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‘If Raj Uncle Liked a Song, He Would Give Baba a Gold Coin’: Amla Shailendra Remembers Her Father ‘Kaviraj’ Shailendra

August 30, 2021 | By

A poet has a bit of him in every piece of poetry he writes, even if it is a so called ‘custom-made poetry.’ After all, our film songs are written to fit pre-conceived situations. Even within that water-tight requirement, the poet sprinkles bits of himself, like squeezing lemon juice on a delightful spread. Inconspicuously the juice dissolves into the song but look a little closer and he’s there, sparkling. If we just listen to Shailendra’s songs, we can trace that sweet and tangy Shailendra, embedded in his poetry. Amla Shailendra Mazumdar, the daughter of ‘Kaviraj’ Shailendra in conversation with Antara of Silhouette Magazine dives deep into his amazing repertoire of songs and a treasure chest of memories to understand the person behind the poet – a loving tribute to the legendary poet-lyricist on his birth anniversary.


Antara: Poets specialise in certain kind of poetry – some are romantic, some metaphysical, some spiritual, some radical and some plain humorous. But when you talk of Shailendra, it is impossible to slot him into a genre, a style, a mood or a philosophy. On the face of it, Shailendra’s lyrics are simple. You don’t need to dive for the dictionary every now and then to search for meanings of unknown words when you hum his songs. His songs affect the core of my being, my everyday existence.

Amla Shailendra: Yes, it is because his songs are so easily understood. You don’t need to be a pundit or highly educated intellectual to understand his songs. I am a simple human being and for me, poetry should touch me in the first reading or not at all.

Antara: Simplicity is his hallmark. Shailendra is disarmingly simple and yet cloaked behind that simplicity are thoughts, views, beliefs, faith and aspirations. His outpourings are universal truths, slices of life and reality and thus they transcend generations.

amla shailendra

Amla Shailendra Mazumdar

Amla Shailendra: Dil ka haal sune dilwala. It is the biggest satire anyone could write. Nothing has changed since the time he wrote it:

Boode daroga ne chashme se dekha
Aage se dekha peechhe se dekha
Upar se dekha neeche se dekha
Bole ye kya kar baithe ghotaala
Haaye yeh kya kar baithe ghotaala
Yeh to hai thaanedar ka saala

Even today you have to be connected to the right people to escape the vicious cycle.

But the biggest line that escapes notice is Main bhi hoon Ma ke naseeb ka beta.

I may be poor, I may be a chor (thief), a dacait (dacoit) whatever. But I am my mother’s naseeb, her destiny. She got me. Whatever I am, however I am, that is what my mother has brought in her naseeb. I don’t think anyone has put the mother-son relationship this way on the block. We can run away by saying ‘hamara kya, hum to unke naseeb ke hain’. He finds ways of escapism. Whatever I am, however I am, that’s what my mother has brought me in her naseeb. He doesn’t say she loves me despite everything. He says, it’s her fate that she got me.

Shailendra’s Seedhi si Baat

Antara: The family hailed from Bihar, settled in Rawalpindi and then in Mathura. So where did Shailendra spend his childhood? A TV documentary names a Bihar village the family originally belonged to.

Amla Shailendra: I don’t think my father ever lived in Bihar. He didn’t move from Bihar to Rawalpindi. We are originally from Bihar, my Dada-Dadi (grandfather-grandmother) might have lived there at some point but the family moved to Rawalpindi. My Dadaji had a job in the Army and he was stationed in Kho-Mari, in the foothills of the Himalayas. My father was born in Rawalpindi, brought up in Kho-Mari and went to school there. I have been to Rawalpindi and Mari, which is a hill station. My father would often recall how as a child he would watch the Army parade. This was before independence. Then they moved to Mathura.

Even after I was born, we would go and visit relatives and friends together. But there was no trip to Bihar. My first ever trip to Bihar was to attend the Patna Lit Fest in 2019. I did drive up to see the villages but I never felt any connection. There was no one there I knew.

Antara: Hum bigde dil shehzaade. That’s Shailendra in 4 simple words. Penury could not crush him. We all know the now famous story about how he had the courage of conviction to say an outright NO to Raj Kapoor’s generous offer of buying his powerful poem ‘Jalta Hai Punjab’ which he had heard Shailendra recite in a poet’s gathering held by IPTA – the Indian People’s Theatre Association.

