K.K is no more. Words most of us thought we would never get to hear since we hold on to the silly and unproven belief that death follows the ritual of visiting the old before the young. But as I type this and as you read this, we are in a world which does not have that man in flesh and blood, where his sudden departure and absence has been felt more sharply than the implosion of a star.
I first SAW K.K. on T.V on a show called the Bhaskar Ghosh Show on Star Movies in the year 1999. I put “SAW” in all caps because those were the days where one only heard playback singers- the social media bandwagon was still a decade away. The playback scenario in Hindi Films was ruled by Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and Abhijeet—Sonu Nigam still had not achieved the stardom that came to him post Kal Ho Na Ho and was more of a familiar face as a host of a Musical Talent Hunt show.
K.K. came like a breath of fresh air. In those days, the Indie Pop scene was not as tedious, monotonous and lacking in depth as we have now. Alisha Chinai, Euphoria, Daler Mehndi, Colonial Cousins were churning out one hit after another. Add to it, the charm of the music videos, introducing certain faces (Vidya Balan, Shahid Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, John Abraham, to name a few) which would later go on to launch a thousand ships. K. K’s Pal was released that year, along with the Nagesh Kukunoor’s growing up/boarding school drama Rockford and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. So in a space of months, three songs, speaking of three different stages of adulting and teenage evolution, slowly crept into our lives with the calm assurance of a ghost who refuses to be exorcised. Tadap Tadap from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was a wail of a lover- railing against a God for making him fall in love and against the fickle nature of love itself. Pal, the song was more soothing and comforting, a song meant for the people residing on the opposite axis of heartbreak. And Yaaron Dosti would become a staple at school and college farewells.
With time, the legend of K.K. kept on growing. If you believed in the maxim, “Our Sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts…” then you knew why K.K was in everybody’s playlist. I mean, who would not like a man who sung Sach Keh Raha Hain Deewana and Awaarapan, Banjarapan (A song so poignant that we forgot to criticise John Abraham’s emotiveness or the lack of it on screen). MTV and Channel V gave him the kind of airtime that was required for his voice to grow on us. And he straddled different lands- those of despair in the songs mentioned above and of elation and celebration and just plain masti in Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe and Dus Bahaane.
His musical collaboration with Pritam helped the latter find feet for himself in the Hindi film industry. The other two important cogs in the wheel were the Bhatt production house and Emraan Hashmi. Emraan had this amazing knack of making any song on screen sound and look better. Not that K.K needed any help. But their collaboration worked, be it in Tum Mile, The Train, Gangster and Jannat. In between all this, was the soul stirring Alvida from Life in a Metro, a song which had two versions, the other sung by Bangladeshi rock stalwart James and where, with all due respect to James, K. K’s version was a couple of miles ahead. His voice had the wonderful playback quality to it, it was not merely of a singer’s but that of a voice that was meant to be heard on screen.
But things change. And not always for the better. In the last few years, we heard less and less of him. The old timers have either stepped away from the limelight or are seen as judges in various reality shows. Not K.K. He was active in the live concert scene and had been selective about collaborating with music directors. Various factors may be responsible for this— there has been a flurry of old songs being remade and recreated, the auto-tune phenomenon which has taken away the skill element from playback singing and finally the tendency of music directors to have more than one version of a single song in a film’s soundtrack but which gets to feature in the film proper and which meant for unplugged version and only for the album being at the mercy of the producer. The landscape of the music industry had changed. For the ones in their early youth now, he was just another name. But not for us.
It has been just over a week since his demise. I have stayed away from the FM and Spotify, lest I chance upon the various tribute shows and playlists that have been curated for him. But I have hummed his songs continuously. Without being conscious of it. Without taking much of an effort. There is no discrepancy or duality or hypocrisy there. The fact remains that there has been a void which will not be filled up. Very similar to the void created with the absence of another genius, Irrfaan. I have sat in the evenings and nights and wondered why does it hurt? Where does it hurt?
The truth is this loss is a very selfish loss. Very few of us are railing at the unfairness of life, or the unpredictability of death. That is something we have been accepted. With K.K, a particular generation has lost a part of themselves. This grief is a very private grief, something that people of this generation might not able to grasp fully. K.K voiced the longing, grief, love and hope and hopelessness and friendly banter of millions. He was a sign where things were not made available too easily. One had to go to music websites filled with trackers and questionable links, the most popular being one from the other side of the border, and see if the songs had been uploaded. Very few of us could afford the CDs and since cassettes were slowly setting with the western sun, the only available option was to download songs from the internet. He is the symbol of the times when, since these songs were not available at the press of a button, the wait for them to be played on TV, on countdown shows or even on the FM was a agonising one but it was all worth it.
We are all holding on. It is funny how most times on social media and Whatsapp, we are only looking backward to the times gone by. We are active members of groups and subscribe to pages which deal with the forgotten taste of childhood and adolescence. K.K was a guardian of a treasure, the keys to whose doors we have willingly given away. And that is why this death hurts. When K.K sang Zaara si dil mein de jagah tu, it was a request that he didn’t have to make.