14 April 1891: B.R. Ambedkar, Father of the Indian Constitution, was born

Today is Ambedkar Jayanti, the day when the principal architect of the Constitution of India was born. Ambedkar stands tall among the influential figures of Indian history, and spent his life opposing caste and social discrimination in India. In recognition of his efforts, he was appointed the first Law Minister of independent India.

Read more about this pioneer of the Dalit movement here.


Other events on this day

14 April 1919: Shamshad Begum, playback singer, was born

Shamshad Begum, a legendary playback singer of Indian cinema whose distinctive voice has enthralled listeners for decades, was born on 14 April 1919 in Lahore (now in Pakistan). In her long career, she sang hundreds of songs in several languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, and Punjabi.

Shamshad had seven siblings and her father, Hussain Baksh, was a mechanic.

When she was barely five years old, her singing talent was noticed by her school principal. By the time she turned 10, she had started singing at family functions and ceremonies.

Though her immediate family was not particularly enthusiastic about her becoming a professional singer, a sympathetic uncle took her for an audition to a music company.

In a special interview published on the website shamshadbegum dot com, Shamshad Begum recalled: “[M]y uncle (chacha) Amiruddin always used to encourage me. When he gave me two paisas as reward for singing well during Moharram, I felt like I had got two lakhs in those days. He was the one who told my father that Jien-o-phone [Xenophone music company] was looking for new talent. It was not considered appropriate for ladies of good families to sing commercially. Uncle told father, that I had a god gift and it would be a sin to curb my talent.”

Despite opposition from her family, she married Ganpat Lal Batto, an advocate, in 1934. He died in 1955.

A distinctive voice

Shamshad Begum sang several songs for the Xenophone music company. Though she received no formal training in music, musicians like the famous composer Ghulam Haider (one of her mentors), helped in honing her skills.

Her father insisted that she wear a burqa to the recording studio.

A big fan of K.L. Saigal, Shamshad saw Devdas more than a dozen times. When she finally met her idol, he was well aware of her rising fame. She sang for the All India Radio, Lahore, for a few years but eventually shifted to Bombay. The filmmaker Mehboob Khan reportedly promised her husband that she would get a flat, car and servants in Bombay, and there was no need to worry. 

Her songs for the Punjabi film Yamla Jatt (1940) such as ‘Cheechi Wich Pa ke Chhalla’ were quite popular. Haider would often compose her songs and they teamed up for films like Zamindar and Shama. But she sang for other composers such as Rafiq Ghaznavi, Bulo Rani, and M.A. Mukhtar as well in the early part of her career.

After Partition she decided to stay in Bombay. 

She worked with a number of music directors in the next two decades, though after 1955 Lata Mangeshwar became the preeminent playback singer of the Hindi film industry.

Some of the delightful numbers Shamshad sang in the 1950s include ‘Kahi pe nigahei, kahi pe nishana’, ‘Thandi hawa kali ghata’ (together with Geeta Dutt), and ‘Ek do teen, aaja mausam hei rangeen’. 

“Such was the charm of the bright, self-taught vocals (of Shamshad) that producers insisted on using them to ensure the success of their movies. All the music directors of the 1940-60 period have recorded her in solos, duets and choruses in serious, comic, romantic, children’s, patriotic and devotional songs,” Kushal Gopalka wrote in the Mint.

The music directors she worked with included legends like Naushad Ali, O.P. Nayyar, and S.D. Burman.

Everlasting memories

Shamshad was known for being professional and would not indulge in industry gossip or attend parties. She did not mix up her public and private lives.

A profile on her in the Filmfare magazine says: “Her family never visited her in the studio nor did any industrywallahs visit her home. Her mantra, ‘Na mujhe maska maro, na main maska maroongi (Don’t flatter me, I’ll not butter up anyone either)’.” But she went out of her way to help newcomers. Never mind if they abandoned her later.” Having retired from singing for several decades, Shamshad Begum died on 23 April 2013 at the age of 94.

Jitendra Kothari wrote in rediff.com after her death: “Shamshad Begum’s robust, piercing voice could convey emotion in its purest form. The life force coursed through her vocals as she navigated through Golden Era classics from the 1940s to the 1960s in a singing style that was distinctly, famously, her own.”


Also on this day: 

1859 — Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, Parsi businessman and philanthropist, passed away

1891 — Bhimrao Ambedkar, jurist, economist and Dalit icon, was born

1922 — Ali Akbar Khan, Hindustani classical musician, was born   

1942 — Margaret Alva, Indian politician and governor of Rajasthan, was born  

1950 — Ramana Maharshi, Indian spiritual guru, passed away   

1986 — Nitin Bose, Indian film director and cinematographer, passed away  


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