It was in the late-1940s. We lived in Bikaner, the capital of the erstwhile princely state of Bikaner, now a district in the northwestern part of Rajasthan. My father was an avid fan of the great K.L. Saigal. Our house was full of his 78 rpm HMV records, played on a manually wound gramophone.
In the chilly, quiet nights of Bikaner, my elder sister and I, a nine-year-old then, would cosy up to our father in his quilt to listen to some bed-time stories or for a review of our day’s activities. His day, as also ours, always ended with him singing his favourite K.L. Saigal’s, ‘So Ja Rajkumari’ in his sonorous voice.
He would often recount to us how he had met the great Saigal in person and how that episode had left him an avid, life-long fan. My father was then in the Finance Department of the State government. It was May or June of 1932. One day a gentleman came to his office and introduced himself as K.L. Saigal, sales representative of Remington Typewriters. He said he had come to get an order for his company for the supply of typewriters.
My father asked him to take a seat and cool himself down with a glass of water while he looked up his case. It was blazing hot outside. There were no air conditioners then. After a glass of water, he settled down and instinctively started humming a gazal, waiting while his case was being looked up. His voice was so arresting that with his very first note the whole room was vibrating with his baritone, mellifluous voice. My father asked him if he was fond of music. He just nodded his head in affirmation.
My father then went to the secretary of the Department, one Mr. Wahi, and informed him that a gentleman called K.L. Saigal from Remington Typewriters had come for some orders for his firm. He also informed him that he seemed to be a good singer of gazals. Coincidentally, Mr. Wahi, too was very fond of gazals and asked my father to arrange for a music programme in the evening at his residence and invite Mr. Saigal to it.
So a music programme was arranged for Mr. Saigal. All the invited guests were so enchanted by the young singer and his repertoire of gazals that Mr. Wahi asked him to come again the next day and then again the next — for four consecutive days. After the fourth day, Mr. Saigal informed my father in a distraught tone that he had been singing now for four consecutive days but the order for the typewriters was nowhere in sight; an order for five typewriters was handed over to him that very day.
Within a year, Saigal had become a celebrity with his first movie with the New Theaters of Calcutta. There was no looking back after this for him till his death. I would recount this story to my daughter and son, while I played his ‘So Ja Rajkumari’ on a 33 rpm LP record for them. I now play the same on an ipod to my 10-year-old granddaughter. She tells me: “No, not this dada, it brings tears to my eyes.”
So does it to my eyes too, as all the memories of the years and the times gone by come crowding to me.
Keywords: K.L. Saigal