In my book “May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss” (first edition sold out in a month–thanks for buying) I had talked about five iconic movies that had defined me as a person. However I forgot to doff my cap to the personalities and artists who have had a similar deeply emotional effect on me. So today, I present you one of those persons. Hopefully in the future, I shall also acknowledge my other inspirations.
When you were called to the senior teacher staff room in South Point High School on the orders of the legendary ADG (Anjan-babu) you knew immediately that a few things might have happened—-that you had been spied upon smoking (which I did not), you had been found out going to private coaching classes (which I did) or you had been discovered to be going out with a girl (which I tried to do but without much success)
So imagine my surprise when ADG asked me, in that booming voice of his old South-Pointers so love to reminisce about,—–“So Quiz do you like Baba Sehgal?” (His name for me was Quiz because I was on the school quiz team, an activity he thoroughly disapproved of because to him “quizzing” was for pseudos who hid their lack of depth of knowledge by “chaliyati” [oversmartness]).
I knew the answer that was expected from me—-I was supposed to look vacant as if I had never heard that name. However unlike Peter I did not want to deny my Christ.
“Yes I do. He is pretty good.”
ADG turned to Subhendu-babu and raised his hand in exasperation.
“Somehow I had figured out that Quiz here would love Baba Sehgal. The moment I saw that….. on TV the first person I thought of was Quiz” he said, pointing an accusatory finger at me.
I of course felt proud at the association between us. In the early 90s, when DD Metro was revolutionizing the entertainment landscape in India with Superhit Muqabla (a show he was the DJ of till he moved to ATN with Superhit Hungama), Baba Sehgal had come into my life. It was actually on Superhit Muqabla that I had first seen him, in the Ken Ghosh-directed music video “Dil Dhadke” [Video] which had caught my eye based on the oomph provided by the then-scandalous Pooja “Bodi” (Her Kamasutra ad and her Monroe-style blowing skirt in “Pahela Nasha” had firmly imprinted her in the consciousness of high-school kids like yours truly). However on multiple listenings, I became more and more drawn to the artistic talents of the man standing near the industrial fan baring his pigeon-like chest, his white shirt open, showing the world that you dont need strong pectoral muscles but just attitude to strut your stuff.
And what lovely music was that ! Yeh koi naheen bolta hai , main bhi naheen bolunga, yeh tune kaisa jana mere yaar, He He….dekho dekho kaisi chalti hain woh haseena jaise chale dekho hirnee ki chaal. Soon I found myself sitting during Statistics paper 1 class, shaking my head and whispering the lyrics to myself as the teacher droned on about standard and mean deviation.
As an aside, a few days later after that interaction with ADG, he brought me a bunch of pictures of Baba Sehgal as a “gift” and I was officially rechristened from “Quiz” to “Baba”.
Coming back to the topic, most artists find it difficult to live upto a sensational debut. Not Baba Sehgal. I bought “Main Bhi Madonna” purely because of the cassette picture which had Baba Sehgal dressed in drag. The video of “Baba Deewana” [Audio] ,which showed him trapped in a TV trying to look at a girl taking a bath, got enormous playtime, though I accept that it was the beautiful words especially the reference to “mera figure 36 24 36” that was specially pleasing for the scientist in me. I can remember, as clearly as yesterday, coming back from Prithwish-Babu’s mathematics tuition at night singing happily “Shopping karne main jaati Hong Kong, Mathematics mein main kabhi naheen wrong” (I dont know whether these were the actual lyrics though, since the genius of Baba’s fast rapping was that the song lyrics appeared to be different every time you heard it) after a particularly satisfying problem-solving session.
Maybe it was just that time in my life, buried upto my neck in Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics for engineering entrance exams which forged a direct connection to my heart with Baba’s mellifluousness. If he gave me a voice in Mathematics, he also blessed me with one for Chemistry. Baba Sehgal’s song “Manjula” from his album “Dr. Dhingra” had a video wherein a mad scientist makes a beautiful girl come in a chemistry experiment, through a combination of dry and wet tests. That became my anthem song for Chemisty practicals and much merriment resulted when dressed in a white lab coat like Dr. Dhingra, I vocalized lustily the innocent lyrics—-“Danda pakadke khada hua hai Manjula”, “Dudh peeyega Raja aja Manjula”, “Khol de tu darwaza aaja Manjula” with a nudge and a wink (of course when the chemistry professor had left the lab).
This was the golden age of Indian private albums, an age where Poornima and Sonu Nigam sung “Mera Payon Bhari Ho Gya” and Mandakini had “I am sorry Handsome there is no vacancy”. Needless to say, in this plethora of artists there were people trying to copy the great Baba. There was the Vodoo rapper whose lame trick lay in always wearing a mask in his videos and of course Style-Bhai whose song I never quite internalized in the same way I did Baba Sehgal’s because I was too eager following the trajectory of the golden key tied around Ashwini Bhave’s waist in the video. In any case, with the amount of original material he was producing (in one of his songs Sehgal had defensed having copying Ice Ice Baby as Thanda Thanda Pani because even Ice Ice Baby had been copied from Under Pressure—-a logic of transitiveness if there ever was one), it would only be a matter of months before he caught the attention of mainstream Bollywood.
Most people’s exposure to Baba Sehgal has been through the song “Rukmani Rukmani” where the sensual way he pronounces the “khatiya pe dheere dheere khat khat hone lagi” was what I think led A R Rehman to select him as playback. It was an inspired choice—few other people would be able to put that feeling behind those words, definitely not Hariharan. However it was in Akashdeep’s great movie “Miss 420” where Baba Sehgal appeared as a hero and playback that his talents as an actor and artist were given proper room to play. Rarely has been the act of picking up women in cars as beautifully depicted as in “Aja meri gadi main baith ja” [Video] with its sinisterly-meaningful “Pom Pom” squeezing of horn or the simple joys of “keeping it up” as in “So gya to khada hona hoga mushkil” from “Gora chehra, kala til” [Video]
However times were changing and the golden days of Indipop were coming to a close. Horrendous servants of Sauron were remixing classic oldies and pure talent like Baba Sehgal gradually became side-lined. The last really great song from Baba Sehgal I remember was “Tora Tora” [Video], a very clever tribute both to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (“Tora Tora” being the code message transmitted to denote the success of the surprise attack) as well as to well-endowed women (kudiya maalamaal hai yaaron) before he vanished into marginality, occasionally popping up on reality shows or in soundtracks of movies like 13B with songs like “Oh sexy mama wont you do the saregama”.
And today when we have Babas like Baba Kamdev Swami Nityananda who truly brings to life words like “Aage aage ladki peeche main siyana, duniya kahe Baba ho gya hai deewana” and Baba Ramdev who prescribes the death penalty for adulterers [Link] and considers homosexuality a a genetic disorder that can be cured through proper breathing [Video], then one does truly miss the innocence of the greatest Baba of them all, whose only crime, one could say, was his wicked rhyme.
Baba I love you.