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  • Ghulam Haider: Punjab Pioneering Musician

    By Harjap Singh Aujla

    South Asia Post Issue 35 Vol II, March 15, 2007

    Master Ghulam Haider was one of the all time greats amongst the pioneering music directors of India. His life story is extremely fascinating. His meteoric rise can be compared to that of a foot soldier, rising to the rank of a general. I was perplexed to know that every write up about him starts from the age of 25 or even later and ends up at his demise.

    Ghulam HaiderNo one has cared to research about his roots, his illustrious parentage and his initial grooming that blossomed into a genius. Even there are two stories about his date and place of birth. I think we the Punjabis need to do thorough research on his impressionist childhood that laid the foundation of a trend setting maestro.

    There are two conflicting accounts about Ghulam Haider’s date and place of birth. The so far recorded history shows his birth in Sind. Another document says that he was born in Hyderabad Sind. But there is also a story, narrated to me by none other than Bhai Partap Singh of Amritsar. Bhai Partap Singh’s elders knew Ghulam Haider’s family intimately. He told me that Ghulam Haider was born in the walled city of Amritsar near the Golden Temple and all his upbringing took place in Amritsar. I think, in the interest of fair play, more research is needed to clear this confusion about a great genius. I was also told by S. Mohinder Music Director that Ghulam Haider’s father was a Muslim by faith but was held in high esteem by the Sikh community, because he used to perform Sikh religious classical and semi-classical music in Sikh places of worship and the homes of Guru Nanak’s followers. In Sikh circles Ghulam Haider’s father was called Bhai Mehar. He hailed from a respected Gharana of Rababi musicians dating back to the times of Guru Nanak’s fifteenth century disciple, a musician, Bhai Mardana.

    According to Bhai Partap Singh, Bhai Mehar was bestowed with a melodious voice. He had a good knowledge of most of the thirty one Ragas mentioned in holy Guru Granth Sahib as well as most of the “Taals” used by Sikh classical musicians. Bhai Mehar and his ancestors had a mastery over ancient string musical instruments like “Saranda”, “Taus” and “Rabab” in addition to the popular contemporary instrument “Harmonium” he could play “Tabla”, “Dholak”, “Ghara”, and “Pakhawaj” quite proficiently. All this knowledge was passed on by Bhai Mehar to his son Ghulam Haider. Bhai Mehar’s desire was to see his son as an important part of his own group of musicians called “”Jatha”. But young Ghulam Haider perhaps had other intentions and he succeeded in what ever he did.

    My (writer’s) father was born on December 22, 1905, and he did his B.A. and M.A. from Government College Lahore during mid nineteen twenties. He said that Ghulam Haider was of his age. That means Ghulam Haider could have been born in 1926 or 1927 also. The exact date of birth of such a great person needs to be confirmed through proper research.

    Both Amritsar and neighbouring Lahore had decent dental colleges, but there is hardly any authentic information about Ghulam Haider’s enrolment into a dental college. This also requires more research, because by age twenty, there are conclusive proofs that he was already composing music for live performances in Lahore. He was the first music composer in Punjab, who’s innovations introduced Western instruments in North Indian music.

    Ghulam Haider might have visited Calcutta, because that great Eastern Indian Metropolis, during the nineteen thirties and forties, used to be the fountainhead of musical talent in the Indian Sub-continent. Being an expensive city, it was difficult to make both ends meet in Calcutta without engaging in some kind of profession. Another music director Shiv Dayal Batish agreed that Ghulam Haider might have served for brief periods in “Alfred Theatre Company Calcutta” and “Alexandra Theatrical Company Calcutta”. But must have returned to base soon afterwards.

    I think the inspiration for becoming the music director in a theatre in Lahore came from his experience of such musical theatre companies that were mushrooming in Calcutta. All the big and small music composers need to go back to the basics in order to refresh their knowledge of the finer points of classical music. Since for quite sometime he was out of the shadow of his father, he perhaps thought it appropriate to straighten the kinks under the expert guidance of Pandit Babu Ganesh Lal in Lahore. Dalip Chandra Vedi was another great teacher in Lahore.

    During his pre-talkie years in Lahore, he came in contact with some of the theatre companies of the city. There were two types of theatre companies in that city. The first category included the Norah Richards inspired drama companies. Parsis owned some of such theatres. The second, less serious and more entertaining category, consisted of musical theatres, which featured dance and song events and just “Geet” and “Ghazal” mehfils. Ghulam Haider got in touch with the song and dance theatres, The concept of dance and music theatres came from the nineteenth century London, which was the role model for early twentieth century Calcutta, Bombay and Lahore. The music and dance theatres of Lahore were the work stations where Ghulam Haider thought his talents could be best utilized. He took upon himself the responsibility of composing the tunes from his vast treasure of inherited “Ragas” and “Taals”. The people of Lahore fell in love with his newly coined tunes, ever changing “Taals” and his wizardry with harmonium.

    The years from 1930 to 1934 were the years of evolution of what we know about Ghulam Haider. Some of the female singers, who used to sing in the theatres and Mehfils of Lahore, included Amir Bano, Nawab Bai, Zohra Bai of Kapurthala and Mukhtar Begum. Zohra used to commute from Kapurthala to Lahore to perform. Umra-o-Zia Begum was the youngest to enter this field in 1933. As the films crossed over from silent to talkies, a new breed of talent was needed. Script writing, elocution and speech making skills were in demand. My late father saw Ghulam Haider in person in Lahore. My father used to tell me that Ghulam Haider as a music composer introduced the concept of “Prelude” and “Interlude” in instrumentation even during the pre-talkie era. This capability made his style unique. After hearing his compositions, his preludes and interludes, you can not make a mistake in identifying his special style. There were two other Punjabi music directors, who preceded him. They were Ustad Jhande Khan and Rafique Ghaznavi B.A., but they both flourished in Bombay, while Ghulam Haider held the fort in Lahore for a long time before making it big in Bombay in 1944.

    My father told me that Ghulam Haider was a highly romantic person in nature. He found one captivating beauty in actress singer Umra-o-Zia Begum (some people spell her as Umrazia Begum). Ghulam Haider instantly got romantically involved  with this talented character. After a brief period of courtship, mostly during tune making opportunities, rehearsals and recording sessions, they decided to tie the knot and from the day of “Nikkah” they never looked back until death put them apart in 1953. Their romantic association gave several soulful “Ghazals” and “Geets” to the World of music. Some of them have survived to date.

    Ghulam Haider was a great discoverer of latent musical abilities. Umra-o-Zia Begum was his first such find. But after marriage she bade farewell to acting and soon thereafter she stopped singing also and settled down into performing the daily chores of an Indian household lady.

    Ghulam Haider’s innings as a film music director started in 1934 and ended in 1953. Sometimes it appears that the nature is acting very cruelly. Ghulam Haider died when he was needed most as an elder statesman of music and a guide to the budding music directors in the newly born nation of Pakistan.

    PRIOR to his first film job, Ghulam Haider was a freelance music director for live music concerts for a few years. Janki Nath Kumar and brothers were a music oriented business family in Lahore. They opened the first electrical music recording studio in the city and a records selling store in historic Anarkali Bazaar. In the company of my father, I have seen this store, when it was renamed His Master’s Voice Shop by its new Muslim owners after migration of the founding family to India. Janki Nath Kumar and brothers were recording music on three minute a side 78 RPM discs under the brand name “Jenophone”.

