A character sketch of SD Burman. (This was written in 2006 for the souvenier released to commemorate his birth centenary )
Reconstructing a personality behind a name is always a challenging task. More so if the person concerned left the world thirty one years back. Those early decades when SD Burman was most active as a musician, have only scattered footprints remaining today. No one recorded interviews those days. If they did then they are lost in the dungeons of AIR. That is the hurdle we face when we try to discover Dada Burman, the person. A few magazine interviews, an odd radio program, scattered writings and his songs are the channels through which Sachinda speaks to us from his youth.
What are we left with then? A small number of photographs, first hand accounts from Manna Dey, Meena Kapoor, Gulzar and Manohari Singh that we took especially for this feature. And then there is the richest road map - Ameen Sayani's rich library of recorded interviews. It is with these motley pointers that we will embark on our journey to meet the man behind such mesmerizing music.
Let us first sift through the pictures. What do we see? A tall, stately figure dressed in an immaculate white dhoti and kurta with shining gold buttons. An unsmiling face looking into the camera.
Cut to another image. A balding plate, an old wrinkled face with a kindly visage looking heavenwards. An indulgent patriarch? A Buddhist lama? [he was often mistaken for one we discover]
And then another image. A suave young man in a smart buttoned up waistcoat worn over his starched dhoti kurta.. The young prince of Tripura. A handsome royal but with an unsmiling countenance even back then!
The basic impression one draws from this sketchy montage is of a serious person. Burman Dada comes across as a traditional, straight jacketed and austere person regal in stature. We always see him dressed in a simple dhoti kurta even in the most dazzling functions.
We cut off from the pictures and fish out the CD of Aradhana. The 1969 anthem 'Roop Tera Mastana' blares out. Sultry, urgent and heart thumping, this song was a rage in it's times. Could the same Buddhist lama-like person have created this compulsively sensuous song? The dichotomy is striking.
Aradhana comes out... in goes Funtoosh, a 1956 delight from the house of Navektan. Dev Anand, in a rare farcical outing, is reveling singing Dene wala jab bhi deta poora chhappar phaad ke deta. Sahir is whacky and Kishore gets a free run.
Funtoosh comes sliding out and vintage Bangla songs get the stage. A faint crackle, some hissing and the sound of catchy tabla beats dimmed by the passage of some 70 years set the stage. And then a powerful voice wafts out almost breaking through the wear and tear of time. 'Oi Dushtu Papiha Bole Piya Piya'... Teasing. Mischievous. Who is the singer? Reach out for the CD cover. Singer: Kumar Sachin Dev Burman. Same as SD Burman?
Contrasting images emerge from this exercise. The dhoti kurta clad patriarch does not tie into the naughty sensuality of 'Raat Akeli Hai'. The arrogant prince does not flow into the simplicity of 'Sun Mere Bandhu Re'. The real Sachin Dev Burman continues to remain an enigma.
We turn to accounts of people who knew him for direction. Anecdotes start flowing in... A multi-hued, vibrant picture starts emerging from behind the white dhoti kurta-canvas.
“Burmanda was a nurturing boss" recalls arranger Manohari Singh. "He would give his team the freedom to nurture their individual styles. His humility was such that he would take a suggestion from even a junior musician if it was good”. Demanding when it came to quality and generous when it came to praise, Dada would often reward his musicians with (what he considered) a princely amount of ten rupees! His ultimate token of appreciation, however was one that he would reserve only for select favourites like Lata, and that was his special Kolkatta paan. A paan offering was the ultimate compliment anyone could get from Sachin Dev Burman.
Shakti Samanta recalls " In the early days Burmanda and I would travel together by train and tanga. He would often use his paan to trade in a ride on the tanga." Dada used his paans as one would use gold asharfis... sometimes to barter and sometimes to reward.
Dada was quaintly thrifty in his ways. His habits are recalled with much amusement today. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, then a flutist in his orchestra, laughs about the incident when he got Burman Dada annoyed by polishing off a bowlful of rasgullas. This he did just as Dada closed his eyes to think of a tune! So miffed was Dada that the next day he commented to Lata "See Lota today his (Chaurasias) flute is so sweet, you know why because he ate so many sweets at my place!"
If Dada was possessive of his rasgullas, his paans were his lifeline. Meena Kapoor, recalled that Dada had once cancelled his recording with her because he forgot his paan dabba in the train. "He was too upset to record", she smiled. Sachinda had admitted to his paan love in an interview once "A good paan goes a long way in building the mood for composing", he opined. So famous was he for his paan obsession that he inspired poet Shailendra to pen the famous 'Paan Khaye Saiyan Hamaro'!.
Dada finally paid a tribute to the paan in through a medium he best loved... a bhatiyali song. Penned by his wife Meera, the song 'Ghaate lagaiya dinga paan khaiya jao" was sung with great zest by Dada. The frugality in Sachinda's ways however did not touch his music. To his music he gave all he had. In fact when it came to a question of his music or football Dada could transform into the most hospitable host. This was discovered by Kishore Kumar one fine afternoon. Over to Kishore
There was a time when I was very busy with my acting and was not available to music directors. Much to Burmanda's frustration this included him as well. One day Dada called me up and complained
"Kishore you don't love me any more".
'What are you saying Burmanda, that's not true" I protested.
"OK if you really love me will you come to my place today afternoon? "
"Don't worry I shan't pester you for a rehearsal".
"Then why are you calling me?", I inquired suspiciously.
