Akeli Dar Laage
I am not sure if ‘all-time favorite’ would be an appropriate term to describe those pieces of recorded music that journey with you for decades through the labyrinthine twists and turns of one’s life. But for lack of a better term, I would put it to use to introduce a track that has been a most wonderful and comforting companion to me for several years and in diverse situations. This is a dadra in Raag Pahadi sung by senior Patiala gharana vocalist Jagdish Prasad, in his effortless style that belies the years of rigorous training and riyaaz, which when blended with brilliance and virtuosity produce a master musician.
The 10.28 minute long track starts, as is usual, with a few seconds of the tanpura, then the gentle strumming of a swar mandal or zither that leads into a prefatory alaap which succeeds in sweeping you right into the piece, waiting for more. Mind you, all this happens in a mere forty seconds, but the singer’s voice, sure and fleet as it traverses the opening phrases of the melody, locks the listener’s attention into place immediately. It isn’t a particularly sweet voice. On the contrary, it has a tart and spicy edge to it. But the sheer tunefulness, and the easy, almost nonchalant intimacy with the idiom make it a masterpiece for me. Not to speak of the expressive quality of the singing, which moves from alaap to lyrics saying “shaam bhayi Ghanshyaam na aaye, akeli dar laage….”. Improvising on the words “dar laage” in a myriad ways, the singer works like a jeweler, embellishing, gilding, working now with filigree patterns, and sometimes leaving a phrase starkly unornamented.
Then it is time to move on to each of the two antaras in the composition, that construct a narrative of love and longing on a rainy evening (birkhaa ki saanjh), with the skies streaked in different hues of pink as the sun sets (aakaash gulabi), a balmy breeze (narm hawaa). Nothing out of the ordinary in terms of imagery, but Jagdish Prasad ji ‘s singing and the inimitable tabla accompaniment of the legendary Nizamuddin Khan Sahab transform the piece into a classic. Though the influence of his guru Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab is amply evident in Jagdish Prasad ji’s singing, there is no trace of the imitative quality that followers of a distinctive style often fall prey to.
For years, it has been the track that I have played when I want to hear a voice that sings with effortless mastery. It has also sung to me on many a long drive from one city to the other. It also happens to be one of the last pieces of music that my mother heard as she lay battling lung cancer at the very end of her life. As soon as she heard the first minute or so of the track, she looked up from her hospital bed and asked “Jagdish Prasad”? In a few hours, she was gone.
In July 2011, Jagdish Prasad ji passed away in Kolkata where he had lived for many years. But for his admirers he leaves behind his voice and his music, immortalized in recordings like “Akeli Dar Laage”.
This article was first featured in my column Music Matters for HT Mint. If you prefer to read it on the livemint site here is the link: http://www.livemint.com/2011/08/05204846/The-story-of-a-song.html