The childhood memories invariably revolve around a mesmerizing montage of images, a delightful deck of relationships, and a wonderful world of imaginations. While your life drifts along forward, these fond memories often transport you backward to those good old days that seem just like yesterday yet hopelessly out of reach. In those days I was a curious, starry-eyed boy, having lately discovered the magic of radio listening, when I fell in love with the legendary radio show ‘Binaca Geetmala’. Come to think of it, it was love at first sound and I had just chanced upon it.
I still vividly remember it was a wintry Wednesday night of December 22, 1976. My three older brothers were suddenly nowhere to be seen in the household and I found it odd. In fact, I had started taking an avid interest in their conversations and gossips, because they would mostly feature Hindi films and music. When I could not figure out where they had disappeared, I asked Mother and she told me they had gathered along with friends from neighborhood to listen to “Binaca Geetmala annual show” in a visitors’ room known then as my grandfather’s court. I immediately rushed to join them. Thankfully, the show had not begun yet and brothers and their friends appeared to be in a strange contemplative mood. As I settled on the carpet where they had all gathered, the show began and I heard what I decided later to be the most captivating and interesting voice I ever heard. By the time Ameen Sayani finished his trademark salute to listeners and his fascinating introduction to his radio show, I was on top of the world. I had listened to almost all kinds of radio show before, from those farmaaishi music shows to sponsored chat shows; however, this show was uniquely hip. I just loved Ameen Sahab’s novel idea of rating songs on basis of their popularity down the year. While the show progressed, brothers and their friends engaged in an interesting tapestry of emotions ranging from shock, awe, surprise, delight, dejection, sadness, and amazement. I was simply amazed by their collective response to a song’s rating in ‘Binaca Geetmala’, and that’s when my imagination for Hindi film music found its wings. Soon the show was over and I went to bed dreaming about all the songs that had delighted me that night, not so much by their own magic but by their worth on the finest countdown show I have ever known.
In just an hour of sheer joie-de-vivre Ameen Sahab had given all those songs a life, a personality, a character, and a charm of their own, and, above all, a hallowed place in the history of hit music. I clearly recall having spent the entire next day browsing through the list of previous night’s songs and their ratings that one of my brothers had jotted down in one of his school notebooks. The catchy ‘Kee gal hai koi naheen’ (Jaaneman) had finished at the bottom rating for that year, and I always remembered it afterwards. During the annual show Ameen Sahab had mentioned in his typical jolly way the names of Dev Anand and Hema Malini as part of the introduction of the song, and I kept thinking about the lead pair while humming the song all day. The sizzling ‘Koi aaya aane bhi do’ (Kala Sona) at another lower rating had featured Helen and Parveen Babi according to Ameen Sahab, and I just could not get enough of gazing at those actresses’ photos in one of the film magazines from Dad’s library. The scintillating ‘Main tumse mohabbat karti hoon’ (Warrant) also at a lower rating was filmed on my all-time favorite Zeenat Aman, and I found myself desperate to see the film as soon as possible when her still from the film in another film magazine failed to satisfy my urge to know more about the song and its image on the silver screen. There were Shashi Kapoor and Shabana Azmi in the lively ‘Tota maina ki kahaani’ (Fakira) and Dharmendra and Hema Malini in the serene ‘Kal ki haseen mulaaqaat ke liye’ (Charas), too. The list seemed endless and, suddenly, all those songs sounded very interesting to me. Needless to say I waited impatiently for the final show of the year.
By the time the final show was aired on Wednesday, December 29, 1976, I had done a lot of homework on all popular songs of that year; however, I was still too naïve to take part in brothers’ and their friends’ animated discussions about hit songs. I was more curious about Ameen Sahab’s delightful presentation of the whole concept of hit parade. It was interesting to hear him talk about a particular song’s weekly runs from the previous year, another song’s rapid rise in popularity with its entry into the weekly shows, and yet another song’s multiple versions dominating the record sales. When the show moved toward the end, brothers and their friends started speculating about the top hit of the year. I don’t remember the songs they bet on, but I had declared a bit nervously that ‘Ik din bik jaayega’ (Dharam Karam) would top the show. Now when I look back I realize I had guessed the song’s popularity based solely on my own rather curious observation of one of the household servants singing it all the time, though in an extremely annoying style. The song finished at the 2nd rating, not at the top, in the annual show, but the sheer joy of speculating about this song and listening to Ameen Sahab’s enchanting presentation were enough for me to forge an everlasting relationship with ‘Binaca Geetmala’.
