Mehaboob - that forgotten singer

For quite some time I searched around for information on the Malayalam singer Mehaboob, but only a little could be dredged. It was finally a brilliant, thought provoking and sentimental article by novelist Vennala Mohan in last years ‘Manorama Onappathippu’ that gave me much insight to this lovable person. Thanks a lot to blogger Abraham Tharakan for directing me to Mohan’s article. That is the real stuff – the article to read, I am writing this only for the benefit of those cannot find it and those who can’t read Malayalam.

This is about Mehaboob, a singer great with his voice, but unfortunately weak in character. It is about a singer of yesteryears, whose talents I alluded to in my earlier blogs on trains and Mammad kaka’s coat. Sometimes you get drawn to a certain person, you can’t necessarily explain why, but it could very well be that it was because he was an underdog, one who was seemingly wronged, one who never received recognition that was always due to him.

There was a time when one could write a letter addressed thus - H Mehaboob Bhai, Cochin, Kerala and the letter would quickly find its way through the gigantic Indian postal system to this gentle soul. Alas, today it would be surprising if anybody in Kerala or for that matter even people of Cochin remembered Mehaboob even if they standing on Mehaboob road in Cochin or living in Mehaboob Nagar. It was the time when Mehaboob and Kozhikode Abdul Khader ruled the waves.

Indeed, he was a character with many virtues and an equally long list of flaws. Fortunately he left behind a legacy of memories for a select few who survived his generation and many lovely songs that epitomized his times & tides. Mehaboob’s story is curiously, one of loneliness, but actually filled with people. Sometimes I wonder if all those people around him were the very reason for his downfall. Such were the times; an era where people tagged on to the rich and famous and every famous person had an even bigger entourage and a huge ego to boot. They bolstered the ego to such a level that the otherwise normal person started feeling insecure and ended up seeking refuge in an imaginary world. They pampered the person with wrong and sweet ideas; they led the person astray, into the arms of booze and other vices.

Mehaboob, fondly known as ‘Bhai’ in the Cochin between the 50’s and 80’s, was born in a family beset with stark poverty. He spent his childhood (early 40’s) in the nearby Bengal battalion military camp polishing shoes while his mother did cleaning jobs. And in the midst of all the grime and squalor, he cheerfully sang the songs he picked up, be it English, Bengali, Gujarati, Urdu, Hindi or Malayalam - whatever the trend was on that day. Bhai grew up to become the singer of choice for the various pre nuptial ceremonies conducted by rich families in Cochin; here was where he made his name, his admirers and many friends. Mehaboob had no real home, but he lived with his friends, and he sang his way into the hearts of Cochin.

A lovable and humane man, with a boyish candor, Mehaboob partook in many of those evenings and his spontaneity and outpourings are now a memory only to a few lucky people like singers Umbayee & Xavier. His extempore songs were never recorded and eventually vanished leaving the oncoming generations poorer of a musical legacy. Many of his songs were composed by Mepalli Balan. While there is still an argument about the ownership of the lyrics, the two people who created songs for Mehaboob, with that special Mattanchery flavour, were Nelson Fernandez and Balan. A simple man, never ambitious, Mehaboob never demanded compensation for the performances, be it at the prenuptial ceremonies, or kacheris’.

So famous did he become in Cochin, that Muthaiah, the actor quickly recommended him to Dakshinamoorthy the music director who was looking for a new voice in the early 50’s. Would you believe that the two of them hunted for the truant Mehaboob all over Cochin and it was only a few minutes before Murthy’s train was leaving the platform that Mehaboob landed up at the station? Well, it was at the station, with the steam engine starting its departure whistle that he sang his first ‘voice test’ lines and Murthy decided that he had found his man. From that point Mehaboob started to get noticed in the film world. He sang of course, for P Bhaskaran and Baburaj in many hit movies between the 50’s and 70’s, but they were to a large extent comedy songs. While it gave him due recognition, it saddened Mehaboob and he remarked once that he thought P Bhaskaran as the one who branded him thus – the comedy singer. Some of us would remember today a few those great ‘comedy songs’ songs, but Mehaboob I believe, wanted to do more serious songs. Seeing all this, Dakshina Murthy took it upon himself to formally launch him, but Mehaboob gave up, refused to sing at the party organized for him, and just left Madras, and with that started his tryst with the bottle and his downfall.

It was not the first time he walked away, many years later at TDM hall in Cochin, Mehaboob who was to perform in a concert, did not sing. He came onstage, simply stated that Gandhiji was responsible for the rot in the minds of Indian people after independence and walked off from a houseful concert (He asked the audience – Gandhi enthakki? The audience replied, Bhai para Bhai para – Bhai said – Gandhi Indiaye mandhi punnakki). What triggered all this I don’t know, but this brilliant singer never took his life or his career seriously after the Madras days.

