Not just songs, but words to live by
Mukesh, thanks to the timbre of his voice and the clarity of his enunciation, was gifted songs that spelt out life’s philosophies in simple lines.
Recently radio stations across most of the country resounded with songs in the unique voice of singer Mukesh. His nasal intonation, reminiscent of his idol KL Saigal, the edging of sadness that fringes his voice came back to listeners, bringing with it memories of films from the 1960s and a decade before that.
While the generations that are familiar with films would have found themselves wandering down lanes heavy with nostalgia, the songs held relevance even for those who have grown up tapping their feet to music that is strong on rhythm and to hell with the words.
Mukesh, thanks to the timbre of his voice and the clarity of his enunciation, was gifted songs that spelt out life’s philosophies in simple lines. The fact that he was the voice of Raj Kapoor in most of his films and that the actor often donned the garb of the common man, simple of heart, and accepting of everyone, foibles and all, also contributed to the fact that he got to sing of life’s homilies.
Poets like Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi, Gulzar and Anand Bakshi, who had their own all-encompassing view of life wrote songs which, when sung by Mukesh and filmed evocatively, became anthems of a kind in that time. Love for humankind, compassion, and the equality of all beings regardless of caste and habitat were recurring themes. Often a wry irony at the screen persona’s simplicity in the face of a complex, materialistic world would add an undercurrent.
"Sajan re jhoot mat bolo, khuda ke paas jana hai" reminds us as we run the treadmill of life that we will have to get off it and present ourselves to the divine being, sans the wealth we have collected, stripped of all trappings. And it will be our deeds that will be tallied. A thought repeated in Ek din bik jayega, maati ke mol, a universal truth that every writer from Tolstoy to Ghalib has highlighted, is that one is a handful of dust infused with life for a short while. Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon offers a rather offbeat but true-to-life homily—we are but shadows who pass leaving behind footsteps that time will obliterate; and despite our egos, nothing we have done is bigger than what has gone before or what will come after.
Even more relevant are the songs that promote compassion. Kisiki muskurahaton pe ho nisar—life is worthwhile if one spreads joy, and has enough love to distribute to all one meets, reminds us to be less self-centred than we have become. In the song from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, he nudges us to maintain our heritage of hospitality to guests of any culture: mehman jo hamara hota hai, woh jaan se pyara hota hai.
Sometimes by mocking himself, the character sends out a truth that hits home: humne har jeene wale ko/dhan daulat pe marte dekha, Mukesh sings in Anari for the hero rejected by his lover while holding a mirror that reflects a truth more suited to our times.
Songs in any language have the power to lift the mood, make us introspect, or beguile us with pure romance. Poets through the ages have written their words to guide those who care. Perhaps, with little intention of doing so, the radio stations gave listeners an opportunity to pause and reflect. After all, as in the lines of Mukesh’s song, we are guilty of arrogance, about our wealth, knowledge, and achievement and of letting go of our humane side. Kucch log jo zyaada jaante hein/insaan ko kam pehchaante hein.
Good then, to let the song remind us of what meaningful living entails: Jo jiss se mila seekha humne/Gairon ko bhi apnaaya humne/Matlab ke liye andhe hokar/Roti ko nahi pooja humne. That every turn in life, everyone we meet can teach us something, and enrich us, much beyond what riches the greed for power and wealth can bestow.
Author & Consulting Editor, Penguin Random House