Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon...

A lot of us remember Deepal Shaw gyrating her hips in an insult of a school uniform skirt, thrusting her bosom into the camera and making all sorts of raunchy gestures to the beat of ‘Kabhi aar kabhi paar’. A lot of us will also remember the entire lyrics of the peppy ‘Saiyaan dil mein aana re’, made extremely popular in its remix avatar, and at all parties, we would’ve have chorused its ‘Chham chhama chham chham’ beat. Some of us might even remember Kajol trying her best to sing ‘Kahin pe nigaahein kahin pe nishana’ in the iconic Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, when Shahrukh Khan eases his hand on top of Mandira Bedi’s shy fingers, assuming her to be his lady love. This song then, I feel, became an idiom to tease every person whose targets skipped away from in front of his eyes. Oh, and it is a staple at all wedding antakshari contests too!

Why these songs? Well, that’s because they are united by a voice full of life, which, ironically is being remembered at the time when it has transcended the mortal world. It is even more ironic that while we remember each word of these very hummable songs, only a minority of us will be able to recall the name behind the voice which gave character to these songs. I am talking of the inimitable Shamshad Begum, whose singing was not made up of the velvety, soft, soothing or sugary voice we so admire in our modern day singers. Her voice was husky, unconventional, bold, full of zest and conveyed a sort of mischief, which could be found in each of her renditions. Yesterday, at the age of 94, and much after she left an indelible mark on the Indian music industry, she passed away at her Mumbai residence.

Shamshad Begum forms an important part of my childhood memories. Summer vacations were spent at my maternal grandmother’s house, where, all of her six children (my mother included) were great fans of old Indian music. By old, I do not mean the R. D. Burman numbers, which are as far back as the younger generation’s imagination goes when we utter the word ‘retro’. My family was keen to dig out retro from its very roots, from before the time giants like Mohd. Rafi or Lata Mangeshkar marked their presence. I used to sulk and make faces at the ancient melodies which came out the tape recorder, and it was not until much later that I could briefly remember names of Noorjehan, Uma Devi, Zohra Bai Ambalewali, and then, Shamshad Begum.

It was my eldest mamaji, who left for his heavenly abode last year in a heartbreakingly unexpected manner, who was instrumental in making me develop a taste for old, golden music. This taste has flowered to such an extent that today, I have lyrics of an endless number of classic melodies at the tip of my tongue, and a noticeable share of those melodies belong to Shamshad Begum’s corpus. She was one of the earliest female singers to have become a part of Indian music industry, and was its reigning queen for quite long, well into the fifties, when O. P. Nayyar made her sing immortal melodies in Aar Paar and CID. Along with Geeta Dutt, she is among my favourite singers of all time. What was strikingly unique about her was that in a period where classical values were staunchly adhered to even in film music, her voice brought a rustic and folk touch, which was fresh and lively. Try listening to her songs. They will make you happy, and induce a springy feeling inside you. I do not know which was the first of her songs I heard, but one of the first which caught on my tongue was ‘Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon’. I might not have understood the meaning of the lyrics, but the song seemed funny and entertaining enough to make me enjoy singing it. Simple, with no complicated musical notes, I think songs like these are a triumph on the part of the composer, singer and the lyricists, because they so easily appeal to the audience and in some time, become a part of their culture.

Yes, Shamshad Begum’s songs are a part of our culture now. I have kept saying that she had a lively touch to her voice, but this does not mean she shied away from singing poignant melodies, one of the most memorable being ‘Chhod Babul Ka Ghar’, composed by Naushad. She was born in Amritsar in 1919, and her contributions to Punjabi music are also immense. She has sung romantic songs, wedding songs, bidaai songs, folk songs, solos, duets – there is nothing that can be said enough to effectively eulogise her music career. It can, however, be safely stated that her songs are a touchstone to judge good music. She spent her last days living with her daughter in Mumbai, and as a very delayed recognition of her talent and contributions, was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2009 by the Government of India. Khayyam, in an interview quoted on her official website, had stated about “Her voice was one of its kind and her enunciation was wonderfully clear. She commanded a lot of respect both at the personal and professional level.”

I know many of you would not have ever heard her songs, or at least, not in her voice. It is a little different, or unconventional, from the kind of music all of us are used to hearing. But if you can find some time, here are five recommendations from me to gain an introduction to her world. These are my favourites – songs I can hear over and over again, throughout my life.

