One day I struck a conversation with an octogenarian at a tea stall in Moti Nagar, New Delhi. Kundan Lal Saigal and Sialkot were two things that he mentioned right away when I told him that I belong to Jammu. Then followed his stories about Sialkot and how faintly yet fondly he remembered songs of KL Saigal.
This event prompted me to venture out to find Saigal’s family and his house, wherever that may be in Jammu. I had to make some phone calls in the artistes-circle of Jammu to find out Saigal’s address. It turned out to be Mastgarh area of the old city.
Taking my camera, I went off to Mastgarh Mohalla hoping to find a legacy of Saigal all over the Mohalla. To my distress, nobody seemed to know about him; right in the middle of Mastgarh! After questioning about 20 passersby and 22 households, I got to know about his place by an old auto driver.
It definitely seemed a beautiful house, as I entered it. I was positive of being welcomed by his long forgotten descendants. As soon as I rang the bell, a rather hesitant girl came up to me. Gathering my intentions, she called her Chachu. The gentleman was quick to disappoint me while he told me that they’d bought the house in 1972. To my utter shock, he said that even their family didn’t know until 2004, when they celebrated the 100th birth anniversary of Saigal at the KL Saigal Chowk, that the house belonged to someone of such prominence. He too wasn’t much to blame because there wasn’t any mark of Saigal in the “KL Saigal Chowk”. Hardly anybody knew of that particular name of the crossroads.
The fact that only 50% of the Jammu youth knows about KL Saigal is also assumed by Mr. Jigar Mohammad, the HoD History Department, Jammu University. Yet he persists that KL Saigal is well known among the scholarly section of Jammu.
Now my only destination seemed to be the KL Saigal Hall at Abhinav Theatre. I wanted to know of their efforts to keep alive his legacy. There, Dr. Arvinder Singh Amn, Additional Secretary Jammu & Kashmir Fine Arts Society briefed me about the purpose of the hall and how it’s a centre of literary, folk, music and other performing arts. Saigal’s birthday is celebrated every year where artistes from the state pay their tributes to this legend in their own ways; including Mr. Anil Tickoo who dresses up as Saigal and sings his popular songs.
I’m still disappointed to see how a very few people remember the first superstar of Indian cinema- the multilingual actor and singer KL Saigal.