‘Hardly a day passes when I do not hear Kishore Kumar’s name or an anecdote about him. Either a local person recalls something about Kishore Kumar or a train passenger enquires about him,’ said a tea-vendor at the railway station of Khandwa.
I got the opportunity to visit Khandwa when I took a new job in Bhopal. Khandwa is on the Bhopal-Mumbai rail-route. It takes six hours by train to reach Khandwa from Bhopal.
On October 12, 2003 – eve of Kishore Kumar’s death anniversary, I boarded a train in the night for Khandwa. I reached the Khandwa early in the morning.
I went to a tea stall on the railway platform.
‘Is Khandwa your home?’ I asked the tea vendor. He nodded.
‘Have you ever seen Kishore Kumar?’
‘He died when I was three or four years old.’
‘Do people still remember him here?’
The tea vendor chuckled and said, ‘How can Kishore Kumar die? Move out of the station and you will hear people discussing about him.’
I asked him the directions for going to Kishore Kumar’s house. ‘It is very close to the station. Just walk straight out of the station and ask anyone. It will take five minutes,’ said the vendor.
A wide road from the station leads into the city. Shops line both sides of the road. I asked at the first shop. But before the shopkeeper could reply, a middle-aged man who had overheard me said, ‘Go straight 100 metres or so and you will find Dada’s house on the right.’
Gauri-Kunj said a sign on the small gate of the house and it was not hard for me to understand the reason. Kishore Kumar’s mother’s name was Gauri Ganguly and his father’s name was Kunji Lal Ganguly.
The house looked dilapidated. It seemed that the house had not been whitewashed for years. The walls were blackish and plaster had fallen off at many places.
When I knocked at the gate an old, dark and skinny man appeared from the gallery by the side of the house. I introduced myself to him and told him I wished to see the house.
‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘the house was burgled a couple of times and since then the house remains locked and the keys are with Arjun who lives in Mumbai.’
I asked the man about Arjun. ‘Arjun is Kishore Kumar’s nephew; Anoop Kumar’s son,’ said the man whose name was Sita Ram. He said he was 73-years-old.
Sita Ram was employed in Kishore Kumar’s household as a servant in the early eighties. But with passage of time, relatives of Kishore Kumar either died or left for Mumbai or other places and the house has remained unoccupied for the last several years. Sita Ram had become the caretaker of the house.
‘So you were here when Kishore Kumar was alive? You must have seen him’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ said Sita Ram and his eyes sparkled. I requested him to tell me about Kishore Kumar’s visits to Khandwa.
‘Kishore Kumar did not visit Khandwa frequently. But whenever he came, he was accompanied by his wife Leena Chandrawarkar and sons Amit and Sumit. There would be merriment in the house round-the-clock. Every person of the household would be in high spirits and a jovial mood. Kishore Kumar would ask us to cook many delicacies and sweets,’ said Sita Ram.
‘Can I see the house closely?’ I asked.
Sita Ram led me and I tried to peep into the rooms through some gaps on the windows panes but inside it was very dark and nothing visible.
I looked at the house from all possible angles. I was ecstatic as I was at the place where Kishore Kumar had grown up.
I thanked Sita Ram and left for the other destination on my itinerary -Kishore Kumar’s memorial.
I hired an auto-rickshaw and asked the driver to take me to the memorial. It is on the outskirts of Khandwa and I reached there in 10 minutes. The memorial stands at the place where Kishore Kumar was cremated.
Like Kishore Kumar’s house, his memorial also looked decaying. The memorial is a rectangular block made of stones and cement. It stands of a barren tract of land without any canopy or shade and epitaph. Grass was growing through the cracks that had developed over the memorial.
‘Is the memorial also decaying like his house?’ I told Vinay Singh, the auto-rickshaw driver.
‘People talk of renovating the memorial but nothing fruitful is done,’ said Vinay.
I asked him about Kishore Kumar’s cremation.
‘Kishore Kumar had willed that his body should be cremated in Khandwa. So it was brought to Khandwa from Mumbai after his death. It was kept in his ancestral house to enable people to pay their last respects. Thousands of people took part in the funeral procession. Khandwa is a small place and it became jam-packed,’ said Vinay.
‘It seems unimaginable-it took eight hours for the funeral procession to reach from the ancestral house to cremation site -a distance of hardly five kms,’ he said. ‘People not only from Khandwa but even from places like Indore and Mumbai attended the funeral,” he said.
My pilgrimage was over. I stopped at a tea-stall opposite Kishore Kumar’s house on my way back to the station.
FM radio had not yet reached Khandwa in 2003. Vividh Bharti was still ruling the waves there. The radio station was playing only Kishore Kumar’s song as a tribute on his death anniversary.
I tried to think how his fan; living close to his house would feel hearing his name and voice on the radio every day.
Kishore Kumar died October 13, 1987. His house and memorial may be in a dilapidated state but his songs remain fresh.