Defying community diktat, Nirmala Meghani continued to sing against all the odds. Banking on access to social media, the upcoming sufi cum classical singer reached out to music lovers within Pakistan and India and earned the goodwill and patronage of legends in the subcontinent. “I first heard Nirmala on YouTube – a video she had uploaded of her performance on a TV channel in Pakistan. I loved her rich soulful voice and the earnest expression she wore while singing.
I contacted her to find out under whom she was trained. And to my amazement I found out that this 19 year old girl had not one but three ustaads!!
But hey, hang on… all the three ustaads are not your regular ustaads we know of. They are her online mentors. And I was baffled because with online classes this girl was simply awesome. Imagine the talent that is still unexplored in this 19 year old girl.
I was curious and probed more (via internet). Nirmala then told me all about herself, how she got into singing, her online Ustaads, her family, her education and her dream.
Nirmala Maghani resides in the desert region of Umerkot, Sindh in Pakistan. She has just completed her Intermediate and will take admission for the B Sc course. Her father is no longer alive so she lives with her mother, grandmother and her brother who not only runs the household but also nurtures Nirmala’s talent and is her mentor and career advisor.
Singing is a kind of taboo in our community, says Nirmala. But she was blessed with a golden voice that was waiting to be heard sooner or later. She sang at the school functions and her teachers saw a promising singer in her and encouraged her to sing. Her brother decided to make his little sister a singer and did not stop her when she practiced at home the folk songs from the local dholak players.
A little bit hesitant at first, her daadi (grandmother) and mother later gave in and let Nirmala practice. In the meantime, Nirmala also picked up playing the harmonium from these dholak players whenever she got the chance.
One fine day, her brother surprised her with a harmonium that he borrowed on rent. But when Nirmala began singing and playing harmonium her neighbours belonging to her own community grew curious as to what was going on. Girls from good families would not go singing around, was the common refrain in the neighbourhood. And the elders of the community advised her against singing.
However, Nirmala could not resist her temptation to sing. A few days after she took to singing again with all the doors and windows of her house shut. She practiced singing and playing the harmonium which she had hidden away so that people visiting them should not spot it.
Things began to change when she got a chance to perform in the morning show of a local channel and people in her community started noticing her. They still disapproved of her singing, but now she did not have to shut the doors any longer as her neighbours realised the futility of their opposition in view her commitment. Soon her brother bought her a harmonium.
Meanwhile, Nirmala approached Anup Jalota, the renowned ghazal and bhajan singer from India through social media with a request to train her. Jalota readily accepted her request coming all the way from a teenager across the border. Seeing her interest in classical music he sent her lessons over voice recordings and these classes are still on.
In the same manner she also met Ustaad Raza Ali Khan, the great son of legendary Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali of Kolkata and was taking online lessons from him.
The year 2017 proved lucky for Nirmala when she chance upon meeting the legendary singer and her idol Jalota in her home state where he was on a visit. She was pleasantly surprised on the occasion when he officially accepted her as his disciple. She was overjoyed when she performed alongside her guru who she calls papa because. Anup Jalota has accepted her as his beti (daughter) the day he received her request on facebook.
And she couldn’t get luckier because in the same year Ustaad Raza Ali khan attended a music conference in Karachi and Nirmala was thrilled to meet her ustaad.
And during her visits to the recording studio in Karachi, which is 400 kilometers from Umerkot, she met Ustaad Murtuza Khan Naizi and became his disciple and takes lessons from him both online when she is in Umerkot and during live classes when she goes to Karachi.
She works hard doing riyaaz (practice) for 10 to 12 hours a day with no interest in anything else except singing unlike other girls of her age. Clearly Nirmala is not the typical teenager because her focus in solely on singing and singing alone. She does not want to perform in marriages and parties as she says by doing this she would lose her identity as a sufi (mystic) and classical singer. “In parties, people generally want you to sing party songs which are not of my taste.
The most memorable moment in Nirmala’s life is the time when she sang with her papa cum ustaad, Anup Jalota, on the stage.
“It was something I never even dreamed of,” she confesses.
Besides Anup Jalota, Abida Parveen and Mehdi Hassan are her favourite singers. She dreams of performing in India one day.
“It would be an honour to visit and perform in India. And whenever I come to your country I will have an opportunity to meet up with both my ustaads again.”
According to Nirmala, her only reward is having more and more people hear her sing.
“When people listen and appreciate you it is the greatest incentive that an upcoming singer like me vouches for,” she quips.
Like all singers, Nirmala too believes that music can build bridge between people of all faiths and religion as music has no religion. She feels the music fraternity should come forward to help improve the strained Indo-Pak relations. She is optimistic that peace will eventually prevail between our two nations. After all both the countries were one before the axe of partition fell upon them and there are so many things in common between them apart from music.
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The opinion expressed in the article is of the writer. Writer is a freelance journalist/journalist based in Delhi