauhar Jaan got the chance to visit court of Wajid Ali when he was in exile at Matia Burj, calcutta alongwith her mother. Her mother Malka Jaan became famous artist in the court of Nawab of Awadh at Matia Burj.
Gauhar Jaan had also learnt Kathak/Thumri from Bindadin Maharaj of Lucknow. Thus she was a expert in Thumri singing as well as Kathak dance including bhav batana. That was prevalent that time in Mehfils. She recorded in 20 languages. The standards established by her are still very high.
Later is story of Malka Pukhraj. She was born in Jammu. She could not get love of her father for long. Since Childhood her training was started, as happened with other girls of that community. She writes in her memoir as to how she hated to be forced into learning things, while her heart wanted to play. Later She was appointed as a court singer at very tender age, may be nine or ten? How it was possible? She sang at the coronation ceremony of Maharaja Hari Singh. She was youngest court employee of Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, called as gazetted officer!! In her book it came out that at age of 12 she became well known in Delhi. At Delhi she learnt the classical singing and Kathak also. Later in life as she went to join films at Bombay, she tried to learn kathak from Lachu/Shambhu maaharaj.
Since childhood she became part of history of her times, dealing with all kinds of situations, back biting, court politics, hatred, even jealousy of royal ladies also other singers.
But the child inside her got very hard life to live. I can imagine as to how a girl of 12 years was supposed to perform classical songs or dance. In those times whenever she was summoned to the palace she (as a child) had to get ready and reach palace for singing. Nowdays we can relate as to how our child of 12 years do not wake up in morning to go to school, parents scold thier children of 12 years to get up and get ready for school?
But we know remember Malka Pukhraj for her rendition: Abhi to mai jawan hoon.
Not much people of young age know about Kanan Devi. Once she was the leading lady of Bengal Cinema. Honoured with Dada Saheb Phalke award in 1976. Thus many of young generation was not even born that time. From Silent cinema to talkies she gracefully ruled in both medium. In her memoir she praised Jyotish Bandopadhyay. One who talked to her in nice words. But he said looking at her that silly girl, why you are crying?…… everybody will see you —- you will be famous. Later scolding her escort he said “ you can climb trees, can’t you? Go take a look at the guava tree. It’s full of fruit. You can jump up the tree and eat your fill. These kind words Kanan Devi as a girl heard for the first time when she went to seek work at a studio, and after sitting for a long time. She was scared, no body was even talking to her?
Now from these lines one can imagine how young was Kanan Devi ji. As she recalls she would have been nine or ten years old. But need to earn a living a child has to cling to whatever came her way to save herself and her mother from drowning. First film was joydeb, she received five rupees as payment. As she says it was like a lakh to me then.
That time as a girl she didn’t know about all this renumeration for working in film. Later she learnt that her payment was fixed at 25 rupees, but when payment was made by studio, only 5 rupees came to her hand. Where those 20 rupees gone? she never thought about that. She was in dire need of bread to eat so where was the time to know all this. Here I just wisht o pint out the extent of exploitation of girls in entertainment industry(read films) though there were other mediums too such as Jatra, Natak (Theatres- often in starting known as parsi theatre & Nautanki. Not to leave out the Mehfils or at Kotha or private mujra).
On shooting day she was dressed as Radha for the film, set was being readied but some how it was dragging for long so this little girl, The great Kanan Devi, ran outside into garden plucked unripe guava, climbed tree and while eating she slept. Meanwhile whole studio was searching for Radha, after much time she was found sleeping on branch with half eaten guava in hand. What this tells us? A girl child, working hard, felt tired & hungry too, tried to get rest and fallen asleep on a spot where she felt the shadow from sun. What’s crime here? But she got a slap by the great master JyotishBabu, there too it was understood why? He was angry due to waste of time of studio and people in searching her?
She says in her memoir that she never told such things to her mother and sister. As she cannot see her mother to feel sad. So She always had a habit to keep everything inside her. She became introvert (if language finds that word appropriate) but actually she learnt to be self-respecting from childhood. Thus this tells that her conditions in childhood compelled her to become mature beyond her age. Later when she told everything to her mother, her mother consoled her, saying he cares for you that’s why he scolded you. And her mother also said Can anyone learn anything without being scolded? These were great teaching for young Kanan Devi. Later this all helped her as film producer, when actors and heroines tried to exploit her.
She was a great heart and mind as so much of suffering she suffered, but even then she remembered Jyotish Babu in nice words, she says it was a great learning for her, in her career, it taught her to be more dedicated towards her work.
She says about her birth also. She remembered in her memoir that when his father died, how her mother had to suffer. Even in those days they had to struggle for one meal? Later she got a place to stay in a courtyard full of rooms on a rent. Few say that it was a brothel. In those days ladies without a home and without any family support, one can imagine, what kind of struggle they had to face? Where to live? What to eat? What to wear? From where all this will come? Her mother begged help from relatives, but no one cared for them. She says in her memoir that wherever they got shelter they had to work as domestic workers. Her mother used to work as servant in those relative’s house!! Tortured, broken in heart, they carried on for a while. Once a plate slipped mother’s hands and broken. All hell broke, they tried to beat her. Immediately young child KananDevi asked her mother to quit that house. Imagine that time and events, then you can think how was time? In which she had to struggle? It is story of all such families of girls or women who were orphaned, abandoned by relatives. We have read about Bengal of that time, Child widows, imagine in that society how such girls could have survived? Vidyasagar, BrahmoSamaj, Raja RamMohan Roy, and there were many. Child marriage, child widow and abandoned or doomed widows all these tells about our society of that times?
Then this sound came into films, with this came another disaster to many artists. They faded into poverty again. As she says, not everyone’s voice was found suitable in those sound machines. Many top level artists lost their jobs? But for Kanan Devi after initial nervousness her voice was found suitable thus her job was saved by her voice. She did learn singing under guidance of Alla Rakka ji for quite some time. She got basic teachings of Hindustani sangeet and ragas from Ustad ji. Later when the Gramophone Company invited her to cut a disc she met with Nazurul Kazi ji, JN Ghosh introduced her to him. Being an actor she always felt that singing is more close to her. As in singing she felt freedom more that acting. She also felt self-confidence while singing. She had gone through bad phase in early life, as she describes. That shows the bad condition of women working in films and studios of that time. While reading her memoir one can understand the struggle of women in those times. Even I have read similar things about Nati Binodini, as she is known. She had to struggle a lot despite of this fact that she worked hard and brought life to stage arena. But people around her exploited her the most.
At one time in her career, she was shocked with an incident happened on set. While shooting was in progress, the hero near the end embraced and kissed her. This was not told to her by Director. She felt humiliated. As a young girl she felt bad, she wept but could not take revenge. She did ask director, he told that it was not told to you since they knew she would not agree. But such things should be taken by artists/actors lightly. Once actor also came to her and tried to hold her hand with malafide intention in garb of teaching her acting, as he felt that actors in English films did. Similarly a director also tried to get cosy with her. She had faced luring advances of males while she was trying to establish herself as heroine. But she was acting in films purely due to support her family. She had to face such exploitations during her growing years. But she succeeded in retaining purity honesty in her life till the end. She even managed to do some construction works herself while making her own house. Since the contractor was trying to be dishonest.
She later established Shrimati Pictures in 1949 and along with her husband Haridas Bhattacharya made few films.