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This paper will examine the musical memories of the 1947 Partition of the subcontinent through the perspective of women: as performers, patrons, and listeners. The history of Hindustani or classical music is typically dominated by the experience of male virtuosos, and is often narrated by male interlocutors, sidelining the voices, life stories and experiences of female performers. I will begin with a general background survey into the experience of prominent female musicians affected by 1947: Madam Noor Jehan, Farida Khanum, Roshanara Begum, Iqbal Bano and Malka Pukhraj, who became Pakistani citizens, and Surinder Kaur, Parkash Kaur, Shamshad Begum and Shanno Khurana, who became Indian citizens.

Beyond performers, I will also focus on the narratives of Partition in the memories relayed by two women, both born in 1947, who patronised South Asian music both in the subcontinent and in Britain: Khurshid Aulia, daughter of the late Us. Alla Rakha, the famous tabla exponent of the Punjab gharana, and Dr Ghazala Irfan, daughter of Hayat Ahmed Khan, the founder of the All-Pakistan Musical Conference. Using these three disparate groups of women, representing a diversity of musical genres (classical, film song and folk) as my entry point into musical memories of the Partition in tripartite 'Punjab'–broadly understood as existing in India, Pakistan and in the diaspora–I will explore how affect and aurality have shaped a distinctly gendered mode of remembering the cataclysm of 1947.

Speaker's Bio: Radha Kapuria

Radha Kapuria is Assistant Professor in South Asian History at Durham University who works on gender and culture. She obtained her PhD in music from King’s College London, which was shortlisted for the Royal Asiatic Society’s Bayly Prize. Her first book, Music in Colonial Punjab: Courtesans, Bards, and Connoisseurs (Oxford University Press 2023), is based on this doctoral research, and features a diverse cast of figures, from musicians, bards and courtesans, to kings, colonisers, missionaries, scholars and social reformists. Her current work research is on the impact of the 1947 Partition on musicians’ lives in India and Pakistan, and was begun during a Leverhulme Early Career fellowship at the University of Sheffield (2019-2022).

At this event

Gavin Williams

Lecturer in Music

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Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS

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