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ALI is MAALI at home

Lucky Ali has travelled to every corner of the world, from the pyramids to the slums of Brazil. But home for the singer of softly hummable songs is still his farm on the outskirts of Bangalore, discovers MALA KUMAR.

Lucky Ali: he of the honey eyes and voice. — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

SOME BIRDS keep disturbing us while we speak. Of course, the birds don't know that the person I'm interviewing is a light-eyed singer who melts young hearts with his ballads, or that he is a celebrity son of a celebrity father, or even that his concert at the Palace Grounds drew over 8,000 fans. The birds are just enjoying the luxury of singing on a farm that has coconut, orange, mango, chikoo, lychee, and pomegranate trees. And when they want a change, they can just hop over to the organically grown paddy or ragi fields on the farm. Because, when Lucky Ali is not strumming his guitar or making music, or indulging in his recent passion for flying planes, he is an agriculturist. "A maali in lungi, actually," says Lucky Ali, born Maqsood Mehmood Ali.

"I'm not a trained singer, but I love singing," said the singer-actor-composer at the press conference held prior to the show in aid of Jain Vidyaniketan, the school for the underprivileged in Kanakapura. "My city honours me more than I deserve," he added. Dressed casually in a T-shirt and coat, the man dazzled mediapersons as much with his pearly whites as with his modesty.

His singing career took off with the song "O Sanam" from the album Sunoh, filmed amidst the pyramids of Egypt. Many awards later, he followed up the album with Sifar, Aks, and is working on his new album tentatively called Iksoi, but waiting to be christened something that even "a fan in Bihar can understand". Of course, the hugely popular songs from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai left a whole generation of young people asking for more of the same emotion-laden, softly hummable songs.

But how does Lucky Ali feel when he is seen as a role model for the youth? Interrupting our talk to order some fresh yelneer for his Mumbai guests, Lucky Ali says: "I feel very strange. But yes, I do feel we singers have a big responsibility towards children and youth. I think what I'm trying to say through my songs is that nobody wants to stay stagnant. We all want to grow, not necessarily financially. But when we start growing mentally, spiritually, and concentrate on being true to one's self, when we start doing work that we enjoy, then financial success too follows. This is something that I think my songs communicate to the youth."

Lucky Ali has been around. He studied in Bombay Scottish, Cottons, and Doon, worked on an oil-rig, sold carpets, ridden horses, worked in New Zealand, acted in movies such as Kaante, Sur, and others shot in Cuba, Egypt, and Brazil. "Brazil is wonderful. It's so much like India, except that it is so much cleaner. Even the slums there are cleaner. We need to be better managers of life, more civic-minded, and then we too can have as clean a country," he says. "But only Bangalore is home. This place is still a jewel — I feel good coming back here," said Lucky Ali at the press conference, the "good" resounding oh so well in his throat!

Lucky Ali's is not a "perfect" voice. And, perhaps, there lies its popularity. Which is why A.R. Rahman made him sing for the Tamil movie Boys. "I feel blessed that I've been given a voice that people like. And I feel happy when the voice is able to raise funds for the underprivileged," says the man who believes nothing, not even bad remixes, can make Indian music deteriorate. "All the best to them! But, meanwhile, I think everyone who likes to sing should continue to do so."

At the concert in aid of Jain Vidyaniketan, Chenraj Jain, the Chairman of the Jain Group of Institutions, lavished praise on the singer for contributing to a cause. "I feel very small, really," says Lucky later. "There is so much to be done. When we started looking for a school for my children, we found that school education had become so unfair, so sadly commercialised. How can anything of value be conveyed to children when so many of them are in one class under one teacher? So, I co-founded Oasis International School with my friend Ayesha Masood. It started with three students and now has 250. The not-for-profit school puts back the money into a trust for the education deprived children," says Lucky, now working on opening eight more pilot schools.

"My wife Maymunah and I would have liked our children Taawwuz and Tasmiyah to attend this school; right now they go to a school closer to our farm," says this son of veteran actor Mehmood. Mehmood and three of Lucky's siblings live in the US, while one brother stays on the farm. "We keep in touch regularly. That's what makes a family." The birds on the farm try but they can't drown the voice that says: "We have so much beauty around us in this city and this country, we need to enjoy it more, preserve it better..."

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