I consider myself fortunate. Fortunate because I had the privilege of growing up against a backdrop of soulful music. Being an only child, there were times when I was accustomed to playing (rather contently!) alone. I played with the voices of Rafi, Lata, Asha, Shamshad, Jagjit and Noor Jehan playing in the background. You see, the music system was and still is in a central position of the house from where its produce could be heard in all corners of the house. Over the decades, Mum had built up her personal collection of audio tape recordings of Lata's and Rafi's duets from the 60's and 70's, Asha's exclusives with OP Nayyar, and the golden oldies by the likes of Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and Geeta Dutt.
She may not have known it at the time but by infusing the house's atmosphere with such soulful music, Mum was setting the scene for my own musical tastes. You see, music is immensely powerful - it alone has the power to overturn your inner core and metamorphosise your very inner being in subtle but profusely profound ways. Music from the golden era was sprinkled with pathos and longing, but most importantly it had a soul. Growing up listening to that sort of music perhaps helped instil the intensity and depth of my thoughts today.
Such was the pluralism of Mum's music, that it was common to hear Qawwalis, Ghazals and Hindi film music all playing one after the other. The pluralism of music cultivates moderate and inclusive mindsets. It is the pluralism of music that enables it to transcend man-made barriers.
Alas, the golden nuggets of the past are perilously neglected by a large part of my generation today. South Asians have been blessed with the likes of Lata Mangeshkar, India's nightingale and Madam Noor Jehan, Pakistan's Mallika-e-Tarannum (Queen of melodies), whose music helped produce a generation that valued respect, cordiality and warmth. A far cry from today's factory-produced music, Lata's and Noor's music helped unify two countries, helped consolidate differing cultures, and helped bring to light the kalaams (lyrics) of the great 17th and 18th century poets of South Asia. The lyrics were pregnant with meaning, only if you listened hard enough. The melodies were passively soothing, inherently tranquillising and subtly soulful. In fact, Nargis Dutt, in her moving prologue at Lata Mangeshkar's 1979 concert at London's Royal Albert Hall described accurately the pervasive effect of Lata's music. Here is the video of that prologue:
Nargis Dutt on Lata Mangeshkar before inviting her to perform Saathi Re
The power of yesterday's music can only be felt when you hear it. Leaving you with three videos, one a medley of Lata's 1940's and 50's music from her Shraddhanjali concert, the second a medley of Lata's 60's music, and the third my favourite Noor Jehan ghazal, I hope the music and lyrics touch your soul and inject bliss in your being. Thank you, Mum.
Lata's Shraddhanjali concert in 2000 - a tribute to the music of the 1940's and 50's
Lata's Shraddhanjali concert in 2000 - a tribute to the music of the 60's
Madam Noor Jehan - Humaari Saanson Mein, a timeless ghazal