    Ghulam HaiderThey employed Ghulam Haider as their music director. This company produced a lot of Punjabi and Urdu music, both film and non film. The records of film “Swarag Ki Seerhi” (1935) and “Majnu” (1935) under the music direction of Ghulam Haider were produced and sold as “Jenophone Records”. Umra-o-Zia Begum was the female singer of Swarag Ki Seerhi”. This film did not do too well at the box office and Ghulam Haider’s effort went by and large unnoticed. This was the time when Calcutta’s “New Theatres” was churning out hit movies and Rai Chandra Boral was the most famous music director. Legendry singer K. L. Saigal was the most celebrated male singer. Others included Pankaj Mullick and K.C. Dey. Pankaj Mullick was a big tag music director too, who composed tunes for K.L. Saigal too.

    Lahore was not a big film production center and the next three years went without any film music contract for Ghulam Haider. But he did cut some hotly selling private discs in both Punjabi and Urdu. Although the first ever Punjabi film was made in 1934, but somehow even its print is not available.

    All India Radio started its fifth radio station in Lahore in 1936. The studios were built in 1937, when broadcasts of live music started. Shamshad Begum started as a casual singer at the new radio station in 1939, but most of her tunes were composed by Master Inayat Hussain and Budh Singh Taan. Ghulam Haider heard Shamshad Begum’s voice over the radio and liked it for Punjabi music.

    Ghulam Haider’s first big break came in 1939. The famous Pancholi family headed by Roshan Lal Shori made a Punjabi film. This family at that time owned a film studio also in Lahore. The film was “Gul – e - Bakavli”. It was a low budget film and could be released only in Punjab. But this film recovered all its costs from Lahore and Amritsar only. It was in this film that famous actress singer Noorjehan was discovered by Master Ghulam Haider as Baby Noorjehan. It had a couple of very popular songs. One of them was “Shava Jawanian Maaane, Akha Na Morhin Peele, Shala Jawannian Maane” sung in the voice of Noorjehan. The other song was “Pinjre de vich quaid Jawaji”. Connoisseurs of good musical voices all over India took notice of these songs and the singer’s voice. Around that very time Ghulam Haider decided to give chance to Shamshad Begum for playback singing. Some people attribute the discovery of versatile Punjabi singer Zeenat Begum to Ghulam Haider, but music director S. Mohinder firmly believes that Zeenat Begum was discovered by Pandit Amar Nath, the elder brother of the famous duo of music directors Pandit Husna Lal Bhagat Ram. Zeenat’s earliest records bear testimony to S. Mohinder’s contension.

    During the thirties and forties, the big name music directors kept their exclusive orchestras on their payrolls. Ghulam Haider won’t share his orchestra with Pandit Amarnath and Pandit Amarnath will not share his orchestra with Pandit Gobind Ram. As a result identification of music directors became possible from the sound of the orchestra. In addition to the ancient Indian string instruments, Ghulam Haider introduced Piano, clarionet and Violin into his orchestra.

    From 1039 to 1944, Ghulam Haider composed music for five Punjabi films including Gul – e – Bakawali (1939), Yamla Jatt (1940), Sassi Punnoon (1940), Chaudhry (1941), Sehti Murad (1042) and Gul Baloch with partial music (1943). All these Punjabi films made good money. Yamla Jatt was the most successful film. Its hero was Kapurthala born famous villain of Bollywood Pran (full name Pran Nath Sikand). Noorjehan was one of the lady actresses. Its two songs a solo “Kankan diyan faslan pakkiyan ne” and a duet “Aa dukhre phol laiye” based on famous folk Punjabi tune “Mahiya” were very popular. Film “Chaudhry” was also a great musical. Its songs “Bus bus veh dholna, ki tere naal bolna”, “Chhum chhum ohdi kaisi sohni chaal”, “Ik duniya navin vasa laiye” and “Sajna tere bina jee nahiyon lagda” were all musical masterpieces. By this time Ghulam Haider had established himself as the master of prelude and interlude in music. If you listen carefully to the prelude of film “Yamla Jatt” song “Aa Dukhre Fol Laye”, the orchestration appears very vibrant with the domination of piano. Without a good mastery over classical music, it is not possible to keep all the instruments of the orchestra in perfect “Sur”. Ghulam Haider’s orchestra was perfectly in “Sur”.

    During the first half of the twentieth century, Bhai Santa Singh of Amritsar was the leading musician at the Golden Temple. He and Ghulam Haider were buddies from childhood. Bhai Santa Singh was famous for singing at very high notes and in very slow beat a unique combination , he used to sing Sikh religious music at All India Radio Lahore. Ghulam Haider persuaded Bhai Santa Singh to get some of his favourite Sikh Musicals numbers recorded for posterity. Bhai Santa Singh was initially opposed to this, but eventually he agreed to record. The tunes were Bhai Santa Singh’s own, or traditional handed down from generation to generation. Ghulam Haider did not make any alteration, but only provided orchestration, which included preludes and interludes. The recordings came out so good that, even after more than six decades of recordings, the eight numbers featured on four 78 rpm records are to date considered the top musicians choice in Sikh circles. The Sikhs will always be indebted to Bhai Santa Singh and Ghulam Haider for giving them this invaluable gift of divine music in finest form.

    Late Master Madan was a musician par excellence and the pride of Punjab. He died an untimely death at the tender age of twelve. But before his death, he gave the gift of eight recordings, which included two evergreen “Ghazals”, two “Thumris”, two “Sikh Religious Numbers” and two “Punjabi Songs”. If you listen to his Punjabi folk numbers, you will notice that the accompanying orchestra bears the distinct stamp of Ghulam Haider’s music. The same can be said about the religious numbers too. All this happened while Ghulam Haider was in Lahore.

    While in Lahore, Ghulam Haider composed the music for a few more Hindi/Urdu films. These included “Khazanchi” (1941), “Zameendar” (1942), “Khandaan” (1942”) and “Poonji” (1943). That was the era of the domination of the Indian film scene by the music directors from Bengal. The Bengali big wigs included Rai Chandra Boral, Timir Baran and Anil Biswas. The Bengali music was considered highly melodious. The “Taal” identifying drum instruments like “Tabla” and “Dholak” were not accorded prominence, such instruments used to be kept in the background. India was exposed to this kind of music only. But when Ghulam Haider’s “Khandaan” was released all over india, it featured drums far more prominently and the people all over the nation fell in love with the “Taal” or the beat. Ghulam Haider’s instrumentation was also, in accordance with the Punjabi character, very vibrant and vigorous. His next two films in a row ”Zameendar” and “Poonji” went on to prove that prominence of “Taal” is the latest craze amongst the music buffs of not only the Punjab but also of the rest of India.

    Most of the contemporary crops of music directors in India and Pakistan for their music compositions normally prefer mostly two common “Taals” i.e. “Dadra” and “Kehrwa” or at the most “Teentaal”, but Ghulam Haider introduced a number of uncommon “Talls” also. This would not have been possible without a thorough knowledge of the classical music of India and the exotic “Talls” used by the tradition bound Sikh religious musicians. The revolutionary step of giving prominence to a variety of uncommon “Taals” gave Ghulam Haider’s name a household recognition in India.

    K. L Saigal, during those days, was the leading most male film singer in India. He hailed from Jullundur in Punjab, but it is a pity that Ghulam Haider could not have the opportunity to compose tunes for him. A second generation music director from Punjab Khurshid Anwar, was however luckier, he composed the music for a Saigal –Suraiya starrer “Parvana”, which became a very popular hit.

    Rather than insistence on heavy classical compositions attempted by most of the other music directors, Ghulam Haider’s lighter style of applied classical music was better received by the cinema going public. This got him fame and a spate of invitations from Bombay, which by mid forties had replaced Calcutta as the leading film city of India.

    Another brilliant Punjabi music director Shyam Sunder, with his unique style of compositions, arrived in Bombay in 1943. One of his earliest movies “Gaon Ki Gori” featuring Noorjehan’s voice became a musical hit. In 1944, Ghulam Haider also moved to Bombay lock stock and barrel, leaving behind all the glorious memories of his youth in Lahore and childhood in Amritsar.

