It was halfway through the year 2000 when my elder sister, my only sibling, was enrolled into a boarding school. I was only nine, and feeling a sadness that was entirely new to me. My parents were going through their own grief but decided to hide it for my sake. They told me that we should attend a musical programme that was taking place that evening. I was not interested. It was a programme where Kishore Kumar's songs would be performed by his son, Amit Kumar. But I did not care, all I wanted to do was mope in the backseat of the car, go home, and mope some more. But they insisted, and I found myself sitting in a packed auditorium, the tears still drying on my face.
Amit Kumar was electric. He didn't just sing Kishore Kumar songs; he performed them. He shared anecdotes from his childhood, each giving a glimpse into the genius that was his father. I don't remember most of the stories, but I remember laughing and enjoying myself thoroughly that evening, something I would not have thought possible a few hours earlier. It turned out to be an evening that taught me a lesson that I will always carry with me: art heals.
A few years later—still in the early 2000s—my mother bought a two-cassette pack of Kishore Kumar songs that had 'MASTI' written in bold, colourful letters on the cover. These were, indeed, the fun Kishore Kumar numbers, like 'C-A-T Cat, Cat Maane Billi' and 'Aake Seedhi Lagi Dil Pe'. Thanks to my parents, I knew that the singer of these songs was also an actor, but I was yet to see him in action. Because it was still a pre-DVD, pre-YouTube world, the only visuals available were the photos of Kishore Kumar on the cassette cover, the predominant one showing him making a goofy face. But the audio was so entertaining that I did not think about what I was missing on screen.
My sister and I had our Alisha Chinai and Lucky Ali numbers that we had grown up with in common, a shared world of pop culture made more special by our own internal jokes associated with it. But these Kishore Kumar songs became the thing that bridged the generation gap between our parents and us, becoming our common points of reference.
Once I developed an interest in filmy music from the black-and-white era, I came to realise that Kishore Kumar was a lot more than the mastikhor songs on those two cassettes, but I don't need to go into detail over that. Other music and film lovers have made several observations on his work over the years much more eloquently than I can hope to. But there is one thing from this public discourse that I would like to contribute my two cents to.
We all know that the world of old Hindi film music has come to be divided into two camps — Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. I suppose it must have started because they were the two alpha males of Hindi playback singing in their time, but I don't understand why we continue to compare the two. They each had their own style; each of them was unique in the true sense of the word. One may like Rafi sahib or Kishore da better and yet, easily admire the other. This is true of me too. Usually, when I mention my liking for one, someone will pipe in, saying that the other was the superior singer. I hope for a day when we stop doing that. I don't mean to sound preachy, but I think we can afford enough love for both and what they each brought to Indian cinema.
To return to Kishore da, he has come to mean many things to me. His legacy brought solace to my parents and me at a difficult time; his work has been a conversation starter and a bonding agent; his voice is the perfect accompaniment for rainy days (both literal and figurative); and I marvel at his versatility and style. Kishore Kumar is irreplaceable, and we are lucky to have his immense body of work as our lifelong companion.