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Portrait of a singer

Feb 16, 2024 02:28 AM IST

Glimpsing into a citizen’s life

The vast bookstore echoes with the traffic’s dull roar—the busy road is just outside. Moments later, a melodious sound is heard. Distinct from the steady rumble of autos and buses, it is barely perceptible, like the humming of a bathroom singer.

This has to be shop staffer Suhail, forever busy shifting stacks of books between the racks, or politely keeping an eye on potential flickers.
This has to be shop staffer Suhail, forever busy shifting stacks of books between the racks, or politely keeping an eye on potential flickers.

This has to be shop staffer Suhail, forever busy shifting stacks of books between the racks, or politely keeping an eye on potential flickers. Nonetheless, he frequently bursts into songs from the Hindi films of 1980s and 1990s. Right now it is a sentimental ditty from Pyar Jhukta Nahin. “Sometimes I hear a gaana coming out of a passing car and I pick up the tune, sometimes I hear a passerby singing loudly and I take over from him... but I don’t like the new gaane, they have no dum (zest).”

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Like many of us, Suhail’s day-job bears no relation to his true calling. He wanted to be a playback singer, and spent a few years in Mumbai to get a “break.” There he found work as a “truck loader,” becoming acquainted with a colleague who shared his dream. They once managed an appointment with a film industry contact. “We went to meet her, she had played Dharmender’s mother in Teesri Aankh... she heard my friend sing, and a minute later said his voice wasn’t at all good.” The two quickly gulped down their coffee and left. The friend is a truck driver.

Suhail’s tryst with music began while growing

up in rural UP. His village in zila Bahraich had no cinema theatre, but a “VCR walla” made his living by showing films in the district. “That man would tour through the villages, setting up his TV and VCR under a tree or beside a talaab... Villagers would come with their chair or bed to see the new releases.”

Suhail would walk to each of the villages to attend the screening. “I watched Swarg, Sanam Bewafa, Watan ke Rakhwale, Deewana... watched them all!” Back home after a show, the boy would relive the thrill by crooning the songs from the day’s film.

At times, Suhail wonders if he could still become a professional singer. “It is all kismet,” he remarks. Gently swaying his head, he breaks into Ram Lakhan’s title song.

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