Pran Nevile, a former diplomat and founder of K.L. Saigal Memorial Society, continues to enthrall the old and young with musical tales of the past Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, Dulari Bai, Kamla Jharia. As he mentions the names of these legends-the next project he is working on-the glint of excitement in Pran Nevile’s eyes is inescapable. The founder, convener, manager, coordinator and, as he says, even the postman of the K.L. Saigal Memorial Society, Nevile is a one-man show. Passionate about music from childhood, this former diplomat and advisor to the UN on trade and industry has been an avid collector of LPs from across the world-he considers his collection of over 500 records as his most important investment. “When I worked in the Soviet Bloc and Eastern European countries, I not only organised baithaks but also immensely enjoyed listening to music from these cultures. I even sang Yugoslavian songs,” Nevile recalls.
Behind the idea of reviving the music of the past was his urge to remember, remind and celebrate the genius of Kundan Lal Saigal, a legend in his time and a musician known for his versatility.
Nevile describes K.L. Saigal’s centenary celebration-also the occasion for the release of KL Saigal-Immortal Singer and Superstar, a coffee table book that he wrote-as an important landmark in this revival. The events that he organised during the celebration were meant for small gatherings. They included illustrated lectures of Saigal’s recordings, each of which were done thematically-film songs, ghazals and devotional music.
Later, he also decided to talk of the
heroines of that era, many of who sang beautifully. Tributes followed to Malika-e-Tarannum Noorjehan, Khursheed, Suraiya and Kanan Devi.
Initially, he would talk and play recordings for the audience but Nevile wanted to expand his canvas. Over the years, he has involved artists and singers to participate in this celebration. Many young and upcoming artists have lent their voice to the songs of these legends. For many of these artists, this has been a discovery of the music that perhaps their grandmothers and fathers hummed while putting them to sleep. Nevile concedes that it is the interest of the artist and his or her willingness to work with him that enables him to carry on his dream.
The programmes initiated by the society, which started about ten years ago, runs to packed houses in the capital’s cultural hubs. So how does he manage this turnout given the unpredictable audience of Delhi? “There are no secrets really. I believe that my music is people’s music. And so people come. There are no invitations. The publicity is only by word of mouth. Of late, I have been lucky that the programmes are being listed in the event columns of several dailies. I suppose this is evidence that people love listening to this kind of music even today. My discussion only adds context to it.”
Nevile has also authored several books including Lahore: A Sentimental Journey and Nautch Girls of India. Even today, he drowns himself in research before every performance that takes some on a joyful nostalgic journey and others like me on a discovery of the past.
The writer is a musician and rights activist