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The Great Music Maestro: Kundan Lal Saigal

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(Birth anniversary 11th April)

By: Dr. Shiben Krishen Raina

April 11 is the birthday of the famous Indian singer Late Kundan Lal Saigal, the great maestro of Indian music. I among his thousands and thousands of admirers and have preserved almost all the songs, Bhajans, Ghazals sung by this great singer. About 50 years ago, I bought two LPs of Saigal Sahib’s songs. Those days LP records were procured and then these records were played and listened to on the gramophone. Songs like ‘BalamAayBaso More Mann Mein’, ‘Ik Bangla Bane Nyara’, ‘Jab Dil Hi Tut Gaya’, ‘Gum DiyeMustakil,’ ‘So Ja Rajkumari,’ ‘Ae KatibeTakdeer’etc. are the wonderful melodies to which Saigal gave hisvoice and immortalized them. Kundan Lal Saigal was popularly known as K.L Saigal among his fans. Such a superstar, who wasboth a singer as well as an actor.

Saigal Sahab was born on 11 April 1904 in Nawashahar, Jammu and later the family shifted to Jalandhar. His father Amar Chand Saigal had two sons: Ramlal and Hazarilal. The third one was named Kundan Lal. When Kundan was hardly a month year old, Kundan’s mother Kesar Bai came out of the house for the first time along with her acquaintance and the two took a bath on the banks of the river Tawi in Jammu and placed Kundanat the feet of Salman Yusuf Pir at a nearby shrine. Yusuf Pir was a renowned Sufi Pir and a master of Sufi music. When Kundan started crying, mother Kesar Bai tried to silence the newly-born. Peer Sahib stopped her saying: ‘Let him cry. Crying opens the throat of the child, and strengthens the lungs.’ After a while, he said: ‘This child is born with a melodious voice just like his mother. One day this child will definitely become a big singer. Amin!’

Since childhood, Kundan used to see his mother singing Bhajans every morning. He would also listen to sweet lullabies sung by her mother at night.After having reached school-going age, Saigaldid not feel like studying.  Instead, if asked to listen to and recite a song, he would be too ready and happy to do that. When he grew up, he started singing and reciting the hymns sung by her mother. Every morning he would sit on the balcony with the harmonium and start singingand practicing.

Like every artist, SaigalSahib had to struggle a lot to reach the heights of fame. Saigal’s early education was very simple. He had to leave his studies midway and to earn a livelihood, he took up a modest job as a timekeeper on the Railways. Later he also worked as a salesman in a typewritingcompany named Remington. He had a deep love for music. It is said that once he went to UstadFayaz Khan to get training.The Ustad asked him to sing some songs. He sang RagaKhayal, listening to which the master said with a sigh:‘Son, I do not have anything to offer you that could make you a great singer. You are a born genius!”

Saigal’s father AmarchandSaigal was a Tehsildar in the city of Jammu. Suddenly one-day KL Saigal left the house without saying anything to anyone. In search of a job, he traveled to many places including Moradabad, Kanpur, Bareilly, Lahore, Shimla, and Delhi. Below given is a poignant instance that speaks volumes of Saigal’s struggle with his life:

A big event was to be held in his honour in Kolkata. SaigalSahib along with his wife Asha Rani was going by car to Calcutta via Kanpur. On reaching Kanpur, Saigal asked the driver to stop. The driver parked the car on the roadside. Saigal sahib went inside the city on foot. It was getting late. SaigalSahib was nowhere to be seen. The wife and the driver started worrying. SuddenlySaigalSahib emerged coming towards the car from afar.  Asha Rani saw that Saigal Sahib’s eyes were extremely wet. When asked, Saigalbroke down: “Asha,I went to see those streets and lanes on which I wandered a lot during the days of my poverty and unemployment.’

K.L.Sahgal i.e. KundanlalSaigal, who proved his acting skills in films like Yehudi Ki Ladki, Devdas, Parwana, MohabbatKeAanus, Zinda Lash, and Shahjahan, reached the peak of popularity at a very young age but did not distance himself from alcohol consumption.His dependence on alcohol had increased to such an extent that it started affecting his work and health. Gradually his health became so bad that it was not possible for him to recover again.

On January 18, 1947, at the age of mere 42, the legendaryKundan LalSaigal, bade goodbye to this world.

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