It was 10 am. The music composer, a respected name in Hindi film circles, opened the door to his house to find a bedraggled young man standing there. Wet from head to toe, his umbrella broken and slippers torn, he was a sight indeed.
Taking a moment to gather his wits, the composer exclaimed, “Bakshi, tum aadmi ho ya bhoot?” (Bakshi, are you a man or a ghost?) The composer asked him why he had come braving the heavy rain and flooded roads. To which, the young man replied, “Because you asked me to come here at 10 o’clock, so that you could listen to my poems.”
“Yes, I did ask you to come. But it wasn’t this important!”
“Sir, it may not be so important for you. But to get you to listen to my poems is very important for me.”
Still reeling from the shock, the older man let the youngster in. He learnt that the youngster had left Borivali, the suburb of Bombay where he was staying, at 6 am and walked 19 kilometres (bus and train services having been suspended) to reach the composer’s house in Santa Cruz. In his hand was his book of poems, wrapped in a bath towel and now sheltered by the broken umbrella.
Impressed by his ardour, the composer decided to take him on for his forthcoming film. And that is how Anand Bakshi, the youngster, came to work with Roshan, the noted music composer. The film CID Girl (1959) was just the break Bakshi had been waiting for. After months of calling at studios to meet directors, composers and producers, he was working with a big composer at last.
If Roshan had known Anand Bakshi’s mental makeup, he wouldn’t have been so shocked that wet morning. Because Bakshi was driven by a single purpose: that of writing songs for Hindi films. And nothing or nobody – not even life, in spite of many attempts – could dislodge him from the path to his dream. In coming to Bombay, he had weathered several severe storms, so walking 19 kilometres through flooded roads that morning was nothing.
Right from his childhood, Anand Bakshi knew that he wanted to become a playback singer for Hindi films. Enchanted by the lilt of the songs he used to hear in his birthplace Rawalpindi, he wanted to be part of that magic, too. As it happened, a few cataclysmic events shook the foundation of the young lad’s life and left their stark imprint on his psyche.
Bakshi grew up to be a perceptive, emotional and highly sensitive person. He couldn’t become a singer, but he did become a songwriter. And he channelled his formative experiences and his worldview into his songs, probably more than most other lyricists.
In his early years in pre-partition Rawalpindi, Bakshi found himself torn between the compulsions of the external world, which expected him to behave along expected lines, and the magic of the inner world of music and stories he created for himself. His paternal grandfather, who was a superintendent of prisons in Punjab Jails, and his father, a bank manager, were angered and disgusted when Bakshi displayed his passion for songs and singing.
Will you, a Mohyal, forsake respectable professions to become a wandering wastrel – a kanjar! – was what Papaji’s (his father) harsh words and the business end of his Bauji’s (grandfather) stick used to ask him.
But Bakshi found a way around this problem. He would roam around his mohalla reciting his poems and singing film songs and verses only when Bauji and Papaji were not at home. He loved to sing and play the banjo. He would happily write verses for the immortal classics of Punjab: Shireen-Farhad, Sohni-Mahiwal, Heer-Ranjha and Laila-Majnu. His mind and heart were nourished by the musical notes of the azaan, the Granth Sahib and Ramayana emanating from the prayer halls nearby, as also the songs of the farmers.
Years later, Bakshi would give new expression to his love for his mitti (his homeland), and his intense longing for it, through songs like Aaya Hai Mujhe Phir Yaad Woh Zaalim (Dewar), Mere Des Mein Pawan Chale Purvayee (Jigri Dost) and Ghar Aaja Pardesi (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge).
His talent for writing words that had a strong visual appeal made his songs that much more striking. Though I am not from Punjab, I can never listen to Ghar Aaja Pardesi without feeling a stab of yearning for the mustard fields, the rushing rivers and the open forecourts of the kothis of Punjab, a place I have visited several times and love dearly. But this stab is also the stab of nostalgia triggered by the innocence and freedom of my own childhood – I know this. After all, no matter where we hail from, we all want to return to our childhood.
A stanza from Aaya Hai Mujhe Phir Yaad is particularly poignant:
“Woh khel woh saathi woh jhoole
Woh daud ke kehna aa choole
Hum aaj talak bhi na bhoole woh
Khaab suhana bachpan ka.”
For Bakshi, this yearning was all the more acute because he had to leave his pind, his village, under severely trying circumstances – in the immediate aftermath of the Partition. Never to return to it. And when the yearning juxtaposed itself with the intense alienation he felt in the frenetic world of Hindi films during his days as a lyricist in Bombay, we got songs such as Yahaan Mai Ajnabi Hoon (Jab Jab Phool Khile):
“Kabhi pehle dekha nahin yeh samaa
Yeh mai bhool se aa gaya hoon kahaan
Yahaan mai ajnabi hoon, mai joh hoon bas wahi hoon.”
