Meeting Tamancha Jan after nearly 52 years was a moving and memorable experience during my recent visit to Lahore.
Who is Tamancha Jan? A singer nonpareil, now forgotten, she was the reigning queen of song during the 40s in Hira Mandi, the entertainment quarter of Lahore.
Named after a nobleman who was fond of wine, women and song, the area was first renowned as Hira Mandi. It became Tibbi in common parlance, and is now also called Bazar-e-Husn. This place had blossomed over the years as the abode of performing artistes. It had become a music lovers` paradise. I choose to call them “performing artistes“ though they have been addressed as ganikas, devadasis, nartakis kanchanis and tawaifs at different periods of history.
The art of music had been confined to the families of Hira Mandi for generations. They had produced some of the most famous singers of the subcontinent, thanks to the generous patronage of the Punjab. Theatrical companies in the 1920s and film studios in the 30s and 40s scouted for talent in these quarters. Later, many of the artistes grew up to be leading stars. At the same time, for the artistes, Lahore provided the most appreciative audience. It was said that Miss Dulari, one of the foremost singers of the country had got an unforgettable reception when she came to perform at Lahore in 1931.
Tamancha Jan hailed from a family of performing artistes. Daughter of Sardar Begum, an accomplished performer of her time, her original name was Gulzar. Tutored by Ustad Fida Hussain, from the age of seven, Gulzar emerged as Tamancha Jan after several years of intensive training in music. Even after making her debut in her salon in Hira Mandi, she continued with her lessons and riaz.
Tamancha Jan finds mention in my book, “Lahore – A sentimental Journey“, where I describe the splendours of Hira Mandi. It was in the early 40s that I heard her for the first time, when she sang at a gathering of a marriage reception of my friend`s brother at their palatial mansion on the Race Course Road. By then, she had achieved name and fame and was an eminent radio singer as well. Among her contemporary radio artistes, popular in those days, mention may be made of Umra Zia Begum who overnight became famous with her naghma “Mera salaam le ja, taqdir ke jahan taq“ and letter married the renowned music director Ghulam Haider. Then there was Shamshad Begum who later became well known as a leading playback singer in Bombay. I recall how Lahore Radio used to receive requests from listeners for repeating Shamshad`s enchanting popular melody, “Ik bar phir kaho zara, ke meri sari kaynat“. Zeenat Begum, Vidya Nath Seth and Surinder Kaur were other radio artistes well-known in those days.
After our graduation from the Punjab University, we considered ourselves mature enough to visit the kothas in Hira-Mandi and cultivate our taste for music. I recall visiting with my friend Saeed Ahmad, the salons of Inayat Bai, Khursheed Pondawali, Anwari Sialkotan, Inayati Suniari and Shamshad Alipurwali. These visits enabled us to understand and enjoy ghazals, thumris and dadras. It also gave us an opportunity to gratify our instinctive desire to converse and interact with young and beautiful women.
The popular songs in those days were: “Maston ke jo asul hain unko nibha kebi“, “Na tum mere, na dil mera, na jane natwan meri“, “Jiya mora lehrai hai, chha rahi kali ghata“, and “Koyli mat kar pukar, karejwa lage katar“.
Tamancha Jan`s salon at Hira Mandi was attracted many connoisseurs of music. My maiden visit to her salon, sometime in 1945, along with my friend, Saeed Ahmad was a real treat. She sang exquisitely the melodies with exotic themes, which aroused romantic feelings and amorous desires in our young minds. Her visual display of human emotions through the rolling of eyes, facial gestures and motions of hands served to enhance the appeal of her singing. I recall how sheepishly I requested her to sing “Diwana banana hai to diwana bana de“. In fact, I wanted to impress her with my knowledge of non-film music. She sang it with her heart and soul, playing with words in a singular manner and interpreting the meaning of every syllable. She followed it up with “Muft huai badnam sanwaria tere liye“ which was simply marvellous.
Later, sometime in 1946 when I had moved to Delhi, I received a telegram from my friend Saeed, informing me that Tamancha Jan was about to visit Delhi. She had been invited by All-India Radio to give a performance. I remember receiving her with her companions at the railway station as she alighted from the Frontier Mail compartment. From there, I took them in a tonga to Connaught Place and lodged them at Prabhat Hotel, then located near Odean Cinema. They stayed there for three to four days and I accompanied them on a sight-seeing tour of the city. Tamancha Jan was greatly pleased with her visit and on her return to Lahore, she made my friend write a letter of thanks to me on her behalf.
For more than fifty years after that, I never heard anything about Tamancha Jan. Recently when I was in Lahore, the conversation with my friend and host, Saeed Ahmad, released a flood of memories of our younger days and the subject of Tamancha Jan came up. I told him that our common friend Mohini in Delhi still remembered Tamancha Jan`s visit to Simla in July 1947 when she was staying with her friends at Cecil Hotel. I was delighted to learn that she was still around and the next day, Saeed took me to her place, a tiny tenement near the Model Town area of Lahore.
I had preserved the image of Tamancha Jan`s youth and was somewhat shocked to see her ailing shrunken frame. But as we began talking of the good old times, there was a glitter in her eyes and she began narrating the happenings of those days when she was a famous artiste in Lahore and an object of envy. At first, she could not recognise me but when Saeed pointed out that she should recall her visit to Delhi in 1946, she gazed at me from close quarters, and burst out “Oh yes, it is Pran, who looked after us when I went to Delhi for a performance at All-India Radio. That was ages ago“.
Tamancha Jan recalled the Lahore of pre-partition days. She recounted how one of our acquaintances visited her salon and after the performance, gave her a cheque for one hundred rupees which bounced. As if that were not enough, he had also taken five rupees off Tamancha to pay his tonga! Then she related another incident when she had declined to sing because she was indisposed. She laughed and recounted how she had to yield to the request of one Biharilal who threatened to commit suicide if she did not sing. She cheered up as she told us that one of her admirers who had moved to in England, after the partition, visited Lahore sometime in the 70s and came especially to meet her with his grown up daughter from an English wife.
In the end, Tamancha Jan said in a disconsolate voice, “practically all my patrons left Lahore after the partition and so I stopped singing and shut down my salon“. Her educated daughter, who had in the meanwhile dropped in with her husband, confirmed this and praised her mother. She empahsised that not only was she proud of her mother for all she had done to bring up her children, but that unlike others of her calling, she had absolutely no hesitation in acknowledging her antecedents.
I was pleasantly surprised and mightily pleased by the young lady`s courageous and fearless statement. Tamancha Jan was visibly moved and gave a broad smile before bidding us farewell. “Khuda Hafiz“ she said and asked me to come and see her again on my next visit to Lahore.