I write this, as I am listening to Madhukar Shyam Hamare Chor (listen to it here). While many of you may not have heard this particular song, you must have definitely heard about the singer. Perhaps from your parents. Or rather grandparents. For he belonged to that era. Forgotten perhaps by today’s generation. Known for nasal singing, and made fun of. But he lives on, in music lovers’ hearts. Even today.
I belong to that (mostly) extinct species who loved his songs. I grew up listening to them. Yes, when most popular songs in school and college days were Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik and Udit Narayan, I listened to this tragic hero. A forgotten radio station, Ceylon Radio, would play one K.L Saigal song daily at 7:57 am.There was no internet and YouTube back then. So one single cassette, and the daily Ceylon Radio dose was all I had to quench my insatiable thirst.
For he sang like no other. His voice carried that pain, and intense longing, and spoke of love unrequited. As if he lived through the entire experience. Which was rather attractive to a just-becoming-teenager self. Perhaps it was the lyrics which remained with you, after the notes had slowly died down. Who can forget the Gham diye mustaqil’s– “uthke woh chal diye, kehte hi reh gaye hum fasana” or “dukh raha hai jigar, pad raha hai magar muskurana”; or the lines from Chah barbad karegi humein “zindagi bojh banegi humein maloom na tha”, “gair to gair hi thi, woh bhi humare na rahe”…Or the simple but raga-based tunes of Punkaj Mullick’s score.
That’s also how I learned to identify ragas. My father would point them out to me, and test me from time to time. Somehow it was easier to identify ragas from songs rather than the aalaps you heard at concerts or kutcheris. The one HMV cassette, had some 20 K.L. songs, and I would play them over and over again. Till I had memorised most of the lyrics. (And which I remember till today!!) I am not sure how the magnetic tape managed to survive. That was perhaps the reason why we needed to replace our two-in-one every two years..
The cassette was how I also heard some of his romantic numbers – Balam aaye baso more man mein, Chuppo na chuppo na O pyari sajaniya, or Do naina matware tihare, or Main kya janoo kya jadoo hai. The romance was subtle and understated, hinted but not openly declared. The guy who could belt out such heart-wrenching songs, could also serenade his lady love, with such flirty, light numbers? I was amazed at his capabilities. And then there were bhajans or devotional songs – Radhe rani de daalo nai or Jhulna jhulai. The complicated taans would come so effortlessly, like polished pearls (a favourite termed my father used – ‘galyatun motya sarkhe utarle pahije’).
I remember my 7 yr old brother singing his “Ek raaje ka beta” and winning a prize at a local competition. People had gone up to him and asked whose song was that, and he had said K.L Saigal without batting an eye.
That was the beauty. And magic. And years later, when you hear just one song again, well, it all comes back. As if it has never left you. And you keep listening, again and again. Mesmerised.