Boojh mera kya naam re from CID
Meri neendon mein tum from Naya Andaaz, a duet with Kishore Kumar
Kajra Muhabbat Wala from Kismet, a very entertaining duet with Asha Bhonsle
Yeh duniya roop ki chor from Shabnam, a cute, funny and bubbly song
Saiyaan dil mein aana re from Bahaar – I could not have left out this song at all!

A statistic states, that 70 per cent of remixed songs had originally been sung by Shamshad Begum. That says something about the kind of appeal her melodies have till date.

Another star has set on Indian music industry. May her soul rest in peace. 

(Originally written for and published on Scroll 360)


  1. My father loved her voice. Boojh mera kya naam is one of my all time favorite. I am quite amazed by the statistics, 70% is a lot.

    May she rest in peace.

    1. Oh yes! I too was totally puzzled with the statistic. But when you look back, you realize that most of those remixes were songs originally adorned by her voice.

      Your favorite is my favorite too!

  2. Brilliant read Saumya! You always make us proud. Posting a comment on your blog after a long. This article made my day, wish to hear you sing now.
    Heard you were on NDTV live this evening, wish I could watch that. Will try to catch it up on youtube.
    Keep it up, best wishes!

    1. Hey!
      I hope you saw the show. If not, please do catch it when you can.

      And yes, you had been absent from my blog for so long. Not fair! You should come here regularly and keep boosting my morale!

      I shall meet you and sing for you soon!

  3. Thanks for the informative and nostalgic post, Saumya.
    My favourite songs are Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon and her songs from CID.
    PS - You were brilliant on the "Social Network" TV Show. I was eagerly waiting for you to sing on NDTV, but sadly they interrupted the show with "Breaking News" - a big disappointment for us as we could not hear your golden voice - maybe soon. :)

    1. Yes sir. I hope for that soon too. I did sing in the NDTV office, and people shared a few words of appreciation. But sometime definitely.

      Thank you for following the show, and keeping up with us on Twitter. It was nice to know people were watching and responding. Thanks a ton!

  4. I am sure all music lovers at least the Indian ones must have heard the above mentioned songs! :)
    I think I need to catch up with the interview as well..let me know if there's a link? :)

    1. Hey Priyanka!

      Of course there is a link! I have posted it on my facebook profile and well as on my twitter timeline. You should catch up with it. I would love to know your responses on it.

  5. Your screen presence is awesome -

    Here is the link for all Saumya fans ;)

    1. Wow!

      Thanks. May I please know who is that? Would love to have a name here :)

    2. Cmon saumya whos gonna post da link obviously someone from IT only LOL
      okay It's sumit of "...Behtareen Jawaab" Fame :D

    3. Aha! Whoa! Thanks for revealing yaar. People had started talking about a *secret admirer*

    4. hahaha not a secret anymore :P

  6. very well written n very informative, gud job dear . ur so versatile , it is pleasure reading ur articles .god bless u .

    1. Thank you ma'am! You commented after so long. Makes me happy!

  7. Cmon saumya whos gonna post da link obviously someone from IT only LOL
    okay Its sumit of "...Behtareen Jawaab" Fame :D

  8. Finally I took out time to read this post completely (exams on head) which I bookmarked the next day after you published. A lot of things are floating on my mind right now. Truly, a joint family is always preferred than nuclear, they give you entire heritage of a lot. Of course then, the remixes eat the original alive and all you remember are skimpy clothes of the girls from remixes. One shall never forget the original. Going out of your songs collection- I also like "teri mehfil mein kismat aazmaakar hum bhi dekhenge" from mughal-e-azam.
    Yes, she'll be remembered as a legend. And sad to hear your mamaji passes away. May their souls rest in peace.
    And congo again for NDTV, my mother really liked it too.
    Keep blooming, stay blessed :)

  9. Wow! So many wows! First of all, my tributes to the legend Shamshad Begum. It is so nice to be talking in peers about legends like her. And yes, all those songs which you've listed here are my favorites too! (not my Mama, but coz of my Naniji, who was a huge fan of her and I remember her playing those large disks on the gramophone! :)
    Second, although I am very regular in watching NDTV, esp. the Prime Time and the Social Network, but unfortunately missed this episode. Thankfully I watched it now! Needless to say, you are awesome while talking on television.
    Now a proud Saumya fan! :D

    1. Oh dear God! Can't deny that your words make me extremely happy, but I am also wary of the fact that it all might go straight into my head.

      I am glad to find someone who likes Shamshad Begum, and actually recognizes her by name. I know many people who have heard her songs, but do not know the voice behind those songs.

      Thanks for reading this one, and watching the video too!