Though Bakshi sought success in Bombay, and found it, he wasn’t enamoured by the trappings of either the city or the film world. He was constantly fighting off a lack of mooring in this world of artifice. Given a chance – and a choice – I think he would have instantly run back to his beloved Rawalpindi.
But he knew this was not to happen. Because he needed the world of films for his success and livelihood. And because writing songs for Hindi films was his life-breath. How could he forsake that? So he poured out his disenchantment, longing and anguish through his songs.
In Yun Neend Se Woh Jaan-e-Chaman, that delectable number from Dard Ka Rishta, so exquisitely set to music by RD Burman, one wonders if he was thinking about himself when he wrote:
“Is shehar se achcha tha bahut apna woh gaon
Panghat hai yahaan koi na peepul ki woh chaaon
Paschim mein woh purab ki pawan jaag uthi hai
Pardes mei phir yaad-e-watan jaag uthi hai.”
Just like his mitti, his Maaji (mother) was a decisive influence on his life. Sumitra Bali Bakhshi adored her Nand (as she used to call Anand Bakshi), and he thought the world of her. So, when he lost her at the tender age of six, his world was shattered. For Nand, life would never be the same again. He would remain forever inconsolable, even years later, when he had won material success, fame and the love of millions all over India.
The bond between Nand and his Maaji gave us some of the finest portrayals of the mother-child relationship in Hindi film songs. When Kishore Kumar sang “Kaun si ek cheez jo yahaan nahin milti, sab kuch mil jaata hai lekin haan, maa nahin milti” in Jaise Ko Taisa, he was echoing Bakshi’s deepest thoughts. And watching Sharmila Tagore emote his words “Bada natkhat hai yeh kishan kanhaiya, kya kare Yashoda maiya” in Amar Prem, the lyricist must have imagined his mother singing the song to him. Interestingly, Tagore’s character calls her son Nandu in this song.
Bakshi wrote “Daiya re daiya Yashoda maiya” (Aasra), “Tu kitni achchi hai” (Raja aur Runk) and that wonderful lullaby “Mera raja beta boojhe ek paheli” (Anuraag), drawing from the same source of inspiration.
In late 1947, when the subcontinent was reeling in the aftermath of Partition, Bakshi’s family had to leave Rawalpindi in a hurry. They fled to Delhi in a Dakota military plane and took shelter in the home of a close family member there.
When Bakshi and his family regained their collective breath a few days later, they went through the meagre belongings they had managed to hurriedly pack from Rawalpindi. Among the handful of things the lad Bakshi had managed to bring was a photo of his mother. As long as he was alive, that photo remained with him.
In a conversation with journalist Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha in 1993, published in The Quint, Bakshi recalled an interesting incident. One day in the late 1960s, the composer SD Burman briefed Bakshi about a scene in Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana and asked him to write a song for it. Three days later, when Bakshi showed Burman what he had written, the composer was delighted! “How did you write such a wonderful song?” he asked Bakshi. To which the songwriter said, “Dada, my mother passed away when I was a little child. When I wrote this song, I thought of her.”
Burman was touched. He may have also felt surprised, because in the early days, he hadn’t taken Bakshi seriously as a lyricist. The fact that the latter had originally wanted to become a playback singer and not a lyricist had probably coloured the composer’s initial opinion about him. As for Bakshi, he was overjoyed at Burman’s reaction, because he held the composer in high regard. Thus was born the song Chanda Hai Tu Mera Suraj Hai Tu.
For Bakshi, as for many others who came to Bombay to work in films, life was a series of struggles. As if the early upheavals – his mother’s early passing, his being sent away to boarding school by his Bauji and Papaji (which signalled to him that he was an outcast in his own family), being dismissed from the navy for participating in a mutiny, and witnessing the carnage of Partition – weren’t enough, he suffered a long dry patch in Bombay.
He persevered on the strength of his self-confidence, and the hope that all would be well one day. But for this himmat and hausla, Bakshi would have crumbled.
He was to pour out these thoughts and emotions in landmark songs at various points of time. Even today, Zindagi Har Kadam Ek Nayi Jung Hai (Meri Jung), Safal Hogi Teri Aradhana (Aradhana) and Gaadi Bula Rahi Hai (Dost) are some of the most beautiful and stirring songs in Hindi cinema. Clothed in atmospheric music and sung so well by the playback singers, the significance and impact of these songs have extended far beyond the silver screen.