    Before settling down to the rough and tumble of film music in Bombay, he invited a fellow Lahori actress - singer Suraiya, who was racing fast towards the top, to record a couple of “Naats” in Punjabi. I (the writer) am in proud possession of this music. These perhaps are the only Punjabi numbers ever sung by Suraiya.

    Ghulam Haider did music for two films in 1944. These were “Chal Chal Re Naujawan”, a big ticket film and “Phool”. “Bhai” was the next venture. Then came Mehboob Khan’s famous film “Humayun” in 1945. “Shama” (1946) was a great musical. Just like the USA, where all diverse nationalities get into the grand melting pot and become Americans, Bombay creates a unique amalgam of film and music makers that make it Bollywood. If Ghulam Haider gave a new style to Bombay, he in turn gained a lot from the grand melting pot experience of the city. As music director S. Mohinder puts it, “Every music director hailing from any part of India and arriving in Bombay, gains immensely from the music directors representing other cultures and participates in the creation of a new amalgam called the composite music of India”. Ghulam Haider’s style also underwent a see change, it happened especially after most of the members of his orchestra went back to Lahore after an explosion in Bombay.

    In 1947, Ghulam Haider did the music for “Mehndi” and composed some music for film “Majboor”. Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947. Surinder Kaur and her elder sister Parkash Kaur had to leave Lahore virtually penniless. Parkash Kaur quickly moved from Amritsar to New Delhi, but Surinder Kaur stayed put in Ferozepore. Ghulam Haider had heard both sisters, while they were still in Lahore. From Bombay he sent a message to Surinder Kaur to come to the film city. By early 1948, Surinder Kaur arrived in Bombay.

    Ghulam Haider had the intention to make Surinder Kaur a playback singer for film “Shaheed”. Surinder Kaur did sing a few very popular songs for “Shaheed”, but before that Husna Lal Bhagat Ram got her voice recorded for a Suraiya starrer film “Pyaar Ki Jeet”. Surinder Kaur’s first song became a hit. Soon music director Showqat Dehlavi used Surinder Kaur’s voice for a solo and a duet with Mukesh. Surinder Kaur sang five songs for Khurshid Anwar too in Madhubala starrer film “Shingaar”. But the credit for unearthing the singing stars and making playback singers out of Noorjehan, Shamshad Begum, Mohammad Rafi, Surinder Kaur and Lata Mangeshkar goes legitimately to Ghulam Haider only.

    India’s independence in 1947 came with the painful partition of the country. The most disturbing communal rioting was witnessed by Ghulam Haider’s own province Punjab. Other worst hit areas included North West Frontier Province, Balochistan, the Presidency of Bengal and Delhi. Surprisingly the Presidency of Bombay, where Ghulam Haider lived experienced complete communal harmony. Some of the Hindu and Sikh instrument players, who left Bombay for Lahore in 1945, rejoined Ghulam Haider’s Orchestra in late 1947 and early 1948. Once again it was a happy family and Ghulam Haider got his soul back.  

    A very ominous incident happened on a local electric train in Bombay in 1947. Just like most Bombayites, Ghulam Haider was also traveling from one recording studio to another in a local train. The trains were not crowded during those days. Ghulam Haider noticed an anaemic looking small framed girl in her teens singing something. Her voice appeared very shrill and sweet. Ghulam Haider asked her to come close to his seat. He asked “Would you sing if I make a tune right now”. He used a plate and a stick to create the “”Taal” and improvised a tune. Ghulam Haider sang the song and the girl followed him. Ghulam Haider was impressed. He asked her to come on a certain date to a studio for audition in front of a mike and orchestra. The girl agreed and reached the studio well before the appointed time. Ghulam Haider conducted the audition. Her voice was feeble, but closer to the mike it sounded very impressive. She passed the audition. The girl was none other than today’s superstar Lata Mangeshkar, Ghulam Haider’s latest find.

    Ghulam Haider at that time was composing the music for film “Majboor”. The song “Dil Mera Torha, Ho Mujhe Kisika Na Chhorha, Tere Pyar Ne, Haye Tere Pyaar Ne” became Lata Mangeshkar’s first ever solo. It was recorded in 1947, but the film was released in 1948. After that Ghulam Haider recorded Lata Mangeshkar’s voice in film “Aabshaar” also in 1948. Her “Aabshaar” numbers became very popular and Lata became an established singer. About that very time Noorjehan left for Lahore and later on became “Malika-e-Tarannum of Pakistan”. Lata, however, kept copying the style of Noorjehan for a long time.

    Ghulam Haider was so much excited about his new find Lata Mangeshkar that he boasted about it to the other contemporary biggies like Anil Biswas and Khem Chand Prakash. But it was Shyam Sunder, another Punjabi music director, who recorded Lata’s earliest super hits in film “Bazaar” (1948). Shyam Sunder used Raga Pahari to compose Lata’s first ever super hit song “Sawan Ki Galiyan Chhod Chale, Dil Roya Ansoo Beh Na Sake”. Lata herself admits that her one song “Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi, Maghar Hum Tum Juda Honge” recorded for film “Lahore” in 1949, in the music direction of Shyam Sunder is one of her life’s finest songs. Lata takes pride in giving full credit to Ghulam Haider for making her a film playback singer. She says Ghulam Haider taught her as to which word deserved more stress and which one needed a soft touch for optimum impact. Lata regrets that she could not sing for another great Punjabi music director Khushid Anwar, who left for Lahore soon after composing music of “Shingaar”.

    One day in a recording studio Lata was rehearsing a Ghulam Haider tune. Being raw she was making one crucial mistake again and again. The perfectionist in Ghulam Haider got so much infuriated that he planted a slap on her face. Every member of the orchestra was stunned. One of Ghulam Haider’s most trusted harmonium players was Kartar Singh. Ghulam Haider used to make the tunes using a piano and Kartar Singh used to replicate those tunes on harmonium. Kartar Singh remarked ”Khan Sahib, why did you slap this frail little girl?, look at her face, she can’t even cry, she is totally dumb folded”. Ghulam Haider retorted back “Look Kartar Singh, I used to slap Noorjehan and see how high a pedestal she has reached, she is on top in her profession. This slap is going to catapult Lata Mangeshkar into a great singer, who will rule the World of music”. Ghulam Haider’s prophecy proved right and today Lata Mangeshkar is World’s most celebrated female playback singer and her name is encrypted in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the most recorded female voice in the World.

    Between 1947 and 1949, Ghulam Haider composed music for films “Majboor”, “Padmini”, “Barsaat Ki Ek Raat”, “Aabshaar”, “Patjhar”, “Shaheed” and “Kaneez”. Film “Kaneez” had songs sung by inimitable Zeenat Begum too and Ghulam Haider gave a chance to O.P. Nayyar to compose its background music.

    Ghulam Haider left Bombay for good and arrived back in Lahore towards the end of 1949. Although staying in Bombay could have been professionally a lot more satisfying, but out of sheer patriotism for the newly created nation of Pakistan, he left a very promising career as a music director in India’s leading film production center. Others who returned to Lahore included music directors Firoze Nizami, Khurshid Anwar and Rashid Atre. But Ghulam Haider had the satisfaction of leaving Bombay’s film land’s music direction in the hands of a brilliant duo of fellow Punjabi music directors Pandit Husna lal Bhagat Ram, who had ten film contracts in 1949 and nine in 1950. Even the field of lyric writing was dominated by Punjabi poets including Rajinder Krishan, Naqsh Lyallpuri, Qamar Jalalabadi, Balraj Madhok and Sahir Ludhianvi to name a few. After the death of the doyen among male film singers K.L. Saigal in 1947, the crown of being the number one male playback singer was inherited by another Punjabi singer Mohammad Rafi. Prior to Rafi’s meteoric rise another Punjabi G.M. Durrani was briefly on top, but he was seriously challenged by Mukesh of Delhi and Talat Mahmood of Lucknow.

