Kozhikode Abdul Khader – A little bit more
Some years ago I penned a short introduction to this singer. This is an updated and corrected version with more details collected over the years, some received from his nephew and the rest from various sources and documentaries. In the course of time a book was also published on this rather unfortunate and unlucky singer and a few tidbits are thanks to the work of Nadeem Naushad, who was the author of both the book and the documentary. During this period I added to my collection of songs by Satyajit, some original songs by Khader himself, and a more ‘closer to original’ version of Pacha panam Thatte. But more about all that a little later, first let us get to know the legendary singer a bit better. To do that I must go back in time, just over a year ago in California.
It was a wonderful warm and sunny day actually. The previous night I got some mp3’s of original recordings of Khaderka and on the long drive back home, I decided to listen to them, together with songs by Satyajit (Khader’s ill fated son) which I already possessed. I plugged in the CD and started to listen to the patchy, scratched versions of the old records or tapes. Though time had eroded the quality quite a bit, the voice had the same sonorous, magical, but sad overtones. I had finished the popular ‘engine nee marakkum’ and had started my personal favorite ‘padan orthoru’ when I zipped past a red light and got snapped by the camera at the intersection. I was engrossed in the song, unfortunately, and missed the amber sign by a split second and the lights had turned red as I hit the intersection. The camera did not know the reasons or the fact that I was engrossed with Khader’s voice, but well, it did its task and the next few days had to be spent paying the fine, attending driving school and the such, making me poorer by $400/-. But I was not sad, I had an original version of ‘Padan orthoru’ and that was enough. What a song that one is, for those who have not heard it, well, too bad. Few know that ‘Padan orthoru’ is a K Raghavan directed ‘Lalitha ganam’, and the lyrics stem from a Malayalam translation of Tagore’s Gitanjali, song 13.
These were Tagore’s words
Song Unsung- Tagore
The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument.
The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set; only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.
The blossom has not opened; only the wind is sighing by.
I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice; only I have heard his gentle footsteps from the road before my house.
The livelong day has passed in spreading his seat on the floor; but the lamp has not been lit and I cannot ask him into my house.
I live in the hope of meeting with him; but this meeting is not yet.
Many have said that Khader though titled the Malabar Saigal, sang mainly in the Desh Raag much like Saigal, but others affirm that he actually sung like a Bengali reminiscencing Rabindra Sangeet. This is a reminder of that.
Interestingly, I have another special connection to Khaderka. The Calicut of the 40’s through 60’s had a number of music enthusiasts and music clubs, where evening and nightly mehfils took place. Some became big music clubs. Like Brother’s and Hutton’s orchestras. Brother’s music club was started by constable Kunjahammad, Khader’s friend and this was one club for whom Baburaj and Khader performed often. My wife used to be a lead singer for them for quite some time and I have seen a number of the club’s programs during the 80’s….
Old timers of Calicut may remember Khader singing, of his suit-coat clad and lean gaunt frame walking along tilted to one side along the Wyanad road, sometimes towards Malaparamba, sometime back home behind the HPO. Some may remember him playing cricket for Kerala (yes! that is a fact) or playing soccer at Mananchira, others may remember him at various mehfils in the various clubs or wealthy Moplah houses. Friends of Satyajit and Najmal Babu may remember him as the loving dada of their friend and Shanta Devi would remember him as her life partner, mentor guide and muse. Some might remember him and his pegions for he was a pigeon lover.
Many a tale has been written about him and the casual reader is best advised to read Nadeem Naushad’s book Padaorthoru Madhurita Ganam, to get to many of them, and it is not appropriate for me to repeat them here. If you visit his blogsite, you can even see a loving documentary prepared by him.Some details that are not in the book and the nostalgic photo are provided below thanks to Khaderka’s nephew, Ron Andrews.
