April 20, 2010 3:49:48 am
Legendary courtesan Gauhar Jaan comes alive in a new book about her life and times
The glitter of Gauhar Jaans nose pin,her teasing smile as she sang Raseeli tori akhiyan sawaria,her sensual adaa these created havoc in the hearts and minds of music connoisseurs who visited this high-profile tawaif in the early 20th century Calcutta. Little is known about Jaans life how a girl born as Eileen Angelina Yeoward to an Armenian Jew couple in Azamgarh became one of the highest paid courtesans of the Varanasi kothas and Chitpur baris in Calcutta,and then finally turned into a celebrity as the first woman to record for the Gramophone Company of India. My Name is Gauhar Jaan! The Life and Times of a Musician (Rupa & Co,Rs 595) is an attempt to plug these gaps as Bangalore-based author Vikram Sampath,30,traces Jaans tumultuous life as a singer and performer. Sampath recently released the book in Delhi.
The title of the book refers to a line spoken by her at the end of each record. That is how I found out how she talked. The voice is flirtatious and a little high-pitched, says Sampath,who got the idea of a book about Gauhar Jaan while researching his first book Splendours of Royal Mysore The Untold Story of the Wodeyars. Later,at the Mysore Palace archives and Jadavpur University,he came across Jaans hand-written letters,which helped him understand her personality a little better.
The book contains several black-and-white photographs of Jaan as well as several coloured portraits. There are shots showing her humble beginnings in Azamgarh,and her extravagant and spendthrift days in Calcutta where her voice got stacked in 78rpms. The book has vivid details of her personal life like her many love affairs with the nobles and birthday parties for her cats. Sampath confesses that there are also a few unsubstantiated stories about her heyday. The book ends in the courts of Mysore,where Jaan spent her final days as a court musician. All the information that I dug up seemed like a jigsaw puzzle that had to be pieced together, says Sampath,about a singer,whose voice had delighted a nation every time the gramophone played Jabse tujhse aankh sitamgar lagi hai.
He also tells an interesting story behind the photograph on the hardcover of the book. This was a postcard that a besotted British officer had sent to his mother in England to tell her about the Indian beauty he had lost his heart to. His infuriated mother sold it off there,after which it exchanged hands many times and finally surfaced in Switzerland. From there,it has travelled to India and is now with me, says Sampath,who has included a CD of 25 songs by the singer in the book. This is my tribute to the forgotten Gauhar Jaan whose melodies still form some of the most known thumris,khayals and dadras in India.
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