    On arrival in Lahore, Ghulam Haider in association with director S. Nazeer Ajmeri founded “Filmsaz”, a music dominated company. While in Lahore, Ghulam Haider composed the music for films “Beqarar”, “Akeli”, “Bheegi Palkein”, “Ghulam” and “Gulnar”. Somehow the music of these films, with the exception of “Gulnar” did not do too well and the market in Pakistan was too small. The Noorjehan number for Film “Gulnar”, with starting lyrics “Lo Chal Diye Voh Hamko Tassalli Diye Baghair, Ik Chand Chhup Gaya Hai Ujala Kiye Baghair” became a hit. This song was played again and again by different stations of Radio Pakistan as an “Obituary on the death of Master Ghulam Haider”.

    Ghulam Haider’s life long inspiration was his beautiful, talented and intelligent wife Umro-O-Zia Begum. It is a pity that Ghulam Haider left this World for his heavenly abode in November 1953, a few months before his youngest child, another great classical, semi-classical and Sufiana singer Abida Praveen came into this World. As long as the music of the Indian Sub-continent is alive in this World, Ghulam Haider’s name will stay alive. Among other things that he did, he will be remembered for discovering a number of playback singing sensations including Umra-O-Zia Begum, Noorjehan, Shamshad Begum, Ali Bakhash Zahoor,  Mohammad Rafi, Surinder Kaur and Lata Mangeshkar.

    In his life time Ghulam Haider composed the music for about two dozen movies, a quarter of them being Punjabi films. Many others have composed music for a lot more movies. But it is not sheer numbers that matter in this World, it is the quality of work that matters the most. In terms of quality of music Ghulam Haider never made any shortcuts or compromises. That is why he went to the extent of slapping Noorjehan and Lata Mangeshkar when they were both debutant singers. For an example master composer Sajjad Hussain created music for only a dozen movies, but all his music became hit and top notch musicians like Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood and Suraiya acclaimed his tunes as some of the finest ever made in the twentieth century.

    Music directors, like other competing professionals, are generally quite jealous of each other. But contrary to that, on hearing about the demise of Master Ghulam Haider, one of his contemporaries and a highly acclaimed music director C. Ramchandra started crying. When asked about the reason C. Ramchandra said “Ghulam Haider used to compose the tunes, I used to steal those and after making minor alterations and after changing the “Taal”, I used to create hit music under my own banner. Now that fountainhead of tunes has gone dry. I have been deprived of my source of ideas. I am the person who has been hit the hardest”. Such honest admissions from a fellow music director can be the finest tribute to the departed genius. This fact was narrated to me by another music director Sardul Singh Kwatra, who admitted that Ghulam Haider and Hans Raj Behl were his (Sardul’s) sources of inspiration too.     


     [ The author Harjap Singh Aujla lives at 16 Junction Pond Lane, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey 08852 USA ]

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    Harjap Singh Aujla

    South Asia Post - June 30, 2007

    I am experiencing mixed feelings of immense pleasure and deep sadness in compiling this article. The pleasure is born out of the satisfaction that I am experiencing the nostalgia of a treasure of unparalleled Punjabi music that once flowed from the God given vocal chords of Lata Mangeshkar. The sorrow is due to the Punjabi nature of callous indifference that leads to virtual extinction of this kind of treasure trove. To me writing of this article amounts to salvaging of some of the treasures buried under deep seas after the sinking of Titanic. As I dig deep into what Lata Mangeshkar has sung in Punjabi in her younger years (1948 to 1950), I wonder at these marvels in Punjabi language. She is simply the most brilliant singer that India has produced during the twentieth century. Her voice is most feminine that can be imagined and her effortless modulation and range of notes from the highest to the lowest, do amaze the top notch critics of music.  

    All of us have heard her best in Hindi/Urdu films, but most of us have missed out on what gems she has given us in Punjabi films. She sang in only half a dozen Punjabi films dating way back from 1948 to 1950 and 1953-54. She, in all created about two dozen songs, but she gave us superb melodies that may never be replicated. In her songs, she appears to have mastered the sweet Lahori Punjabi.  

    In my childhood I had heard the best of Lata Mangeshkar in Punjabi films, thanks to All India Radio Jalandhar-Amritsar and Radio Pakistan Lahore. But the irony is that All India Radio has lost, perhaps for ever, its best film music in Punjabi and Radio Pakistan has banned playing of Indian Music, also perhaps for ever. For the historians and connoisseurs of Punjabi music, this tragedy is unforgettable. 

    This story starts with the independence of India and the destruction of Punjab. Overnight hundreds of thousands of people were given marching orders, against their will, to go to new unknown abodes. One such person was music director Vinod, a Christian by faith. He moved from Lahore to Amritsar and then to the film city of Bombay. He had obtained lessons in composing film music from Late Pandit Amar Nath, had studied to the music of Master Inayat Hussain and learnt as to how Ghulam Haider was composing the preludes and interludes for his tunes. Vinod loved Lahore, its narrow lanes and its Central Punjabi culture, he did not want to leave this city, but the reality of communal frenzy frightened him into packing up. He never felt at home in Bombay and his yearning for the bazars and folks of Lahore was never subsiding. His deep sense of sadness found a unique expression in the most memorable Punjabi film music that he composed. 

    Music Director Vinod’s first super-hit Punjabi film venture happened to be a movie called “Chaman” (1948). In “Chaman” Pushpa Hans sang a soulful song “Saari raat tera takni haan raah, haye tarian ton puchh chann wey”. Even Shamshad Begum sang some very nice songs for this film, but the climax was the two songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. It is an important piece of information for the historians of Punjabi film music that one of the earliest songs that Lata Mangeshkar sang was a Punjabi song for film “Chaman”. The lyrics of the song are “Galliyan-ch firdey dhola, nikke nikke baal veh, balan kolon puchhni haan, channa tera haal veh”. This song was composed in a very slow beat in “Raaga Piloo” mixed perhaps with “Jaijaiwanti”. The tune is very sad and Lata’s highly emotional rendering is even sadder. This song, written by Aziz Kashmiri, is a beauty. If we compare the finesse, this song puts Lata’s first ever Hindi song “Dil mera torah, ho mujhe kisi ka na chhorha tere pyaar ne, hay terte pyaar ne” sung for film “Majboor” composed by Master Ghulam Haider to shame. This is a landmark Punjabi song. The secong Lata Mangeshkar song from the same film is “Raahe raahe jandiya, akhiyan milandiya, akhiyan chura ken a jaah, dhola veh, akhiyan chura ken a ja”. This is a variation of a Punjabi folk tune “Dhola”. These songs can easily match the appeal of music director Shyam Sunder’s landmark songs composed for Hindi film “Bazaar” also made in1948. This films lyrics were composed by Aziz Kashmiri, another Lahore based poet, who also migrated to Bombay. Aziz wrote in earthy Punjabi better than most others. If anyone can find these songs with a collector or someone who does not know their real worth, he will be stepping on a rare treasure. No amount is too much for these records. 

