Hotel Shyamprakash stood at Infantry Road, Bangalore, right opposite the Indian Express building. A commercial building stands at the site now. It had one of those Bangalore specialties, now fast disappearing, an open-air restaurant where you could drive-in and have a snack, either in your car or sit in the open air. The hotel also offered an economical lodging facility. Nothing fancy, but right in the heart of town. The company which hired me from my college as a management trainee had its head office then on Cunningham Road so it made sense for me to stay at Shyamprakash which was at a short walking distance. I was on a month’s project in Bangalore as a part of my training program.
It felt good having a plate of idli-vada in the open-air restaurant for breakfast and the proximity to office was also a great help. But the chief attraction for me was the restaurant just behind the reception area. Not the food per se, but the band which would play there dinner time, Kannada and Hindi film songs. They had some four or five singers and their music was pretty good.
I would reach the restaurant every evening around eight and stay there till virtually the closing time nursing a glass of beer. I would occupy a table at one corner of the restaurant and listen to music and watch the activities of the customers. There was a mix of people; groups of friends, families, office groups. Some regulars, some for a one-off visit. I particularly remember a boisterous group of four friends who would guzzle whiskeys steadily through the evening and then one of them would stand up, stagger unsteadily to the stage. He would stand close to the stage which was barely a foot in height and shower currency notes of Rs Ten on his favourite singer and walk back to his table.
Another permanent fixture in the restaurant was the owner of the hotel who would occupy a fixed table in a corner of the restaurant across the floor from the stage. He was there every evening in his well pressed safari suit, sometimes alone and sometimes with his guests nursing his drink. All evening he would look around keeping an eye on potential trouble-makers. Once he even joined the restaurant bouncer in beating up a customer hell-bent on misbehaving with a female singer.
I enjoyed the music even the hitherto unknown (to me) Kannada and Tamil songs. However, the main attraction for me were two singers, one, a young man who could sing Kishore Kumar songs pretty well and the other, a woman whose voice, I could have sworn, was a replica of Asha Bhosle’s. And together these two singers could sing some great Kishore-Asha duets of the seventies.
You could request your favourite song, the steward was only too happy to pass you a pen and a slip of paper to write your request which he would have it sent to the stage via a waiter. No guarantee that the band would oblige you, they either maybe too busy with other requests or they may not even have the song in their repertoire. Many a drunken guest whose request had not been met would get into an argument with the steward accusing him of not reaching the request slip to the stage!
While I was keen to request for some of my favourite Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle songs, I was too shy. One day I summoned enough courage and passed on a request to the stage. The song I wanted is a great Asha solo, a rather rare one, but one of my all-time favorites. It goes, “Baag mein kali khile, bagiya mehki“. Some may remember the song “Saagara..” from the Malayalam film Chemeen. The Hindi song has an identical tune. Perhaps because both these films had the same music director, Salil Choudhary.
An hour elapsed and there was still no sign of the song. I had nearly given up thinking to myself that the song was so rare that the singer would not have heard of it let alone being able to sing it. As I was about to leave, a little bit in disappointment at my failed maiden song request, I suddenly heard a familiar music, the opening strains of “Baag mein…” I looked across the restaurant to the stage and saw “Asha Bhosle” holding her open diary and preparing to sing the song. So she actually knew the song and had the lyrics in her diary! I was overjoyed. I was not sure whether it was due to the song or the fact that my first-ever request got honoured!
The next evening, I landed earlier than usual, one of the earliest guests in the restaurant, and occupied my favourite table. Emboldened by previous evening’s success, I asked for the song again. Perhaps because the crowds had not yet built up, perhaps she was familiar with the song from the previous day, the song came up quickly.
So evening-after-evening the same routine followed. Early arrival, the same request which was always fulfilled and evenings altogether pleasantly spent.
One day, I was otherwise pre-occupied mentally and forgot to make the routine request. I was in my reverie when the familiar strains of “Baag mein..” started. She had actually seen me and despite no request from me, she began singing the song on her own. This took me by complete surprise and I later checked with the waiter who regularly served my table on how she could ever know that the “requester” for this song was around. The waiter informed me that after the third consecutive day of the request for this song, the singer had asked the waiter who this request emanated from. The waiter said he had indicated towards me and it was not difficult for anyone on stage to see the solitary occupant of the fixed table day-after-day.
Over the course of the next few weeks my work in Bangalore got over and I relocated to another city for a few months. When I returned to Bangalore it was for good and I settled into a paying guest accommodation. One evening I was narrating to a friend my Shyamprakash experiences and then on an impulse, I decided to visit the hotel. Was the band still playing there? Were “my” Asha and Kishore still around?
We reached the hotel and it was great to hear the familiar voice singing as we entered the restaurant. No sooner we had settled down I asked for the request slip and placed the old request all over again. Soon enough, “Baag mein” came on sounding as good as ever!
And then something happened during the break! The familiar waiter came to me and requested me to follow him outside the restaurant. I was wondering what was going on as I allowed myself to be led away. My friend, feeling protective, came behind me should anything untoward happened.
We were led to a corner of the open-air restaurant where the band members were taking a break. And there they were, “Asha” and “Kishore”. We were seeing each other at a close distance for the first time.
“Hi! My name is Krishna and she is Sabrina,” said Kishore Kumar.
“Hi”, I mumbled, wondering what was going on!
“So, you are the one who always wanted to hear this song?” said Sabrina.
“Yes,” it was getting embarrassing for me!
I was dying to know why they wanted to meet a “fan”, I am sure they had tons of them already.
Krishna fished out an envelope from his jacket pocket. “May I know your name, sir?”
He neatly printed my name on the envelope and handed it over to me. “Sir, Sabrina and I are getting married next Sunday, we will be delighted if you could come and join us that day.”
I was reading the card when Sabrina gave a small laugh and said, “You must be wondering about all this, right?
“As a matter of fact, I was”.
Krishna chipped in, “The time you used to come earlier was the time our friendship was turning into something special though we did not know it then. The song you used to request became my favourite and then Sabrina’s too. So now you see, this song is special to us!”
Sabrina added with a smile,” And hence, in some way you are special to us too. Please come and bless us on Sunday”.
I could not, unfortunately attend their wedding reception.
I hope Sabrina and Krishna are happy in whatever they are doing, wherever they are.