Noor Jehan: Gone but never forgotten

Published: September 21, 2012
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This woman was fearless and subtlety was not her thing.

Today, 85 years ago, a very special girl was born in district Kasur, Punjab. Had fate been kinder to us, she would have still been with us today. Madam Noor Jehan may have left the world but her legacy will forever live on, emblazoned in the minds of her fans as her evergreen songs.

Noor Jehan has a special place in my heart. This is not just because I am a fan of her beautiful voice and enviable poise, but also because she belongs to Kasur, where my grandparents were from. In fact, I have been told that my granduncle and she were playmates.

I was properly introduced to the queen of melody as a child. In grade three, I was asked by a teacher to sing “Ae Watan Ke Sajeelay Jawaanon” on September 6 of that year in a Defence Day function. I listened to it for the first time and although I didn’t completely understand it, I could feel that there was a very powerful message involved that the singer delivered perfectly. To help me practise the song and understand the true essence of it, my aunt explained to me what the lyrics of the song meant.

She said, Noor Jehan thanks the many brave Pakistani soldiers who saved their countrymen and didn’t care even if it was at the expense of their lives. She says that her songs are for them. Such a sense of gratitude and pride emanates from her voice as she sings this beautiful song, that even today it can make the fiercest Army-hater bow his/her head as a tribute to our brave soldiers.

It was then that I immediately knew I would be a Noor Jehan fan for life.

This came naturally, as I come from a family of classical music aficionados. Whenever I ask my father to teach me Punjabi, he only teaches me the language by translating Madam’s saccharine songs word by word into simple Urdu. Now I don’t know how I can make use of the word “wanjhli” (flute) in normal, conversational Punjabi, but the lyrical translation sessions were and still are very educational to me.

Madam Jehan could conveniently convey with the highs and lows of her voice, emotions of all kinds brilliantly. Be it Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi or Sindhi, she was able to stir sweetness into any language. People, even today, light up to the romantic and naughty “Gaayegi Duniya Geet Mere”, weep to “Ae Puttar Hattaan Te” and yearn to reunite with their beloved to “Chaandni Raatein”, just as they did years ago.

Even today, when I listen to a Noor Jehan classic like “Ae Puttar Hattaan Te”, I am overwhelmed by the timelessness of her songs. This one in particular, now reflects the sentiments of grief-stricken mothers of thousands of innocent Pakistanis who are killed in terrorist attacks every day.

This woman was fearless and subtlety was not her thing. Her bold make-up and clothes made her stand out but she still managed to look graceful. As not just a playback singer, but a great actress too, Jehan blew life into works of Pakistani poets and many Pakistani films for over 35 years. Her spectacular performances managed to bag her the President’s Award in 1957, and very deservedly so.

Many have tried to adopt Madam’s style but have failed miserably. The very feminine quivering lip, voluminous hairstyles and shiny satin saris topped with matching scarves around her neck best suited only her. She was not just a woman but a phenomenon who Pakistan owes a huge chunk of its good popularity too.

Congratulations to Pakistan on the birth anniversary of an unmatchable superstar. A legend like Madam need not be born again because she will live forever in film and chime in frequencies of radios all across Pakistan and the rest of the world.

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Imaan Sheikh

Imaan Sheikh

An graduate with a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Karachi, she enjoys reading, writing and listening to classical psychedelic rock. She blogs at www.imaansheikh.wordpress.com and tweets as @SheikhImaan (twitter.com/SheikhImaan)

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