Asha Bhosle and R.D. Burman – a musical journey and a concert

It took me six years to complete my Ph.D. It has taken me over sixteen years to come close to completing my collection of all of Rahul Dev Burman’s released music.  My personal journey began just before Panchamda died in 1994. Over the years I’ve laughed, cried, fallen in love, and celebrated the seasons of my life with his music. So when I heard that Asha Bhosle was coming to town to perform in the 2010 “Rahul and I” concert along with Sudesh Bhosle, I had to go. Ashaji has always been my favorite Bollywood playback singer and I’ve grown up listening to her from a very early age. I didn’t know who Panchamda was, but when I was three I sat by the gramophone and sang along to “Kine de reshmi churi,” one of the evergreen non-film Bengali gems that everyone in West Bengal knows.

Twelve members of R.D. Burman’s orchestra come up to the stage and start playing. I recognize the tune after two seconds of the intro. Sudesh Bhosle comes on stage and starts singing “Bachna ae haseenon” from Hum Kisise Kum Nahin. The crowd goes wild. Sudesh moves effortlessly on to another Kishore Kumar song, “Kehna hai” from Padosan. The orchestra plays the song to perfection. Not a note missed in the preludes or interludes, and I should know I have the notes memorized. After “dekha na hayre” (Bombay to Goa) and “Jahan teri yeh nazar hai” (Kaalia), two songs with lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri, Ashaji comes on the stage with the sizzling number “Mera naam hai Shabnam” from Kati Patang. She is almost 76 and she still brings down the house with the high notes. Ashaji then sings “Aaja aaja main hoon pyar” from Teesri Manzil.

Teesri Manzil is one of the first cassettes that I ever bought. I bought it in an HMV combo-pack with number of non-RD film scores. At that time I was a huge fan of Rafi Sahab and liked his voice even better than Kishore Kumar’s. Cassettes I had back them include scores from films such as Mere Sanam and Kashmir ki Kali. I was really into Bollywood music from the 60s and 70s.

Ashaji sings a few other memorable numbers sharing anecdotes of her relationship with Pancham with the audience. Later in the night Sudesh Bhosle comes back on the stage and they sing “Jaan-e-jaan dhoondta phir raha” from Jawani Diwani.

I think back to the one of the most vivid memories of chotomama, my uncle. My uncle is getting married and I am one of the barjatri going on the bus. We have no music, so I ask chotomama to buy a cassette. He gives me one of the most memorable compilations in Bengali in modern history – Mone pore Ruby Ray with Ashaji and Panchamda’s Puja numbers. One of the numbers on the cassette is the Panchamda-Ashaji duet “Janina kothai tumi”, the Bengali version of the song in Jawani Diwani. Years roll by. HMV becomes Saregama. Cassettes become CDs and them mp3s. That cassette still reminds me of chotomama.

On the stage, Ashaji starts singing Chura liya from Yaadon ki Baarat and the crowd goes crazy again. The crowd chants “once more, once more” once she is done and she gifts them with the “sajaonga…” stanza originally sung by Rafi Sahab.

I am in college. I have floppy hair that brushes my ears. I wear baggy trousers and a black jacket with a print of a scorpion on the back. Ashaji has just released the Rahul and I album with compositions rearranged by Leslie “Lez” Lewis. I am trying to figure out the chord structure of the original and cursing my parents for insisting that I study instead of learning to play the guitar (which is what I want to do). I convince myself this is a song that I’ll have to learn if I’m to ever become successful in my love life.

Ashaji is requested by someone from the audience to sing “Sanam teri kasam.” One of my wishes come true. This song has amazing chords played on keys and Ashaji’s version from Sanam Teri Kasam is better than Kishoreda’s in my opinion.

Two friends with no careers, no future, no jobs, and no ambition are riding bicycles around town aimlessly. Sanam Teri Kasam, Love Story, Romance, Teri Kasam. We are singing songs from this sparkling phase of R.D.’s career, mostly those in the voices of R.D. Burman and Amit Kumar.

Ashaji continues with songs from the early 80s. “Poocho na yaar kya hua” and the eternal classic “Yeh vaada raha”. The band is playing to perfection and I am snapping my fingers on cue. Then Ashaji moves on to numbers that the audience has heard many times. She sings Dum maro dum and “Piya tu aab to aaja”. Sudesh comes back on the stage and starts singing the Rafi number “Kya hua tera wada” from Hum Kisise Kum Nahin. Showing an amazing versatility in his vocal range, Sudesh sings in voices reminiscent of Kishoreda, Panchamda, and Rafi Sahab in the famous medley from the film that includes “Chand mera dil”, “ae dil kya mehfil”, “ho tum kya jaano”, and ending with “mil gaya humko saathi.” Each song is exceptionally tough to perform, but the notes are perfect. The brass-section is truly amazing.

Yaadon ki baarat/Hum kisise kum nahin” is the first audio CD I ever buy. I don’t even own a CD player at the time, so I listen to the songs on my computer. The quality of the music is exceptional and I can hear segments that I couldn’t before on cassette.

Ashaji quietens the audience and starts to sing “Mera kuchch saamaan” from Gulzar’s Ijaazat. There are no instruments playing in the background. I have heard this song so many times, but I am enthralled. This is the most magical moment of the evening for me.

Gulzar, Pancham, and Asha made a lethal combination. I think back to purchasing Dil Padosi Hai a non-film album with exceptional songs. I think about some of the other albums with songs written by Gulzar – Masoom, Libaas, Kinara, and Aandhi. Stylistically, these songs are definitely my favorite out of all the types that Panchamda composed since they show an unparalleled understanding of both Western and Hindustani music. So many evenings singing “Tujhse naraaz nahin zindagi” and “Huzur is kadar”.

The night is coming to a close. Ashaji sings a few more songs, all amazing RD creations… I’ve heard before countless times. It is like a religious experience for me that I don’t want to end.

As I make the trip back home from the concert, I reflect on the experience. I never had a chance to hear Panchamda in person. He died just as I was coming of age. But his music is tied in with so many memories.

Tonight I was able to connect again…

Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin… Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin, zindagi toh nahin.