It’s not for sale, Shailendra said simply. This was at a time when he was earning a meagre income in the Railways. It was a golden opportunity for money, fame and recognition. But no, not for Shailendra.

Later, when he badly needed money, when his wife Shakuntala ji was expecting their first child, he approached Raj Kapoor for a loan. Those 500 rupees he borrowed to send his wife off to Jhansi, he tried to return to Raj Kapoor at the first opportunity. An amused Raj Kapoor said, I don’t deal in money lending. Write the two songs for Barsat that are pending. And the rest, we all know is history. Barsat mein hum se mile tum is billed as the first title song in Hindi films. But more importantly, it became a rage. Not surprisingly, Shailendra catapulted into stardom and also became a title song specialist. Raj Kapoor gave him the title of ‘Kaviraj’.

title songs of Shailendra

Title songs written by Shailendra

Amla Shailendra: Those 500 rupees was Baba’s steady salary all through the years from Raj Uncle. Whether he wrote one song or five songs or no song, he would get that 500 rupees every month. Baba didn’t raise that issue even once that why you are paying me only 500, why you are not increasing my salary. Remember, he was the highest paid lyricist. He was not the type who wanted a lot more than he needed. He was getting ample. He was happy with what he had, nice house, car, all comforts, money. And he would share the money with whoever wanted it. And that’s where my mother would step in to try and save some of it. But if Raj Uncle liked a song, he would give Baba a gold coin. And I am wondering which song of Baba he didn’t like.

Mummy had a velvet pouch, it was filled with gold coins. And on 13th of December, 1966 the day she took Baba to hospital, she took those gold coins and some of her jewellery to this koelewala (coal dealer) who used to do some money lending. You know the girvi rakhna. She got the money from him, whatever he gave, I don’t know how much. The next day Baba was no more. But those gold coins and jewellery we never saw again.

Shakuntala, Shailendra and Raj Kapoor

Shakuntala (2nd from Left), Shailendra and Raj Kapoor at a dinner to celebrate music director Jaikishan and Pallavi’s marriage

Antara: There is another very interesting incident about how Shakuntala ji helped him with the money she had saved when Shailendra ran short of funds during the making of Teesri Kasam. Were you witness to that?

Amla Shailendra: I remember it very clearly. I had even talked about it in an interview to BBC Hindi. Baba was basically a very generous and large-hearted person. And he couldn’t bear to see the poor musicians – they had their problems and they would approach him. Those days recordings were cash in hand. It wasn’t like it would go to your bank account or you would get a pay check later. It was then and there. After the recording, everyone got their money – the musicians, writers, etc. When Baba would return home, he would leave his wallet on the table and go and change. There would be a good chunk in the wallet and Mummy would take out some. The next day Baba would ask, ‘Shakun I am sure there was more. Aur thode zyada paise thhe.’ (I am sure there was some more money) And Mummy would say, ‘Kavi aadmi ho. Bhool jaate ho. Sabko to baant aaye hoge.’ (You are a poet. You keep forgetting. You must have distributed it) She would hide it in the folds of her sari. The sari would be 3-fold. She had stacks and stacks of saris.

During that time when Teesri Kasam was under production, Waheeda Rehman had refused to go for the shooting until she was paid. Baba’s face was totally downcast. He didn’t know from where the money was going to come. And that’s when Mummy started pulling out her saris. She would take out one, shake it and hundred rupee notes would fall. That was her saving. That was how they could pay Waheeda Rehman. I don’t know how much but there was definitely lakhs in those savings. Imagine the kind of savings my mother had. And she wiped it clean that day, gave everything to Baba.

SJ, Raj Kapoor, Hasrat, Shailendra

Hasrat Jaipuri, Jaikishan, Raj Kapoor, Shankar and Shailendra – the coming together of amazing talents in perfect symphony (Pic: Cinema Sangeet)

Antara: We find that supreme confidence to stand by what he believed in even when his cherished dream was in the making. But people he banked on, they did not support him, isn’t it?

