It was in 1935 that Saigal attained countrywide fame when he appeared in Saratchandra’s classic Devdas. He brought the writer’s desperate character to life with his portrayal of a drunk who mourns his lost love in a perpetual abyss of despair. His heart-rending strain, dukh ke ab din bitat nahin continues its appeal to the love-lorn even today. This was followed by a number of other hit films, the last one being Shahjahan with its memorable number Jab dil hi toot gaya, hum jee ke kya karenge.
It should be noted that Saigal’s non-film music, ghazals and other songs won for him even more lasting fame and prestige with the connoisseurs of music who seldom went to cinema.
Without any formal training in music, nor belonging to any gharana, Saigal stunned the great music maestros of his time with his instinctive understanding of the ragas, and his inimitable style and his golden voice which had a touch of the divine.
That Saigal himself was a poet is little known to his admirers and fans. The only recording of his poetry which he also composed himself is Main baithi thi phulwari mein, ik sakhi ah geyi aur boli. It is a remarkable devotional piece which reveals his spiritual leanings and sufiana approach to the philosophy of life. He believed that God is within us and without us and we are only sparks of the divine. He speaks about a devotee of Lord Krishna who is wandering everywhere in search of the Lord until aninner voice bids her to close her outer eyes and awaken the inner vision to see and realise His presence. The verse runs as follows:
Tab man ne mithi bat
This singular poetic work shows the spiritual side of Saigal’s personality.
He was humane to the core, sensitive, generous and modest. Totally lost in his art, he did not need any audience as he sang for himself. There was a magic in his voice and the way he sang, he gave fresh interpretation to each word and syllable, never repeating any line of the verse in the same tone and rhythm. He never sought any external inspiration. He was inspired from his inner self which was rich enough to arouse and urge him in his creative art.
Essentially a poet at heart, he succeeded in providing life-like images to his words. He married music to poetry. Many Urdu poets like Zauq, Seemab, Bedam, Arzu and Hasrat became known even to the non-Urdu knowing people through Saigal’s rendition of their poetry. The great Mirza Ghalib, however, remained Saigal’s most favourite Urdu poet. In fact, Saigal immortalised Ghalib by singing his verses with heart and soul and in his unique style. Many artists have sung Ghalib but none has been able to surpass Saigal so far.
Saigal identified himself with Ghalib. He realised the state of Ghalib’s mind and the depth of his feelings and emotions expressed in his verses. And Saigal sang them as if inspired by the divinity. Both Saigal and Ghalib were like sufi saints and in their art they found the most effective instrument for sublime communion with the ultimate.
Music was a passion with Saigal. It was his life and the voice of his soul. He sang for himself, as it provided him with a sense of elation and relief from worldly cares. He was an inspired soul, more like a sufi saint, and in music he found peace and harmony with the Divine.
All creative artists, poets, writers, painters, dancers and singers receive inspiration from the invisible or the cosmos as ‘Ghalib’ put it: Aaten hain gaib se ye, mazamin khyal mein, Ghalib sarire khama nawai, sarosh hai (These thoughts emanate from the heavens, oh Ghalib, your pen is only a scribe of the voice of the gods). And that was so true with Saigal as well.