I was probably six years old when I saw my 15 years old elder brother singing Md. Rafi’s “Jahaan daal daal par sone ki chidiya karti hai basera…”. He had won the competition that day, but the medal would be given on a different day, in a separate ceremony. He couldn’t attend that ceremony. When his name was announced, I was audacious enough to not only walk on to that stage, but also have the medal adorn my neck for the rest of the day. That’s the only medal I ever won for singing, without actually singing.
I went on to become a percussionist later on, again inspired by my brother in school. Singing always piqued my interest, however. While my Mom always sang well, Dad didn’t. They both were fond of music, though. We kids grew up listening to cassettes (that’s right) that were recorded and re-recorded with songs of Kishore Kumar, Md. Rafi and Mukesh. Music, especially Hindi film music from the 60s and 70s played a big role in our lives. In fact, it’s such an integral part of my daily life that there’s always a song that my mind keeps humming inside.
But, I never could sing. I remember being in the school choir only because there weren’t enough boys who could sing the National Anthem in tune. My position was in the rearmost row, behind tall girls whose long hair and long skirts ensured my thin form would be hidden from the audience. I’m sure that not a single girl from that choir would remember me as one of the singers in that group. Naturally, I chose to play percussions throughout.
Teenage cracked my voice and I started sounding worse than a donkey for the next few years. My family would shut me up whenever I opened my mouth to talk, forget singing. The voice would prick their ears.
I did sing sometimes, for my friends.. A little here and a little there. When I joined a band later, I was identified as the weakest singer in the group. I wasn’t fit to sing the chorus even. Still, I managed to sing a couple of lines on the stage, in a ticketed show, in front of a few hundred people, in an auditorium. And when we were done with the show, someone actually walked down to compliment my brother (the other one) and me on our performance. This recognition was for singing R.D.Burman’s lines from “Pyar tumhe kis mode pe” (Satte Pe Satta), despite five other male singers actually “singing” the remaining parts of the song. I raised my collar high that day.
I went on to win antakshari for three years in a row during my engineering days. But then, antakshari tests your knowledge of songs, not your singing capabilities.
It was when I met Bombaywali, that I really sang. I sang for her. And then I sang in her memory, downing whiskey, sitting in campfires, in front of my drink friends who wouldn’t care at that point if I sounded like Anu Malik with a sore throat. I sang, they enjoyed! And that tradition bas followed thereon.
I sang again when Little Birdie was in my life, I sang again, drunk, in hotel rooms this time, with my best friend. Never had I sung full songs in front of total strangers ever.
A friend introduced me to Clubhouse. I spent the first few hours on the app listening to Hindi poetry discussions and then joined a room that had professional singers crooning. A third room had just a handful of people and the room’s topic was “Your favourite song”. I recognized the moderator, had seen him the poetry room. I joined, waited, waiter for my turn. And my name was announced, I was asked to sing after introducing myself.
It was a little past midnight and my parents were asleep, so I went upstairs, climbed two floors for the first time in as many months (I had a hernia surgery). The pain didn’t deter me this time, the opportunity to sing in front of complete strangers wasn’t something to let go. Especially, when you can sing and not be judged. I sang “Aaj jaane ki zidd na karo…” in my usual style – antara first, mukhda later. One among the remaining 8 listeners acknowledged. There were no comments, no feedback, no “wah-wah” or “kya baat hai”.
I knew I sounded bad and went on mute. I didn’t care to comment on anyone else’s lyrical faux pas or when they missed a note when singing. After about six more songs, I was asked to sing again. I chose “Ek haseen shaam ko..” by Md. Rafi this time. I received a better reaponse! The host went on to mention that the previous song made him feel nostalgic as well. Then, a third happened.. “Phir wohi raat hai..” by Kishore Kumar. I dis screw it up, I always do.. To my surprise, someone in the audience liked the way I started the song! Half hour later, I was asked to sing by two people in the audience. The battery was down. Yet, I was determined by this time to sing my hearat out. I sang Md. Rafi’s “Tu is tarah se..”. Some in the audience appreciated directly, some contested my claim of being a bathroom singer. Nevertheless, I felt like I had already climbed Mt. Everest. It felt like I was still wearing that medal from my childhood, the only medal I’ve ever wo(r)n!!!
It had been two hours since I was on the terrace and mom was worried. I assured her I’m okay and asked if she thought I had jumped off the cliff. She replied in the negative.
“I could hear you singing..” she said.
“Felt like crows crowing, it’s 2 past 12, can’t you just sleep? Disturbing us and the neighborhood!” added Dad.
I remembered how that medal never belonged to me and was taken off my neck by my parents, laughing at my audacity.