    Film “Lachhi” was shot in 1949. Its  music was composed by the Late Master Hans Raj Behl. The lyrics were penned by Mulkh Raj Bhakhti, another import from Lahore. Lachhi was a big hit. Its landmark song is “Naale lammi te naale kaali, haye weh channan, raat judaiyan waali” sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Other songs sung by Lata include “Do milde haaye dilan noon, bedard zamana door kare, haaye vichhran te majboor kare” and “Haarha veh channan, yaad saannoon teri awe”. Lata mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi had sung some very memorable Hindi songs for music director Shyam Sunder in film “Bazaar”, but the film “Lachhi”duet (Lata & Rafi) with lyrics “Kaali Kanghi naal kale waal payi vaahunia, aa mil dhol jaania” is no less than the “Bazaar” masterpieces. Some of the songs of film “Lachhi” are still available in some of the music shops in India. 

    Vinod composed the music for a super-hit Hindi/Urdu film “Ek Thi Ladki”, in which a Lahori Punjabi girl Meena became very popular as the heroine. A Punjabi folk based song “Laara lappa laara lappa laayi rakhda, addi tappa adi tappa layi rakhda” based on a folk tune of song “Jutti meri jandi e pahariye de naal, paula mera janda e musafire de naal”. Lara lappa song was sung by Lata Mangeshkar and became a big hit. Soon afterwards Vinod composed the music for a Punjabi film “Bhaiyaji” in 1950 with five Lata songs. Its best emotional song “Jhil mil tariya jah Akhiyan na maar veh, ajj saada mahi naal tutt gaya pyar veh” was very brilliantly sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Shanker Jaikishan, who started music direction with Raj Kappor - Nargis starrer film “Barsaat” (1949), attempted to give Punjabi style music. Initially they composed a music which was similar to that of Pandit Husnalal Bhagatram, but by the time they composed music for Dilip Kumar – Nimmi starrer film “Daag” (1952), they had a new model before them and it was Vinod’s film “Bhayiaji” song “Jhil mil taariya jah akhiyan na maar veh”. This pattern they used for the Lata superhit song “Kahe ko der lagayi re, aye na ab tak baalma”. Vinod’s other songs for the film “Bhaiyaji” including a Lata – Rafi duet “Chal aa bagan wich nachiye ni, ki badliyan chha gayiyan” also became hit. 

    Sardar Davinder Singh, a highly dedicated Programme Incharge of Punjabi Programmes at All India Radio Delhi, who died a few years back told me a very interesting story. This story of historic significance unfolds as follows: 

    One day in late sixties, Davinder Singh was sitting in his dilapidated office in the Annexe of Broadcasting House New Delhi. The morning Punjabi Programme was over and he was planning the evening programme. All of a sudden a middle aged Maharashtrian looking thinly built woman was ushered into his office. The woman introduced herself as Lata Mangeshkar. She had come from Bombay for a live performance. She asked Davinder Singh if he had a rare Punjabi film song of 1950 bearing lyrics “Rassi utte tangiya dupatta mera dolda, udd pudd jana pataa dassda nayin dhol da”. The song is from a Punjabi film “Madari” with musical score by Ustrad Allah Rakha Qureshi. Davinder Singh had this song at the radio station. Lata wanted to pay any price to have it. But the government rules did not permit Davinder Singh in parting with this record. Lata wanted it desperately, because this song, along with some other rare Punjabi songs in her own voice dating back to 1948-1950 period were very dear to her. Davinder Singh made a copy of this song from a 78 RPM disc and handed it over to Lata Mangewshkar. 

    Another two songs from film “Madari” bearing lyrics “Puchh mera haal kade ake mere haaniyan, tere pichhe rondiyan ne akhiyan nimaniyan” and “Asan takkya maahi nuun pehli waar, oh akh bacha ke gallan wich laake, chhod gaya, haye ni dil torh gaya” were very emotionally sung by Lata. In the meanwhile Vinod was composing typically Punjabi tunes for some of the Hindi/Urdu films also. 

    Ustad Allah Rakha Qureshi (the great tabla master) composed the music for another Punjabi film “Phumman” in 1950. Its music is great, but two of its Lata Mangeshkar songs are simply outstanding. The lyrics of one song are “ Main addiyan chuk chuk vekhan, menoo maahi nazar na aawe”. The other song is “Raatan andheriyan aa gaiyan, dhola, raatan andheriyan aa gaiyan, dhola teriyan uddikan chha gaiyan”. Lata’s first three years in Punjabi films were outstanding. 

    Soon the producers of Punjabi films realized that the market for purely comedy based Punjabi movies is very restricted. On the other hand the Hindi films were much richer in content and lavish in budget. Only in the quality of music the Punjabi Cinema could compete with its counterpart in Hindi. The market for the Punjabi Cinema was mostly confined to the East Punjab Circuit which included Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, hill areas of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and Haryana (which was also a part of the then Punjab). Delhi and UP territory was another market, but not really good, because the refugees from West Punjab were spread thinly all over U.P. and were not a concentrated block. Pakistan was a good territory for exhibition, but due to piracy and cheating its returns were poor. Therefore the number of Punjabi films made in India dwindled to a trickle. 

    Lata reluctantly sang for another good musical Punjabi film “Vanjara” in 1953-54. She did this on the request of a singer/actor Shaminder Singh Chahal, a wealthy landlord of Muktsar, In Ferozepore District of Punjab. Lata sang about five songs including two duets with Shaminder Singh in the music direction of Sardul Singh Kwatra. Sardul himself admitted that after the creation of Pakistan, the market for Punjabi cinema had dwindled very badly. More than 60% of Punjabi speaking population was based in Pakistan. India’s less than 40% share got scattered all over the country. Sardul said even the will to make decent Punjabi films in India was lacking. The producers were contented in making humour centric movies only. Urban culture was totally missing in the Punjabi films. All this and stoppage of the exhibition of Indian films in Pakistan in 1960, caused the virtual demise of Punjabi cinema in India. But, by then, Lata Mangeshkar gave her best to Punjabi films in “Chaman” (1948), “Lachhi” (1949), “Bhaiyaji” (1950), “Madari” (1950) “Phumman” (1950) and “Vanjara” (1954). She gave us two dozen precious gems.  

    It is true that there is nothing in sheer numbers, Lata’s two dozen Punjabi songs are worth more than 10000 ordinary songs currently circulating in Punjab. After the Golden three years of Punjabi film music, perhaps Lata also smelled that all is not well with the Punjabi cinema in India, so she started shying away from Punjabi films. If the lovers of good Punjabi music can unearth some of the rare gems of Lata Mangeshkar, they will be doing a great service to Punjabi music.  

    From the 1980s, some good Punjabi films are being made, but the standard of music set by Vinod, Hans Raj Behl, Allah Rakha Qureshi and later on by Sardul Kwatra and S. Mohinder (Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai 1969) is being sorely missed. Folk singers, untrained in classical music, have become heroes and singers in the films and the standard of music in Punjabi films has taken a steep nose dive. 

    Across the border in the 1950 – 1960 decade, however, the Golden Period of Punjabi Film music took shape in Pakistan. They made great musicals with, a daughter of the soil, Zubeida Khanum as the top play-back singer. But after Zubeida Khanum’s marriage, the standard went down in Pakistan too. Only a miracle can restore the standard of Punjabi film music to its days of past glory. 

    A genuine master of the art of music direction Vinod, who was every inch a Punjabi, became a casualty of the fall of Punjabi cinema in India. He wanted to compose music for Punjabi films, but not more than two films were made in each year and the contracts for composing the music were grabbed by Hans Raj Behl and Sardul Kwatra. Thus Vinod felt squeezed out of his first love, the music making for Punjabi films too. This frustration told on his health and he died at the prime of his youth during the mid-fifties, un-honoured, unwept and unsung.    