One day, Bakshi received a letter from a stranger. In it, the man recounted how he had decided to take his own life. He said he had lain down on the railway tracks passing through his village. As he lay there waiting for the train, these words from a song wafted to his ears:
“Gaadi ka naam na kar badnaam, patri pe rakhke sar ko
Himmat na haar kar intzaar, aa laut jaayen ghar ko
Yeh raat jaa rahi hai, woh subah aa rahi hai
Gaadi bula rahi hai, seeti bajaa rahi hai
Chalna hi zindagi hai, chalti hee jaa rahi hai.”
Horrified at the cardinal blunder he was about to commit, the man sprang up from the tracks and jumped out, just as a train hurtled past him. Till his last breath, Bakshi considered this letter to be his biggest award.
His varied experiences taught Bakshi that Time was the only master in life, a master whose dictates one simply had to obey. He called himself “waqt ka mureed” (a fan/disciple of time).
In song after song, he wrote eloquently about the impermanence of everything, and the vicissitudes of time. “Jagat musafirkhana, laga hai aana jaana” (Balika Badhu), “Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo maqaam” (Aap Ki Kasam), “Yeh jeevan hai” (Piya Ka Ghar), “O maanjhi teri nayya se choota kinara” (Aar Paar), “Iska naam hai jeevan dhara” (Jeevan Dhara) and “Ek ritu aaye ek ritu jaaye” (Gautam Govinda) are among my eternal favourites.
But life was not always grim. Into his ocean of struggle came lifeboats, from time to time.
AC Moore and Davis Wilfred Williams, who, on finding a 14-year-old Bakshi among the mutineers in the Royal Indian Navy, decided to merely dismiss him from service instead of sending him to jail. Bismil Saeedi, editor of the magazine Beeswin Sadi, who mentored a young Anand Bakshi and helped him finetune his poetry.
Chhitar Mal Swaroop, a ticket checker with Western Railways, who, instead of booking him for loitering ticketless in Marine Lines railway station, fell in love with his poetry and housed him rent-free for three years in his humble digs in Borivali. Actor-producer Bhagwan Dada, who asked him to write songs for his film Bhala Aadmi, thereby helping him make his debut as a lyricist. And many others.
Bakshi was intensely grateful for these chance encounters that gave his life new meaning. I think of Aate Jaate Khoobsurat (Anurodh), among the very first film songs I was hooked to, as his ode to such encounters.
During his first few years in Bombay, when he was desperately trying to make a name for himself in the film industry, Bakshi’s wife and children lived in Lucknow. While one half of his heart (and the elders in his family) told him to chuck his seemingly quixotic quest and find a ‘respectable’ job so that he could afford to keep his family with him, the other half told him to hang on.
In later years, when he was an established lyricist with a bungalow of his own, he was to hold his family close to him always, even insisting that his wife or one of his children remain in the same room as he wrote song after song. His abiding love for his family – and at a deeper level, his respect for family as an institution – found expression in “Saat samandar paar se, gudiyon ke bazaar se “ (Taqdeer), “Lalla lalla lori doodh ki katori” (Mukti) and “Mere soone jeevan ka aasra hai tu, kehta hai be-aasra hai tu” (Aasra).
Lalla Lala Lori is probably my favourite lullaby; it makes me want to hold my little child close to my bosom. Rakesh Anand Bakshi, the lyricist’s son, told me that his father would often put him and his siblings to bed by softly stroking their eyelids and foreheads.
Bakshi had a curious relationship with self-confidence. While on the one hand he knew that he was a very good songwriter, critics (who thought he was good enough for only tukbandi – using rhyming words), and the notion that one was only as good as one’s last song, made him feel insecure. So what did he do? He used his fear of being out of work, his fear of being ‘discovered’ that he wasn’t good at his work, to write excellent songs.
I haven’t heard of anyone else upending the imposter syndrome more productively – or more peculiarly. He looked at every song as a challenge to prove his worth. Mai Shaayar Toh Nahin (Bobby) and Mai Shaayar Badnaam (Namak Haram) were perhaps his way of telling everyone that he was no great shakes as a poet. But I think the latter song was – knowingly or otherwise – his way at cocking a snook at his critics. Because it is a brilliant song, a song worthy of the best of poets.
Much later, when eager producers, directors and composers started queueing up outside his door, he did manage to master this insecurity to a large extent. Strangely though, it never went away completely. This anxiety and his love for writing songs that captured the hearts of people were to remain strange bedfellows until the very end.
