Meri Yaad Mein Tum Na Aansoo Bahana: Remembering Talat Mahmood
By Sahar Zaman
Sometime in November 2014, I was driving to office on a wretched Monday morning. My baby had fever, I didn’t want to leave him behind but my bulletins were booked and I just had to go and anchor the news on-air. I put on the radio in my car and Talat Mahmood was singing to me, Tasveer banata hoon.
I felt like he sang to me because his soft voice soothed me like a balm over a burning heart. I felt immense gratitude and that very moment, I decided to organise a musical tribute in his name.
Most of my friends and colleagues know nothing about my connection with Talat Mahmood. I haven’t spoken much about this and have certainly never written about it. Talat Mahmood was my grand-uncle, my naani’s (maternal grandmother’s) brother. My brother and I called him ‘Bambai Nana’ simply because he lived in Bombay.
I grew up in a house with eclectic music tastes. I inherited the love for jazz and oldies from my mom, apart from the fact that she was mad about the Beatles and Cliff Richard. My brother introduced me to Andrew Lloyd Webber and SD Burman. My dad told me about Begum Akhtar’s ghazals and added that Shirely Bassey is hot! And then there were those from my generation — Alka Yagnik, Celine Dion, Mariah Carrey, Udit Narayan, Backstreet Boys, Norah Jones and so many more.
Having spent my early years in Kuwait, I was also introduced to Arabic music. That’s when Amr Diab, Khaled, Fairuz and Umm Khulthum got diced into my ever-growing music repertoire. Much later, my husband introduced me to Argentine folk music and African Soul.
But it’s the Golden Era of the Hindi film music that had a constant, uninterrupted presence in my life. This meant that songs from the early 50s upto the 70s surrounded me, irrespective of what the current chartbusters were.
Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Asha Bhonsle and Hemant Kumar songs were all instantly identifiable but Talat Mahmood was extra special to me. He was a significant part of the Golden Era of the Indian music industry, and delivered several memorable hits from the 40s to the 60s. Known as the ‘King of Ghazals’, he was the first to bring the genre to mainstream music in the film industry.
He was the voice for all top actors including Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Sunil Dutt, to name a few.
My personal interactions with him have been very few. Most of what I know about him is through my grandmother and mom. I was told about his sense of humour, his crazy fans some of whom wrote to him in blood, long queues of people just waiting to get a glimpse of their handsome singer and how top actresses looked forward to be paired opposite him, once he started acting in films.
When I was five years old, he took us to his friend Manna Dey’s house. We had also made a brief stop at my idol ‘Eetab Bashan’s’ (Amitabh Bachchan) house Jalsa, but alas he wasn’t home.
I met him in Delhi again, in the early ’90s, when he came to receive his Padma Bhushan and perform at a concert. In a packed hall, the requests for songs wouldn’t stop, till he apologised that he couldn’t stretch the concert any further. The Padma Bhushan was conferred upon him by President Venkatraman.
In my teens I realised how incredibly good-looking my ‘Bambai Nana’ was in his prime. While looking at old black and white family albums, his vibrant presence jumped out of those still pictures. But it was his warmth which I remember most.
It was painful to meet him in the late ’90s, a few years before his death on May 9th, 1998. He was feeble and often lost in his own thoughts. Yet, he was always concerned if we had eaten our meals and Khalid (his son) took us around the city.
He was the first singer of the Indian sub-continent to be presented the Silver Disc by EMI Records in 1961.
He was a pioneer, when it came to concert tours outside India. He started touring internationally in the 1950’s, despite a busy recording career back home. His worldwide fan following made evident in packed halls, be it in USA, Europe or the Middle East. The most prominent venues being the Madison Square Garden in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London.
(Sahar Zaman is an independent arts journalist, newscaster and curator. She has founded Asia’s first web channel on the Arts, Hunar TV.)
(This story was first published in July 7th, 2015)