    { The author Harjap Singh Aujla lives at 16 Junction Pond Lane, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey 08852 USA. Phone number 732 329 0981 and the e-mail address is       

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  • Legendary Singer Surinder Kaur and the Trauma of Partition of India

    Harjap Singh Aujla

    South Asia Post Issue 45 Vol II, August 15, 2007

    Harjap Singh AujlaWE are celebrating the independence days of Pakistan and India in August, but there are bitter memories in the eyes of those who saw the events unfolding at the time of the first independence-day. Surinder Kaur was one such witness to the horrors of partition of the Indian sub continent. During the nineties of the 20th century, two of Surinder Kaur’s daughters got settled in New Jersey, USA. She used to visit America during the summers each year. Outside her own family members and those of her older sister Parkash Kaur, the only people she would often call on were Iqbal Mahal of Toronto and myself, because we were among her biggest fans in North America. Once I asked her about her childhood and the formative years, she started talking about the partition of Punjab. Here is what she told long before her death in May 2006.

    Surinder Kaur was born in 1929, but I know from my sources that she was older than Lata Mangeshkar and was born in 1927. I am telling this because I want the history to be recorded the way it was. According to Surinder Kaur her older sister Parkash Kaur was nearly a decade older than her. Their father’s name was Bishan Dass. He was a conservative man. He never liked his daughters singing in public. Parkash Kaur had a enchanting voice and   a natural twist in her voice made singing easy even for difficult classical tunes. Lahore was the cradle of Punjabi culture. It was home to a large number of folk songs and folk tunes. Parkash Kaur had mastered a lot of them from older ladies of her locality. Parkash Kaur was a very popular invitee to every wedding or engagement ceremony within their extended family or you can call it the clan.

    Surinder KaurParkash Kaur used to take Surinder Kaur or even Narinder Kaur to accompany her to the weddings. They learned to sing in unison and the people liked it. Soon even the strangers used to invite them and were willing to pay them also, which was a rarity during those days. Parkash Kaur’s family objected to it, but as her demand increased, the family relented. Parkash Kaur became the first radio singer in the family around 1940. Surinder Kaur followed her in 1943. Perhaps on August 31, 1943, Surinder Kaur was auditioned as a casual artist at All India Radio Lahore by Jeevan Lal Mttoo, the in charge of music. Surinder Kaur had no training in classical music.  Mattoo selected her in spite of this drawback. He knew that even Amritsar born Shamshad Begum had no training in classical music, still she became a very accomplished singer. Surinder Kaur had similar potential. Even Parkash Kaur had no training in music and she was singing professionally. So Surinder Kaur was approved and she sang her first two songs on that special day. Mohammad Rafi started as a radio singer in March 1943. Surinder Kaur’s voice was appreciated by one and all and her demand increased. Master Inayat Hussain, a freelance music director invited Parkash Kaur and Surinder Kaur to sing a couple of songs under his music direction. After repeated rehearsals both the sisters sang very professionally.

    These first songs were “Haaye na wass oye naa wass baddlaa aje na wass oye kaaliya” and “Dhol sipahiya we kithe giyon dil laake”. These songs became instant hits.

    By 1944 Ghulam Haider had shifted to Bombay. Pandit Amar Nath remained the reigning music director in Lahore. His favourite singer was Zeenat Begum. Surinder Kaur said that whatever Pandit Amar Nath used to compose for Zeenat, she (Surinder Kaur) tried to copy it and sang it repeatedly. This is how she became a singer. Soon there after Master Inayat Hussain composed another soul stirring tune for Parkash Kaur and Surinder Kaur to sing as a duet. The song was “Maawan te dhiyan ral baithian ni maaye koi kardiyan galloriyan, ni kankan lammiyan dhiyan kyon jammiyan ni maaye”. It was recorded in two parts, which are featured on the two sides of the same disc. This record sold like hot cakes throughout the Punjab. Zeenat and Shamshad Begum had shifted to Bombay. The vaccum left in Lahore was filled by the two sisters, Parkash Kaur and Surinder Kaur.

    Budh Singh Taan was another versatile maestro. He could shift roles between a music director and a radio singer. Bhai Santa Singh and Bhai Samund Singh were the leading Sikh religious musicians and Budh Singh Taan was the third such musician at All India Radio, Lahore. He is credited with the recording of the first ever complete “Asa Di Waar”. Budh Singh Taan did not record it in Lahore’s own “Jeno-phone Studio”, which had its own music director and orchestra, but he went to Bombay to record it in the studios of newly opened “Young India Recording Company” in Wadala, Bombay. Budh Singh Taan composed two tunes of Shabads for Surinder Kaur to sing. One of Guru Nanak’s Shabads was “Vaid Bulaya vaidgy, meri pakarh dhandole baanh”. This record also sold very well in Lahore and Amritsar. Surinder Kaur was by now basking in the glory of her well recognized talent and she enjoyed every bit of it.

    It never occurred to Surinder Kaur that anything untoward could happen. She was making more money than the male members of her family. Sister Parkash Kaur was also doing very well. By 1945, the people in the streets were talking about the creation of Pakistan and Lahore becoming a part of it. Surinder Kaur was very naïve; she never thought anything untoward could happen in her loved city. The property values were rising by leaps and bounds and the main buyers were the wealthy Hindus of Lahore and Amritsar. Surinder Kaur and Parkash Kaur were minting money in music. They had hired a harmonium player and a dholki player to accompany them on the pre-wedding musical programmes.

    Surinder Kaur got the scare of her life, when she heard that in March of 1947, hundreds of innocent Sikhs were burnt alive in a Gurdwara in Rawalpindi district. This stunning news created tension in Lahore too. The property values started tumbling down. A lot of people lost their life’s earnings during this down trend in real estate prices. Some people still believed that Lahore will fall into India’s share. The city had more Hindu and Sikh population and even in the villages most land was owned by them. A large section of the press was pleading for Lahore’s inclusion in India.

    By the beginning of August it was becoming more and more clear that Lahore will fall into Pakistan’s share. Pakistan became independent first and Lahore was included into it on August 14, 1947. Overnight All India Radio Lahore became Radio Pakistan Lahore and the tone of the radio and pro Pakistan  newspapers changed.

    Surinder Kaur’s family was in panic. They had to move quickly out of the city. One “Mohalla” of Lahore inhabited entirety by the Hindus was set ablaze. Some people perished in the inferno, others left in a jiffy. A lot of Sikhs were killed in gun battles and in attacks with sharp weapons. The Lahore Amritsar Highway was the bloodiest. A report was spread that the “Hall Bazaar” in Amritsar, which was the stronghold of wealthy Hindus was also torched.

    The family of Surinder Kaur and Parkash Kaur decided not to go to Amritsar, which was the nearest city, but to go to more peaceful Ferozepore. The family, without much to carry along joined a “Qaafila” to Kasur and Ferozepore. The caravan was moving slowly. On both sides there was stench of death. Some more people joined them on the way, they were telling stories of cruelty and wanton destruction. Not even the old or the very young were spared. The stories emerging out of Gujjranwala, Sheikhupura and Nankana Sahib were the most heartrending. We were dumb-folded. But we were also told that the situation in the Lahore Wagha section was the bloodiest. Somehow we crossed Kasur and approached Ganda Singhwala. On reaching Ganda Singhwala, we heaved a sigh of relief. Ferozepore was only seven miles. There were signs of India approaching. There were hordes of burly Sikhs moving towards Ferozepore. These folks also joined. A few steps from Hussainiwala were the Indian border. The sooner we reached the Indian Territory, smiles returned on our lifeless faces. We were seeing a lot of grim faces of the Muslims heading to Pakistan. What a madness it was? Our departing Muslim brothers needed sympathy, which we surely wanted to express, but could not. The times were such. At one time we were given a lot of love by our Muslim brethren in Lahore, but no one could guess how all of a sudden such a change in mindset could happen.

