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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Swargeeya Kundan Lal Saigal

As one advances in age, one perhaps tends quite often to look back into the past. An event or a festival or a ceremony, or a  celebrity,  makes the mind run back into past and memories flood the mind—past events, scenes, their memories, the underlying sweetness, all those  appear before the eyes as if happening right now. As one dwells in them, one gets enthralled by what happens in the cerebrum.

Something akin to this just happened today. As I opened the laptop in the morning and googled, there flashed Swargeeya Saigal’s photo telling me about celebration of his 114th birthday!  My mind at once ran to late fifties and the sixties. Those were the days when radio was a luxury, which very few could afford.  But listening to it is somehow managed by all those enthusiasts!  And I am one of those—listening to Hindi songs from neighbour’s radio or walking on the street suddenly, being caught by a tune coming from inside of somebody’s house, stand a little away from their entrance gate and listen the song fully and then walk ahead.  Yet times even at the cost of facing unpleasant or should I say, menacing stare from the inmates of the house, particularly, old widows….

Come summer holidays, these things become so routine, for as I was walking through Ramalingeswarapet to my friend’s house in Nazarpet, I used to end up in front of a lawyer’s house, from which I would invariably get caught by the signature style voice of Ceylon radio announcer presenting ‘Purani filmon ka sangeet’— of course, mostly by default. In those days,   Radio Ceylon used to broadcast 'Purani filmon ka sangeet’ between 7.30 to 8.00 AM. And I often looked forward to listen to some of those favourite tunes/songs: Ye zindagi ke mele, duniyaa men kam na honge / afasos ham na honge; Tu mera chand mi teri chandini…. Or,  Afsaana Likh Rahi Huan dil-e-beqaraar kaa;  Gaye ja geet milan ke tu apni lagan ke,  etc.

Over it, the most interesting part of this programme is:  Vijay Kishore Dubey, who has been recruited to revamp the programmes of Ceylon radio, made it obligatory to always end this programme with a song of Swargeeya Kundan Lal Saigal (the announcers always addressed him with aadab: 'Swargeeya Kundan Lal Saigal'; and it was so sweet to listen when it comes out of the voice of Manohar Mahajan) and as a prelude to this song, the announcer would first play a jingle… and that used to make some to come nearer to the radio while of course, driving  away some from it. I must confess that I was in neither of these two groups. For, I loved to listen a few of his songs such as, Ik bangla bane nyaara composed by Raichand Boral, Do naine matware tihare composed by Pankaj Mullick,  etc. while in rest of the times, I don’t know why, I used to walk away.

There is yet another song of Saigal which I always love to listen. Indeed, whenever I listen it, I simply get lost in wilderness. Once, it so happened… I think it was 1964 summer. I was back at home for summer holidays and as usual one morning… in its fine breeze I was walking along the usual road to my friend’s home. Suddenly, from the right hand side house, Saigal’s voice caught my attention: Jab dil hii tuut gayaa (when my heart is broken) / hum jii ke kyaa karenge? (What can I do by living?). I stood frozen in front of that house… lost in that golden voice….

See how he modulates his voice when he sings the soul-full lyrics penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri:  Ulfat ka diyaa hamnee is dil meein jalaayaa thaa (I lit the lamp of love in my heart) / and then he goes on to sing the next line Umiid ke phoolonse is ghar ko sajaayaa thaa (I decorated this house with flowers of hope) with lots of nirliptata (nonchalance) / Ek bhedii loot gayaa  (And an insider of mine stole everything) …. it simply brings in a waft of its bhava …makes the very mood of the song so emphatically clear even to a lay listener like me who was then not so good at understanding the beauty of the Urdu/Hindi lyrics. Following it, he simply questions: hum jii ke kyaa karenge? And even offers an answer to it when he sings: Jab dil hii tuut gayaa.  That is modulation! 

As his voice flows so naturally… as an easy flow, these words come out so very clearly…  Maaluum na thaa itini mushkil haimeri raahen (I was not aware that my path would turn so difficult) / Armaan ke bahe aansuu hasrat ne bhari aahen (I shed tears of desire, unrealized wishes filled sighs) / Har saathi chuut gayaa (every companion abandoned me) … making us join him in his aahen (sighs) … And as questions again:  hum jii ke kyaa karenge?.. we also wonder: yes true,  Jab dil hii tuut gayaa, what is the point in living … ?

His voice...nasal yet deep and penetrating ... free-flowing and feeling-ladden... his style, his intonation... wow!  It took some time for me to come out of that trance… What a haunting voice! It touched the heart. It was the voice that could touch all seven notes on each of the three octaves with equal ease! And, mark the way he sang… every word carries its embedded meaning, for it was full of right emotion. And shunning away the influences of classicalism, he simply sang … pronouncing every word clearly…in a free flowing voice…  Simply put, the matchless pathos in his voice lulled the heart.... 

Obviously, I could not respond to that house owner’s demanding questions: “Hey mister! What are you doing here?” I was to, of course, make a lot of explanation to him… about the song … my longing to listen it… and my getting lost in it etc…etc….Interestingly, listening to my incoherent explanation, perhaps, he invited me into his house. And tortured me with lots of cross examination-type questions… … Who sang this? For which film (Shahjahan) Who is the music director? (Naushad) And so on… all the pleasure of listening to that swansong I had a while go… simply evaporated with his interrogation…  But the interesting outcome of all this was: I learnt, he is a great fan of Saigal. Who won’t love to listen …particularly of that generation… to that rare voice! As a testimony, he, calling his wife to send two coffee, even invited me to visit him once in a while … It was, of course, a different matter that later I were to take a long route to my friend’s house…  

In more than a decade-long career, Swargeeya Kundanlal Saigal   who was born in Jammu on April 11, 1904, acted in more than 36 films (Hindi, Bengali and even one Tamil film) and sang more than 150 songs. He sang many well-received ghazals under the baton of Raichnad Boral. For one generation of movie-goers his voice became very appealing, for it gave such an everlasting expression to the love lost in soul-stirring ghazals such as “Nuktaacheen hai gham e dil”, “Preem nagar me basaoonga ghar main…”, etc. It was said that the ghazal, “Nuktaacheen hai gham e dil”, composed by Pankaj Mullick in raag Bhimpalasi and sung by Saigal to the accompaniment of just a tabla and harmonium made ripples across the industry.  

Pandits say that when the concept of ‘playback singer’ was yet to arrive, he had in fact shown how film songs are to be sung to the later generation. According to Pran Nevile, the writer of Saigal’s biography,  Saigal was the founding father of people’s music. He hastens to add, that his golden voice that brought music to the masses had even influenced later day singers like Mukesh, Kishore Kumar, Mohd Rafi, Talat Mahmod and even Lata Mangeshkar. If you don't believe me, just recall that popular song of Mukesh..."Dil  Jalta hai to jalne de ..."

Before concluding, let me remind you that Jab dil hii tuut gayaa was his last song. A few months after recording this song, this celebrated actor died at an early age of 42, in 1947 leaving a generation of fans in sorrow.


Video Source : Sincere thanks are due to


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