Its warmth lingers: The Tribune India

Vinod Segal

“Sometimes you’ll never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” — Theodore Seuss

As I try to understand that legendary singer Bhupinder Singh is no more, floodgates of memories are opening. I remember when I first saw him in the 1970s. An elegant, dashing and majestic personality, he could give a lot of movie stars a hard time. Perhaps that’s why for the band’s very first song “Hoke majboor mujhe usne bulaya hoga” that he recorded, director Ketan Anand was forced to imagine part of the song about him.

Those were the early days of my career. I harbored dreams of becoming a singer and had moved to Mumbai (then Bombay) and worked as an assistant with music composer Hansraj Behl; and Uttam Singh was the musical arranger. Bhupinderji came to our recording studio and played guitar for his compositions. The beauty of his talent as a guitarist was in the way he could improvise out of the blue and bring in new elements. Of course, being a budding singer myself, I was a bigger admirer of his singing prowess. By then, he had gained fame with memorable songs like “Rut jawan jawan raat mehrbaan”, “Dil dhoontta hai”, and many more.

Although his song repertoire is not extensive, his contribution is no less significant than other more prolific playback singers. His voice was (is) like amritvani, manna from heaven, flowing like a river of nectar. If I had to succinctly sum up his voice in two words, it would be “hoshamand nasheeli” (sensitive and intoxicating). As we met often, I would touch his feet and he would respond with his usual cheerful benediction, “Jyonda reh.” We have always conversed in Punjabi. One unmistakable quality about him was his never-say-die attitude. I have never seen him without a smile or a sulk. His affable demeanor was further enhanced by the warm smile that never seemed to leave his face.

Born in Amritsar, he was basically a Punjabi. But the film industry is a universe in itself where art is the only religion. Therefore, regional, religious or cultural identities do not matter. Later, he was to marry Bangladeshi singer Mitali Mukherjee. He worked closely with Bengali musical director RD Burman. Together they created some remarkable music, with Bhupinder taking on the role of guitarist and vocalist. While the world knows he was a master guitarist, few know he could play the rabab with such dexterity. It is with great pride that I can rejoice today that for my song “Yaara teri yaari pe qurban jaoon mein” for the film Mujjhe Vachan Do, I had the honor of Bhupinder embellishing the music of Raamlaxman on this fascinating musical instrument. Equally invaluable is the fact that I had the opportunity to sing with him. The song “Yaara teri yaari ke liye dil haazir hai” from the movie Raahee—which Bhupida, Mahendra Kapoor and I sang for—might sum up my feelings for him.

However, more than a friend, he was someone I looked up to with admiration and respect. One of life’s most valuable lessons came to me through his wise counsel. As a young boy working as an assistant composer too eager to prove myself, I had this inherent flaw. It was part of my job to explain the tarz (air) to singers, but in my overzealousness I often overstepped the mark. The memory is still vivid today. Mahendra Kapoor saheb had to record a song and was kinda wrong. Time and time again, I interrupted his interpretation and tried to correct him. Bhupinderji saw my temerity, called me aside, “aithe aao”, and while somewhat failing to scold me, made me realize my wrongdoing. Subsequently, I learned how the maestros are masters of their art and their craft and trying to “teach” them is a transgression, which can only be serious madness.

Once again, he also taught me how to defend myself. I remember a producer who came in while I was with Bhupinderji. As is the custom of arrogant moneybags, he asked me to leave the room. The great singer who was an equally lovely human being, Bhupida asked me not to pay attention to the producer. A lesson in self-respect was forever ingrained in me that day.

After moving to Ambala, I did not stay in constant contact with him. But once, when he visited Pathankot for a function, where he was honored with the RD Burman Award, I spoke to him briefly.

I still cherish how ten years ago, en route to Ludhiana, he stopped at Ambala and we met on the highway itself. He was in good spirits, as always, rather vigorous and warm. Today, as I remember that priceless moment, my only regret is that I went to Mumbai to meet him one day. Looking back on my journey shaped by another ghazal maestro, Jagjit Singh, I can honestly say that Bhupinderji was an equally shining star in the music galaxy, whose light shone on me and my music endlessly.

I can still feel the positive vibes that emanated from his being. Here lived a singer whose stature was so eminent that even comedians greeted him with a hug. The warm, loving touch of his hand on my shoulders persists. A privilege to have known him.

The writer is a ghazal singer based in Ambala

(As told to Nonika Singh)

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