Back in those days, listening to the radio was a prime pastime with me. There were many radio stations to choose from – the famous Radio Ceylon, the ubiquitous Vividh Bharti and another station called All India Radio, Urdu Service and local stations. Perhaps not as many TV channels as today, but certainly a lot for us folks. I used to sit at my table, my little transistor switched on as soon as I woke up in the morning and continued playing all day long – that is when I was not at school/college. So much so that I caught my mother going over the chair one day and asked her what she was looking for.
‘I am looking to see what glue makes you stick to the chair all day long,’ she replied! How could I explain to her why I was glued to the chair and the radio? That the reason were the two voices of Mohammed Rafi and Ameen Sayani and that I would have happily died for them (I still feel that way). One the legendary playback singer and the other a veteran broadcaster of Binaca (Cibaca) Geetmala fame. Do you know, I always imagined that if Ameen Sayani ever were to sing, he would sound like Rafi! Both the voices had a soothing, caressing effect on the senses.
Let me start with Mohammed Rafi. He was the master of all genres – classical, romantic, devotional, patriotic and even drunken songs. He could play with his voice like a yo-yo – throwing and pulling it back at will and not a single off-key note in all those thousands of songs he has sung. The lyrics of songs of yesteryears were also beautiful, full of depth and pathos, exuberance, philosophy and devotion. And many such songs were sung by Rafi most effortlessly. I want to specially mention his devotional songs, whether bhajans or Islamic devotional ones — I am sure God would have come and stood before him, so evocative they were.
The same with other genres. Who can forget his exquisitely beautiful romantic duet in Taj Mahal Paaon choo lene do and the song Mere mehboob tujhe into which he had invested all his love, the heart-rending Man tadpat Hari darshan ko, and the exceptionally heart touching Parwardigar-e-alam or the naughty Lal chhadi maidan khadi, and one of the most patriotic songs ever kar chale hum fida from Haqeeqat?
He gave voice to tragedy kings like Dilip Kumar and Bharat Bhushan, romantic actors like Joy Mukherjee, Dev Anand and Biswajeet, rugged ones like Dharmendra and Sunil Dutt, comedians like Johny Walker and Mehmood, even jumping jacks like Jeetendra. It was amazing how they managed to sound as if they themselves were singing, so well he adapted his voice inflections to suit theirs.
I have hundreds of songs by Rafi on which I cherish and could die for, but unfortunately can’t post them all. But for those who want to listen to some of his hits here is one link.
Coming to Ameen Sayani, from the time I got my own transistor in 1970 as a gift from my elder brother, I began listening to the Binaca Geetmala, the superhit countdown show he hosted. Though the songs were not of the same calibre as those of the 50s and even 60s, the programme was worth every minute of its duration, if only for his unique ‘Bhaiyon or behenon,’ before each song.
And so on Wednesdays it was a hurried dinner at home for I HAD to be close to the radio before the castanets sounded heralding yet another edition of the geetmala. I would quickly finish washing the vessels, cleaning the kitchen and rush to the radio. For the next one hour, I would not move from there and if I needed to, I would rush out during the songs (in sharp contrast to the present day TV, when we leave during the commercials) for I did not want to miss out on Sayani’s voice and comments.
In addition, I listened to all the commercials and all the programmes that Sayani hosted, which included not only the Geetmala, but also the Bournvita Quiz contest, which he had taken over after the death of his brother Hameed Sayani who hosted it. His English was as impeccable as his Hindi and he didn’t let the listeners miss his older brother at all, so seamless was the transition from one to the other.
There were the other radio programmes he hosted too like Saridon ke Chamakte Sitarey, S.Kumars ka filmy muqadma which were on my list too. Sundays were devoted to the radio. Incidentally, Rajat Sharma’s Aap ki adalat is not a patch on the filmy muqadma by Sayani, where he ‘tried’ film stars by leveling accusations at them. Sharma’s programme is modeled on it with a judge and all. Sayani’s Binaca Geetamala ran for 45 years starting in 1952 in Radio Ceylon and went on till 1994 by which time Vividh Bharati had begun broadcasting it, creating a record for the longest running radio show. At its peak, it had listeners in the range of nearly 200-210 million per week and he was rated among the top 5 broadcasters in the world. Somehow, he was never as good on TV as he was on radio and he himself confessed that he was not too comfortable in that medium.
Incidentally I stopped listening to Hindi songs in the 80s. For one, Rafi died in 1980 bringing in his wake a host of pathetic clones and for the other, the songs had lost their melody. Even Sayani’s voice couldn’t hold me. Today of course we have the FM and its various RJs, but none of them is a patch on Sayani and his charismatic voice.
And I have found a way to connect to the golden oldies thanks to Youtube. Oh what bliss! But I still have to get my hands on the compilation of all the Binaca Geetmalas over the years, which has been brought out in the form of CDs in Ameen Sayani’s velvety voice.