Amla Shailendra: People blame Raj Kapoor and I feel so upset. They say, oh, but he did not give him dates. Tell me Antara, you have your commitments and I have mine, isn’t it?  If Raj Uncle is busy with his films, he is a businessman, he is a producer-director long before Baba stepped in with Teesri Kasam. If he did not give Baba dates it’s not because he is sitting at home and giving Baba a lesson. Aisa to tha nahin. He was looking after his interests and Baba was looking after his own. It may have happened that he did not give dates, I don’t even know if it actually happened. But he was a businessman. He has to look after his business first before he looks at anyone else.

Raj Kapoor and Shailendra

Raj Kapoor and Shailendra (Pic courtesy: Apnaorg)

Antara: Why did Raj Kapoor want to change the ending of Teesri Kasam?

Amla Shailendra:  You see, Raj Uncle had made Aah and the ending was that Raj Kapoor dies. The film was released and it flopped. Raj Uncle told Baba, don’t let them separate, I have already burnt my fingers. He had to reshoot the Aah ending to show that the hero goes to a sanatorium, gets better and gets married to Nargis. So it’s a happy ending.

Raj Uncle was only trying to help him. I do know that Baba and Raj Uncle had this dialogue.  And Baba himself said, Yeh to teesri kasam ho hi nahin sakti. How can it be teesri kasam if there are only two vows in it? Raj Kapoor said change the ending because you’re going to be doomed financially. It was only after Teesri Kasam got the President’s Gold Medal, the National Award given to the best film, that people started looking at the film. It was a classic but in terms of public response it was a commercial flop. Of course after the second release we got our money back but there were so many dues that had to be paid off.

Baba had done a lot of research on the village, on the music. He had gone to Patna, just that once with Basu (Bhattacharya) Uncle and my Mamaji. They recorded all the music – the background music in the village temple and so on and brought back the tapes. It was a lot of work done. The film was his passion, he gave his life for it.

Antara: True that. It was poetry on screen!

Amla Shailendra: Absolutely. The tagline was love lyric on celluloid.

Antara: The masters of symbols in Hindi cinema to me are Bimal Roy and Vijay Anand. And Shailendra’s evocative poetry made it easier for the filmmaker to create lyrical shots. For example in Bandini, Bimal Roy uses amazing symbols to give an added dimension to Shailendra’s words that are loaded with meaning.


Classic symbols in Bandini: Footprints on the sands in O jaanewaale ho sake to laut ke aana (R) The steamer whistle and bellowing smoke in O re maajhi

Parakh has two beautiful symbols in its classic songs. The flame of the lamp at the altar as the sindoor (vermillion) signifies complete surrender to Him and to love in Mere man ke diye. A radiant Sadhna twirling a fresh flower as a jhumka (earring) is one of the finest and yet most subtle expressions of new found love. The flower is as precious as jewellery.

Symbols in Bimal Roy’s Parakh

Amla Shailendra: Talking about imagery – you have taken a different angle. Bimal Roy of course is able to depict the images that Baba writes. Baba would paint pictures with his words like an artist.

Yeh gori nadiyon ka chalna ucchalkar
Ke jaise alhar chale pi se milkar

He compares someone who is newly in love, the excitement and the swag in her walk with a flowing river. Madhumati songs have got the best imagery.

Woh aasman jhuk raha hai zameen par
Yeh milan humne dekha yahin par

When you go to a hill station, you can see the clouds coming down and you actually walk through them.

suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen

Classic shots in Madhumati: (Left) Yeh gori nadiyon ka chalna uchhalkar (R) Woh aasman jhuk raha hai zameen par

You gave the example of Vijay Anand’s Guide. Wahan kaun hai tera, musafir jayega kahan – the renunciation is forced on to him, he is not renouncing on his own.

And the example of Mere mann ke diye, look at the imagery here:

Aag ke phool aanchal mein daale huye
Kab se jalta hai woh aasman dekhle

Have you ever thought of the sky as the aanchal and the moons and the stars as aag ke phool?

SYMBOLS in Shailendra’s Songs | Vijay Anand & Bimal Roy | SD Burman & Salil Chowdhury

Antara: True. Shailendra had an amazing capability to create imagery which helped the listener to visualize the song in the mind’s eye just by listening to it. Shailendra used metaphors liberally, which brilliantly come across in the way he addresses God, converses with Him, questions, complains and provides reassurances. I love discovering how the filmmaker expresses that imagery on the screen, whether he does justice to it.