Soon I started listening to each weekly show almost religiously. In the beginning I would take notes of all songs and their ratings; however, soon I gave it up. The show was too delightful to shift focus on anything else while it was on, and I did not want to miss even a moment of the pure enjoyment. That I mostly listened to the show while relaxing in the comfort of a bed, with eyes closed and the radio glued to my left ear, was another reason I did not jot down those weekly lists, a practice I would greatly regret later. Incidentally, the early 1977 introduced me consciously to another lifelong passion – the legendary R.D. Burman’s magical music. His songs from films, like Chandi Sona, Bullet, Mukti, Darling Darling, and Kinara were a rage in those days, and I would wait eagerly to listen to them on weekly shows where they somehow sounded sweeter apparently because the way Ameen Sahab presented them. The way he would weave in bits and pieces of his advertisements for products of the show’s sponsor Ciba Geigy also regaled me. One night I felt so hypnotized by his presentation that the next morning I ended up eating a bit of Binaca toothpaste just out of curiosity. Thus the year rolled by quickly and I prepared for the excitement of another annual show and another series of fanciful thoughts, vibrant imagery, and memorable bonds – all about hit songs. That year I was on my own because none of my elder brothers had come home for the winter break from their university hostel. Finally, the second last Wednesday night of 1977 arrived. To my utter disappointment, however, my uncle forbade all kinds of entertainment that day because it was one of the first ten days of the Islamic holy month of Moharram. I was too young to argue with him and thus missed out on the first part of the annual show of that year. That great miss shattered me and I never really recovered from the heartbreak. Grieving over that huge loss, I went around town asking my brothers’ friends if they had noted the songs and their ratings. They had looked at me as if I had gone nuts, and I had silently cursed them back for not recording such a great event. Thankfully, the final show soothed my frayed nerves a bit; however, the missing out on the previous week’s annual show had spurred my lifelong search for the complete lists of annual shows of all previous years.
In 1977 Binaca Geetmala celebrated twenty-five years of broadcasting and Ameen Sahab presented a series of commemorative shows on a few Sundays of early 1978. That’s when I excitedly discovered the top hit songs of previous years. I have fond memories of awe and amazement I felt on finding out that one of my all-time favorite songs ‘Dum maaro dum’ (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) was the top hit of 1972. It was tough to take notes while Ameen Sahab rapidly covered twenty-five years of history in probably three or four 1-hour shows on Sundays. Yet it was great to know that such melodious songs, as ‘Jyot se jyot jagaate chalo’ (Sant Gyaneshwar, 1965), ‘Jo waada kiya’ (Taj Mahal, 1963), ‘O mere sona re’ (Teesri Manzil, 1967), ‘Yeh jo mohabbat hai’ (Kati Patang, 1971), and ‘Bhool gaya sab kuchh’ (Julie, 1975) were big hits of their time. Those commemorative shows truly sparked my immense interest in finding out full lists of hit songs of all previous years, but I had no idea it would take thirty long years for me to get them. The lists that I had recorded in my school notebooks during 1977-80 got lost one by one. It is only in 1981 that I fully realized the importance of preserving a written record and began recording those annual shows in a diary that would stay with me to this day.
