On the dull and dismal drive back from office one day,while flipping through the radio channels, I chanced upon KL Saigal singing “babul mora”. Didn’t switch channels for the rest of the drive and in fact sat parked in the car till the last strains of “jab dil hi toot gaya” faded away.
KL Saigal’s songs were an integral part of my childhood. Large family gatherings with my dad singing “andhe ki lathi tu hi hai” among other oldies (SD Burman, Pankaj Mullick) with all present joining in as a chorus for some of the songs ; A 76 rpm LP playing “ek bangala bane nyaara” or another one from the old spool tape system.
My nani telling me at having met him-not once as a fan but repeatedly, having been part of the same circle. An ardent KL Saigal fan as a young girl in Bareilly,When she moved to Bombay after her marriage, she met Saigal through close common friends. He apparently once asked her “tum kaun sa gaana sunogi bitiya?” leaving her thrilled and honoured. As she told me about her delighted disbelief, “Saigal humse , hunse pooch rahe they ki kaun sa gaana sunenge!”I could feel her excitement and joy even after the 30 or so years post the interaction. The dignified version of a fan-girl moment!
There were also the anecdotes about him apparently needing to drink before all songs. As children copying the nasal inflection in his songs as we parodied them in tuneless antaksharis. Around 1994, Lata Mangeshkar came out with her “Shradhanjali” to the older generation and I re-discovered many of the older songs. An uncle had also gifted me a cassette with his songs which sadly is defunct now.
The magical quality of his songs will never be defunct. The melody was in the voice itself and in the lilt and intonation and not so much on the musical accompaniment. Just hertfelt rendition. Almost 70 years after it was composed, I still sang “so ja raaj kumari” to my daughter at bed time. We still break into “jab dil hi toot gaya” to talk about heart-break and the poignancy of “babul mora” is difficult to match.
The charm perhaps also lies in the golden memories of that most magical of times-childhood. As I read through these words, I find that they are inadequate to fully explain the images that get conjured up from the past. It’s almost like viewing a flashback film festival . Some short films of the family gatherings, a live story telling with nani, and ad film like snippets of other occasions. My father humming “suno suno re kishan kala” around the house-I could go on for a bit!
Gentle,sepia toned recollections of simpler times.
My drive home was not so dreary after all. A lump in the throat from remembering the good times-yes-but happy memories too. And not very difficult to recreate-some of them. Do listen.