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A revolutionary and a singer

A photograph of the INA Relief Committee Kochi, 1946, with Captain Lakshmi Sahgal

A photograph of the INA Relief Committee Kochi, 1946, with Captain Lakshmi Sahgal   | Photo Credit: Scan kochi

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The late Captain Lakshmi Sahgal was a good singer too. Two of her songs on a gramophone record make priceless history

There was so much more to Captain Lakshmi Sahgal than the firebrand revolutionary, dedicated physician, freedom fighter, and commander of the world's first women's military regiment, the Rani of Jhansi regiment. She had a definitive artistic streak, something that perhaps runs in the family. From eminent dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai (sister), daughter Subhashini Ali (who designed the costumes for the film Umrao Jaan directed by her husband Muzaffar Ali), to her grandson Shaad Ali, a popular Bollywood director who made films like Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli.

Lakshmi, very few know, was a very good singer. She sang with her heart, with all her convictions. Two of her songs, on a 78 RPM gramophone record, are today a priceless collector’s item.

The gramophone record (SM 2006) produced by National Gramophone Record Company, Bombay, is an indigenous company under the label Young India. The songs, ‘Delhi chalo…’ and ‘Jaya ho jai…’ were sung, the record label states, by Lt. Col. Laxmi and Party.

A peep into history

Like all old gramophone records this one gives us a peep into history. Though she was popular as Captain Lakshmi her official rank in the Indian National Army (INA) was Lt. Colonel. These songs were those rendered by the INA members and were popular those days.

“We have sung these songs so many times,” says Appu Nair, 98, Lakshmi’s neighbour at Anakara, (Palakkad) her ancestral village and INA colleague. “Which song do you want me to sing,” he asks and then goes on to sing ‘Delhi chalo….’ “I have heard Lakshmi sing this on many of our meetings. She was so inspiring and so was her voice,” Appu Nair remembers.

This record was cut to raise funds for the INA Relief Fund. Lakshmi is believed to have travelled the length and breadth of the country to collect funds for INA and also to mobilise people against the British. These gramophone records sold well enabling the INA to collect a good sum from the initiative.

After her release from the custody of the British in 1946 Lakshmi, as part of her tour of the country to mobilise support for the INA, came to Cochin too. “Lakshmi was given a warm welcome and a formal meeting was arranged under the aegis of the INA Relief Committee. This organisation comprised largely of members of Prajamandalam and the Congress. A function was held at a hall in the Durbar Hall ground. Lakshmi must have been in her early 30s then,” recounts Ravi Kuttikad, mediaperson.

Though there is no evidence of the exact date when Lakshmi and her group recorded the songs, there are veritable hints that point to sometime in the early 40s.

Talking to Lakshmi

Noted musicologist and film historian B. Vijayakumar had once spoken to Lakshmi about these songs and also sent her an audio cassette of these songs. He recounts the conversation he had with Lakshmi. “She remembered the songs and also that the record was made but could not recollect when it happened. She was thrilled to know that the songs were still available. When she got the cassette she called back to say how invaluable that was to her and thanked me for keeping it safe all these years.”

One of the songs ‘Delhi chalo…’ as printed on the label actually begins ‘Dilli chale…’ and is in Hindi-Tamil. It begins in Hindi and veers to Tamil. “The tune of this song seems to have been inspired by the very popular Leela Chitnis song ‘Kaise chhipoge ab tum kaise…’ from the Bombay Talkies film Bandhan (1940). So the song must have come out only after 1940. Lakshmi told me that it was recorded almost immediately after the INA was formed, which was in 1942. So we can fix the date somewhere around this time,” informs Vijayakumar.

Appu Nair explains that this song was a ‘marching song’ that INA soldiers sang when they trained and even when they marched out to battle.

The second song, ‘Jaya ho jai…’ is actually the National Anthem of the Provisional Government of Free India that begins ‘Subh sukh chain…’ It is from the complete version of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana…’ The music was supposed to have been composed by Captain Ram Singh Thakur of the INA, as Qaumi Tarana (National Anthem) in 1943. What we hear in Lakshmi’s voice is different from the present anthem, perhaps closer to the original.

Another unique thing about this gramophone record is that it has been produced by National Gramophone Record Company. This was done deliberately. The then popular HMV was of foreign origin. The Swadeshi Movement had taken wing in the country by then and INA decided to depend on an indigenous company than tag on to a foreign one.

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Printable version | Nov 18, 2018 10:08:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/a-revolutionary-and-a-singer/article3682419.ece

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