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Concerning Begum Akhtar: ''Queen of Ghazal''
Ollikkala, Robert Charles
Doctoral Committee Chair(s)
Department of Study
Degree Granting Institution
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
History, Asia, Australia and Oceania
This thesis focusses on the life and work of one of India's most famous female singers, Begum Akhtar (1914-1974). On the one hand, it provides a brief biography and a summary of her musical accomplishments; particular attention is paid to her contributions to the genre for which she was most renowned, a musical-poetic form known as the underbar ghazal. Further to this, however, the thesis examines the manner in which the establishment of and alterations in gender roles and hierarchies, in coordination with other power relationships-- particularly those involving class and patronage shifts, moral issues, ethnic/religious concerns, and nationalist versus colonialist ideologies--affected her life and work, as well as attitudes regarding the woman and her art.
Akhtar lived through a period of rapid and structural change in Indian society. Her life overlapped the transitional period in India from the pre-independence era of anti-colonial struggle to the early years of independence. Like other professional women of her class she was, coincidentally, a product of these changing times, an agent of transformation, and one of the victims. Throughout the latter part of her life Begum Akhtar bore the anguish of being caught between two moral standards, one consistent with her early role as a bai (courtesan singer) under nawabi feudal patronage, and the other with her later status as a begam in democratic India. Her dilemma, while personal, was at the same time that of a nation which, under the burden of colonial influence--in the quest for a new image and a socio-cultural, political, economic and moral restructuring--was attempting the excision of a crucial component of its own artistic self.
"This work presents both the dominant discourse and an alternate reading regarding a transitional period in the history of modern India, and the role that women (and particularly ""professional"" women) played within that; and it does so through a focus on the life and art of one of the leading female musical figures of the era."