Friday, January 18, 2013

Kundan Lal Saigal and Kailas Puri

Today being Saigal's 66th death anniversary, I post here a Saigal anecdote by my late father, S.V.Ramakrishnan, which he wrote for The New Indian Express, July 2, 2009. 

Saigal in his last film, Shahjehan (1946)
S.V.Ramakrishnan, circa 1962

My friend Kailas Puri and I, both in our twenties, were furiously preparing for IAS etc (now called Civil Services) exam. Our 'combined study' extended far beyond our academic options of History and Law. Kailas hailed from Sialkot in West Punjab—he would proudly refer it by its ancient name, Sakala, famous in Indian history. He also informed me that his surname 'Puri' is nothing but the corrupt form of Pururavas or Porus who fought Alexander the great. His claim of such illustrious descent could neither be proved nor disproved and I had to give him 'the benefit of doubt'. With his vivid memory and imaginative expression, Kailas was full of interesting tales, of which the anecdote about K.L.Saigal, whose 'hamesha jawan' (literally 'ever young') songs that both of us admired no end, stands forth in my memory.

One day we were discussing the date of the death of the great singer. I distinctly remembered the day and month; it was the 18th of January. But I had a doubt whether it was 1947 or 1948, while being sure that it was only either of them. Hearing this, Kailas instantly filled up the gap, affirming that it could be only 1947. How was he so sure, I asked. His explanation makes this story.

Until the Partition divided the land of five rivers and the accompanying holocaust displaced millions from where they belonged for generations, Kailas' family lived in comfort in their spacious ancestral house in Sialkot. His father was a music lover and a fan of K.L.Saigal too. He had a good collection of Saigal songs in gramophone records, the only form of sound recording available in those days. One day there was some commotion among the elders and Kailas' father in particular looked very sad. Learning on enquiry that, alas, Saigal was no more, Kailas, then eight or nine year old, had a prompt doubt in his mind. The immortal singer was no more, but what about his immortal songs? Kailas rushed to his father and asked him "Will his records sing now, that Saigal is dead?" This innocent question moved everyone to laughter and lightened even his father’s somber mood. It became a joke in the family and neighbourhood and everyone would pull the boy's legs for months afterward.

All this, Kailas concluded, could be only before August 1947 when the family had to flee for their lives as refugees to Delhi, leaving all their belongings including his father's treasured gramophone records. He recollected putting his famous question to his father in a hall where the latter was reclining on a large wooden swing (a popular piece of furniture in those days). It certainly did not take place at Delhi where they lived a severe life, crowded in a single room, for months before resettlement. With little space even for the family, there was no question of accommodating a gramophone or a swing. So, if the answer lies only between January 1947 and the next January, he was certain that it was the former.

With this rather uncommon sort of evidence, comic and tragic at the same time, we clinched the date in question.


  1. It is indeed both comic and tragic...

  2. K.L.Saigal is my all time favourite.

  3. Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, and now I have discovered your very eclectic blog. So you are shaped by both Calcutta and Madras. A lovely confluence indeed.