By Khalid Hassan:
Madam Noor Jehan, the melody queen who reigns over our hearts in death as much as in life, died in Karachi on December 23, 2000. When about twelve years ago, she was diagnosed with a heart ailment, some of us who have been her fans for as long as we can remember said it would have to be the heart, considering how many claimants it had and how often it had fluttered for those on whom she chose to smile.
We always believed Noor Jehan, the light of the world, to be indestructible like the music she brought into our lives.
Madam Noor Jehan had total recall about her early life. She remembered being carried as a child of 8 by her father, Madad Ali, through the streets of Kasur. She said she could not remember when she had started singing. "Maybe I was born singing," she added, laughing her silvery laugh.
From Kasur, the family went to Calcutta, then to Bombay and back to Lahore, only to return to Bombay. It was during those early years that she met the debonair Shaukat Hussain Rizvi with whom she first lived, then married. Her first child was born, she reminisced, when she was no more than a "bacha" herself. She was 15.
For a woman who was women's lib before there was a women's lib, Noor Jehan was conservative. Her views on women were surprisingly old fashioned, or perhaps cynical, which was strange, coming from a woman who had lived life on her own terms. She once told me, "I am Noor Jehan because I have worked hard to become Noor Jehan. I do not owe it to anyone, least of all men. If a woman works, what does she get at the end of the day? The only peace she knows is within the four walls of her home. Who can work harder than I have? And what peace, I ask you, have I known? Once the husband realizes that his wife can earn more than him, he begins to hate her. He wants her to be dependent on him. Only if a woman is entirely dependent on her husband can she hope to make a home".
Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, whom she married after a turbulent love affair in Lahore and Bombay and divorced some years after they came to Pakistan, wrote a book about her. Rizvi, who died some years ago, and whom Saadat Hasan Manto once described as a man with the mind of a watchmaker, may have settled his emotional scores with his former wife but he did not come out smelling very nice from his bitter account of their life together. Madam never responded in kind, certainly not as far as I know. Privately, she could out-swear a roomful of diehard Punjab police thanedary..
Rizvi's account was unrelieved by humour or the intense love he had felt for her once. It was a little late in the day for him to regret having fallen in love with the fledgling enchantress from Kasur with a voice like molten silver. He made repeated mention of the advice given to him by studio owner and filmmaker Dilsukh Pancholi of Lahore, "Shaukat, let this affair with Noor Jehan remain what it is, an affair. Don't carry it further." But Rizvi was besotted with the pubescent, flirtatious girl whose musical talent was prodigious and whose ambition to succeed the size of the rolling Punjabi countryside she had sprung from.