Amla Shailendra: I think it’s a relief that the filmmaker doesn’t do justice to it, if they don’t. This leaves me free to imagine. When I am listening to Shailendra songs I have an open book to listen to, to visualize.

Antara: That’s a point! For example, Tu pyar ka sagar hai had a huge potential for a great picturisation. The poignant imagery of the heart as an injured bird, having lost its way, trying to cross the sea in its quest of Him. But it doesn’t happen. It’s just Balraj Sahani sitting on a chair and singing.

Amla Shailendra: You can’t do more with that song. Ghayal mann ka pagal panchhi refers to the injured soul, not the heart. The injured soul has taken precedence in most of his songs. That’s when you feel the pain is not physical. It’s an ache from within for something which is intangible. Wherever he challenges God, pleads with God; and he is supposed to be an atheist.

Antara, when we grew up, the only prayers we knew were ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ as we went to a convent school. Those were the prayers we were taught. There were no prayers in the house. My mother would have a Satyanarayan Puja or some puja during Holi or Diwali. And the children did Namaste and went off. Baba never sat with her for any puja. Like you see the couple sitting for a Satyanarayan Puja? I don’t recall Baba ever sitting with her.

Shailendra and Shakuntala with their children

4 Shailendra and Shakuntala with their children (L to R – Shaily, Manoj, Dinesh, Amla and Gopa)

Antara: Was it because of his leftist leanings?

Amla Shailendra: No, I don’t think it was leftist. I think it was a deep rooted disillusionment with God because he used to talk about it. When they were in Mathura, he was very close to his mother. When she was critically ill and dying, he went to each and every temple, walking barefoot. Paaon mein chhale pade thhe. He did all the parikramas but his prayers were not answered. You can actually feel that pain in:

Laut aayi sadaa meri
Takrake sitaaron se
Ujdi hui duniya ke
Sunsaan kinaron se

When he passed away, it was total depression for me. I just wanted to get into his words and see what he was saying.

That song in Jagte Raho – kiran pari gagari chhalkaye. When the rays of the sun fall into your gagari (pitcher), it quenches your thirst for light, for enlightenment. It is not the thirst for water – it’s jyot ka pyaasa pyaas bujhaye. He has brought it out beautifully.

Antara: Shombhu Mitra uses the symbol of the water bearer – the purging.

Amla Shailendra: Shailendra has taken it to another level. My soul has to be quenched.

Antara: True. Purged of all negativity.

Symbols in Jagte Raho

When the rays of the sun fall into your gagari (pitcher), it quenches your thirst for light, for enlightenment.

Amla Shailendra: Or that song Zindagi khwab hai. In it, he says,

Dil ne hum se jo kaha, humne waisa hi kiya.
Phir kabhi fursat se sochenge bhala thha ya bura

I used to take that line and tell myself, it’s ok to take risks sometimes, do some mischief. Even Baba wrote that. Phir soch lenge bhala thha ya bura thha.  🙂

Shailendra Muses Life Is…

Antara: Children’s songs by Shailendra are universal favourites. As Bengalis, we are bred on a rich diet of Sukumar Ray’s nonsense rhymes. Sukumar Ray, the father of Satyajit Ray was a renowned poet, story writer and playwright. He is considered the best writer of nonsense rhymes ever. Gulzar Sahab says, he learnt this art of writing for children from Sukumar Ray, whom he considers the greatest poet for children. Ray’s nonsense rhymes are hilarious, but loaded in them are strong social comments and satire which only grownups would recognise. For children they are plain funny and most Bengali kids know them by heart.

I don’t know if Shailendra was aware of Sukumar Ray (he was fluent in Bangla so he might have been) but his nonsense rhyme Nani teri morni is among the most popular children’s songs ever. It has some barely cloaked satirical social comments. Grownups may scratch their heads on the allusions to ‘khaate peete chor’. The ‘mote thaanedar’ returns, reminds me of the thaanedar ka saala who could not be touched. The allusion to ‘jungle ki sarkar’ is not lost on anyone.

But for kids, it’s just the cutest song, sung the cutest way by the little Ranu Mukherjee. It’s the first Hindi film song my daughter learned in full as it came as a big colourful poster in her Hindi book of rhymes in Nursery syllabus. That poster is still stuck on her almirah (wardrobe). Needless to say, I used sing and dance with this song when I was a kid.

