The array of singers with divine voices in the first three decades after Independence made the Indian music stage resemble a shrine.
Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, Suraiya and Noor Jahan among females; KL Saigal, Talat Mahmood, Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar among men. There was an entire pantheon out there for the devout to revere.
When there is so little to differentiate between a pantheon of gods and goddesses of playback singing, the challenge of picking up a favourite singer is almost blasphemy.
The treble of Talat, the melody of Mukesh, the haunting bass of Hemant, the mellifluous ragas of Rafi or the melancholia of Manna; who would you worship as the god of playback singing?
Perhaps, many like me would choose Kishore.
Because, every man dreams of singing like Kishore.
Because, Kishore can make you laugh when you are crying, cry when you are laughing, dance when you are tired, stop and reflect when you are dancing, feel lonely when you are in the middle of a crowd and feel like you are in a concert in the quiet of your room.
Because, if there is one voice that gives musical meaning to every human emotion, it is of Kishore. Think of pain and joy; love and longing -- milan and judaai; elation, jubilation and rejection; friendship and betrayal or hope and desperation and a Kishore song begins to echo in your mind.
Because, there may be a Sonu Nigam or an Anwar to remind you on Rafi; a Babla or a Manhar to take you back to the era of Mukesh, but even the nasal intonations of a Kumar Sanu or the zestful, energetic voice of Abhijeet or the fleeting success of Amit Kumar will not fill up the void left by Kishore.
Because, there will never be anybody like Kishore.
The hallmark of an artist's greatness is not just the ability to generate something that fascinates his generation of admirers. To be truly great, the work has to be timeless and ageless; it has to be acceptable to generations that follow with greater passion. And, finally, nobody should be considered capable of replicating it in far better form or style.
Think of Monalisa and Leonardo da Vinci; consider Shakespeare's oeuvre and his Hamlet or Othello or even some of Sachin Tendulkar's greatest innings and you get the portrait of an everlasting work of genius. Kishore falls in this category.
Tune in to any radio channel once the madness of the Singhs, Honey and Mika, tires out the RJs and their listeners. What do you hear?
Go to any college function where the participants have had the good fortune of being exposed to every jewel that the treasure Indian music is. What do you hear?
Go back in time a few years ago, when every composer was churning out remixes for two minutes of fame. What do you hear?
And then there are the hundreds of songs that only Kishore could have sung, a trove much bigger and richer than that left behind by others of his generation.
Imagine somebody yoddling Chala Jaata Hun. Think of the soul-stirring hum that precedes Kora Kagaz Tha. Feel the heart-thumping energy of Meri Umar Ke and Bachna Aae Haseenon. Experience the melancholia of Neele, Neele Ambar or the poignant philosophy of Aane Wala Pal. Be a part of the poetic pulse of Phoolon Ke Rang se and Kehna Hai or the pain and joy of Tum Aa Gaye Ho. Let the mirthful melody of Hum The Woh The carry you along or soak in the blissful beauty of Kya Mausam Hai. When you listen to the youthful vigour of Khullam Khulla Pyar Karenge or Chahe Chale Churiya, whose voice comes to mind?
Think of one man whose voice, you would pray, was yours.