It’s her birth anniversary today. Geeta Dutt, whose voice influenced me deeply in my growing years, teaching me that its not the perfect tone and pitch but the soul that makes good music. I spent hours on end listening to the collection of Geeta Dutt songs we had on cassette. There was a small cassette player that I would use, not the larger music system that stood in my parents’ bedroom, where Hindustani classical music would play in the early hours of the morning and through the long evenings as well. The little cassette player was mostly left to my use and Geeta Dutt ruled the roost here. I remember the play-stop-rewind-play routine we used to pen down the lyrics of all her songs. Considering I had hardly any Hindi on me at the time (we lived in Bombay and I was fluent in English and Marathi only), I wonder what sense the words made to me, but I loved them nevertheless.
Geeta Dutt’s melancholy numbers appealed to me the most. I’m listening at this very moment to ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya‘, from Do Bhai, Music by SD Burman. The song is in Raag Bilawal and Annu Kapoor reminded me this morning, as I tuned into his radio show Suhaana Safar with Annu Kappor on my way to work, that the song was Geeta’s (she was then Geeta Roy) first solo break in 1947. Other favourites continue to be ‘Koi door se Aawaz de, Chale Aao..‘ from Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (1962, Music by Hemant Kumar, Lyricist Shakeel Badayuni) and ‘Kaise koi jeeye‘(1964, Baadbaan, Music also by Hemant da) . The desolation and desperation that Geeta Dutt could bring into her voice left everything else far behind and took me, even then when I was not yet ten, into a very different world. A world where only emotion mattered.
Annu Kapoor signed off this morning’s show with the immortal ‘Vaqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam‘ (1959, Kaagaz ke phool, Music by SD Burman, Geeta Dutt was in her prime in Guru Dutt’s movies!). As Geeta Dutt’s voice came through over my car stereo, the tears began to flow. I remembered sitting on daddy’s lap as a child, my ears glued to his chest, hearing him sing along to the stereo. I would tilt my head to watch his face as he sang. His eyes shut, a smile on his lips, his face resplendent with peace and joy.
In his time, my daddy would have put modern day Bollywood fans to shame. When he was young, he used to watch the First Day First Show of as many Hindi film releases as he could. He could tell you not only the actor, producer and director for nerly every film released through the late ’50s and early ’70s, but also the music director, lyricist, playback singers, and many stories peppered with gossip about the affairs, the tiffs and the saucy politics of the Hindi film industry. But when the music played, he would not speak. He would be totally immersed.
In the last few weeks of his life, daddy would ask me to sit next to him and sing. And he would too, as much as he could. He told me the best thing he did was encourage me to learn music. He told me that my voice gave him the deepest possible pleasure.
He left us so many years ago, but the gaping hole he left behind will never be filled. No wonder the melancholy in Geeta Dutt’s filled me with a deep personal pain this morning. A pain I did not fully understand as a child, a pain that now fills me with despair but also tinges my moments with the sweetness of nostalgia.