(Left) Poster of Nani teri morni as rhyme (R) Honey Irani singing Nani teri morni in Masoom

Amla Shailendra: His nonsense songs that are loaded with meaning, for me are:

Aam chum taam chum kaala laba daam chum

Deem taam deem taara
kabaddi teen taara
sultan bat maara
aar gali paar gali hutututu
degchi mein daal jali hutututu

And then notice the integration:

Abdul shamshul o kishan o bishan
haar ho ke jeet ho
khel mein rahe magan hutututu
karke aao saare kaam hutututu

He brings the Muslim and the Hindu children together and says, haar ho ke jeet ho, it doesn’t matter. Khel mein rahe magan.

Antara: Yes, absolutely! Degchi mein daal jali – that’s a slice of ordinary life, which will always figure in his songs.

Aam chum taam chum kaala laba daam chum (Chhote Nawab, 1961) Shailendra / RD Burman / Mohd Rafi and Chorus

Amla Shailendra: Talking about degchi mein daal, where he defies God in

Chulha hai thanda pada, aur pet mein aag hai.
Garma garam rotiyan, kitna haseen khwab hai

 Sooraj zara aa paas aa
Aaj sapnon ki daawat khilayenge hum
Aye aasman tu bada meherbaan

We have nothing. It’s an imaginary feast. But he is defying God. You are very generous, very giving, let us treat you to a feast today. You are welcome to come and eat in this make believe feast of ours.

And another children’s song:

chhuppa chhuppi o chhuppi aagad baagad jai re
choohe mama o mama bhaag billi ai re
billi boli mynau kaahe ghabrao
main to chali kashi gale mil jao

Antara: Hahaha! We used to sing this so much in our childhood!

Amla Shailendra: Is this a children’s song? I am wondering. Look at the words:

Main to Ram ki jogan apna parlok sudharan jaun
Akhir to budhapa thahra ab laut ke aoon na aoon

Antara: Yes, true. Ram ka naam lo ankh se kam lo, kal jo hua tha bhul jao bhul jao. How is it a children’s song? Never thought of this!

Amla Shailendra: Then there is chakke pe chakka, chakke pe gaadi!

My most favourite of course is from Boot Polish.

bheek mein jo moti mile to bhi hum na lenge
zindagi ke aansuyon ki mala pehnenge
mushkilon se ladhte bhidte jeene mein maza hai
That is my mantra now. I have to stand on my own feet and carve my own niche in life.

Antara: I keep reminding my daughter,

Mutthi mein hai taqdeer hamari
Humne kismat ko bas mein kiya hai

It’s such an inspiring song. These lines clearly show that confidence – you create your own destiny. We get to see the same confidence in Hum singhasan par jaa baithe jab jab kare iraade.

Nanhe munne bachche teri (Boot Polish, 1953) Shailendra / Shankar-Jaikishan /Asha Bhosle and Mohd Rafi

Antara: Disillusionment with the system is a strong undercurrent in not only his songs but also the dialogues he wrote for Parakh, the only film where he was the dialogue writer. When a villager confused about whom to vote as the ‘sabse achcha aadmi of the village’ asks the vaid (village doctor), the wise man:

Samajh mein nahin aata vote kis baksey mein daalen

The vaid replies:

Bhaiya aankh kar lo band aur parchi chhorh do,
chooleh mein jaaye ya bhaadh mein baat ek hi hai.

Has anything changed today? 🙂


Amla Shailendra: And then there is his encapsulation of the epics and mythology. Shivji bihane chale palki sajayeke describes the wedding of Shiva Parvati. The Ramleela in Ab Dilli Door Nahin presents the Ramayana in such a concise and beautiful form.

