Memories in melody
Ahead of a tribute concert, singers Suresh Wadkar and Penaz Masani recall their fond association with composer Jaidev Verma
A sparsely furnished one-room flat on the ground floor of Lily Court, a building in Churchgate, seems like a less-than-likely residence for a famous Bollywood music director to have spent his days in. It feels even more jarring in this era of easy lucre to think of how that person was a tenant all his life, having accessed the flat through a fan of his. And yet, Jaidev Verma — the late composer of legendary films like the 1961 Dev Anand-starrer Hum Dono — called that address his home till he passed away in 1987.
Hariharan will also perform at the festival
But throughout, he kept his modest door open for talented young singers whose careers he shaped almost single-handedly. And when we speak to two of them today — Suresh Wadkar and Penaz Masani — the insurmountable debt they owe Verma is evident in the fondness with which they recall him.
The two of them are slated to perform at a tribute concert for their mentor as part of Bandish, a three-day music festival at a SoBo venue. And both had first met the composer at different editions of Sur Singar, an erstwhile classical music competition that he would judge.
Masani tells us, "He was really chuffed by the fact that a Parsi girl was singing classical songs. And I went on to win the first prize. But after that, I joined Sydenham College and my music took a backseat. At the same time, though, Jaidevji was doing a Doordarshan programme for which he had composed a bhajan. So he told the producers, 'There is this lovely young girl I know of, but I don't remember her name. She's the one I want for this bhajan. Could you please find her for me?' And that's how my journey started."
Masani next went on to record a full-fledged bhajan album with Verma. So it's funny that, today, she is regarded more as a ghazal musician than someone who sings about the Bhakti movement. Again, it was Verma who pushed her in that direction. He would take her to a now-defunct mehfil in Delhi, where she was introduced to Madhurani, one of the greatest ghazal musicians the country has ever seen. She took Masani under her wings and taught her the genre's finer points. "So, do you understand my trajectory? I am what I am today because of Jaidevji," Masani admits.
Gaylord restaurant in Churchgate. Wadkar recalls how Verma would meet many famous music directors of his time within its walls
She also recounts how her afternoons as a teenager were spent under Verma's tutelage at his Lily Court flat, after which he would frequently take her to Gaylord in Churchgate, his favourite restaurant. There, he would always insist on paying for her, knowing that she never had more than '10 in her pockets. And Wadkar, too, has fond memories of both these places.
"After Sur Singar, I honed my craft under him for about seven or eight months. I would finish college in the morning in Juhu and head straight to Churchgate. And the first thing that Jaidevji would ask was, 'Naastha kiya hain kya? Yeh le, chai pee.'
We would then practise music for a while and then he would say, 'Chal, Gaylord chalte hain lunch ke liye. Bol, kya khayega?' He loved that place, and I met people like Shankar-Jaikishan and Shammi Kapoor there thanks to him. This was almost an everyday affair. And since I was only 18 or 19, you can imagine what a big deal it was for me," he remembers.
But our conversation with him ends on a note of tragedy. Towards the end of his days, Verma fell into a spot of bother with his landlords at Lily Court, who were the progeny of the original fan who had got him the place. So Wadkar and some other well-wishers got a 1,500-sq ft government flat allotted in his name.
They even acquired the keys and were to hand it over to Verma the next day. But he passed away all of a sudden that very night, meaning he never had the satisfaction of living in a house he could call completely his own. His entire life was spent in that one-room SoBo apartment furnished with just a bed and cupboard, with a harmonium taking pride of place around an assortment of scattered books. That, sadly, is how the cookie crumbled for a legendary composer who never got his due.
Remembering the greats
The three days of Bandish will pay homage to an assortment of great composers. TM Krishna, for example, will recreate the songs of the 17th-century Telugu poet and Carnatic musician Kshetrayya. Tributes will also be paid to Kishori Amonkar and Mogubai Kurdikar.
On August 3 to 5, 6.30 pm
At NCPA, Nariman Point.
Entry Rs 240 to Rs 1,200
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