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December 19, 1998


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The bard of India

Lata Khubchandani

Kavi Pradeep. Click for bigger pic!
It was a generation that invested in values, one which believed in India and a future filled with hope. And if all those ideals have gone now, following in their wake are those who held them in high esteem, the latest being Kavi Pradeep, immortalised by his Ai mere watan ke logon.

But maybe it doesn't make sense grieving at his passing for Kavi Pradeep's was a life well-lived and complete; longevity would have meant little to him anyway.

The Dadasaheb Phalke conferred on him earlier this year was a fitting finale, though perhaps half a century overdue.

When you brace yourself to meet someone who wrote songs fired by the spirit of patriotism, and suffused with altruism, you would expect an intense, serious person. In that sense, Kavi Pradeep is a disappointment. For he was a jovial, loveable man who tended to be just a little impatient.

Like many of those of his time, there was a gentility about him that often showed up in the self-deprecating way he played down his achievements whenever possible. But still, in a rare mood of gravity, he spoke of the time he wrote the song that made him so famous.

He was walking on the Matunga sidewalk one day and was filled by a sense of oneness with the pavement dwellers there. The words, Ai mere watan ke logon, on the flap of a box he was carrying then.

Of course, the words changed context when the song was finally written down, it allegedly had the two Mangeshkar sisters wrangling over it, and which brought tears to the eyes of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

But while he himself wrote about meaning and the benefit of mankind, he was never one to criticise the writers of today though he didn't mind mildly chastising them.

"I didn't waste my life writing only about sex, lust, love, romance and all that. Love is but a part of life, and the love written about today talks about love between the sexes only. But do young men and women have a monopoly where love is concerned? Aren't there different kinds of love -- that between a mother and her children a father and his children, between a brother and sister between a bhakt and his deity, between a man and his motherland?

Lata Mangeshkar.
"I chose to write about all these different kinds of love. The saint-poetess Mirabai wasn't married to Krishna but she loved him and spent her life singing about him... Perhaps it was the atmosphere in which we lived that evoked patriotic feelings in us, but then, in those days, we had good upbringing, good grooming and good command over the language. That is why our work was also good."

There is some truth in this. Not one of the songs written by Kavi Pradeep since he first wrote for the film Kangan in 1939 has lost its beauty with the passage of time.

Kavi Pradeep was born Ramchandra Narayanji Dwivedi in Badnagar in MP on February 6, 1915. That was during the first world war. Pradeep grew up in Uttar Pradesh, writing and reciting poetry.

"A lot of people wrote in those days and I was encouraged because I was saying something that listeners then appreciated.

"I finished my graduation and decided to join a teacher's course and teach, but destiny had other plans for me. I was invited to a Kavi Sammelan in Bombay..." And he never left. For Himanshu Rai of Bombay Talkies signed him on for Rs 200 and made him sign a contract for Kangan.

Despite being a part of the film industry, Pradeep had a clean lifestyle, trying to live up to the values he'd inherited. And the honesty that was part of those values was perhaps what imbued his music with the special touch.

Despite his patriotism, Pradeep was an avid listener to the BBC news and kept abreast of all that was happening in the country.

He received every major award India had to offer, among them the best film lyricist award in 1961, the Sangeet Natak Academy Award, the Film Journalist Association award, the IMPPA award, the Mahan Kalakaar award, the Rajiv Gandhi award, the Sursingar and the national integration award and the Sant Gyaneshwar award.

He was the first to admit, "I've achieved success through films, something I'd looked down upon earlier. It gave me everything one could desire."

And that contentment with life remained with him to a peaceful death.

As the priest said at the pooja performed for him, "How many of us claim to have done the karma we've been sent to do in this world?"

Kavi Pradeep wouldn't have bothered; he'd done better than most others have.

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