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The Velvet Voice

Manek Premchand

Manipal University Press

Pages: 256 Rs. 550

In fond remembrance of the ghazal’s ‘velvet voice’

Manek Premchand’s recent book on Talat Mahmood is a touching tribute to the late ghazal maestro. For fans and admirers around the world, it is especially precious, writes Sahar Zaman.

Sahar Zaman  23rd May 2015

Talat Mahmood. | Photo: talatmahmood.net

alat Mahmood is a name that holds a special place in people's hearts. To me, as his grand-niece, he is more than just a singer who lent his remarkable voice to India's best-known actors, such as Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, and rendered the most poignant verses, including bringing alive the words of Mirza Ghalib. It means that he makes me and my entire family extremely proud each time his songs are played, each time his name is mentioned.

I certainly don't sing as well as my grand-uncle but I have managed to win a few singing competitions in school. In one such competition, I decided to sing his non-film ghazal "Tasveer teri dil mera bahla na sakegi", unsure of the response I would get from friends and batch-mates. To my great surprise it was well-received and I won the first prize. The judges were delighted that I had selected such a classic.

It's interesting how the birth or death anniversary of an artist brings about a sudden spurt of interest in the body of his work. When I recently wrote an article on his death anniversary (9 May), I went to a store to buy a friend some CDs of Talat Mahmood. What the store manager told me brought a broad smile to my face. He said that the CDs were out of stock; someone had bulk-bought the last bunch earlier that afternoon. This enthusiastic customer had said he was reminded of Talat sahab because of a recent article he had read.

I used to call him "Bambai-Nana". It feels great to be part of this renewal of interest. I choose to call it renewal because today, most people who follow his music are in the 35+ age bracket. I would like to introduce his gentle, subtle and mellow notes to today's 18-year-olds, so that they too can fall in love with his voice just as their parents and grandparents had.

I am so happy with Manek Premchand, who has also contributed towards this aim. Published by Manipal University, his latest book The Velvet Voice is on Talat Mahmood. The Velvet Voice best explains how Talat's voice has been part of our lives. Different chapters in the book are written by people from different walks of life, the common thread that holds them together is the impact that Talat's music has had on them.

My favourite is the first chapter written by his daughter, Sabina Talat Mahmood Rana. It's a poignant piece on a beautiful father-daughter relationship. It tells us about the kind of father he was; he took her to Kishore Kumar concerts and bought her his LPs. A child of the swinging '60s, she was keener on the staple, reigning duo of Rajesh Khanna-Kishore Kumar. Sweet childhood memories of being picked up from school by her father every day, choosing his neck ties and suits for his various engagements and the heartbreaking reality of not being by her father's side when he passed away; these episodes make this chapter memorable.

His son, Khalid Talat Mahmood's chapter reflects on the singer's fondness for performing for his admirers outside the country. Apart from serving his country in many charity concerts, he loved the response he received in America and Europe. The man with the velvet voice had a rockstar following and Khalid was spellbound to realise this first hand when he began travelling with him.

When he came to perform in Delhi in 1991, I was 11 years old. I was well aware of my Bambai-Nana’s music legacy. He painstakingly tried to sing most of the requests that poured in from the audience. Sitting in the front row, I looked back at those shouting out his name. Some were wiping their tears while others were too overwhelmed with reverence and love for him to say anything at all.

he writer Premchand's own account of how he fell in love with Talat's voice is reflective of how a young boy, who understood nothing of Urdu poetry or the complicated emotions of love, was still touched by his voice. Having met him years later, he was delighted to know that the signer was as much a gentleman in life as he sounded in his songs. The book also provides an exhaustive filmography, detailing his entire singing career, including the films he acted in, plus his non-film recordings.

A delightful piece by Lata Jagtiani urges us to remember the singer not just as a master of melancholic emotions, singing only for those with a broken heart. She lists all his peppy numbers that suited his voice just as much; songs like "Dil mein sama gaye sajan", "Yeh hawa yeh raat", "Yeh nayi nayi preet hai", which showcase his voice in happy, elated and seductive emotions with as much élan.

In an interesting observation, Pran Katariya says that Dilip Kumar could not have earned the title "Tragedy King", if it weren't for Talat singing "Aye mere dil kahin aur chal", "Shaam-e-gham ki kasam", "Aye dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal" and several others. The sad reality does remain that his recording career slowed down when trends begin to change in the late '60s. His soft voice did not suit the heavy orchestra or the loud style of the actors of that time. But he continued to sing in sold-out concerts across the globe.

When he came to perform in Delhi in 1991, I was 11 years old. I was well aware of my Bambai-Nana's music legacy. But I wasn't aware of what a humble artist he was. He painstakingly tried to sing most of the requests that poured in from the audience. Sitting in the front row, I looked back at those shouting out his name. Some were wiping their tears while others were too overwhelmed with reverence and love for him to say anything at all.

Sahar Zaman is an independent arts journalist, newscaster and curator. She has founded Hunar TV, Asia's first web channel on the Arts.

 
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