The Celebrity Next Door

G. Krishnan started his career in the NDDB  as an Apprentice in 1973 and subsequently worked in the Planning Division and the Oilseeds and Vegetable Oil Wing. In 1978, he went on deputation to CLUSA and worked in the  vegetable  oil project for a brief period.

This is a strange, real-life story.

In the early 1980s, we used to reside in the Versova area of Bombay. We stayed there for exactly five years, in a rented flat. Adjacent to our building, there used to be a small, dilapidated single storied house on the verge of collapse, without a boundary wall or gate. If at all there was anything remarkable about the place, it was that it did not really fit into a relatively affluent area. Even our presence in the vicinity was something of a misnomer! The tiny house, its courtyard and its small verandah were visible from our fourth-floor flat.

On most mornings, on my way to the office, I used to see an old, graceful, but sad-looking lady on the verandah. During my stay there, I hardly saw anyone else visiting her or keeping her company. But, on several occasions, my wife had seen the well-known wrestler, actor and politician Dara Singh in the entrance, chatting with the lady. Though this aroused the curiosity of my wife, life in the city did not allow any of us to look deeper. However, notwithstanding the strenuous life in Bombay, for some inexplicable reason, her sad face was embedded in my mind and continued to haunt me occasionally.

Years were on; we left Bombay and settled in a small village in Kerala. Then all of a sudden, quite unexpectedly, we saw her on a music talent show titled ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’ in the role of a judge in the company of O P Nayyar and Sonu Nigam. It was only then, to my pleasant surprise, that the mysterious old lady with the melancholic expression was the famous singing star of the 1940s and early 1950s, Rajkumari Dubey, better known as Rajkumari!

Rajkumari Dubey

At this juncture, let me confess that during those days, I hardly knew anything about Rajkumari and her music. But this accidental incident aroused my curiosity and made me dig deeper into her music and tragic life. Over the next few years, I enjoyed her songs and music. Following is a gist of what I could learn during my long search to dig into the life and career of the singing star: Rajkumari Dubey was born in 1924 in Benares and had no formal training in music.

“More than three and a half decades have elapsed since we stayed next to her home without realising who our next-door neighbour was”

However, over the years, she developed a sweet voice with a narrow range which music pundits consider better than the leading singers of that period, like Zorabai and Shamshad Begum. She was only ten years old when HMV recorded her first song in 1934. This marked her arrival as a stage artiste.

In the next two decades, she sang for more than 100 films till the early 1950s, when Lata Mangeshkar changed the playback singing scene in India. During this period, she also acted in a few Hindi and Gujarati movies.

After that, she endured a long dry spell until music director Naushad spotted her singing in the chorus for his background score for Pakeeza (1972). Naushad was shocked by the sight of the once legendary Rajkumari as a chorus singer to make ends meet! As a result, he gave her an entire song to herself in Pakeeza– ‘Najariya ki Maari’.

Her last song was recorded for R D Burman in the film ‘Kitab’–‘Har Din To Beeta’. Naushad’s goodwill act, unfortunately, turned out to be a mere palliative.

The Hindi film industry had changed into a ‘dog eat dog’ world. It was a moment of irony too. Barring a few sporadic outings, the divinely voiced Rajkumari continued to live without work and passed away in poverty and obscurity on 18th March 2000. Barring Sonu Nigam and actor Chandrasekhar, none from the film industry attended her funeral. Hardly a surprise!

More than three and a half decades have elapsed since we stayed next to her home without realising who our next-door neighbour was. But some deep-rooted pain still lingers in our minds. Though financially not well settled, couldn’t we have done something by way of company to her during those dark and lonely days? Perhaps, if only we had known her and her sad plight!

Mukesh and Raj Kumari Dubey


One thought on “The Celebrity Next Door

  1. Too sad. I too saw her as a judge in the music show-SaReGaMa. Occasionally also heard her on radio.
    The entertainment industry is heartless. Late Rajkumari was just one example of how the industry treats veterans-leaves them sad, lonely, unattended, uncared to one day leave this world unsung and forgotten.

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