Continuing my series [Baba Deewana, Dheere Dheere Haulle Haulle ]on people who inspired me (a spin-off on the chapter in my book “May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss” on inspirational movies of the 90s) , I present to you another of my gurus.
A day in the nineties. The sun had set and evening was descending. I was waiting for a friend, sitting on the stairs of a building, not wanting to go upstairs to his place. The building’s guards and their friends were sitting in a circle listening to a song on the battery-operated cassette player. There was darkness all around because of a load-shedding (i.e. no power) and mosquitoes, the size of Shilpa Shirodhkar, were feasting on my neck.
It was then that I heard him, a marvelously mellifluous voice, dripping with romantic melancholia, overpowering me with the same intense emotion that assailed me when I listened to “Kal college bandh ho jayega tum apne ghar kho jayoge, Phir ek ladka ek ladki se judaa ho jayega toh mil nahee payega” from Jaan Tere Naam or watched Nayan Mongia, sent in a pinch-hitter, try to hit out.
The mark of a true musical genius is his ability to touch the pink emotional core inside each of us, burrowing through layers of societal conditioning. Very soon, everyone—the guards, the istri-wala (the person who irons clothes) and myself were enraptured by the voice, the lyrics with the clever turn of phrase “Raahein wafa pe thi tum waadon ki torch lekar” and in general the entire message of “Tum to There Pardesi”. As the singer sang “Lekin yeh kya batoon ab haal doosra hai [Pause for effect] woh saal doosra tha yeh saal doosra hai”, all of us were lost in our private purgatories, reminiscing of love lost forever.
It was a few days later that while watching ATN I saw the video of the song, the album cover (copied from Raja Hindustani) and the man whose voice I heard that day—–Altaf Raja, who would soon emerge, imaan se, as one of the musical icons in the golden age of the video song.
Most people associate Altaf Raja with soulful qawwalis of the type “Main kapde badal kar jayoon kahaan aur baal banayoon kis ke liye” [Audio] and it is true, with his vocal texture, that tragedy was his forte.
But somehow for me the man was truly in his elements when he belted out his more philosophical songs.
Like “Yaroon maine panga le liya” with its “Usne dekha idhar, aur maine dekha udhar, aur usi darling ne mere gaal par, ek bhadpoor thappad diya” (though why a girl, on being referred to as “darling” by such a handsome man looking at her “udhar”, would give a tight slap I never understood [Video].
Like “Tu tu tu tu ruu ruuu, Yeh raat hai rangeen sharabi JHOOM , chahne laga nasha hai gulabi JHOOM ” , the foot-stomping duet with Shweta Shetty, from Keemat which always made me get up from my seat and do the Altaf Raja step.
Like “Pyar gajaab ki cheez hai padh lo aaj subaah ka parcha, Pyar karoge to muft main ho jayega yaaron charcha” from Chandaal, a song that had sinister prophecy for Swami Nityananda should he have listened to it. [Video]
Like “Ishq aur pyar ka maza lijiye, Thoda intezaar ka maza lijiye” from Shapath which became a clarion call to all those engineering boys waiting for years and years for some love, to enjoy this anticipation using whatever devices that lay in their hands. [The song also had Prabhuji and Jaggu-da locking steps with Altaf Raja, making it one of the most iconic videos of the 90s. (Video)]
Of course today, the golden days of Altaf Raja are long gone, his last magical creation being for the movie Company (he did turn music director for the movie “Market” noted for the dialog between a lady of commerce and her client—Zara halloo hallo kar).
But he still resides in my heart, not just as the person who taught me that our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought, but as someone who made me truly understand poetry, poetry of the sort “Marham lagane hum gaye, marham ke kasam marham na mila, marham ki jagaah mar hum gaye”, lines that warm the heart even on cold nights of self-doubt.
Dear Altaf sahaab, tum se kitna pyar hai, dil mein utarkar dekho lo.
Na yaakeen aaye to phir………dil badalkar dekh lo.