New Delhi: Some voices
refuse to fade from memory. Legendary musician K.L. Saigal, the
musician of the masses and the enduring face of "Devdas" on the
Hindi screen, remains one of them even 63 years after his
death. "Saigal's greatest contribution was that he brought music to
the masses. Before he arrived on the musical centrestage, music was
meant for the elite who either enjoyed it at the salons of
professional singers or soirees of maestros like Faiyaz Khan and
Abdul Karim Khan," Pran Nevile, author of a new volume "K.L. Saigal:
The Definitive Biography", told IANS.
Saigal was gifted with a "divine voice, a flair for writing and
composing songs and an imposing screen presence which made him one
of the greatest singers of the 20th century and a superstar", said
the former Indian Foreign Service officer and former UN official,
who has authored 12 books on art and culture.
Saigal was considered the creator of 'sugam sangeet' - the kind of
music enjoyed by the masses, Nevile said. "Unfortunately, he died
Nevile unveiled the paperback edition of his new Saigal biography
published by Penguin-India this week.
The biography, an extension of his coffee table book "K.L. Saigal:
Immortal Singer", published during the musician's birth centenary in
2004, has a "few more chapters, lyrics of Saigal's songs and a
section on 'K.L. Saigal and the culture of the kotha (homes of
professional women performers in 19th and 20th century India)".
Born in Jammu April 4, 1904, Saigal was initiated into music by
mother Kesar Devi, an accomplished singer who often took him to
After an uneventful early stint in school, Saigal dropped out to "puruse
his passion, music, through 'zikr' (prayer) and 'riaz' (practice) as
recommended by a Muslim "pir" (saint) in Jammu.
His career as a musician and actor flourished in Kolkata (then
Calcutta) at the New Theatre studio owned by B.N. Sircar, who cast
him in the company's first Hindi movie "Mohabbat ke Ansoo".
The movie, a runaway success, put Saigal on the road to fame.
Saigal died in 1947 at the age of 42 of diabetes and stress brought
on by the pace of life in Mumbai where he moved to seek fame after
his successful screen debut in Kolkata as a musician-actor.
"He belonged to the generation of actor-singers like Devika Rani and
Ashok Kumar. He acted, wrote and sang at the same time," Nevile
said. Initially, Saigal sang songs in Punjabi and Bengali, but later
Saigal, who starred in seven Bengali films, is said to be the only
non-Bengali musician who was given permission by Rabindranath Tagore
to sing his songs.
Nevile divides Saigal's life into 13 segments in his book.
It begins with his early years and moves to his tenure in Kolkata,
the filming of "Devdas" by P.C. Barua, his concert at Lahore, brush
with ghazals, his outlook to the kotha culture, his heroines, last
days, personal life and legacy.
The writer punctuates biographical accounts with lyrics of Saigal's
songs in Urdu and their English translations. The lyrics flow like
"Pining in separation of my loved one, I wake up repeatedly to shed
tears; during the dark rainy nights all by myself I lie down on the
bed to sleep; And holding my heart in my palms; I suffer with
unfulfilled desire; Come back..." translates Nevile from Urdu.
Saigal is remembered for hits like "Babul mora", "Balam aao baso
mere man mein", "Dukh ke aab din bitat nahin" and nearly a hundred
One of the most interesting aspects of the new biography is Saigal's
early musical influence as a boy in Jammu, Nevile says.
"As a young boy in Jammu, Saigal is said to have been influenced by
professional singing women. He used to hear them practising in their
kothas under the supervision of their ustads," the author says.
Nevile points out that the special flavour of the kotha style is
discernible in Saigal's tracks like "Lakh sahi han peeki batiyan -
ek sahi na jaye' and "Rehmat pe teri mere gunahon ko naz hain"."
According to musicologist Raghav Menon, "Saigal was an immortal
example of the culture of the kothas. It is extremely difficult for
any artist in the kotha style for it requires rigorous discipline,
restraint, musical knowhow and classical training."
Nevile said it took him exhaustive research at the Film and
Television Institute of India, Pune, and interactions with Saigal's
associates to write the book.
Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)