Every day around dusk, a striking voice would rise up in the sky somewhere in the distance. Badi Kaneez, a famous courtesan (tawaif) and renowned singer of Azimabad—as Patna came to be known after Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s grandson Azim-us-Shan (1664-1712) rechristened it after himself—was quite young at the time, but this would make others stop in their tracks. “As the sound grew nearer, one felt that the entire ambience was getting intoxicated by her lovely voice.
After a while, you would see a middle-aged woman in a Neemwar Fatgi (particular dress) walking slowly from Kashmiri Kothi towards my neighbourhood, the Sadar Gali. She would stop after a few steps, and then her trained voice would mesmerise onlookers as the notes burst forth,” Badi Kaneez is quoted as saying in Syed Badruddin Ahmad’s Urdu memoir Haqeeqat Bhi Kahani Bhi: Azimabad Ki Tahzibi Daastaan (1988). “Shopkeepers stopped their work and pedestrians stood where they were, to listen to her. Thus, she would pass my colony singing and walk up to Shahdara. There, the song would stop and she would disappear into the unknown,” she adds.