Along with his struggles, Bakshi’s stint in the armed forces (first the navy and then the army) moulded his values and worldview. His thinking, like his physical bearing, was ramrod straight. And this led to a sterling work ethic. Several directors and producers vouch for the fact that he held their deadlines sacrosanct.
By Bakshi’s own admission, he ensured that no shooting or recording ever got delayed because of him. In his brilliant song Darpan Jhoot Na Bole (Darpan), he summarises the importance of being true to one’s own conscience at all times, a principle he lived by.
“Bandhan toda jaa sakta hai, jag ko choda jaa sakta hai
Apne aap se bhaag rahe ho, tum ho kitne bhole
Darpan jhoot na bole, darpan jhoot na bole.”
Bakshi’s orderly mind and his systematic way of working can be largely attributed to his life in the armed forces, though its seeds were sown in his childhood by his Bauji and Papaji. In his book Nagme Kisse Baatein Yaadein, Rakesh Anand Bakshi recalls the lyricist saying that he didn’t need to get away to a mountain lodge or an exotic hotel in order to write. He would write in his room at home, amidst the hiss and clatter of daily life. If anything, he built his mountain lodges and exotic retreats in his mind.
For him, the story of a film was everything. “Story sunkar hee dimaag chalta hai” (My mind starts ticking only after I listen to the story) was a favourite quip of his. The late Laxmikant, one half of the composer duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal, has gone on record to say that the songwriter would turn out brilliant songs in a matter of minutes. He’d made it a habit.
Another legacy of his army life was an abiding love for his nation and for peace, and a loathing for violence. “Desh premiyon, aapas mein prem karo desh premiyon” (Desh Premee) and “Dil diya hai jaan bhi denge” (Karma) are are the work of a man who had witnessed the horrors of Partition and later, served his country with great pride.
For Bakshi, taqdeer (destiny) was important. But he did believe in the power of tadbeer (one’s actions) too. In the final analysis, it does seem as if he rated tadbeer a shade higher than taqdeer.
In other words, while he thought much about the power of destiny, he also thought one could overturn fate and make things happen through one’s deeds – a thought he articulated so well in Haathon Ki Chand Lakeeron Ka (Vidhaata).
Apart from Bakshi’s keen grasp of the story of a film and the situation of a song, his ability to write in simple language ensured that his songs appeal to one and all. A self-effacing man, he put this down to the fact that his vocabulary was very limited, since he had studied only up to Class 8.
In the same breath, he would add that Dinanath Madhok, Sahir Ludhianvi and Shailendra, the three lyricists he respected the most, had advised him to follow this dictum.
Bakshi passed away in March 2002. Until a few days before he drew his last breath, he was writing songs for films. Having kept up with the changing expectations of the industry and the morphing lingo of pop culture, he was in demand till the very end.
By then, he had worked with composers of every stripe: from S Mohinder, Roshan, Naushad and SD Burman, to Jatin-Lalit, Dileep Sen-Sameer Sen and AR Rehman. He had written about 3,300 songs since his debut in Bhala Aadmi in 1958 and worked with nearly 250 directors.
When it was finally time for him to go, he went with his boots on – just like the army had taught him to.
The man whom Mahesh Bhatt called “a steady flame, with a sound mind”, the man who Dharmendra called “King”, the man who wrote songs for more than 600 films, the man who showed his critics that he was capable of much more than tukbandi, captured the essence of his songwriting career in these lines:
“Mere geeton mein meri kahaaniyan hai
Kaliyon ka bachpan hai, phoolon ki jawaniyaan hai.”
I can’t help thinking that his life would have flashed through his mind as he wrote this (for the film Teri Kasam). And for those few minutes, he would have again been the Nand that his maa and his mitti had adored all those years ago — not Anand Bakshi, the famous lyricist.
Sometime in the mid-sixties, SD Burman recorded a song Maine poocha chand se, written by Anand Bakshi and sung by Mohammad Rafi, for a film that did not see the light of day. The song was rerecorded by RD Burman in 1979 for the film Abdullah — in Rafi’s voice again — and it became a rage. Incidentally, this was one of the sixty poems and songs Anand Bakshi had first come to Bombay with.
In the film Picnic (1966), the song Bijli giri kahaan se begaane ho gaye hum is sung by a mendicant. Look beyond the mendicant’s beard and you will see Anand Bakshi’s square face and strong jaw. Seeing the songwriter struggling to make both ends meet, his close friend S Mohinder, who was the music composer of this film, got him this bit role.
In the late fifties, SD Burman suggested to Guru Dutt that Anand Bakshi write the songs for Kagaz Ke Phool (1959). But Dutt, who was keen on roping Kaifi Azmi in for the job, rejected the suggestion.