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Raising a huge cloud of dust, the bus from Manali roars into the grimy compound of Pehalwan Dhaba on GT Road. The dawn is breaking over the babool trees fitted with flickering red-and green tubelights.
When the fogged panes of the bus are pushed up, a cold gust sends a shiver through the bus, forcing sleepy eyes open. The fragrance of sweet ginger tea and greasy bread pakoras follows.
As hungry souls step down from the bus, a young lad working feverishly over a teapot turns on his brand-brand-new music system.
A giant sound box jammed into a neem tree belts out Kishore Kumar’s O hansini, meri hansini . On a nippy morning in the misty northern plains, the song smells like spring flowers dipped in fresh dew.
All eyes are awake. All ears are filled with music. Even the Israeli back packers stop complaining. Kishore’s voice washes down the dust from their tired faces. If music is the poetry of the air, KK’s voice is a flame.
The voice burns continuously on CD users and iPods and transistors, non-stop across the land: it’s played at roadside tea stalls and highway dhabas ; people shake their heads and legs to it in college canteens and night clubs; it stirs millions of forgotten memories in private rooms and evokes devotion in Puja pandals; blaring from creaking radios in cabs and autorickshaws, it gives some relief to passengers choking on diesel fumes. KK is all around us. Still.
Even in this era of hardselling clones, meaningless remixes, 24-hour blitzkrieg from the FM and loud-and-lewd Punjabi pop, KK rocks and rules the world of Hindi music.
They have remixed him. They have mixed his voice with reggae beats. They have tried to wrap his voice with funky guitar strings.
They have tried to add disco echo to his yodel-o, yodel-o yoo , but they haven’t dared to touch his original tracks of haunting melodies: the songs of life and letters penned by Gulzar, the tunes of love and despair set by R D Burman.