The King Is Not Dead
Sandipan Deb As a new TV programme dedicates itself to the songs of Kishore Kumar, SANDIPAN DEB asks: Who was this man who made generations of Indians so happy? The other day, surfing channels, I came across a programme called K For Kishore. It was another of those music talent contests that are the rage […]
As a new TV programme dedicates itself to the songs of Kishore Kumar, SANDIPAN DEB asks: Who was this man who made generations of Indians so happy?
The other day, surfing channels, I came across a programme called K For Kishore. It was another of those music talent contests that are the rage nowadays, except that here, the contestants were singing only songs originally sung by the late Kishore Kumar. And it was fascinating to see the reverence and love with which people still remembered this man, who has been dead for 20 years and two months now.
Each contestant was a Kishore fanatic, even though some of them would have been infants or children when he called it a day. There was one young man who actually prays to Kishore Kumar’s spirit every day; there was another who starts his day by standing at his bungalow’s gates with folded hands. These are people who have built their lives around this man they had never seen or met, but whose songs appear to have tided them through their lives. And this is not Elvis madness: the King is not dead, he was just abducted by aliens and will return one day to reclaim his dominion and kiss the world tender, sweet. This is not about mad junkies hanging around at Jim Morrison’s Paris grave and hoping for the resurrection of the Lizard King. These are men who know Kishore Kumar is dead and gone, and who have dedicated every idle hour they have to listening to his songs and trying to sound like him. The monetary returns for this lonely pursuit must be meagre (till K For Kishore came along). But it would be an obsession that would also be fun. A joyful junoon.
Who was this man who made generations of Indians so happy? No formal training in music (he never learnt to read musical notes), yet a voice and a talent the likes of which have never been seen before or since. And not just a singer, though that is what he will be remembered most for. (When Satyajit Ray wanted someone to sing a song in Charulata with no musical accompaniment other than a piano, he turned to Kishore Kumar; Kishore’s voice, he declared, was the only one which could carry it off). The man was also an actor of enormous charm, a film director who could make people sniffle when he wanted to, a composer who pushed the limits, a film producer, writer and the maddest man in the history of the Hindi film industry. Is it an overstatement to say that he was one of the most talented men of 20th century India?
Of course, the man was, well, very dramatically eccentric. His 1985 interview in The Illustrated Weekly of India remains a classic. It was the portrait of a man, in his own words, who was not restrained by any set of norms or rules that make up that Freudian construct called superego. He talked about the trees in his garden that were his friends: “I took (a reporter) to the garden and introduced her to some of the friendlier trees. Janardhan; Raghunandan; Gangadhar; Jagannath; Buddhuram; Jhatpatajhatpatpat. I said they were my closest friends in this cruel world. She went and wrote this bizarre piece… What’s wrong with that, you tell me? What’s wrong making friends with trees?”
He then goes on to describe his encounter with an interior decorator. “I told him that I wanted something very simple for my living room. Just water — several feet deep — and little boats floating around, instead of large sofas. I told him that the centre-piece should be anchored down so that the tea service could be placed on it and all of us could row up to it in our boats and take sips from our cups. But the boats should be properly balanced, I said, otherwise we might whizz past each other and conversation would be difficult… I told him that I wanted live crows hanging from the walls instead of paintings — since I liked nature so much. And, instead of fans, we could have monkeys farting from the ceiling. That’s when he slowly backed out from the room with a strange look in his eyes. The last I saw of him was him running out of the front gate, at a pace that would have put an electric train to shame. What’s crazy about having a living room like that, you tell me? If he can wear a woollen, three-piece suit in the height of summer, why can’t I hang live crows on my walls?” What a man! Salvador Dali meets Frank Sinatra.
I think, more than anything else, we love him because he was a true hallmarked original. There never will be another like him. His voice could transport you, and he had many voices, depending on which actor he was singing for, but all of them maintained a virility and a realness that I have always found missing in singers like Mohammad Rafi: even Rafi’s happy songs have always sounded a tad mournful to me and — sorry — a bit effeminate, and there’s too much training, too much technique behind those high pitched notes. In contrast, Kishore Kumar’s voice and his singing are guileless and straight from the heart. But he was much more than the voice. If ever there was a man who was living life to the full without making any concessions to any perceived wisdom, it was him. And it showed in his best songs, whether joyous or melancholy.
In the early 1990s, I watched a TV interview of his last wife,
Leena Chandavarkar. Kishore Kumar’s philosophy, Chandavarkar said, was that he was a tourist, on this earth on a holiday, so he had to have all the fun that he could pack in, do all the sights, and more, and give two hoots for what the locals thought of you. Clearly, then, the tourist engraved his initials on all the monuments so deeply that even 20 years later, they remain indelible and cheerfully in-your-face.
courtesy: Indian Express – Writer is the editor of Financial Express