"Nothing, I just want you to have lunch with me".
"Lunch?", I was very surprised. [refer to incident with Hari Prasad Chaurasia].
In the afternoon when I reached his home I was greeted with a lavish spread. There were the choicest of dishes on the menu and I was pampered silly by Burmanda. After the very scrumptious lunch I said to him, "Dada, what a wonderful lunch. Now I must take leave and proceed home for a siesta".
But at the very moment Burman Dada caught me in a vice like grip and shouted out to his servant, "Aye, Quickly lock the door from outside" and then he turned to me with a mischievous glint in his eye and said "Now Kishore how are you going to run away? You have no choice but to sit for a rehearsal. What did you think I treated you to lunch for nothing?" !!!
"Dada's sense of humour was impeccable. He would make us laugh and laugh" revealed Manna Dey when we interviewed him for this commemorative. Despite his legendary status and royal background, SD Burman was a simple person. He never cared about materialistic things like status etc... He stayed in a modest hotel for very long. He used to say to me 'Come eat with me then we shall go to the studio together'. We would then sit on the bench of the hotel and eat. People would wonder over his behaviour, after all he was a respected and successful music director. But he never bothered. He was above it all."
His favourite lyrcist, Shailendra's son Shaili Shailendra recalled another incident about Dada. "There was a time when my father and Salilda (Chowdhury) realised that something needed to be done about the veteran artists who had come into bad times. After toying around with idea for a bit they took it to Sachinda for his opinion and blessings. Dada listened to their plan of setting up a charity and encouraged the noble intentions". "Dada", said Shailendra, "Since you approve of our plan so much, we would like to make the auspicious beginnings with your blessings. How much will you contribute to the cause?". Sachinda thought for a long time, scratched his chin and then said, "Shailendra, mukhda to bahut achcha tha lekin antare mein aake thodi si gadbad ho gayi..... "
Sachin Dev Burman could infuse music into almost anything. Legend says he once proposed to give music to accompany a hockey match!
The talk of hockey brings focus to Dada's other great passion... sports. He was an avid sportsman in his youth. A state tennis champion, he did very well in cricket as well. "At the YMCA in Calcutta, the British players would avoid me initially because I was an Indian", Burmanda wrote recalling his early days, " but then I befriended the marker there and practiced consistently and improved my game so much that soon they all wanted to play with me". Burmanda carried the same zest for sports to his autumn years as well. He used to root (predictably) for East Bengal and would follow all their matches zealously. The routine was set. Before there was a match, he would invite the team for dinner [a great gesture given his tight-fistedness] and give them tips on the game.
God forbid if East Bengal lost a match, everything - recording, rehearsal etc. would be cancelled. "If during a match Mohun Bagan hit a goal against East Bengal then Sachinda would get very upset. I was a Mohun Bagan supporter. So often after a goal, he would order me to get out of his house", laughs Manna Dey.
Burmanda was also an avid fishing buff, another habit he carried over from his Tripura days. He would often go to Powai lake for fishing with Mukul Bose and Guru Dutt. A regular morning walker, he would be out in the streets early in the morning. It was in these times that most of his tunes would strike him. "Burman Saab was a nature lover; he would always want to incorporate sounds of nature in his songs" said Manohari Singh. The romance of the seasons would never leave him untouched. Kishore Kumar fondly recalled moments when Burmandada would turn up on a beautiful overcast day, hijack him out of a recording and spirit him off to open fields in the outskirts.
"Dada remained an impulsive child at heart right till his last moment" recalled his favourite 'Lota' (nightingale Lata Mangeshkar). "His music was his toy". Gulzar Saab reaffirms the observation when we met him in Bombay for this commemorative. "He was a child at heart. Choti choti baton pe rooth jaate the , Majrooh (Sultanpuri) Saab would often say Burman Dada is a big spoilt child!". But he was also very humble. Despite being such an acclaimed composer he would always be anxious that his precious tune would be rejected! A strong critic of his own work, Burmanda is reported to have called up a reviewer and admonished him for giving a favourable review to one of his own soundtracks that he did not hold in high-esteem. "You praised my work, which according to me is poor. You should have not done that. It is not good for a critic", he explained. Such great humility is a thing of the past now.
"Dada used to make a grand picture", continues Gulzar. "I vividly remember he would emerge from his evening bath dressed in crisp white. He would then sit on the harmonium, pour himself a small drink, tie a gajra around his wrist and start composing. His one drink would last him all evening."
Asha Bhosle adds another stroke to this vibrant portrait in an Ameen Sayani interview. "He would often ask me to tie the gajra around his wrist. "You are my child aren't you", he would say affectionately. "Dada", I would ask him. "How do you manage to create such youthful, vibrant tunes at such an advanced age?" He would just laugh it off and say "That's a secret". Dada aap bahut rangeen hain I would admonish and he would laugh heartily like a child."
Dada aap bahut rangeen hain...
Asha's off-hand remark encapsulates SD Burman's personality succinctly. Hermitlike yet passionate, childlike yet introspective, humorous yet temperamental, eccentric yet rooted, stubborn yet humble. Dada's persona had shades and hues that rarely come together in a single person. He truly was as unique and inimitable as his music.
Dada would often say to Manna "Music mera bhai bhi hai, beta bhi aur bandhu bhi" Dada Burman dedicated his lifetime to music and nothing probably describes him better than the folk song that first beckoned him into this magical world
Bandhu Rongila Re..!