Contents: Foreword. Publisher's note. Preface. Acknowledgements. 1. This story must be told. 2. Reliving an era. 3. Benign spell of Begum's Music. 4. The Begum Saga lives on.
"From the setting dusk of the fading royalties of Awadh, where Bibbi was born in 1914, to the glamour and clamour of theatre in Calcutta and films in Bombay! From the eloquent exuberance and die-hard faith underlying the tormented childhood of Akhtari Bai Faizabadi to the rhythms of silence required of the doting Begum of a Kakori Nawab! And her final transformation to an icon of music! Begum Akhtar remains an enigma! No one can answer all those curious posers raised over several decades with as much authority as her cherished disciple, Prof. Rita Ganguly, who lends a unique perspective on the much-fabled life of her Ustad. With a passion so varied, given the consistent evolution of Begum's craft and technique, nothing short of lifetime research could have authenticated and done justice to unravel the mystique and myth of this legendary phenomenon in the Indian subcontinent, feted by the cognoscenti and the commoner alike.
The book delves into the subtle nuances of transition in time, educing the flavour, language, and music of a period that witnessed the end of a predominantly feudal society; weaving the cultural tapestry of courts, courtesans, twaifs, and the turbulent times that led to independence. How the enthusiasm, dreams, and frustrations of the post-independence phase coincide with emergence of the modern era, and how these historic changes connect with the sensibilities of a highly reflective artiste and mould her music! This interaction between an introvert mind of a scintillating singer and the world without, between the changing generations and an inquisitive yet introspective Mallika-e-Ghazal, spins the narrative. Begum surfaces in her multiple roles as a performer, lover, wife and mother, a teacher and friend, juxtaposing stupendous success and dismal failure. Music was the ultimate -- the eventual destination of her creative soul. But beneath the facade of fame and fortune was deeply sensitive woman, facing loneliness, pain and anguish-- the poignant moments of existence that remained unresolved till her very end. Begum's life perhaps mirrors and image where we too may briefly perceive ourselves and question the veracity of our own lives." (jacket)