About Anjanibai Malpekar
Ensconced in the hamlet of Malpem in North Goa is a little-known gem: an old temple of Lord Mulvir bearing delicate, weathered Kaavi art (sgraffito). Anjanibai Malpekar, as her last name indicates, was born in this village into a family of musicians. Her mother, Nabubai, was a respected singer and so was her grandfather, Vasudev Malpekar.
Anjanibai became a student of Nazir Khan, co-founder of the Bhendibazar gharana, named after the Bombay neighbourhood where the founding ustads based themselves after relocating from Rampur. After years of rigorous taleem supplemented by her native intelligence, Anjanibai developed into a vocalist of exceptional fluency and depth. Her singing was characterised by graceful tonal curves known in the trade as meend. She also acquired a wide repertoire of traditional compositions from her ustad.
Unlike other musicians of the day who were satisfied to stay within the ambit of performance, Anjanibai sought to understand the underlying shastra. In this effort, she was fortunate to observe from close quarters the collaboration between the legendary shastrakara and vaggeyekara, Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, and the ustads of her gharana. Pandit Bhatkhande was then in the thick of his researches in music, and as a ‘fly on the wall,’ Anjanibai benefitted from the ongoing dialogue.
In 1899 she married Vasanji Bhagwandas Ved, a merchant from Bombay, and an admirer of her music.
One quality set Anjanibai apart from all the other musicians: her singular physical beauty. Enchanted by her fetching visage, all manner of creatives vied for her attention, including some of India’s greatest artists. She was Raja Ravi Varma’s muse in several of his paintings such as Ladies in the Moonlight, The Heartbroken, and Mohini.
Anjanibai’s exquisite looks, however, turned out to be a curse, for all too often, the luscious inadvertently attracts the gaze of the lascivious. Exhausted by having to fend off the constant advances, Anjanibai decided to pack it in and abruptly cut short her concert career. At the peak of her performing years she retreated inward, and sought guidance from her spiritual guru, Narayan Maharaj of Kedgaon. Fortunately, she continued to mentor musicians, among them, Kishori Amonkar, Kumar Gandharva, and the “Queen of Ghazal” Begum Akhtar.
Anjanibai Malpekar passed away in Bombay on August 7, 1974.