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Tahira Syed

The Malika is no more. Long live the Malika. I met Tahira Syed a few weeks before her mother passed away. She was in Karachi singing for a charity. Very quickly it became evident.

that the only reason Tahira was singing was because her mother had wished her to do so. In Tahira Syed, Malika Pukhraj had found a reluctant heir to her vocal fortune, a fortune that became legendary during her own lifetime.

Tahira was the quintessential representative of her generation, untouched by female emancipation and women's lib, content to wait for her prince charming to whisk her off her feet and live happily ever after.

Being a career woman or an industry person was an alien thought and still remains as she lives vicariously through the high-energy lives of her son Hasnain (17) and Harvard law school graduate daughter Kiran.

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One couldn't resist asking her the inevitable question. What was it like living in her mother's larger-than-life shadow? Was she ever tempted to find her own identity.

"You cannot imagine the privileges that came with being Malika Pukhraj's daughter. I followed in her footsteps. The kind of respect and awe she generated was a great boost for me. I absolutely loved it.

All doors opened for me. If I had been somebody else and not Malika Pukhraj's daughter, I would not have been taken seriously as a singer as early as I was. She was highly admired by everybody.

I took advantage of that throughout my musical career. I wasn't ever cut out to be a singer. It wasn't as if I wanted to be a singer and have my own identity. Not at all. It was only to please my mother that I actually started singing. It worked out great for me that I didn't have to outshine anyone or have my own identity," she says quite candidly.

Tahira was perfectly happy to follow in her mother's footsteps and do her kind of music. She still wants to do her music and regenerate interest in the ghazals that Malika Pukhraj sang in the '40s.

"In fact, that is what I am trying to do right now, memorize some of the work she did in the '30s and '40s so I can introduce it to the public. Even I have not heard those ghazals. They are new for me.

Woh batein teri, woh fasaney terey; Woh kehtey hain ranjish ke batein bhula dein; Lo phir Basant aaee and Abhi tau mein jawan hoon are all her hits that I have taken advantage of.

I want to do the music of which the recordings do not exist, the ones nobody has heard of. That is something only I will be able to do because I have access to the kind of music that she taught me, and the way she sang."

Tahira Syed has no particular preoccupation these days and appears on PTV once a year, and that too if it's a programme that she would like to appear in. The normal run-of-the-mill TV programmes no longer appeal to her.

"Appearing on TV or being seen frequently is not a priority anymore. I would like to do something that adds to my achievements over the years, rather than detracting from them." The other reason Tahira attributes to her reduced presence in the industry is that her kind of singing is old fashioned and not in vogue.

with the younger generation, the people who are buying cassettes or CDs. "The listeners I have right now are of my own generation or older, and my kind of ghazals or semi-classical music is no longer widely appreciated.

" She hopes that the present pop generation will grow up and learn to appreciate good lyrics and music. "That's usually been the case. There'll come a time, hopefully, when the baby boomers will grow up and enjoy music sitting down and not necessarily dancing to it."

Tahira's following amongst overseas Pakistanis is considerable, especially now that many expatriates are in search of their roots.

"This is confined to the US, and not England or anywhere else. These are people who grew up with my kind of music and appreciate singers like Farida Khanum and Iqbal Bano. I would say that more of my listeners are abroad than in Pakistan."

Cultural colonization is a very serious concern, and she is asked what measures need to be taken to counter the onslaught of hip-hop and other types of alien pop culture.

"If the frequency of music programmes is to be the judge, then it appears that fast music and songs are what people want to hear. How many times do you see Farida Khanum or Fateh Ali Khan performing? Not very often. They are usually pushed back to the 2am slot when people are dead! Or they are not there at all."

That may be an adequate measure of popularity, but should programming be based exclusively upon mass appeal? If we truly accept and celebrate the genius of Malika Pukhraj, then is it not incumbent upon the mass media to consciously promote her work?

"People are not doing anything about it. There is no feedback system and no encouragement of that kind of music. What's in vogue is the kind of music that you can dance, drink or chat to.

Serious music does not condone either of these. People's concentration has diminished. We want to switch channels and move on to the next song.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) does not permit people to sit for two hours listening to one raga being sung over and over again, which used to be the norm but is not anymore," Tahira Syed scathingly observes.

And what are some memorable moments that come to mind when Tahira thinks of her long and illustrious career?

"Illustrious! I am not so sure! Every time I performed on TV or had a new programme it was memorable. I came on TV when I was 14. That was quite a big step for me. It was strange being in the limelight at that age.

I came from a very restricted upbringing. My mother was always a strict disciplinarian. That continued even after I was a public figure and TV personality. All the attention of the media blitz was never permitted to spoil me.

Being on TV and going to college and having people recognize me was a thrill. Then the TV programme I did with my mother on PTV called Sur ka safar was wonderful because I got the opportunity to sing duets with her."

So, what is it that Tahira's doing these days?

"Nothing! One strives to get to that point where I am right now and be at peace with oneself. I do an occasional fundraiser. I travel in the summer and perform in the US. While I am in Pakistan I go to the gym and come back and spend time with my son.

By the grace of God life is good. I keep busy. I don't have any spare time. Things rush into a vacuum. I am not doing anything but am busy all the time! People struggle to get to the age of retirement where I am right now and I love it! I love being able to do nothing," Tahira Syed says genially.

Whether she likes it or not, Tahira Syed has inherited the mantle of the Malika. Even as the world grieves for Malika's passing, it waits with bated breath for Tahira to slip into her mother's queen sized shoes.

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