Antara: Amla Di, but how did Shailendra have such fluency in Bengali? You speak to me in Bengali. Salil Chowdhury had mentioned to Peeyush Sharma ji that Shailendra helped him a lot with words that Salilda wanted to fit into his songs in Do Bigha Zameen as he was fluent in Bengali. But Rawalpindi-Mathura-Bombay-Bangla, where’s the connection?

young shailendra

Shailendra as a young boy

Amla Shailendra: I’ll tell you how he learned Bangla. When Baba moved to Mathura, he joined a school there. The Principal of the school was a Bengali. He had 6-7 children. The eldest was Henna Didi whom Baba used to call Henna Didi so we also call her Henna Didi. She is actually my Pishi  (aunt) and to date all her children are like first cousins for us. They are not outsiders or friends, they are family. Now Henna Didi took a liking for Baba. Baba and Debu Uncle (Henna Didi’s younger brother) were in the same class. Debu Uncle lives in Washington now. Henna Didi used to give Baba food, buy his books and generally took him under her wings. And Baba reciprocated equally. And so we children are also very close. I am sure it must’ve been Henna Didi who taught Baba how to read and write Bangla. I can speak, but I cannot read and write. But he could.

Later on, it was strengthened with the Bengali group he was close to – Bimal Roy, Salil Chowdhury and all. And they used to speak Bangla in the house. So when I got married to Debashish it wasn’t difficult for me to pick up the language.

That is why we had more of the Bengali crowd in Teesri Kasam – Subroto Mitra, Nabendu Uncle, Basu Uncle.

Lyricist Shailendra

Antara: The family man that he was, Shailendra we know gave immense value to relationships. The most beautiful songs ever written that talk about the feelings of a daughter, a sister came from Shailendra’s pen.

Of course, we all know about Bhaiyya mere rakhi ke bandhan ko nibhana – the song synonymous with rakhi. And all of us have cried hearing ‘ab ke baras bhej bhaiyya ko babul

Shailendra’s razor-sharp lyrics poignantly express the agony of the girl who suddenly finds herself becoming a ‘parayi’ to the family which once nurtured and cherished her with unconditional love.

Bimal Roy uses the chakki as a symbol of entrapment in the cycle of life, a mundane, joyless grind. Needless to say Burman Dada’s music and Asha Bhosle’s rendition make this song one that makes both boys and girls weep buckets.

There are many such songs where Shailendra brought to fore a woman’s point of view – her joy, pain, aspirations, love, longing, desires, hurt…. The list goes on.

From Entrapment to Empowerment – Shailendra Pens a Woman’s Response

Amla Shailendra: I’ll tell you something I have shared before also. My mother was very happy that she had two sons before me. She would say, I would be happy if I had five sons. I don’t need daughters. She loved us but she was very cut and dried about it. But Baba wasn’t like that. I remember my Tai-ji (my father’s elder brother’s wife), they used to live in Agra. We would spend part of our vacations in Jhansi and part of it in Agra. One day Tai-ji got angry with Baba for some reason and told him, ‘Ja teri ladkiyan hi ladkiyan hongi’.

And Baba came to me, cupped my face in his hands and said, ‘If the curse is as beautiful as you, I want all my children to be girls.’ He accepted the curse as if it was a blessing. There was never any discrimination when growing up. Of course, there was more protection for the girls.

Antara: You had told me once that you had got lost when you had gone to school and he was frantic.

Amla Shailendra: What happened was that we had our dance classes and the bus was supposed to come and pick us up after that. We waited but no one came. Then we stood at the gate for some minutes but no one came. Our school was a convent and in one wing there was a dorm. Some nuns stayed there and some poor students were boarders. So the nuns took us to the dorm as they could not leave us waiting like that. In the meanwhile, the uncles and aunts and driver and Bahadur, the gorkha and all were looking for us. And they didn’t find us. Then Baba himself came. He could not find anyone in the school whom he could ask our whereabouts and he was getting desperate. He barged through the SSC section and finally found us in the tea room.

shailendra roshan

Shailendra and Roshan

Antara: He would take you and Gopa ji from school to a pastry shop and you would have your fill and then come home.

Amla Shailendra: He loved us. He would pick us up from school and take us to a cafeteria which had very good pastries and cakes. Sometimes, he would pick us up from Bandra where we were studying and drive us to the Borivilli National Park, would buy us milkshake or something. He would write his songs, and we would play around and then come home.

He was always scared that we would be kidnapped. So the school bus was booked for us but we didn’t always travel by school bus. The car was there. But how would the girls travel alone with the driver? So Bahadur has to go with us. But you can’t trust the two of them with the girls. So some relative – we had lots of relatives – some uncle, aunt, cousin has to go along too. So we had three escorts! Not that we thought of it at that time. But all three of them would come to drop us and pick us up!

