Music doesn’t just make you go down memory lane, it makes you sprint down it. I bought the new Saregama (HMV, to you old-timers) radio, called Carvaan, a couple of days ago. It’s meant to be for my mother but I’m ashamed to say I’ve been monopolising it. I can’t help it. The radio comes pre-loaded with 5,000 old Hindi songs. Songs by my beloved Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhonsle and R D Burman, my not-so-beloved Lata Mangeshkar (except perhaps when she’s singing Lag Ja Gale or Roz Shaam Aati Thi or, maybe, Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh), alongside Anand Bakshi, Gulzar, and many other legends.
You can listen to the songs as per artist (singer/composer/lyricist) or by mood (happy/sad/sufi/romantic).
My interpretation of happy or sad, I find, is very different from that of Saregama, but I don’t really care as long as I can choose the artist. I’ve read reviews where people have carped about the fact that the songs are not organised in any specific way, and you have to keep listening to them (there is a skip button) till you find what you want. To me, the randomness of the selection is the cherry on the cake. I’m delighted that the company has used algorithms to ensure that every time I turn on the radio, I hear the songs in a new sequence. I love that I don’t know what to expect.
And I especially love how every old song from the ’70s or ’80s reminds me of a stray incident from my growing up years. I’d read that music we hear between the ages of 12 and 25 is what we remember for the rest of our lives. I can vouch for that now. I didn’t even know that I knew the words of Mere Naina Saawan Bhadon till I started singing loudly (if tunelessly) alongside Kishore. I barely remember the names of the people I met at a press conference on Wednesday but I find I can bellow out Yeh Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si in its entirety.
Growing up, I didn’t go to Hindi movies much, but I woke and slept with the radio. In small-town Allahabad, that largely meant Vividh Bharati. So I knew all the Hindi songs of the time. Almost each one of them, I now discover, has an old memory attached. Lambi Judaai comes on, and memories of a classmate’s soulful rendition at a school concert wash over me.
When Yeh Shaam Mastani plays, I recall a rainy day when I was stuck at home and the song played over and over a loudspeaker in the distance. Most of all, though, I remember my father. He sucked at Hindi but loved music. That meant if the record player at home wasn’t belting out Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra, Hindi songs were blowing up the airwaves. His favourite was Hemant Kumar, but he was quite happy listening to Kishore or Mohammed Rafi too.
I doubt that he understood much of the lyrics (he thought any song with the word ‘zulfe’ in it was a fine song) but just listening to music made him happy. I remember him now, lying on the sofa, looking into the distance, enveloped in melody. And I think if the sound of emotions had a name, it would have to be music. Preferably emanating from a radio.