In Kolkata last week, it was reminiscences on music, indeed on old songs, that some of my friends and I went into. Yes, we were there for a conference, but the evening over dinner was something of a celebration of symphony. There was my good friend Rajeshwar Dyal, whom I was meeting for the first time in eighteen years. And there was the very eloquent Veena Sikri, once India's high commissioner here. And with them was Debashish. And there were others, of course.
So what did we discuss? Nothing in particular. We simply remembered lines from the old melodies. In fact, one of us recalled Mukesh's dil jalta hai to jalne de. And that was a sign for someone else to go on to the next line. As we sat sipping coffee, I recalled Rafi's teri duniya se duur. Rajesh could not wait to come up with the next line, chale hokey majboor hamen yaad rakhna.
The magic that you find in old songs is something you do not easily come by in these rather mediocre times. Rajesh sang Mukesh's chal akela chal akela, at which point a whole lot of memories tumbled out from somewhere inside me. It was Christmas week in 1968, I remembered, when Apollo-8 went round the moon. As the astronauts navigated their way out from behind the dark side of the moon, commander Frank Borman was heard reading from the Bible “. . .In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. . .” Almost simultaneously, on the annual Binaca Geet Mala on Ceylon Radio, it was that song by Mukesh that wafted along.
Memories are associated with the songs we have never forgotten to hum all these years. Suman Kalyanpur's dil gham se jal raha hai jale par dhuan na ho is for me a going back in time to the death of Mohammad Ali Bogra in early 1963. The image of his corpse on the front page of Dawn and the Kalyanpur song came to me at the same time, which is how the association has come to be. Talat Mahmood's mohabbat hi na jo samjhe wo zalim pyaar kya jaane is for me always a journey back to a cold Quetta winter in 1964, when Radio Zahedan would entertain listeners' requests for the popular songs of the time.
At lunch in Kolkata last week, once our conference had ended, someone suddenly remembered the Mahendra Kapoor number, aap aaye to khayalen dil-e-nashaad aaya kitne bhoole hue zakhmo ka pata yaad aaya. I went ahead and finished the rest of the song. And then we sang Saigal’s jo barbad karegi hamen maloom na tha.
Over coffee and dessert, I was asked to sing a Rafi number. I chose kabhi khud pe kabhi halaat pe rona aaya. For good measure, I crooned the first few lines of Talat's zulfon ki sunehri chhaon tale ik aag lagi do deep jale.
And then it was time for us to go our separate ways. Some were going back to Delhi, some to Yangon, some would stay in Kolkata. I needed to catch a flight back home to Dhaka.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star