The Hindu : Friday Review Delhi / Personality : Not just classic, classical too | KL Saigal |

There is something unique about the dates of birth of three greats in the music world. Kundan Lal Saigal was born on April 4, 1904 (04.04.04), the revered Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was born on February 2, 1902, (02.02.02) and the master composer, Anil Biswas was born on July 7, 1914 (07.07.14). It is for the numerologists to work out the significance of these fascinating dates, though they may strike us as mere coincidence.

Saigal's father, Amar Chand Saigal, was posted as Tehsildar in Jammu when his son was born. His mother, Kaiser Kaur, used to sing bhajans and young Kundan accompanied her.

A ghazal maestro

Though he became famous as a film and playback singer, he had strong classical links. In the recorded history of ghazal singing, the name of Kundan Lal Saigal will remain amongst the foremost for a long time to come. The genre was further enriched by another legend, Begum Akhtar. These two great singers did not sing for merely lyrics but sang with their heart and soul. Ghalib seemed to come alive whenever they sang his ghazals. One has to really listen to them with concentration for the soul-stirring experience. Saigal sang nine compositions of Ghalib. Among them were "Aah ko chahiyey", "Dil se teri nigah" and others.

Begum Akhtar also sang nine ghazals of Ghalib, including "Ibne Mariyam", "Aa ko chahiiyee" and others. When we compare the 18 fabulous masterpieces of these two great singers, we cannot miss the unique quality of voice, diction, their total involvement and the nobility of the accompanying instruments, be it harmonium, tabla and tanpura. But for Saigal, Begum Akhtar and some other ghazal singers, feel some scholars, Ghalib's works (Diwan) and those of other legendary Urdu poets would have remained buried in the archives of universities and research institutions.

Saigal was followed by other singers in bringing a number of Urdu poets into limelight and keep them alive. Seemabh Akbarabadi was a poet of some stature. Saigal, by singing some of his ghazals made him immortal.

He also took Arzu Lakhnavi to great heights. Besides Ghalib, Zauq and Seemabh, he also sang the compositions of some of his contemporary poets. "Chaat barbaad karegi hamein', "Jab dil hi toot gaya", "Aie dil-e-beqarar kyoon" by Kumar Barabankvi in the film "Shahjahan" not only brought glory to the poet but further enhanced the prestige of the master composer.

"Babul Mora"

Another immortal song came in 1936: "Babul Mora" (from "Street Singer").

This one song haunted several great singers. Before Saigal, Ustad Faiyyaz Khan sang it in 1932. Later, a galaxy of singers like Kanan Devi, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Siddheshwari Devi, Rasoolan Bai, Begum Akhtar, Girija Devi, Kishori Amonkar, Jagmohan and Padma Talwalkar sang it in their own styles. In the 1970s, ghazal exponent Jagjit Singh also sang it, once alone and once with his wife Chitra Singh. A collection of all these recordings is a collectors' treasure.

Anil Biswas, the famous music composer, probably had the last word to say on this all-time great song. While discussing the music of the 1930s and '40s, the master composer, who had brought Mukesh and Talat Mehmood to the limelight, remarked about "Babul Mora", "Saigal ke alawa kisi ke babul nahin Chhoota."

The classic thumri, "Piya bin naahin aawat chain", of which Saigal sang two lines in the film "Devdas", was earlier sung by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. When Khan Saheb came to know, he visited Saigal's residence and asked him to sing for him once again. He was spellbound and enquired who his ustad was. Saigal told him it was "Ooperwala" — God. Khan Saheb blessed Saigal and gave him a hundred-rupee note, which Saigal treasured till his death.

Indian films after 1941 had the good fortune of having some great classical singers like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan ("Mughal-e-Azam"), Ustad Amir Khan ("Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje"), D.V. Paluskar and Amir Khan ("Baiju Bawra"), Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar. Saigal stood tall amongst them. His rendition of "Sapt suran teen gram" ("Dhrupad") and "Diya Jalao" ("Tansen") continue to be considered among the all-time greats.

A number of incidents from Saigal's life illustrate his humble nature and his reverence for great art. Once filmmaker Kidar Sharma and Saigal were invited to a party celebrating the construction of someone's new bungalow in Ville Parle in Bombay (Mumbai). Feeling a bit out of place, the two quietly left the party and were strolling on the beach when Saigal spotted a faqir singing a ghazal of Ghalib accompanying himself on the harmonium. Both sat and listened to him intently. Saigal was so overwhelmed that he touched the faqir's feet and took out Rs.5000 and gave it to him. Amazed, Sharma asked him if he knew how much money he had given to the faqir. Saigal said in Punjabi, "Oopar waley ney kee mannu gin key dittey si?" (Did the almighty count before he gave it to me?)


Via Vikas Zutshi