“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and everything.” –Plato
Years ago in Karachi, Pakistan, I was interviewing the stormy petrel Dr Fahmida Riaz for an Indian Urdu daily. It was an informal sort of an interview. I asked the Meerut-born feminist about her well-known fascination for Asha Bhosle’s voice and songs. The moment I mentioned Asha’s name, the lady said, "Yahi ek aawaaz hai jo qaabil-e-parastish hai" (this is one voice that’s worth-adoring). "You said it," I seconded.
Asha Bhosle’s voice is indeed worth-adoring which is in sync with her adorable persona. Always friendly and accessible to her countless fans, even her detractors have never called her standoffish or glacially indifferent. She meets all with warmth and a beatific smile. Reams have been written on Asha’s unquestionable singing prowess, but somewhere the large-heartedness of the singing diva hasn’t got that much recognition.
Asha is a completely self-effacing person who dislikes blowing her own trumpet. In fact, she gets embarrassed when some scribe reminds her of the acts of benevolence. How many people know that she was instrumental in the legendary Rafi getting his estranged form back when he was passing through a rather lean patch and his self-confidence was shaky? I’m sure, even Rafi’s diehard admirers are also unaware of this. For the unversed, Kishore Kumar’s meteoric rise with Aradhana and Amar Prem in 1970, slightly dipped Rafi’s popularity in the early seventies.
In 1973, a film ‘Nirdosh’ hit the marquee. Though it was an insignificant movie, its song ‘Ho koi pyaar se dekhe tohe sanwariya, mere pyaar se toh ye dekha na jaaye’ is still popular. This duet was sung by Rafi and Asha. Asha knew that Rafi wasn’t in his usual confident self. She constantly enthused Rafi during the recording and instilled confidence into him. Rafi sang in tandem with Asha and got his deserted confidence back. The ever-grateful Rafi acknowledged this fact in an interview to the Pakistani Urdu daily, Jung in 1978. But Asha always said that, "Rafi sahab was so great that he never required anyone’s pep talk to feel confident."
When it comes to her skillful singing, accolades and encomiums fall short. Asha’s voice has a sort of a verdant vibrancy (sadabahaar taazgi). It suits all with an amazing adaptability. Because of a pliable voice, she can sing songs of all genres. In vocal music, esp. in playback singing, we use a term Range Spectrum, which’s consummate mastery over a gamut of musical notes and a vocal range. Asha’s voice has this exceedingly rare range that’s comparable to that of Rafi.
That’s the reason, all composers of yore preferred Asha and Rafi singing duets. They had a vocal compatibility. It’s worthwhile to mention that Rafi and Asha sang 900-odd songs together! Just listen to Asha and Rafi’s immortal number, ‘Humsafar saath apna chhod chale…’ (Film- Aakhri Daaon, Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri, Composer: Madan Mohan Kohli, 1958). Asha sang it on a dip-note, matching the texture of Nutan’s voice with her timbre!
With a desirable huskiness, Asha’s voice is tailor-made for club and cabaret numbers. At the same time, she could sing, ‘Naina hain pyase mere…’ (Film-Aavishkar, Lyricist: Kapil Kumar, Composer: Kanu Roy, 1974). Ghazal is her forte. Who can ever forget her ghazals in Muzaffar Ali’s ‘Umrao Jaan’ (1981)? The perfect Urdu diction, proper enunciation of intricate Persian-Arabic words and pithy presentation have contributed to embellishing Asha’s fabulous voice. Asha ji’s zeal for life and music is unparalleled and the vivacity of her voice is still undiminished. Take a bow, Asha ji.