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Qawwali Queen Shakeela Bano Bhopali's life: Unravelling the mystique & misconceptions

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Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Shakeela Bano Bhopali, the famous Qawwali exponent, was a unique performing artiste of her era. Her phenomenal rise, the impact of her live performances that enchanted an entire generation and whose fans included the movie moguls, celebrities and the ordinary man on the street alike, are well-known.

She also acted in movies and was a poet too. But the girl who came from a humble background in Bhopal, and attained immense fame, paid a price for her career. Her fans included reigning stars as well as litterateurs, political figures and she would feature on cover pages of magazines like The Illustrated Weekly of India.

However, her personal life was the casualty. In her hometown, there were speculatious about her marital life and rumours were floated in her lifetime (that continued even after her death). A successful woman whose events in Mumbai were as much successful as in Dubai and London, there was envy and she faced constant character assassination.

Also, somewhere lost in the entire story was the man who fell in love with Shakeela. 'Bano Ka Babu' or Bano's Babu takes the reader to a unique journey, the story starts in the era when Bhopal was a princely state and the last ruler, Nawab Hamidullah Khan was at the helm.

Author Rafi Shabbir pieces together this story, spread across Bhopal and Mumbai, which reveals a lot about the real Shakeela and her soulmate Babu. The book's forte is its lucid language that holds the reader, other than the information about Shakeela's life. Besides, the innocence of the characters is infectious.

The book also tells about those who were struggling to make both ends meet in Bollywood in the era and Shakeela would deliberately play cards with them, just to lose. The aim was that they could get money without knowing that she had thrown away the game in order to help them in a way that this didn't hurt their self-respect.

Some of these people are now considered legendary figures in Bollywood. Despite fame and glamour, her successs in Bollywood and the concerts that were held in India and abroad, and her becoming the reigning Qawwali Queen, Shakeela comes out as a woman who never forgot her roots.

Also, she never forgot Babu. The books is interspersed with interesting facts, anecodes about poetry, 'chaar bait, hockey--all the passions for Bhopalis. Rafi Shabbir has also managed to obtain rare documents. Posters of the movies in which she acted, are also included in the book.

The mystery surrounding Shakeela's marriage, the misconceptions about her life and the affect on her voice during the gas disaster, are also part of this book that has been published by AISECT publication, Bhopal. The author deserves praise for the book that focuses on a woman who revolutionised the world of Qawwali and performing arts.   

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Journalist for more than 20 years. Had started his career with National Mail in the nineties. Worked as Special Correspondent with Hindustan Times, as an Assistant Editor with DB Post, later Contributing Editor with The Huffington Post, writes for First Post, The Wire, Newsd & several other major publications.