R.D. Burman, the music director who died 20 years ago, on January 4, 1994, is now more popular than ever.

Dear Pancham da,

I am writing to you not because I want to pay you the obligatory tribute on your death anniversary — TV channels would have done that by now — but to tell you that your music is part of my daily life. It is as important to me as my toothbrush, my mobile phone and my laptop.

I listen to your songs when I am in the gym: of the five kilometres that I cover on the treadmill, one entire kilometre is taken care of by the famous Rocky song ‘Aa dekhen zara’, which is about eight minutes long. I play your songs when I have guests over at home: some genuinely relish what I play, some others pretend to listen, not that I care.

And at nights, if I happen to hit the writer’s block or when I am done with my writing for the day, I look up your songs on YouTube, hunting for rare numbers. Hours pass as I hop from one video to another, and I always wind up by watching clips of the various concerts in which the musicians of your former talent-studded orchestra pay you tribute.

There are countless other fanatics who have your music woven into their daily lives — and their population only seems to be growing even though you left this world 20 years ago. People are usually forgotten after they die; it happens to the best of people — at the most, they are perfunctorily remembered on their birth and death anniversaries. But you made a stupendous comeback after your death.

When you died, you were R.D. Burman, the composer. When you returned, you were R.D. Burman, the brand. A mortal resurrected as a magician. Today, every young composer wants to be you. They speak of you with the respect reserved for God. You are now an institution. Your songs, when they play, are events unto themselves. How I wish you were alive to see all this — you would have been only 74.

What an irony that you were almost without work during the last nearly 10 years of your life. Some of the films you composed music for in the mid-1980s happened to bomb and the producers who once flocked to your home deserted you. These hitherto unheard-of films are now a goldmine for fans digging for ‘rare gems’ of Pancham.

These songs show that you were meticulous about crafting the music for every film you worked on, big-banner or small-budget. I had never heard of a film called Sitamgar until I heard its songs some years ago — each song is a gem, particularly ‘Mausam pyaar ka’, which is a ‘modern’, racy, pulsating song even though the only percussion instrument you have used in it is the tabla. Only you could perform magic with sounds. You infused timelessness in singers’ voices.

I am not a huge fan of Mohammad Rafi, but I like the songs he sang for you, including the famous Hum Kisise Kum Nahin song, ‘Kya hua tera vaada’, for which he even won the National award. Similarly, I am not a big fan of Mukesh, but his song from Dharam Karam, for which you composed the music, is one of my all-time favourites: ‘Ek din bik jaayega maati ke mol’. I may be biased, but I believe there is a timeless quality about these two songs that will keep their singers alive for the generations yet to be born.

Timeless: that’s one word that keeps playing in my mind whenever I listen to your songs. I was six or seven years old when Hum Kisise Kum Nahin released, but its songs refuse to fade out even today, when I am 43. They are only getting more popular. Listening to the four-song medley, which begins with a high-pitched trumpet note played by your favourite trumpet player George Fernandes, I feel the same rush of adrenalin as I did 35 years ago.

Then there are dozens of other songs, such as the ones from Ghar and Gol Maal, or the solos that Asha Bhosle has sung for you — listening to them, one feels as if they had been recorded only yesterday. And I haven’t mentioned Kishore Kumar so far because I found it pointless: you loved his voice as much as I do. I can’t imagine a life without the songs that the two of you created together.

One night, about a year ago, after I had finished writing for the day and was searching through You Tube for your rare songs, I came across an audio clip that had recorded one of your recordings with Kishore Kumar. The song being recorded went like this, ‘Thhak gaya hoon, mujhe sone do’ — soulfully rendered by Kishoreda. In one of the antaras, however, Kishoreda fumbles with the lyrics and says, ‘Cut!’ Suddenly there is silence in the studio for a few seconds and then one can hear a voice— perhaps your arranger Manohari Singh — ordering that antara to be recorded all over again: ‘One, two. One, two, three, four!’

The song, which went on to haunt me for days, was being recorded for a 1984 movie called Musafir  — I hadn’t even heard of such a film until I came across the audio clip. I felt blessed that night when I chanced upon it: everything else that I had done during the rest of the day did not matter.

The search for your ‘rare’ songs keeps me going. Who knows what I will find next. The best part is, hundreds of other people are also on the job. You don’t belong just to me, you see. Thank you for the music, Panchamda.

Warmest regards,

Your greatest fan.