But we were so down to earth. I remember once, we were coming back from school. We were in the car. We saw Baba standing in the first floor balcony. In our excitement that Baba was home early, we ran up the stairs and hugged him and he hugged us. Now Bahadur was following us with our schoolbags. So Baba told us, both of you take your bags and go down and carry your bags up yourself.  It was a clear lesson that you will receive the knowledge from these books, not Bahadur. You have to carry your own load. He was not angry, just firm. And we knew we had to do it. So we went down and brought our bags up.

Antara: A gentle lesson that you remember all your life.

Amla Shailendra: Yes. Carrying your own bojha was not only through his songs but also through this example.

shailendra social equality

Antara: Romantic songs he wrote many. And we love all of them. Many became raging hits. For example, if we take just 4 shades of a heart that is in love. Those first feelings, the anticipation, the rendezvous, the cherished memories.

4 Expressions of Being in Love

Amla Shailendra: Romance for me is Yeh mera deewanapan hai, the song from Yahudi that got him his first Filmfare award. Or the song from Chori Choriyeh raat bheegi bheegi! And he has repeated this in many songs that I lost my heart but I won the world.


Shailendra, Shankar Jaikishan and Mukesh with their Filmfare awards

Antara: Sabhi kuch lutakar huye hum tumhare
Ke hai jeet uski jo dil aaj haare

I love these lines from the song he wrote for the Bangla film Indrani. To me, it is Shailendra, in every word. He was all heart. No mirch masala. His commitment towards fulfilling his dream, his passion, made him give the project his everything. Khud hi mar mitne ki yeh zid hai hamari. In the end, he emerged the winner though he did not live to see the rewards. Hai jeet uski jo dil aaj hare.

Did he share his pain or frustration when his beloved film project got delayed, overran its budget, pushed him into debt? He wasn’t the one to look back or quit. So he trudged forward. These lines from Door ka Rahi’s title song, credited to him as ‘Late Shailendra’ as the film released after his death are to my mind a reflection of Shailendra. Possibly among his last songs?

Mud ke na dekhe, kuchh bhi na bole
bhed apne dil ka, raahi na khole
Aaya kahan se, kis desh ka hai
koi na jane, kya dhudhata hai
Manzil ki usey, kuchh bhi na khabar
phir bhi chala jaye, door ka raahi

Amla Shailendra: I wish he was alive today and I could ask him why he wrote those lines. But despite all that, he never gives up the spirit of hope.

Jaake yahan lauti hain saansein
Lautenge phir din tere

Door ka rahi (Door ka rahi, 1971) Shailendra / Kishore Kumar / Hemant Kumar

(Note:  I express my gratitude to ‘Romancing the Song’ group for giving me an opportunity to make a presentation on Shailendra in May this year, some extracts of which have been shared in this interview as slides and videos.  This enlightening and enriching conversation with Amla ji happened after I shared my presentation with her.   ~  Antara)

(Pictures are courtesy Internet)

More to read

Shailendra: The Spirit with a Mass Connect

Teesri Kasam – A Story of Love That Meandered to its Dead End

‘Rehearsals were Never Easy, Music Sittings were Always Fun’ – Remembering Madan Mohan

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Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine. A former business journalist, Antara writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema. Her articles aim to provide well-researched information on the legends of cinema for the movie and music enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house. She edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. She has co-authored a chapter on Hemant Kumar's Bengali music in the acclaimed book The Unforgettable Music of Hemant Kumar, written by Manek Premchand. Her articles have also been published in and Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
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20 thoughts on “‘If Raj Uncle Liked a Song, He Would Give Baba a Gold Coin’: Amla Shailendra Remembers Her Father ‘Kaviraj’ Shailendra

    1. Antara

      Sundeep ji, thank you so much! Your appreciation means a lot to me.

      Amla Di’s deep insights on Shailendra ji’s poetry, her memories, emotions, observations – everything was personally for me a journey of discovering Shailendra in a new way, with new perspectives. I have come away much enriched. <3 🙏

  • N P Bajaj

    Excellent read. Your heart strings get strummed as you navigate into the creative world of greats like Raj Kapoor, Shailendra, Bimal Roy and Vijay Anand with some ringside anecdotes from Amla ji.

