My father loved several kinds of music. Our Telefunken spool tape recorder and our Pye radio gave us a wonderful variety of music to listen to, from Handel's Water Music, to the theme from Shakespearewallah, to Yehudi Menuhin and Pandit Ravi Shankar performing together, children's songs, comedy radio programmes, my brother's collection of pop and rock, and, of course, old Hindi film songs: Talat Mehmood, Jagmohan, Pankaj Mallik, Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt, etc. They were singers whose song were enjoyed and appreciated. My father's love for K.L. Saigal's songs, however, was a class apart. I have a strong suspicion that he worshipped him. In my teetotal family, even the fact of Saigal's premature death due to alcoholism was glossed over, without even the teeniest disapproval being manifest! Sorrow, yes, that his illustrious career was cut short, but never disapproval. At least that's what I remember from my early years.Since Mr. Saigal was Daddy's all time favourite, there seemed to be a preponderance of his music in our home. My sister and I would protest sometimes, but Daddy's obvious joy in Saigal songs often overrode our petulant grumbling. He would hum Radhe Rani De Daaro Na, and even sing it at parties. All of Saigal's repertoire was cherished: my introduction to the ghazals of Ghalib and Seemaab Akbarabadi was in Saigal's voice. His bhajans have found a place in my deepest core: the simple philosophy of Andhe ki laathi tu hi hai is a great comfort in difficult times. Suno suno he Krishna Kala is utterly poignant. But the ultimate Saigal song for my father, the creme de la creme of his fabulous repertoire, was a song that the maestro had written himself: Main Baithi Thhi. It is the song of a seeker, full of longing and deep spirituality: bhakti in its truest meaning.
Today, on your ninety-fifth birthday, Daddy, I want to thank you for making Saigal a part of my life. I wonder if he holds musical soirees in the afterlife. If he does, I'm sure that you have a front row seat! Happy listening, Daddy.