When you reflect on Mahendra Kapoor, you reflect on all the years you have traversed through wallowing in music. It was in the mid 1960s, when my generation was in school, that the sadly beautiful cadences of chalo ik baar phir se ajnabi ban jaayen hum dono wafted into our lives. Yes, we were too young to think of romance, but then, music has a magical quality in it. It bores into your soul. It did into mine and I sang it all the way to school in the rising winds of autumn.
In the years that have rolled away into time, Kapoor has stayed in the consciousness, not least because of his principled devotion to Mohammad Rafi. Never once in his life did Kapoor waver in his belief that Rafi’s was the spirit behind his music, that he had always wanted to emulate him. That is frankness. It is also humility. Mahendra Kapoor’s humility was to carry him all the way to the top in the 1960s and well into the 1970s. As I graduated into youth and began to understand, somewhat, the nuances of love (or infatuation!!), I listened to his quietly passionate number, ae jaan-e-chaman tera gora badan / jaise khilta hua gulab / zalim teri jawani / qayamat tera shabab. And I have kept on singing it, for the sheer sensuality of it. And sensuality, in that very positive sense of the meaning, is what you need in life if tedium is not to kill you bit by bit.
And it was there in Mahendra Kapoor, together with the qualities we lump together as versatility. Rafi had an abundance of the versatile in him. Kapoor did not measure up to him in that Olympian way, but he came rather close. Remember the intensely inspirational mere des ki dharti sona ugle ugle here moti? There is a verve in the song you cannot miss, a call to patriotism that stirs the soul in you. It is verve that you come by in badal jaaye agar mali chaman hota nahin khali. The beat is a reminder of har dil jo pyar karega wo gaana gaaye ga, the song Kapoor had shared years earlier with Mukesh in the movie Sangam. Mahendra Kapoor’s music was emblematic of vitality, made richer by the tonality that defined his voice. And this richness came through in mehnat kash is duniya se hum apna hissa maangenge / ik bagh nahin ik khet nahin hum saari duniya maangenge. It is a song that recalls the splendid energy of the old Rafi number apni azadi pe hum sar ko jhuka sakte nahin / sar kata sakte hain lekin sar jhuka sakte nahin.
No singer achieves completeness without bringing the purely romantic into his songs. Kapoor brought that completeness to bear in such songs as tum agar saath dene ka waada karo. If you recall that song, you will recall another, the inimitable neele gagan ke tale dharti ka pyar pale. And then there is another: kahan se layeen o jaan-e-man ye / kitabi chehra gulabi ankhen. Love often has the power, the near spirituality of transforming the beloved into a deity, as Mahendra Kapoor demonstrates in kisi patthar ki moorat se mohabbat ka iradah hai / parastish ki tamanna hai ibadat ka iradah hai. And then comes the matter of mischief in the pursuit of the woman of desire. It comes through in sehmi sehmi kahan chali chhorh ke dilwalon ki gali. Not far behind is the plaintively demanding tere pyar ka aasra chahta hoon / wafa kar raha hoon wafa chahta hoon. Add to that the call to self-esteem, as in the number na mun chhupa ke jiyo aur na sar jhuka ke jiyo / ghamon ka daur bhi aaye to muskura ke jiyo. And the comical? You chance upon it in the rollicking number gentleman gentleman gentleman, all pronounced in a distinctively Indian tone. Think of Sunday ko pyar hua Monday iqrar hua and nana ho gaya diwana. You get a whiff of humour that was in Kapoor.
You dwell on Mahendra Kapoor. When you do that, you get a sense of what has gone missing in your life since the days when the first intimations of music made inroads into your soul. You remember the gleaming afternoons when you walked home under the pines humming ankhon mein qayamat ke kajal honton pe ghazab ki laali hai / banda parwar kahin ae kis ki taqdeer sanwar ne wali hai. And you regret having stepped out of youth and on to the arid plains of maturity.
(Mahendra Kapoor, born on 9 January 1934, died on 27 September 2008)