Back home. Another day is over. Time for the ritual: switching on the computer, and while the screen comes fully alive, pouring a drink and choosing the book I would read in bed. Somewhere between now and then, dinner has to be cooked. Maybe I will make some rice and dal. Or sambhar. But right now it is time to click on one of the Winamp playlists. Today I choose 'Hindi'. The first song on the list is Tujhse naaraaz nahin zindagi, Lata's version of the Masoom hit: perfect accompaniment for the first drink.
The mind is already stirring. When you listen to a song as sublime as this, who do you credit its beauty to? The lyricist? The composer? The singer? The arguments can be many: If the lyricist writes a bad song, it cannot be salvaged even by the best of composers and singers. Even if the lyrics and the singer's voice is good, a bad tune can put listeners off. And even if the lyrics and the music are good, a bad singer can make both ineffective.
So at the end of the day, I guess, it is teamwork. But usually, it is teamwork between the lyricist and the composer. At the end of the day, however, it is the singer who steals the show. The composer comes no.2, and finally, the lyricist -- nobody even cares to remember him. Like I can't recall now whether the lyricist of Khel Khel Mein was Gulshan Bawra or Anand Bakshi. I think it was Gulshan Bawra. And you know how the famous song, Ek main aur ek tu was made?
RD was sitting at his home with Bawra, agonising over what tune to make. It was getting late and Bawra had to leave. As he waited for the lift, Bawra told RD, something to this effect: "Ek main hoon aur ek tum ho, agar dono mil jaayen, to gana kyon nahi banega? (If you and I come together, there is no way we can't make the song)." RD got a brainwave and instantly spat out the opening line: "Ek main aur ek too, dono milen is tarah..." The rest, as they say, is history. The 1975 song today is a classic, and is easily available, but you will find it in the albums of Kishore-Asha duets. Yes, at the end of the day, it became a Kishore song. It became an RD song. It became a Rishi Kapoor-Neetu Singh song. But have you even heard of Gulshan Bawra?
Lyricists always get a raw deal. I don't know how much they get paid -- or used to get paid -- for a song. They are the ones who sow the seed, painstakingly, on their writing desk. And I am not sure if many had even a writing desk. Naqsh Lyallpuri wrote very few songs for Hindi movies but all his songs were good, especially Yeh wohi geet hai jisko mainey, dhadkan mein basaya hai, composed by Jaidev (yet another music director who did not get his due) for a film called Maan Jaiye. When he first accepted to write lyrics for a film, he was paid a token advance of Rs 101. His wife, who was strongly against his writing songs for films, was hardly amused when he came home with the money. Go, return it right now, she said. Naqsh saab gave in and got up to leave for the producer's house. Just then their infant child began to cry. But there was no money for his milk: they were broke. So he decided to keep just one rupee for the milk and return the remaining hundred rupees to the producer. That the producer declined to take the money and persuaded him to write the songs is another story.
The point is, the lay listener never cares about the lyricist. Have you heard of Neeraj, or Yogesh? But I can be pretty sure you all have heard the songs of Anand and Chhoti Si Baat. Jaaneman jaaneman tere do nayan, Kahin door jab din dhal jaye, Zindagi kaise hai paheli... these are landmark songs of the Hindi film industry, but where is Yogesh, the man who wrote them all? Who remembers Neeraj, a Hindi professor from Aligarh, who wrote Phoolon ke rang se and Kaarwaan guzar gaya -- immortal songs?
Whatever I have written so far is not the result of any research or Google search, but straight out of my memory. These people have been on radio at some point or the other, be it anchoring the once-popular Jaimala programme (for fauji bhais, or soldiers) on AIR or giving interviews on 102.6 FM, the channel I was addicted to when I lived in Delhi.
But there are lyricists who have always extracted their share of recognition. And that is because they are -- or they have been -- engaged in things bigger than songwriting. Gulzar was an apprentice of Bimal Roy and he went on to direct big-time movies. Javed Akhtar wrote, rather co-wrote, movies that became very big time. Their persona was no less than that of the hero starring in those movies. So when they wrote songs, they were noticed. Having said that, none of this takes away from the beauty of the poetry written by Gulzar and Javed Akhtar. After all, each of them is a poet first: Gulzar, the celebral; and Javed, the rebel.
My favourite Gulzar song is Ek hi khwaab dekha hai kai baar maine (from Kinara), beautifully sung by Bhupinder and, in bits, by Hema Malini. 'Sung' is not quite the right word to use here, for it isn't a song: just a humming recitation of the lyrics. The credit, according to me, should go to the composer, Gulzar's dearest friend RD Burman, who left the poetry alone. And what poetry! I am not going to bother to reproduce the lyrics, but will sum up a bit of it in English: "Over the game of cards, when she fights, she seems playful. And when she is playful, she seems to be fighting." You have to listen to the song to understand what I am saying, or what I am trying to say. And then there is: Bechaara dil kya kare, and Ek baat kahoon par maano tum, and Tere bina jiya jaye na, and Aanewala pal jane wala hai and..., well, I can go on and on. Yes, I know I did not include Ijaazat, but according to me, its songs pale before the simplicity of Gol Maal or Khushboo.
And Javed saab, well. I met him recently in Chennai. As in, I happened to attend a function where he was the chief guest and where he read out some of his poems. He read out his poems in Hindi/Urdu, and they were translated simultaneously into English. The Chennai Page 3 crowd nodded in appreciation. The reading got over and Javed saab was free to mingle with the audience. I sat at a distance, nursing my drink, till my office photographer came to me and said: "Sir, why don't you get a picture taken with him? He is a VIP." VIP or not, I thought, but this is the man who wrote, rather co-wrote, Sholay. Yes, why not!
I found myself walking up to Javed saab and shaking his tender hand. "Javed saab, you should have recited Main aur meri aawaragi," I told him. "Thank you, thank you," he said, sqeezing my hand, and added, "Kya hai, yahaan par thodi language problem hai (you know what, there is a bit of a language problem here)." My day was made. The photographer took pictures, which I can't reproduce here because Javed saab looks so good and I look so horrible.
Main aur meri aawaragi -- that's my favourite Javed Akhtar song, first sung by Kishore Kumar and then by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. But I also like (who doesn't) Saagar jaise aankhon waali. Chennai has the saagar, and I am sure there are a number of saagar jaise aankhon waalis too. But no one has come my way yet.