    On reaching Ferozepore, we discovered that life was a lot better in Lahore. We were much less in demand in Ferozepore, at times we had to sleep without food. As September approached, we discovered that in Pakistan, the violence had subsided, but in Amritsar, the frenzy was on the increase. In the beginning of August East Punjab was peaceful, but after 15th of August, when train loads of dead had arrived at Amritsar’s Main Railway Station, the people in the villages got out of control. Even the government could not calm them. Ferozepore was comparatively a lot more peaceful. Surinder Kaur stayed for a few months in Ferozepore, and then suddenly a message came from Bombay that Master Ghulam Haider wanted to feature Surinder Kaur’s voice in film “Shaheed”. D.N. Madhok offered her living accommodation.

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  • Talat Mahamood’s Love for Punjabi

    Harjap Singh Aujla

    South Asia Post Issue 44 Vol II, July 31, 2007

    Harjap Singh AujlaTalat Mahmood was a symbol of finesse in manners, language and singing. During good old days, in the Indo-Gangetic plains of Northern India there were three great centers of distinctly different cultures. Calcutta was the home of Bengali culture  Lahore was the center of Punjabi culture  and Lucknow used to be the heart and soul of Urdu culture. Hailing from an old “Nawabi” (princely) family, Talat Mahmood was brought up in the cradle of sophisticated Urdu culture. He was born on February 24, 1924. Since his childhood he was fond of good music and fine poetry.

    Talat  MahamoodLucknow used to host night long sessions of concerts by great classical masters. Talat Mahmood used to stay awake all night to listen to India’s best. And he used to sing a lot while being alone at home. His father discovered his talents and got him enrolled in music in Lucknow’s famous Maurice College. At age sixteen he became a casual artist at All India Radio Lucknow, where he used to sing Urdu Ghazals. This stint at All India Radio got him a lot of fan following. The people would like him to sing in private “Mehfils”.

    At age seventeen in 1941, on the advice of some sincere friends, he moved to Calcutta, which was the then largest center of films and all kinds of fine arts in India. Talat Mahmood got instant acceptance by the listeners. He started as an “Urdu Ghazal” singer, but sang some equally appealing “Hindi Geets” too. He also sang some religious songs called “Naats”, which became quite popular.

    Talat knew that while in Rome do as the Romans do. He learnt Bengali and sang some Bengali songs  too. The Bengalis instantly liked his soft style of singing, which is a hall mark of Bengali melodies too. Talat recorded some two hundred 78rpm gramophone discs in Calcutta. In 1944, Talat Mahmood attained instant fame when he sang a landmark “Ghazal” with words “Tasveer teri dil mera behla na sakegi”. This became a hit all over India and Talat became a household name. Talat Mahmood wanted to be a singing actor like Frank Sinatra. He acted in three Calcutta made films “Rajlakshmi”, “Tum aur Main” and “Samapti”.
    Some friends again advised him that Bombay was fast developing into the prime center of Urdu/Hindi film industry in India, relegating Calcutta to the second spot. Famous Bengali music directors like Anil Biswas, Sachin Dev Burman and Ram Ganguli were already camped in Bombay. The writing on the wall prompted Talat Mahmood also to change his base. By late 1948 or early 1949, Talat Mahmood had moved to Bombay. The reigning doyen of music directors Anil Biswas gave him his first chance to sing a song with words “Shukriya aye pyaar tera shukriya” for a soon to be famous film “Aaram”. Talat Mahmood had a peculiar vibration in his rendition, which was accepted by the Calcuttans, but he was not sure about the taste of the Bombayites . He first tried to suppress this natural vibration, but Anil Biswas told him to keep it as it uniquely suited his style. Film “Aaram” and Talat Mahmood’s voice in it, drew the attention of all the poets associated with the film-line towards this new singing star. They discovered the perfection with which Talat Mahmood could pronounce each word of Urdu lyrics. None of his contemporary film playback singers could pronounce Urdu words with poise, perfection and ease that flowed from the throat of Talat Mahmood.
    Both music directors S. Mohinder and Sardul Kwatra admit that Talat Mahmood became the choice of all the Urdu lyricists based in Bombay’s Film World. From the point of view of technique of singing and mastery over classical music, both Manna Dey and Mohammad Rafi were ahead of Talat Mahmood, but in softness of voice and sophistication in pronunciation Talat Mahmood was ahead of them. Mohammad Rafi being more versatile in the art of actual singing was on the contrary the choice of most of the music directors. This led to Talat Mahmood singing the best written “Ghazals” and Mohammad Rafi singing more Hindi Geets and “Urdu Naghmas”. Other playback singers like Mukesh, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar and Kishore were pushed further down the ladder, though Kishore Kumar became more popular during the anti-indigenous rock, disco and pop phase in Indian film music. During the fifties Mohammad Rafi was the most prolific film singer, but Tatat Mahmood sang more of the sophisticated and sad poetry.

    In Bombay Talat Mahmood experienced very different phenomena. In Calcutta every one communicated in Bengali, but in Bombay, the language at the sets of the movies was a mixture of Urdu and Hindi (according to Pandit Nehru it was Hindustani), while off the sets Punjabi was spoken by most of the film folks. Actors like Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Rajinder Kumar, Sunil Dutt and character actors like Manmohan Krishan, Jagdish Sethi, Romesh Thakur, I.S. Johar, Pran Nath, K.N. Singh, Om Prakash, Sunder and actresses like Suraiya, Shyama, Geeta Bali, Kuldip Kaur, Beena Rai etc all spoke Punjabi while being away from the sets. Marathi was the language of the area, but in the film-line Punjabi and Urdu were the languages of communication.

    Talat Mahmood’s best friends like actresses Suraiya and Shyama mostly spoke Punjabi during informal chit chat. Music Director Vinod was an astute chooser of voices for his soulful tunes. He had the distinction of introducing Talat Mahmood to singing of Punjabi music and his debut song in Punjabi, recorded for a Punjabi film “Mutiar” had its tune very carefully composed by Vinod. This film was made in 1951. Surinder Kaur was still in Bombay, but was packing up to shift to New Delhi, where she earned  a lot of name and fame. Vinod got a duet recorded in the voices of Talat Mahmood and Surinder Kaur. The wording is “Ho chann ve, badli de pichhon chori jhatiyan na paa”. Vinod composed a very emotional tune for Talat Mahmood to sing a solo song for the same film “Mutiar”. Its first version was recorded in Urdu; the wording is “Ai gham mujhe jaane de, jis raah pe jaata hoon”. Talat sang it by immersing himself in romance and pathos. Later on its Punjabi version was also to be recorded. The possible wording was “Ai gham mainoo jawan de, jis raah te janda haan”. I do not know whether the Punjabi version saw the light of the day or not, but after listening to the Urdu version you can judge the beauty of the tune and its superb rendition. Talat Mahmood wanted not only to sing songs in Punjabi, but also wanted to learn the art of speaking chaste Punjabi.

    About this he confided later on with music director Sardul Kwatra. Sardul taught him the basics of Punjabi language during the recording sessions of music for the Punjabi film “Kaude Shah”. However, for mastering the art of speaking the language, Sardul told Talat Mahmood to dwell for sometime either in Lahore or in Amritsar from where most of the actors, actresses, writers, music directors and poets have migrated to Bombay. This was very hard for Talat Mahmood to do, because all along during the fifties he was in great demand in Bombay.

