The Spanish teacher who sings for a cause

- August 26, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Minu Bakshi is an Urdu poet, Spanish professor and classical singer. She performs at concerts to raise funds for the underprivileged: Her most recent efforts were for victims of Delhi floods

EARLY INTEREST: Minu Bakshi first got interested in ghazal singing when she was in college

In the past few weeks, as water rose to dangerous levels along the Yamuna, NGO ‘Savera’ committedly worked to provide essential relief materials to the flood-affected people and help families get back on their feet.  

Spearheading the NGO’s efforts is Minu Bakshi, the organisation’s chairperson and an accomplished singer. She is a familiar name in Delhi’s cultural and social circles. 

For many years now, Minu has been using her voice to raise funds for charity through gala concerts. Since she belongs to a well-heeled business family of the city, Minu says she does not entertain requests for paid shows but instead sings only at special events where proceeds are used for philanthropy. 

She says this allows her to indulge in her passions for singing and the Urdu language while also allowing her to contribute to society.

Minu says, “A voice I always had, but I discovered myself when, as a student at Delhi’s Miranda College in 1972, I first heard Begum Akhtar sing. I lost my mind, went home, threw my guitar and western pop out of the window and became a ghazal and Urdu fan. I was so besotted with Begum Akhtar’s singing that I followed her around and even managed to get into HMV studio in Mumbai when she was recording.

“I sing folk, ghazal, sufi and pop. I write Urdu poetry because of my love for the language. Now, after such a long association with Urdu, I am at a stage when I want to give back something to this beautiful language. So I am also seriously working on setting up an institution for the study and promotion of Urdu in this city.”

It has been a long and loving journey for Minu as she nurtured her passion for music and language. Singing was a bit of a challenge since there was opposition from the family initially. After all, singing ghazals was not for girls from good families. But Minu went ahead and got herself an Ustaad (teacher) and began her musical journey. Since she was a bright student, academics was important too and she found her mettle when she enrolled herself to study Spanish at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University. 

Today, Minu Bakshi is a much-respected scholar of Spanish besides being an interpreter of the language for the President and the Prime Minister of India at various occasions for over 30 years. She is teaching at the JNU for almost 40 years now. 

She was conferred the “Order of Isabella la Catolica” in 2014 by the Spanish government for her services towards promotion of Spain and its culture. This is the second highest Order given to a foreigner by the King of Spain.

Gradually, over time, the Spanish student carved a niche for herself as an accomplished singer with her forte being Punjabi folk, sufi songs and ghazals. She also began to be recognised as an Urdu poet. 

“I just fell in love with the beauty of the language and the sweet sound of the words. Whatever you say sounds poetic in Urdu.” says Minu and adds, “When I got married, I had three conditions. I should be allowed to study, sing and work. My husband agreed to all three and till now is true to his word which is why I could pursue all my interests.” 

Her love for Urdu poetry got her many awards and also inspired her to be a patron of the language in Delhi. 

Born into a prosperous Punjabi family from Peshawar, which moved to Delhi after the Partition, Minu married into a business family in Delhi. 

“I have had years of Hindustani classical musical training along with my academics. Both my singing, love for Urdu and study of Spanish became a lifelong passion which I continue to pursue to this day.” 

Never one for taking shortcuts, Minu embarked on a rigorous programme of classical music training with ghazal singing as her preferred genre. 

She says, “I have done a duet with the king of Pop, Mika Singh which then led to subsequent collaborations where I contributed lyrics. My favourite singers are those who have a powerful voice. The all-time favourite song for me is Abhi Toh Maim Jawaan Hoon. I love Mallika Pukhraj, Noor Jahaan, Reshma and Farida Khanum.” 

It was for marriages in her family that Minu first ended up recording and releasing a popular collection of Punjabi folk songs titled Band Baja Punjab

She recalls, “My family asked me to sing all the songs traditionally sung at Punjabi weddings, first for my daughter’s and then my son’s weddings. I sang four songs for my daughter and four for my daughter-in-law. I was nervous at first but then I agreed. It was a very emotional experience for me but I am glad I did it because everyone enjoyed my singing. After that, I was under pressure from my family to record songs professionally.” 

This resulted in a compilation of eight CDs, which have become essential for enthusiasts of Punjabi folk music and resulted in Minu lending her voice for playback singing in Bollywood feature films such as Zubaan and Majaz

Possibly one of the most significant milestones in Minu’s career is flowering as an Urdu poet. She is also author of five books of Urdu poetry, most of which were written at night since her work at JNU and her family commitments kept her busy during the day. Two more books are currently being written.  

She says, “I wrote my best poetry during the pandemic. Tishnagi: The Thirst was Minu’s first book of Urdu poetry. As a literary work, it garnered praise from connoisseurs of Urdu.” 

Tishnagi was awarded for its valuable contribution to Urdu Literature by Ilmi Majlis, Bihar. It also received the ‘Jameel Mazhari Award’ from the Bihar Urdu Academy (2014) and the ‘Aamir Khusro Award’ (2014) by the Husnara Trust, Delhi. 

ICON: Minu Bakshi was a fan of Begum Akhtar. She went to a studio where she was recording and got herself clicked with her

Mauj-e-Saraab, her second book, was released in November, 2017 in Delhi and it was also launched at the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival in January, 2018. 

After that came Justaju, and then her fourth book Uffuq ke Paar, which was declared the best book of Urdu poetry 2018 by the Delhi Urdu Academy. Her fifth and most recent collection of Urdu poetry, Abr-e-Karam was released under the aegis of the prestigious Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy in January 2022.

She has recited poetry in various important mushairas such as Jashn-e-Bahar, Jashn-e-Bharat, Jashn-e-Rekhta, Paigham-e-Mohabbat, Jashn-e-Adab in Lucknow, Patna, Delhi, Kolkata, Lahore, London and USA.

As a prominent member of Delhi society, Minu is a founder member of Savera, which for over two decades now, has been working with the underprivileged in Delhi. The funds to run this NGO are generated, along with other donations, through various charitable concerts performed by her in India and abroad. 

Recently Minu was invited by the Khushii Foundation, run by cricket icon Kapil Dev, to perform for charity held at the British High Commission in the Capital.  

Minu says, “Wearing multiple hats is not a problem because I enjoy everything I do and do it with all my heart. Fortunately, since I am blessed with the right resources, I would like to leave an enduring legacy with my efforts in music, educational endeavours, and philanthropic pursuits. Contrary to what people may think, there is a growing interest in Urdu among the young. So much can be said in just a single brief sentence — and people are discovering this depth. In these busy and often complicated times, this is a language that can add so much meaning to life. Singing, Urdu and Spanish are like my children and have contributed so much richness to my life. I feel now it is important to give back what I have received.”