On the 13th of October, 2007, 20 years passed since the demise of Kishore Kumar.

I would like to share this tribute with those of you who love Kishore Da as much as I do.

As a child, I used to listen to a lot of Hindi film songs. As a middle aged man, I still do.The difference however, is that when I was a child I had no idea which song was sung by Mukesh, which song by Rafi, by Kishore and so on unlike these days when I can listen to a Kishore song I have never heard before and roughly pinpoint the year when he may have sung it as well as the actor who may have appeared on screen. On 13th October 1987, I heard that Kishore Kumar had passed away. In the evening there was a tribute to him on TV which was when I discovered that 85% of my favourite songs were sung by him. Like thousands of casual music lovers in our country, I used to be under the delusion that Kishore sang mostly funny songs, while Rafi sang romantic numbers, Mukesh, sad songs…and Manna Dey, classical songs. During the past twenty years, I have journeyed a lot, both in music as well as in life. And many of my childhood heroes have diminished in stature over the years. But a few…..a precious few….have grown……. steadily….and continue to grow, each time I am exposed to their brilliance. M.D.Ramanathan, Martina Navratilova, Bruce Lee, Swami Vivekananda, Kunchan Nambiar, to name a few…..and Kishore Kumar.

I have had the privilege of studying classical music for more than two and a half decades from some truly phenomenal Gurus and I go around giving lecture demonstrations about how important it is for a singer to know an instrument and vice versa. And all the while I hold a guilty secret within. Kishore Kumar.

Kishore Kumar, who never studied any instrument….or for that matter, singing….yet who sang more perfectly than most classical trained musicians ever did. I once read the following quote on women by someone…Oscar Wilde probably…. "Don't try to understand them. Just love them." With Kishore, I have spent twenty years trying to understand him. And a lifetime loving him. The more I familiarize myself with his singing, his voice, his poetry, his acting, his live performances, his humour, his dark side, the more I accept the fact that this man defies labels and definitions. Rather like God, he takes the form we give him. He is as much the clown who yodelled his way into our hearts around half a century ago with songs like "Surma Mera Nirala" as he is the romantic who melted us with songs like "Jeevan Se Bhari Teri Ankhen Majboor Karein Jeene Ke Liye." On the one hand he is the philosopher who ponders "Zindagi Ka Safar Hai Yeh Kaisa Safar ? Koi Samjha Nahin, Koi Jaana Nahin." and on the other hand he is youth itself, with it's explosive energy, belting out disco numbers like "Om Shanti Om." He is the kind teacher cheering up children who are sad to see him go, with "Achche Bachche Nahin Rote Hain, Aanso Burey Hote Hain, Ke Baagon Me Phool Phir Khilenge, Kahin Hum Phir Milenge" as he is the broken hearted brother trying to win back his sister who has succumbed to drug addiction with a heart rending "Phoolon Ka Taaron Ka Sabka Kehna Hai. Ek Hazaaron Me Meri Behna Hai, Saari Umar Humen Sang Rehna Hai."

When we listen to Kishore Da singing a funny song, we feel "THIS is the kind of song that suits him best !" The title song from the film Jhumroo which he produced, directed, starred in, scored the music and wrote the lyrics of several songs for, for example.

The virtuoso yodeling, the verve and the pep, the simple, direct melody that sets one's feet tapping instantly, the sheer Energy that hits one directly in the solar plexus, the explosion of joy that can pull one out of the deepest depression, the maniacal laughter…..Vintage Kishore indeed. But then comes another Kishore, as though emerging from the mists. The Kishore who scored the music for songs like "Jin Raaton Ki Bhor Nahin Hai, Aaj Aisi Raat Aayi" in pure K.L.Saigal style and "Beqaraar e Dil Tu Gaaye Ja."

Could the same poet who wrote a sensitive and lyrical song like :

"Akela Hun Me Is Jahaan Mein
Akeli Meri Daastaan
Na Manzil Koi, Na Saadhi Koi,
Jaane Kya Yeh Neela Aasmaan.
Kya Khabar Kya Pata ?
Ja Raha Hoon, Me Kahan ?"

(As the title song for his own film Neela Aasmaan, which never got released.) have written the following ditty on Paan ?                                    

PAAN MAHIMA
Paan so padaarath sab jahaan ko sudhaarath
Gaayan ko badhaawat jaam-e-choonaa chauksaaee hai
Supaarin ke saath saath masaal milein bhaant bhaant
Jaam-e-katthey kee ratteebhar thodee see lalaaee hai
Baithe hain sabhaa maanhi baat karein bhaant bhaant
Thookan jaat baar baarjaane kaa badhaaee hai
Kahein Kavi Kisordaas chaturan kee chaturaaee saath
Paan mein tamakhoo kisee Moorakh ne chalaaee hai.

