A letter to Kishore Kumar on the singer’s 25th death anniversary.
You must be finally happy in heaven now. Two people very close to your heart, Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna, are there with you now. Of course, Pancham (R.D. Burman) has been keeping you company for many years, but it wouldn’t have been any fun singing up there without these two men — they lent a face to your fabulous voice, after all. I am sure all of you must be having great sittings up there and making some heavenly music — no pun intended, Kishoreda.
By now, I’m sure, you are already in touch with Shakti Samanta, Anand Bakshi and Manohari Singh. I can easily visualise all of you sitting in the studio up there, recording yet another ‘Yeh shaam mastaani’ for the immortal souls. Though you don’t really need to re-record that song, because the version you recorded in a Bombay studio way back in 1970 — like most of the songs you sang in your lifetime — is already immortal.
But really, why did you have to depart so early from this world? You were only 58 when you died; you could have easily added a couple of hundred more songs to your kitty. After all, your voice remained loyal to your name — Kishore Kumar — and sounded as youthful as it did when you were in your thirties and forties.
In fact, you sounded better as you aged. Come to think of it, the songs most cherished by your fans are the ones that you recorded when you were in your late forties and early fifties. You sang ‘Bachna ae haseeno’ (from Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin) when you were over 45, and ‘Aane wala pal’(from Gol Maal) when you were 50. You were already well into your forties when you sang ‘Chalte chalte, mere yeh geet yaad rakhna’. You should have saved that song for a couple of decades after.
You were far too young at 58 to leave this world, Kishoreda. You should have stayed on to sing at least one song for Rahman. But then, what for? You remain as relevant to the younger generation as Rahman is supposed to be today. Rahman’s songs come and go — you stop humming them after a while — but your songs continue to find a home in new hearts.
What amazes me is that 25 years have passed since you left us, and yet, when I listen to your songs, it feels as if you recorded them only the other day. Twenty-five years; a quarter of a century is a long time in one’s lifespan, considering most ordinary mortals don’t even make it to the three-quarter mark. But to continue living on in this mortal world even a quarter century after death — that’s a feat you managed to pull off by the virtue of your voice.
I still remember that day a quarter of a century ago. My upper lip had just about begun to sprout a moustache when, one evening, while watching the eight o’ clock Doordarshan news over dinner, I learned about your death. Had you chosen to die today, your death would have been ‘breaking news’ across all channels for several days, but back then, Doordarshan had a policy: political news first, entertainment news last.
The top news on the evening of October 13, 1987, was, as usual, about the operations of Indian Peacekeeping Forces in Sri Lanka. The last headline in the bulletin was about your death. To a teenager living in the Hindi heartland, military action in a faraway island was of no consequence, but your death was. It was simply impossible to accept the fact that you were never going to sing again and that one had to make do with the body of songs you’d left behind.
Today, the moustache has begun to grey, but the search for your songs still continues. Each time I think my collection is complete, I come across one that I’ve never heard, or heard of, before. And so my collection continues to grow. This is possible due to the passage of time, due to the advancement of technology, which has made you more relevant and accessible than ever before. When you died, we had only music cassettes; and we were at the mercy of cassette companies and the shops that sold them. Today we can store over a thousand songs in a device smaller than our finger, and search for the rarest of your songs in a matter of seconds.
My favourite pastime is to search YouTube for your songs, interviews and live performances. I watch them, listen to them spellbound — the energy you showed on stage even when you were in your late fifties, in spite of the two heart attacks!
When I have friends over at home, I play them your songs, especially the rare ones. I play them with pride as if I had composed them. Then there are debates that continue all night: who is better, you or Rafi saab? Of course, you always considered Rafi saab a greater singer — remember the letter to the editor you wrote in The Illustrated Weekly of India, when the cover story on you triggered a public debate on the subject. But you can’t expect such generosity from us fans, rather fanatics. Rafi was great, but you are the greatest.
To convince, or convert, Rafi fans, I play them songs that feature both you and Rafi saab. Such as the title song of Yaadon Ki Baraat. Or songs from Aap Ke Deewane. You dominate these songs — just by the sheer quality of your voice and the way you threw it out of your throat into the microphone. Then I also play your songs that are sung by amateur singers — you will find plenty of them on YouTube — and that is when one realises your greatness. Any good amateur singer can easily mimic Rafi or Mukesh, but only one person can sing your songs with the same ease and élan — Kishore Kumar himself. Thank you for the music.