Oddly, however, I lost interest in this record-keeping activity after 1985. I was just not interested in listening to those mindless songs that dominated the mid-to-late ‘80s, let alone keeping track of their ratings in Binaca Geetmala. Yet I would occasionally listen to the show purely for Ameen Sahab’s magical voice. Sometime in 1991 he announced out of the blue that HMV would start releasing tapes of each year’s hit parade and asked listeners to start collecting them. I could not believe my ears. The tapes, when I finally got them, seemed like a dream come true. To put it plainly, those tapes feature perhaps the most gripping account of the hit Hindi film music of the 1950s ever recorded on any medium. The euphoria about them was short-lived though, as HMV discontinued the series after releasing the hit parade of 1959. I remember I would hunt music shops in all major cities I visited those days only to hear most shopkeepers telling me they had never heard of any such series. It was my most frustrating pursuit of those missing lists, and, finally, I gave up of hope of ever finding them. A couple of years later I immigrated to the US.
A chance meeting with Ameen Sahab in Indianapolis in 1996 opened the floodgates of my childhood memories of ‘Binaca Geetmala’. He had visited there with singer Kumar Sanu’s troupe and I managed to meet him in his hotel room. I was so ecstatic to see him in person that I forgot all my first lines of dialog for him I had rehearsed earlier. It did not matter, however, because I was there to hear his sweet voice after all. As I sat captivated, he talked about those good old days when melody was queen and ‘Binaca Geetmala’ was her royal court. The meeting was short but truly memorable nevertheless. Alas, those missing lists still eluded me when he politely declined to share them.
By now I had acquired a crazy taste for hit songs of yesteryears and a penchant for picking out the ingredients that made them popular. The mere concept of hit parade and the sheer thought of popular music would thrill me endlessly, and I would often think and imagine about each song I would hear in terms of its popular appeal, too, or the lack thereof. I knew exactly what made ‘Dum maaro dum’ (Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1972) a cult hit, ‘Man dole mera tan dole’ (Nagin, 1954) an unprecedented craze, ‘Jai jai shiv shankar’ (Aap Ki Kasam, 1974) a fantastic fad, and ‘’Khaike paan Banaraswaala’ (Don, 1978) a collective chant of the nation. The Binaca Geetmala was the ultimate countdown show and only it could tell me more about other hit songs of the past.
Now I started searching for the missing lists of annual shows on the Internet. In 2004 Mr. Maajid Maqbool (of Rawalpindi, Pakistan), one of the founders of a great website on the renowned S.D. Burman, did me a great favor by sending me complete annual lists for years 1958-73 as well as weekly lists for years 1970-74. My joy knew no bounds when I flipped through pages after pages of those lists bound in a nice book format. Browsing through those priceless lists now seems like a wondrous walk down memory lane.
Finally, I happened to read about Mr. Anil Bhargava, author of this book, in a post on an Internet forum known as RMIM. Mr. Harmandir Singh Hamraaz of Hindi Film Geet Kosh fame gave me Mr. Bhargava’s phone number and I nervously dialed that number. To be honest, I had not imagined even in my wildest dreams that this phone call would finally end my 30-year long quest for those missing lists. I had thought I would get the pleasure of at least talking with another Binaca Geetmala fan. He not only welcomed my phone call, but also provided me with a wealth of information on the show, including the missing lists, over several more phone calls.
The passionate pursuit is finally over, but a youngish yearning for those good old days has only begun. Now whenever I gaze at the list of the annual ‘Binaca Geetmala’ show of 1976, those very songs that regaled me on those two fateful Wednesday evenings, thirty years ago, seem to leap out of the list and dance before my misty eyes. Those nostalgic moments of rapture, revelation, and relationship I experienced then flash across the landscape of my present and overwhelm me with a sense of past, yet they are long gone and hopelessly out of reach. The great radio show that enriched my childhood so wonderfully may have vanished from the airwaves, but I will never forget the great mission I embarked upon to find it in those annual lists.
*(The author Mr. M.Asif Alvi is a software engineer currently based in Baltimore, USA. Originally hailing from Lucknow, Mr.Alvi is an avid movie and music buff. This article is taken from the book ‘Geetmala Ka Sureela Safar’ by Anil Bhargava. The book was published in January 2007 by Vangmaya Prakashan, Jaipur.)