  • Madhu Verma

    Dear Antara,
    Very well presented…!!!
    It is really heart touched two way round of interview with Amla ji.
    The most important point to note is that in entire conversation the purity of events asked by Antara and the manner Amlaji responded and described about her great father, Shailendra ji.

    The moment I was scrolling down, my curiosity to go through started increasing….I really enjoyed reading the entire session of Antara with Amla ji…
    It is really the worth reading daughter and father relationships …:))

    Keep it up Antara!!!

  • Manek Premchand

    It was only last week that I finally met Amla for the first time. The interview that I’ve just read only confirms my initial feelings about her, that she’s bright, articulate and passionate about her father. As for you, Antara, I’ve known you a few years now and admired your love for music, but also your knowledge and writing skills. I’ve seen you better yourself time and time again. This interview has brought two very competent individuals to talk about a great poet. Way to go madams, way to go 😊🙏

    1. Antara

      Thank you so very much Manek Sir! Thanks for giving me the most wonderful opportunities to explore new avenues in writing and presentations. The Shailendra presentation was the trigger for this. Amla Di is an interviewer’s delight. You just need to give the cue and she anticipates the question and gives a 360 degree reply.

      Amla Di’s responses brought out Shailendra ji in a new light – with many new facts and philosophies. I will cherish this forever. Grateful for your awesome feedback. 😊🙏

  • Bimal Chadha

    Very well crafted.,perhaps the best piece you have penned.
    More power to your pen!
    Amla Ji has very deep memories and opened her heart to you
    What you call ‘the tuning’
    Shailendra come out an earthy human being

    Muthi mein hai taqder hamari

    I doff my hat to both of you

    1. Antara

      Bimal ji, thank you so very much. Truly cherish your blessings.
      True that – it was the most memorable “tuning” as you call it. Will be in my heart always.
      Thanks again. Humbled 😊🙏

  • Sounak Gupta

    A very engaging conversation! The spontaneity of the interview, and how the little details about the person Shailendra, the father Shailendra came up, touched me deeply. Wonderful, Antara!

  • Madhur Trivedi

    This is one of the best interviews I have read, beautifully asked and answered; a stellar dialogue between two amazing ladies, about an extraordinary poet and human being – Bravo! Insightful perspective has been added to Shailendra about – his equation with Raj Kapoor, his wife and her touching efforts to save for a rainy day, Waheeda Rehman and her (somewhat insensitive) insistence on being paid…also his philosophy, generosity, dignity, contentment, simplicity, his deep love for his daughters…the poet had so many facets! And it is evident his daughter Amla has imbibed much, yet is a person in her own right – my respect _()_

    The imagery and symbols, Entrapment to Empowerment, and Expressions of Love – these segments are marvelous, the videos engaging and beautifully compiled. Aam chum taam chum in the nonsense songs was a revelation! The takeaway…ke mar ke bhi kisi ko yaad ayenge…kisi ke aansuon mein muskurayenge…Shailendra lives on.

    It is truly a labor of love Antara, Congratulations and more power to your pen!

    1. Antara

      Madhur ji,

      Thank you for the fabulous comment and beautiful analysis of the interview. Truly grateful. _()_ Personally, my own understanding of Shailendra went up by several notches after this most enlightening conversation with Amla Di. “And it is evident his daughter Amla has imbibed much, yet is a person in her own right” – that is so true.

      Thank you for the appreciation of the videos! It was an enriching experience compiling these videos. Even I did not realise that Aam chum taam chum had so many layers to it. Loved your takeaway. Truly, jeena isika naam hai. 🙂

      Thanks again. Delighted 🙂 _()_

  • A Bharat

    Thanks Antara! It was a memorable journey. We have known the poet in all moods, all shades over half a century- through his lyrics. But here we are shown in burning clarity the hand which held the pen- in fact more often when he was not holding the pen. The human being, the family man. The loving parent. And it is such a refreshing view. And another remarkable feature here is the total reversal of the accepted role of Raj Kapoor vis a vis Shailendraji which we are familiar with through reading umpteen articles.

    1. Antara

      Bharat ji, thank you so much. Yes, that side of Shailendra – the father, the parent, that is not much talked about or known came out bright and shining. It did touch many a heart, it certainly touched mine.

      So very happy you liked it! 🙂 _()_

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