Gulnar Begum - A legend Pashto singer
Gulnar Begum [1934-1995] died of liver complications on October 1, 1995 after having been in coma for more than a week. About 8 years prior to that she had developed problems with her right eye. Severe eye pain forced her to say good bye to the singing career in the mid 1980s.
Her real name was Gulnar Begum, but her brothers [Ajab Khan and Badar Khan] and sister [Bibi Begum] would call her Sherina, and her husband would call her Meeda. She was married to Ubaid Ullah
Jan Marwat [also known as Haji Dilwar Khan]. Together they raised 3 sons [Javed, Jalil, and Saeed] and 3 daughters. Only one of her children completed University level education, obtaining an MA degree in Urdu.
Gulnar Begum was actually the second wife of Ubaid Ullah Jan. His first wife, named Dilshad, was also a singer but none of her recordings are available. Dilshad was born in Larramo, a village located few miles from Peshawar on Charsadda road. Dilshad did not have her own children but raised Gulnar Begum's children because Gulnar Begum was very much busy with her music career.
Gulnar Begum and Dilshad had very cordial relation, and Dilshad was the household head who managed household finances, including money earned by Gulnar Begum through her music career. Dilshad died two years after Gulnar Begum death. Anytime Gulnar Begum would need some money, she would ask Dilshad.
Gulnar Begum's music journey started long before [for instance, she would sing in informal gatherings such as weddings], but it was in 1954 that she started recording songs at Radio Station Peshawar. She was introduced to Rashid Ahmad Dehqaan [an official at the Radio Station Peshawar] by her sister-in-law named Gohar. Gohar used to sing at the Station at that time. To audition Gulnar Begum, Rashid Ahmad Dehqaan went Bannu, where Gulnar Begum sang the following 2 songs, sitting behind the door:
Paal mey ogra paali; pa naseeb yai zama su lekali de;
Da gair chapair pa balai raghlo baranona;
She recorded her last song for Pukhtu film JUMA KHAN which read: [da tu chey zay, no ruh zama darsara zeena; jar lawungina].
Except the following 3 major occasions, Gulnar Begum avoided to perform in the public. Those 3 occasions included:
wedding ceremony of Wali Swat daughter,
an invitation from King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan, arranged by singer Qamar Gul,
a visit to Dubai, arranged by actor Badar Munir.
Among the singers and artists, she had deep respect for composer Munir Sarhadi and folk singer Miramad Shah. She considered them as her brothers. During the 1950s, she often visited singer Muzafar Khan and his family in Peshawar. She loved to listen Qamro Jan [Mardan] and Abdullah Jan [Akbar Pura].
In poets, she had family like relations with Ghazi Siyial, who lived about 4 miles from her house in Bann. During our discussions, Gulnar Begum had praise for all poets except Saif-ul-Maluk Siddiqi. At the request of Munir Sarhadi, Gulnar Begum had recorded a song written by Siddiqi. Siddiqi knew because he had requested Munir Sarhadi to pursue Gulnar Begum to sing his song but later on he threatened to sue her complaining that his permission was not sought. Siddiqi wanted to settle the problem only if she would agree to sing more of his songs.
Gulnar Begum was a simple but a very talented person. Her being part of the pukhtu music era [when Munir Sarhadi, Rahdat Hussain, Muhammad Rafiq Shinwari, and S.T. Sunny composed delightful music, and Muraad Shinwari and Amir Ghulam Sadiq wrote melodious lyrics] will be remembered by all Pukhtun as the glorious phase of Pukhtu music. Despite her lack of formal education, she ably kept pace with the evolving pukhtu music and film industry, and surprized us all with her talent that we could never have imagined beforehand. There were occasions when she recorded 8 songs in a day. According to Gulnar Begum, only Urdu/Punjabi singer Noor Jehan would do that.
She was awared a medal for her songs in Pukhtu film [ORBAL], and a presidential medal of honor, by the president of Pakistan for her contributions to Pukhtu culture. That was the only occasion that Gulnar Begum appeared on Television to receive the award. As a person, she was a genuine personification of an ideal Pukhtana. She cherished all the values a Pukhtun would want to adhere to. She could make tons of money if she wanted but she did not find it worthwhile to do so. She kept away from the limelight, just to honor the Pukhtun cultural code of Purdha. Despite meager resources, she performed Hajj.
The industrialist and politician Mir Afzal Khan of Maran tried his level best requesting her to sing in his hujra, but Gulnar Begum and her husband Ubaid Ullah Jan rejected his requests right away, telling him that even if you gave us your sugar mill and all the other wealth you got, it would still not be possible.
Source: Conversation with AnwarGul [Place and Date]:Bannu, Feb 28, 1987 at Gulnar Begum Residence.