    Sardul Kwatra had heard the Talat Mahmood – Surinder Kaur Punjabi duet. He loved Talat’s tonal quality. While composing the music for Punjabi film “Kaude Shah”, Sardul composed most of the songs to be sung by Shamshad Begum, but one duet he composed for Talat Mahmood and Raj Kumari. The lyrics are “Zulfan ne khul gaiyan, akhiyan ne rul gaiyan, ki khatiya e dil laake”. The duet although was very sad, but it did very well in terms of sale of records. The best selling song of film “Kaude Shah” was a Shamshad Begum number bearing lyrics “Chhann chhann kardi gali de wichon langhdi ve mere sajna di dachi badami rang di”. But the Talat Rajkumari duet closely followed it in sale of discs. Talat was featured in a couple of other songs in film “Kaude Shah” including a chorus.
    Film “Kaude Shah” introduced the spice of Punjabi to Talat Mahmood. While on a trip ro Punjab, Talat Mahmood exhibited his love for Punjabi during the late sixties. On a fine wintry evening Begum Akhtar accompanied by Talat Mahmood visited Chandigarh in connection with a “Mirza Ghalib Nite”. While receiving the audience’s requests for the “Ghazals” to be sung, Talat was seen mumbling some words in Punjabi too. I was wonder struck to observe Talat Mahmood’s eagerness to learn and speak Punjabi. On the other hand we, the home grown Punjabis are abandoning this sweet language and trying to speak Hindi or English. Is this sheer inferiority complex or something else on our part?

    Talat Mahmood is no longer with us. But his sweet memory shall linger for ever. Who so ever loves Urdu poetry and its soulful, sensuous rendition shall fondly remember him. He was loved by the lovers of melody and sublime lyrics. Talat had more female fan following compared to any of his contemporary playback singers. Thanks to the advancements in recording, reproduction and listening technologies, his music shall live for ever and  make him immortal.

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  • A child prodigy: Master Madan



    ‘Yun naa reh reh kar hamein tarsaaiye’  and ‘Hairat se tak rahaa hei jahane wafa mujhe’  these two ghazals of  Master Madan  recorded at the tender age of eight years, on a 78 rpm gramophone record  is a priceless collection of yesteryears’ immortal music.

    Anyone with even a passing interest in music is familiar with these two Sagar Nizami’s ghazals, sung by the extraordinary child prodigy- Master Madan, who died at an age of just less than fifteen.

    These two ghazals have certainly retained the magic even after a gap of more than sixty five years, which is evident from a collection of ten CDs released by HMV by the title- ‘Ghazal Ka Safar’. This collection includes these two ghazals of Master Madan, along with recordings of majority of eminent ghazal singers of the previous century. The collection was edited by Jagjit Singh, the famous singer.   

    Till the end of previous century, just these two songs of Master Madan were available. However, after strenuous efforts by some ardent music collectors, we could trace  six more of his fabulous renderings. Thus, making available collection of his  perfectly modulated songs to  eight.

    A few lines about the life of the celebrity. Master Madan was born on 26 December, 1927, in an orthodox Sikh family in a village of Punjab called- ‘Khankhana’, built and named by Abdul Rahim Khankhana in Jallandhar District.  Abdul Rahim Khankhana was one of the nauratans (courtiers) of Emperor Akbar. Besides a warrior, an eminent Hindi & Arabic poet-philosopher, he was popularly known as ‘Rahim’.

    Master Madan’s father Sardar Amar Singh was in the service with Education Department and his mother Puran Devi  was a religious lady. She too died young  in the year 1942

    The child prodigy started singing at the tender age of three and quickly became a craze all over India. His astonishingly mature voice left a deep impression on the listeners in general and devout Sikhs in particular. Listen to his captivating rendition- ‘Chetna hei to chet ley’ a hymn (sahabad) of Guru Teg Bahadur Saheb-  which is a classic example of his excellent understanding of thought and feel of whatever he sang.  Shanti Devi, his elder sister had revealed that- he always carried a portrait of Guru Nanak wrapped in silk, a rosary and a ‘gutka’ (abridged holy Granth) where ever he went.

    He gave his first public performance at the age of three and a half years at Dharampur Sanitorium (Himachal Pradesh) where he enthralled the audience by singing in dhrupad style of Indian classical music. According to Shanti Devi; the listeners were spell-bound with his command over laykaari and surtaal (rhyme and rhythm).  The young lad concluded  the  recital with a devotional  composition ‘Hey sharda naman karoon’ in raag mishr kafi.  The critics hailed it as the beginning of a fabulous era.

    After the conclusion of this captivating recital, he was bestowed with a gold ring, a shawl and a gold medal. His first successful performance made him a celebrity. There was a grand news coverage in the print media. Some of such paper clippings are still available with Ravinder Kaur, the niece (bother’s daughter) of Master Madan at Butail Building, Shimla.

    Overnight, the identity of the genius spread like fire all over the  music fraternity of the country. After his grand success, he commenced giving performances along with his elder brother Master Mohan. Every where he was in demand. Though, posters portrayed the photographs of both the brothers, there used to be a special  mention of mesmerizing singing of Master Madan.

    The maestro commenced his training in music at the age of seven years, under the able guidance of Pt Amar Nath, a great musician and elder brother of composer duo- Husnalal Bhagatram. He had composed music for film ‘Mirza Saheban’, wherein Noorjehan sang some of her captivating numbers. The two ghazals  referred to above were also composed by Pt Amar Nath.

    Master Madan’s elder brother Master Mohan, who was in Shimla, also used to sing and played violin. This was the time when the legendry singer K.L. Saigal too was in Shimla. Very often, Saigal used to bring his harmonium to their home- ‘Butail Building’ Lower Bazar, Shimla- for his singing and his brother played violin..

    In 1940 Mahatma Gandhi visited Shimla and very few people turned up at his meeting, as most of them had gone to a concert of Master Madan.

    The singing sensation was a particular favourite of the rulers of Indian states, who conferred many medals on him, which he invariably wore at his recitations. He was always in demand for his singing. Thereby his family was thrilled, as he used to bring lot of money and valuable presents.

    But, this took its toll. In view of excessive strain under which the young boy lived and performed, his health began to suffer. He would complain of exhaustion and low fewer. Sadly, he was not properly taken care of and provided adequate medical attention. When at a later stage, he was taken for an examination, he was found to be beyond recovery. The diagnosis was a slow poison that had affected his vital organs. The genius with his immortal voice died in Shimla on 5 June, 1942 several months short of his 15th birthday. He was cremated wearing all his medals.

    There had been many rumours about the cause of his death. One such gossip went that at one time when he was performing at Ambala, a local singing girl had invited him to her Kotha and gave him a doctored paan (betel leaf). Another said that at Radio Station Delhi, he was given mercury in his drink by a jealous performer. Yet another was that in Calcutta, after his sensational concert at which he sang a thumri- Bintee suno meri, someone gave him a slow-acting poison in his drink. It was noticed in retrospect that he never recovered his voice after that particular performance.                .   

    However, the fact is that it was the greed of the family or envy of the rivals that killed the child-prodigy- Master Madan, leaving behind recordings of just eight classic classicals:

    Bagaan wich peegan paiyaan (Punjabi)

    Raavi de palle (Punjabi)  

    Yun naa reh reh kar hamein tarsaaiye  (Ghazal)

    Heirat se tak rahaa hei jahane wafaa mujhe (Ghazal)
    Goree goree baiyaan  (Thumri)

    Mori bintee mano kanha re (Thumri)

    Man ki man hi maan rahi (Gurbani)

    Chetnaa hei to chet le (Gurbani)

    One is remembered of a couplet from Abdul Rahim ‘Khankana’:

    “Rahiman ochhey naran soun, bair bhalo na priti; 
    kaatein chatein swaan ke,  dou bhanti vipreet’

    “Rahim let not a petty man be your friend or foe; 
    A dog’s lick or bite will only lead to woe”.



    Satish Chopra, BA/26B Ashok Vihar-I, Delhi-110052 #011-27134229/20316429

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