Much has already been written about late K.L.Saigal, the legendary singer who began his career as a ticket checker in the Railways and later as a salesman of typewriters, and who died at the prime of his life and at the pinnacle of his singing career. His life, outstanding qualities as a singer, his career in the film music industry and his premature end have all been subjects for writers on Indian music.
To me, and to many others, the name Saigal evoked memories of our younger days when we grew up on a diet of Hindi film songs in general and Radio Ceylon, Vividh Bharati and
gramophone music in particular. The days began with the morning programs of the Commercial Services of Radio Ceylon like 'Instrumental music', " Ek hi film", "Purani filmon ka geet," "Aap hi ke geet" and so on.The 'Purani filmon ka geet" program from 7.30 a.m.to 8a.m. contained songs of stalwarts like Pankaj Mullick, K.C .Dey, K .L.Saigal, NoorJahan, Kanan Devy, C.H. Atma, Umadevi,Rajakumari etc. But we waited for the last song of the program just before 8 a.m. as it always used to be a song by "swargeeya K.L.Saigal" in his inimitable style and unmatched voice. His songs like "karum kya aas niras (Dushman.),Jab dil hi toot gaya (Shahjahan)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHzaJFb3RYE,
Diya jalaon (Tansen),Mein kya jannon (Zindagi), Babul mora naihar (Street singer)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_BmHDD8rSM&feature=related
, Balam aaye baso (Devadas), Do naina matware (My sister), Soja raj kumari (Zindagi) etc., were the most popular.But, to me, the song 'Soja Raj Kumari' from film 'Zindagi' with music by the great Pankaj Mullick was simply Saigal at his magical best. The program ended after Saigal's song at 8 a.m. followed immediately by the advertisment spot for Loma Hairtone,viz., "Loma Time -8 a.m. For the Indian fans of Radio Ceylon 'Loma Time' was as good as Indian Standard time and people set their watches(watches of those days required frequent time adjutments!!)to Loma Time!!! Those having valve radio can still listen to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation(Videsh Vibhag) upto 8-30 a.m. on 41 metre band airing Hindi songs on the same old formats. The song just before 8 a.m. continues to be one by K.L.Saigal. Of course , 'Loma time' is not there and the presentation is a far cry from the days of gifted announcers like Gopal Sharma, Manohar Mahajan and Vijayalaxmi.
The passion for Saigal 's songs, especially Soja raj kumari, lingered even when I grew older. My efforts to get the gramophone records of his songs did not succeed for long. I could first get the cassettes of albums," Memories of greatness -Golden voice of K.L.Saigal, vol. II and III". VolumeIII contained the song 'Soja raj kumari'. In 1974, Polydor brought out the LP,"The Legendary Saigal, now available in Stereo," containing ten of his popular songs including' Soja rajkumari'. The declared intention of Polydor was to over come what they called the ' gramophonic recordings' and ' lack of sophistication' in the earlier recordings. But in the process of giving stereo effect and facelift, to the discerning listeners, the original quality of the songs was lost. It was years later that I could get all the volumes of LP records,
"Memories of Greatness - the golden voice of Saigal". The song 'Soja rajkumari' was included in vol.I.
Though heard countless times on gramophones , cassettes , stage shows and T.V channels, the magical spell of 'Soja raj kumari' did not diminish. Soon I could get the 45-rpm. record of Zindagi with the song 'Soja rajkumari' on one side brought out by Hindustan Music Products Ltd. from Calcutta. But my search for the original 78 rpm. record of the song was still futile.
At last, recently, I stumbled up on the original 78 rpm. record of the two songs from the film Zindagi, brought out by New Theatres Ltd., from a shop selling antiques at Dubai. Surprisingly the record was almost scratch free even though the original thin dust cover, with the famous 2 1/2" hollow circle to read the titles etc., was not there. The record has 'Soja raj kumari' on one side and 'Mein kya jaanu' on the other. It now occupies a proud position on my shelf. The thrill of acquiring this record is beyond words.
P.S. As an ode to the great singer and his rajkumari, the eminent Malayalam poet Sri O.N.V.Kurup wrote a poem , "paaduka Saigal paadoo, ninte rajakumariye paadi paadi urakkoo"( sing, Saigal, sing , go on singing and put your rajakumari to sleep). The poem has been tuned and sung in ghazal style by Umbayi, a noted ghazal singer.