Leslie Andrews (Kozhikode Abdul Khader) was born either in Mangalore or Calicut; however, he went to school in Calicut. His father, Mr. Justin Andrews, was from Mangalore and mother, Manini, was from Mercara, Coorg. Mr. Justin Andrews owned a Watch Company on Huzur Road in Calicut. It was called "Andrews Watch Co" and remained in business for nearly 100 years. Leslie’s father, the late Andrews, was a very good violin player, playing Christian hymns. He had a very good voice, so were some of Khader's sisters. . When he was young, he used to take part in church choirs and private mehfils.
Leslie’s older sister was named Beatrice and she and her husband Mr. Williams were living and working in Burma for a while and Justin shipped Leslie off to Burma to get him away from any bad influence ( I would presume they were the evening mehfils and musical wanderings) He lived in Burma with them for a few years and when they returned to India, he too returned to Calicut.
It was apparently after his arrival that Khader got closer to Constable Kunjahmed (At that time, his would be
father (brother)-in-law and family lived in M.S.P. (Malabar Special Police) quarters located near the Challengers Football Club on Puthiyara Road in Calicut). There, he met his future wife, Achuma (Baburaj, married Achuma's sister). It appears that, without the knowledge and permission of his family, he travelled to a town named "Malapuram", close to Calicut and pre-dominantly occupied by Muslims and the head quarters of the Malabar Special Police, and became a Muslim, in order to marry the girl he loved. He told the family about his marriage when he returned to Calicut. This almost broke the heart of his father, Mr. Justin Andrews, who was a staunch Christian in every sense.
Some readers who had previously read that Khader converted in Burma or even went by the story that he returned with a clean shaven head and wearing a Koya lungi from Burma would now note that Khader actually converted at Malappuram and not in Burma; but whether he was sent to Burma because he was in love with Achuma seems unclear. It is clear from Naushad’s research that Khader married Achuma to help his mentor Constable Kunjahmed. So the story above is quite in line with the flow of things.
Before he got married and after his return from Burma, he visited Bombay and spent some time there, trying his luck in the music industry. Baburao Patel, the editor of Film India magazine, introduced Khader to the reputed Hindi film maker, AR Kardar, who invited Khader to his studio to attend an audition. Kardar was so much impressed by the new singer, that he offered him a couple of songs in his next two movies; one was named "Station Master". Unfortunately, Abdul Khader could not complete his assignment with Mr. Kardar, as he had to rush home following a death in the family (This is variously mentioned as the death of his father or his eldest son).
He later had a relationship with Shanta Devi and Satyajit was their son. Shanta Devi continues to act as a character actress and as a mother in many movies, and is a fine artiste and a national award winner. However the family was victims to so many tragedies. Khader did not reach the heights he and everybody else desired, the type of music he rendered and the desires of the public had too much of a chasm between them by then, his son Satyajit who was reasonably well off, took his life hearing his wife had terminal cancer.
The family continues to be beset with difficulties and family problems and is sadly neglected. There was a time when Yesudas came to Calicut and sang to organize collections for the wedding of Khader’s daughter, but today Najmal Babu who similarly sang for Hutton’s as a lead singer once upon a time, languishes amidst numerous domestic and monetary problems.
The picture attached is Leslie Andrews' family picture, consisting of his father, Mr. Justin Andrews, in the middle of front row, sitting, his brothers and sisters, taken in Mangalore or Calicut, after his mother's death.Mr. Christie Andrews Leslies brother is in the front row, seated, extreme left. You can see Leslie Andrews (a.k.a. Kozhikode Abdul Khader) in the back row, extreme right, in a white jacket and bow tie. The lady sitting in front of him on the chair (front row right) was his oldest sister, Beatrice (Baby), with whom he stayed in Burma.
Avenues to explore
Padanorthoru madhurita ganam – N Naushad
Bengali version Tagore Gitanjali #13
Nadeemnaushad blog & documentary
Ente Lokam – Check for songs of Khader
Interview with Shanta Devi
Acknowledgments - Ron Andrews (Leslie’s nephew (Khader’s brother’s son)).