“MUSIC training is just your voice being whipped into shape. It is difficult for a teacher to mould any voice into a tolerable and pleasant one. Technical stuff like rhythm and tune are to be considered at all times”, says Tahira Syed of an art that she was forced to learn by her singing queen mother, Malika Pukhraj. Sitting amidst a lounge abounding with traditional peedas, miniatures, a conventional fireplace replete with coals and new look chics, Tahira reveals that it was her mother’s desire that at least one of her children follow her footsteps.
Being the youngest, Tahira was made to learn singing since the tender age of 12. After two years of rigorous classical music training by a teacher, Tahira was then personally taught music by her mother. While it is imperative to have the right teacher to guide one while learning the basics of music, on the whole it is a very tough and humiliating process.
As Tahira recalls, “my mother was very critical of me. Imagine learning a totally new language or art like Latin or Hebrew which makes no sense whatsoever to you but still you have to go on. Nowadays, many youngsters are enthralled by pop icons like Hadiqa, Abrar, et cetera, but almost no one wants to opt for classical singing.”
Malika Pukhraj wanted her children to have all kinds of attributes, talents and in short be refined from head to toe. This urge propelled Tahira to learn the sitar and painting. “My mother took me to Ustad Allah Buksh to teach me painting at a time when I was also studying for my bachelors. But it was impossible for me to keep up with everything and in the end I decided to give up the sitar as it also posed a danger to my quality of singing because of the strain playing it exerts on the neck muscles and, therefore, the vocal chords.”
But while Tahira’s mother’s life revolved around singing, her life does not. She enjoys singing but is not crazy about it. However, the fact remains that she still thinks of singing as a great gift presented to her by her mother.
Tahira naturally enjoys listening to music and other musicians. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Hamid Ali Bela and Begum Akhtar top Tahira’s lifelong favourites list, while Fuzon and Mekaal Hasan come under her everyday favourites. The kind of music Tahira prefers to listen to usually is kafis and ghazals. Since growing up, she has stuck to kafis all the more.
Surprisingly, Tahira does not listen to Western music but likes Indian songs. She regularly buys newly-realised Indian albums and A.R. Rehman is an absolute buy every time. When she is in a mellow mood Tahira listens to Rafi and Mukesh. One finds it surprising that Tahira actually remembers all the words of the songs that she learned when she was young, which one usually tends to forget as time passes.
As we turn to talk about TV serials and dramas, Tahira likes Landa Bazaar and is absolutely crazy about Tere Ishq Mein. Fifty per cent of the attraction for Tahira in the latter serial is the title song by Gulzar.
Turning to talk about actors, the lady reveals that from Lollywood, her hot favourites are Shaan, Reema and Saima. She especially liked both the movies Majajan and Churian. In Bollywood, she had been a faithful fan of Amitabh Bachchan until the arrival of Shahrukh Khan who has taken a little of her affection. Also, there is Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherjee whom she has just begun to like and the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai is a pleasure to watch.
She reiterates the fact that Lollywood and Bollywood cannot be compared to each other. “Actors and actresses in Pakistan work in unfair conditions, are paid less and yet recent efforts made in our cinema are worthy of praise.”
A Woody Allen fan, Tahira can traverse miles to watch his movies. The first time she watched his films was when she was 16 or 17. Deconstructing Harry (1997) and Take the Money and Run (1969) are two of his films that she liked very much. More recently she has seen Scoop (2006).
Tahira also loves to read. Making it a point to read every single day, she cannot sleep without having her daily dose of books. Her all-time favourites are the South American and Indian authors whose cultures and perspectives are very similar to our own. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and Vikram Seth are the ones she prefers over others. Nowadays, she is reading Empress of the Splendid Season.
“Books are like jewels that can be read again and again. And the impact they have over the reader is enormous.” She also has a penchant for Japanese and Chinese writers like the 1940s release of The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. Never having read or seen Western or war books and movies, Tahira calls herself a horror buff of the highest order. About classics, Tahira is of the view that Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and such stories are depressing, dark and tragic for youngsters.
“Looking back, I think that reading those books was a painful experience as there was no uplifting experienced. On the contrary, these books provided a true depiction of life and what man has to suffer in this world.”
Tahira has never ever read self-help books and she in fact hates Dale Carnegie. “If you have to find out from other people how to live your life, then there is something very wrong with you,” is how she explains it.
Naseer Farooqi’s novels were the first English novels by a Pakistani that she read. She has also read Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid and likes Mothsmoke very much. Replying to a question on whether she tried a hand at writing herself, Tahira says that she can distinguish between good and bad writing, but she has absolutely no inclination towards writing and calls herself pathetic in this regard.