The date: August 27. The place: Detroit, USA. Mukesh Chand Mathur, or
simply Mukesh --as he was known to millions of fans -- breathed his
last on this day in 1976. At that time, Mukesh was touring the US with
Lata Mangeshkar and others, giving stage performances.
One of 11 children, Mukesh was fond of music right from his childhood.
He was discovered by actor Motilal who heard him sing at his sister's
baraat. Impressed by the young Mukesh's voice, Motilal invited
him to Bombay. That was in 1940.
Motilal looked after the young boy while Mukesh trained under Pt Jagannath
Prasad. He started his career with Nirdosh in 1941 in which he
sang and acted.
But it was in 1945 that the audience sat up and took note of him--
when he sang Dil jalta hai to jalne de in Pehli Nazar.
Mukesh, who worshipped K L Saigal, near perfect take-off on his idol
with this song.
There was no looking back after that. The pathos in his voice was eminently
suitable for the tragic films which the Indian audience simply loved
in those days. In 1948, Naushad Ali got Mukesh to sing Bhoolne wale
yaad na aa, in 1949 the same music composer gave him Tu kahe agar,
Jhoom jhoom ke naacho aaj, Tute na dil toote na, Hum aaj kahin dil kho baithe
for the Dilip Kumar starrer Andaz.
The film was a big hit and Mukesh came to be identified with Kumar,
though he had sung for Raj Kapoor in 1948 in Aag. The Raj Kapoor-Mukesh
team later created celluloid history as the two became synonymous with
From 1949 onwards, the duo gave us memorable songs such as Chhod gaye
baalam, Zinda hoon is tarah, Awara hoon, Raat andheri door savera, Mera naam
Raju, Mera joota hai japani. The songs from Mera Naam Joker
are also among the all-time favourites of Hindi cinema.
Mukesh was often described as a singer whose range was limited to
melancholic numbers. But what one often tends to overlook is the fact
that he was equally adept at singing bhajans. Pita maat sahayak,
Sur ki gati main kya janoo or Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas
are examples of his virtuosity.
In 1946 he met and married a Gujarati girl named Bachchi. Since he was
a Mathur Kayasth, there was stiff opposition from her family forcing
them to elope. It was Motilal who gave away the bride. Around the same
time, Mukesh's career also reached its peak.
Above all, he was a good human being, always concerned for others,
always willing to help newcomers, often singing without any fee
when the composer couldn't afford him. When he saw that his son Nitin
was inclined towards music, he encouraged him. But he also had a word
of caution: 'singing is a beautiful hobby, but a painful profession,'
Mukesh told him.
He had seen the heartache, the pain, the difficulties and sometimes
rejection and knew that it required a kind of dedication that young
people may not have. Says Nitin, "I don't claim to have the sort of
dedication that he had. He would wake up at 5 in the morning --
even if he had gone to bed just 15 minutes earlier -- and do his
riyaz for a couple of hours. Then he'd go for a walk to
Hanging Gardens. I think he had befriended every flower in the garden."
Mukesh arrived in the golden era of music. There were songwriters
like Shailendra, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni,
composers like Naushad, Khayyam, S D Burman, singers like Mohammad
Rafi, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey.
According to Nitin, Mukesh loved Lata and Geeta Dutt. There were times
he started crying when he heard Lata sing. Initially, he used to call
her by her name but later he started calling her 'didi.' "When she
protested saying he was older, Mukesh replied, 'we all look up to you
because of your art and I want everyone to call you 'didi'. He also
adored Rafisaab and Kishore Kumar. He was never one to hold
back praise for anyone," says the proud son.
Mukesh received the Filmfare award four times -- for Sab kuch
seekha humne (Anari), Gangaram ki samajh mein na aaye (Pehchan),
Jai bolo beimaan (Beimaan) and Kabhi kabhi (Kabhi Kabhi)
-- the last being in 1976, the year he passed away. He had also received
the National award the year before.
Nitin recalls his father's generosity. "When we went on tours," says
Nitin, "We used to be put up in the best hotels while the accompanying
musicians were put up in the less expensive ones. He said since the
organisers couldn't put up everyone in expensive suites, it would be
easier for us to shift to their hotel. So we used to go and stay with
the musicians. He taught us discipline by being disciplined himself."
There were times when Mukesh faced financial adversities, but he never
let it affect his children. Nitin narrates an incident. "When I went to
college, all my friends had a car, so I wanted a car too. I told my mother
and she told papa. He immediately gave me the keys of his own Fiat," he
Nitin was thrilled about it and used the car for some days, before
realising that his father was travelling by bus. "I was upset and told
him 'why don't you buy a new car?' And he said, 'I can't afford two
cars, and you must have a car, so you use this.' When I protested,
he told me 'I'd like you to have a car when you can afford one.'
After that the car didn't matter to me," states Nitin.
Mukesh himself wasn't highly educated, so he was keen that his children
got good degrees. He sent Nitin to the London School of Economics, but
he returned after a while. "When I came back, I must have shattered
his dreams and caused him embarrassment, but all he said was, 'yes, I
know you want to sing and now I'm sure you'll take it seriously,' "
He was with his father on the tour to the US when Mukesh passed away.
"He had a heart problem, but was cheerful throughout the tour. I remember
it was raksha bandhan day, we were in Washington and he sent me off to
sightsee while he secretly went to visit a doctor. I did not know this,
but he needed a bypass surgery. But he had a commitment to the organisers
of the tour and took the doctor's permission to sing for this tour,"
Mukesh asked his son to sing on this tour. Once, after Nitin got a
thunderous ovation, there were tears streaming down his face. He told
Lata Mangeshkar, "Mujhe lagta hai ki Nitin dal roti kama lega"
(I think Nitin will be able to earn his bread and butter).
Says Nitin, "On August 26, we reached Detroit. The next day, we had
a show. He got up early and went for a shower but came out panting.
I called Lataji and an ambulance took him to the hospital.
He was wheeled into the emergency ward and that was the last time
I saw him. I brought him back to India on August 30 on the same plane
in which he was booked as a passenger."