When a song by Sonu Nigam threw me off track

By Sushmita Bose

Music has the power to elevate — even the most humdrum, boring person. I remember a certain loudmouth, a (seemingly) obnoxious man, pulling out his guitar, strumming its wondrous chords and singing Grateful Dead’s Ripple like a boss on a terrace in Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park one blustery winter evening; I was transfixed… and it changed my opinion of him forever — never again did I consider him “insufferable”.

Music has its set of fanboys and fangirls — much more than films even; there’s a certain method to acting whereas music is spontaneous, organic, and people have been known to do downright crazy things when they hear their “idols” break into it.

Having said that, I’d always believed I could never be swayed into thraldom — of the Woodstock variety — because I’m quite blind when it comes to being starry-eyed.

Sometime in the 90s, on my third day at my first job, I had a 5-minute-long conversation with Amitabh Bachchan (he had called — on the landline, there weren’t mobiles those days — for my then editor, a friend of his; I’d picked up the phone, and the great actor was nice enough to indulge me). He’d even asked, “And why are you at work so late?” Giddy with glee, I bounced back to the newsroom to gush about my experience.

My seniors immediately grounded me: “This is all in a day’s work.”

That, I assumed, set the tone for the rest of my career — and life. I can be impressed, mesmerised but never have an epiphanic moment driven by popular culture.

And then, one evening last week, all that changed.

A colleague offered me a lift home and, during the course of the ride, made me listen to karaoke renditions of Bollywood songs he’d recorded. He’d done a damn fine job with them, working with a bunch of amazing songs; but one stood out: ‘Abhi mujh mein kahin, baaki thodi si hain zindagi’ (roughly — and poorly — translates into “there’s still a bit of life left inside me, somewhere”).

“It’s from Agneepath — the re-tread, starring Hrithik Roshan,” my colleague informed, when he saw my quizzical expression. (I’m a big Bollywood fan, but hadn’t watched this Agneepath version; and never heard the song.)

“Please listen to the original song, Sonu Nigam at his best!” my colleague continued. “He’s great, ain’t he?”

I agreed whole-heartedly; Sonu is a fantastic singer; his sheer range is staggering, and he sings with an emotional cadence that’s unbeatable.

Couldn’t wait to hear the original.

I returned home and downloaded it. That night and next morning, I listened to ‘Abhi mujh mein kahin’ on loop, for hours on end.

I’ve done this with many other songs: heard them out over and over. But, this time, something subliminally extra happened. I decided it was not enough to know Sonu Nigam is fantastic. I had to tell him.

Since I’ve never grappled with the giving end of fanfare, I was at a loose end. I had to speak to someone about it.

Zeroed in on this Assamese friend of mine who’s obsessed with a singer most people haven’t heard of; he’s forever forwarding me WhatsApp clips of his “singing god” (I usually forget to listen to them, but always remember to send him thumbs ups).

He has his own magnificent obsession, and now I had one too. I gathered he’d empathise, and not judge.

“I want to send an email to Sonu Nigam,” I took him to a quiet place and told him.

“You mean fan mail?”

“I want to tell him he’s great, that this song I heard is the best thing ever. Don’t know why it’s so important — but it is. How can I get his email ID?”

He suggested I reach out to this WKND columnist, a Bollywood insider, also a dear friend.

Voila! (And why didn’t I think of it myself?)

The Bollywood insider friend didn’t have an email ID to give. “But take Sonu’s number from me, WhatsApp him.”

“Are you sure he won’t think I’m some psycho stalking him?” I asked fearfully. It used to be such a breeze calling up politicians and film stars on their mobiles, so I had no idea what had come over me.

“No yaar, have you lost it or what?” he scolded me.

I saved the number he sent on my contact list, then took a deep breath and thrashed out a WhatsApp message to Sonu Nigam — obviously after stating I got his number from our common friend (was still fearful he’d think I’m a psycho): ‘Abhi mujh mein kahin’ is the best thing that’s happened to me in a long, long time. That no one else but him could have done justice to it. Therefore, to my mind, he’s the best singer in the world.

Elemental and inane, but I had to be in my element to deliver the message. Sent.

A few minutes later, I got a response from Sonu Nigam. He thanked me for my “beautiful” message (yay!), and that, yes, it’s a magical song, and he was lucky to have the opportunity to sing it. And how happy he is that six years after the song released (in 2012), it’s still touching hearts. “We shall stay in touch, and perhaps meet in Dubai,” he signed off.

For the next few days, while I continued to listen to ‘Abhi mujh mein kahin’, I couldn’t knock that silly grin off my face.

sushmita@khaleejtimes.com

Sushmita is editor, WKND. She has a penchant for analysing human foibles

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