(Pandit Kisordaas Khandwa Vaasee.
Address : Bambai Bazaar Road,
Gaanjaa Godaam Ke Saamne,
Library Ke Nikat Waalaa Bijalee Ka Khambaa
Jispe Likhaa Hai "Dongre Kaa Baalaamrit.")

Pandit Kisordaas, Kishorilal Katmandu, Kishoria, Guru, Kishore Da…..The man, born as Abhas Kumar Gangopadhyay (Abbreviated to Ganguly) in Khandwa on August 4th, 1929 was known almost by as many names as he had faces and voices. Yet the very essence of the man remains as deeply shrouded in mystery 20 years after his demise in 1987 as it did during his lifetime.

Even the people closest to him like Kumar Sachin Dev Burman, Rahul Dev Burman, the Mangeshkar Sisters, Danny Denzongpa and others could never claim to have really "Known" the man the way many of us can claim to know our closest friends. Many people who enter a field (Especially) like music without the guiding force and balancing presence of a Guru develop distinctly eccentric personalities. Some have others believe that they must be something special because of their eccentricities, idiosyncrasies, unchecked megalomania and so on. But it is only a blessed handful with whom their genius exceeds their eccentricities by far.

Kishore Kumar was one of those chosen few. Though he never literally sat at the feet of a Master and studied music, he considered the great Kundan Lal Saigal his Guru. And modeled himself on Saigal's way of singing, to start with. As a child, Kishore would entertain friends of his parents, Kunjolal and Gouri (After whom he named his house Gouri Kunj), by singing songs. But they had to pay him 25 paise to get him to sing a song by his celebrity brother Ashok Kumar, 50 paise to sing a song by Manna Dey and a full Rupee to sing a Saigal song. But this man who blatantly loved money all his life, refused to record a single Saigal song himself despite the huge amounts of money he was offered during his reign as a superstar during the 1970s and 80s because he believed the originals had to be preserved in Saigal's voice and that it would be a sin to rerecord them. Apart from Saigal, he had the greatest respect and reverence for Khemchand Prakash (Who scored the music for the lovely song "Jagmag Jagmag Karta Nikla Chaand Poonam Ka Pyaara"), and S.D.Burman. Three of his other heroes were singer/dancer/actor/comedian/entertainer  Danny Kaye, (He sang a copy of Danny Kaye's "O By Jingo" in the Bengali comedy Lukochuri as "Shing Nei Tobu Naam Taar Shingo" which remains a mega super hit among Bengali speakers of all ages even now, more than four decades after it's release.)  

Marlon Brando and Topol. (Once when Kishore Da was in London, he came to know that there was a stage production of Fiddler On The Roof playing in town, with Topol himself as the lead. He was thrilled. He sat through four shows, met Topol like a star struck teenager and gifted him some of his records and cassettes. Lucky Topol. What else can we say ?) His inspiration in yodeling were singers Tex Norton and Jimmy Rogers. The influence of these various artists is palpable in his earlier recordings.

Being the youngest brother of Ashok Kumar, who was a super star even before Saigal came on the scene, young Kishore was offered more jobs as an actor than as a singer. But his heart was set on singing. He would tell Ashok Kumar "Acting is not real. Music comes from the heart. Only that which emanates from the heart can reach the hearts of others." But he ended up acting in 102 films, 98 of them in Hindi and 4 in Bengali which was his mother tongue. Much of the Kishore repertoire that is popular today is the work he did in Hindi from Rajesh Khanna's film Aradhana onwards. The songs from a few Dev Anand films and a few comedies starring Kishore Kumar himself like Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and Padosan have become and remained hugely popular over the years. But many treasures that he sang during the 1950s and early 60s remain undiscovered and/or forgotten by the general public. The sterling work he did in the Bengali language in particular, also remains largely undiscovered by the majority of non Bengali Kishore fans. In fact the Bengali versions of many of his Hindi film hits are even more melodious than the Hindi originals. ("Ae Ki Holo ?" for instance, which is the Bengali version of the song from Aradhana "Yeh Kya Hua ? Kaise Hua ? Kab Hua ?")

Speaking of Bengali, though Kishore Kumar's relationship with the Burmans is well known, his relationship with Hemant Kumar Mukherjee is less talked about.

Hemant Kumar was in fact one musician who understood and explored the various facets of Kishore's genius like few other artists did. The same Hemant Kumar who made Kishore sing exquisitely melodious songs like "Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Dhi" and the duet "Aaj Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai" on the one hand also got him to sing utterly mad songs like "Gaana Na Aaya, Bajaana Na Aaya" and "Vaidy Ke Palle Pade" (Lamenting about quack doctors bumping off their patients, set partially to the tune of "Aum Jai Jagadish Harey") on the other. Kishore Kumar in turn, made Hemant Kumar sing the title songs for two of his own most celebrated and poignant movies, "Door Gagan Ki Chaaon Mein" and "Door Ka Rahi." Hemant Kumar also gently guided Kishore by the hand in recording two discs of Tagore songs, which bring out an altogether different side of the maestro's personality. 

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