He was popular, no doubts about that and all this is abundantly clear from the days CH Atma and Rafi performed in Cochin. People clamored for Bhai’s songs even when Rafi was singing and Rafi gracefully invited Mehaboob to sing on his stage. It is said that Rafi then asked Mehaboob to accompany him to Bombay, but Mehaboob did not want to leave his friends in Cochin…Now that being the case, why did he lose hope with life? I don’t know, Was it much later, I don’t think so. All the money he made from his movie songs, bundles of it, was usually distributed to all friends the very same evening.

Can you imagine there was a time when Mehaboob had to coach Yesudas with Hindi/Urdu diction for a particular song before a stage show? It is from those dizzy heights this gentleman ended up to singing in Maharaja’s college hostel rooms for the price of a lunch (He sang many of his own songs and admitted that he was Mehaboob only after he was confronted with a request to sing Yesudas & Jayachandran songs). Later, it was poverty that led him to become a part time Muezzin in the local mosque, calling the faithful for prayers. In the end he died a pauper, an abject asthmatic, wizened and sick man leaving behind only his music as his legacy. By then people had forgotten him…new stars had risen in the sky and rustic folk music was no longer in vogue.

Let us take a look at some of his popular movie songs, the songs that make you feel happy and smile

- Manennum vilikkila, mayilennum vilikkila Manathe pachakiliye (Neelakuyil – K Raghavan)
- Kathu sookshiochore kasthuri mampazam kakka kothi (Nair pidicha pulival – K Raghavan)
- Pandu pandu nine kanda nalilla (Rarichan oru pauran – K Raghavan)
- Halu pidichoru puliachhan pulivalupidichoru nairachan– (Nair pidicha pulivalu – K Raghavan)
- Naya paisayilla ( Neeli Sali – K Raghavan)
- Zindabad Zindabad swantham karyam zindabad ( Kandam bechoru kottu - MS Baburaj)
- Vandee pukavandi, vandi vandi ninne pole vayaril enikkum theeyanu (Doctor - G Devarajan)
- O Rickshawalla ( Odayil Ninnu – G Devarajan)
- Vandikaran beeran kaka randam kettinu poothim bechu (Vandi karan beeran kakka )
- Kozhikodangdeele koyakkande kadayilu koyinde kariyude charu (Thanka kudam – MS Baburaj)
- Kandam bechoru kottanu athu mammad kakede kottanu ( Kandam bechoru kottu - MS Baburaj)

Sources & picture – Manorama, Hindu and other web links. ‘’ provided access to many of Mehaboob’s songs through their fine collection.

Turn up your speakers and click play, if you would like to hear a short medley of Mehaboob hits


harimohan said…
dear maddy tks a ton for this post
iam actually busy and have to be in the wards in 5 mins but i couldnt but get absorbed by this .
now i know about another great singer bless his soul ,i have met umbayi of course in kochi .
tks again
Nanditha Prabhu said…
bringing him alive through your blog was was nice to hear the medley, the long forgotten voice and the singer!
Maddy a very good post like most of yours are. Out of the songs you mentioned, 'pandu pandu ninne kandanalaya' is stiil popular.

Is the thread of 'Gramophone' cinema based on Mehboob story?
Maddy said…
Hari, I understand Umbayee used to play harmonium for Mehaboob. he is one of teh few who knew him well and released a CD with Mehaboob songs - ormayil mehaboob.

Thanks Abe & nanditha - in a way mehaboob is alluded to in gramaphone. the group of oduvil, tabala bhaskaran, saigal yousef etc set the tone of the time. saigal yousef i think was the 'sort of' mehaboob - played by moosa eranjol..salim kumar was tabla bhaskaran - probably umbayee..
Maddy said…
Just something for those interested in Mehaboob - a new article in manorama yesterday about the mehaboob - Dakshinamurthy story.
What a lovely post. Though our family loved/s his songs, we never got to learn much about him, because of paucity of info in those days. Thank you for this and for the songs of the man with the bright, cheerful voice.
P. S. Another delightful song by Mehaboob was 'Kaayalarukathu valayerinjappol, vala kilukkiya sunnari' from 'Neelakkuyil'.
Maddy said…
thanks a ton - It came as a huge surprise that you knew of mehaboob!!! Raji, as you can imagine, i like all his songs very much..poor chap, he could have been a bit more persistent and he would have done better...but well, the song 'kayal arikathu' was actually sung by K Raghavan himself, intially i thought it was by mehaboob as it is very much in his is the story behind the man, the movie and the music of Neelakuyil
Really, I always imagined it was Mehaboob! Thanks for the link.
deepdowne said…
maddy, thanks so much!
I was lucky enough to meet this man. When I was a kid, he used to visit often my maternal ‘tharavadu’. I guess he was a totally lost, impoverished man by then. He looked, as far as I can remember, a lean figure, weak in health, but nevertheless with sufficient cheerfulness on his face when he hummed ‘nayapaisayillaa..kaiyiloru nayapaisayillaa…’ shaking his head in rhythm to entertain the little boy that I was. But unfortunately it was only years later (when he was no more) that I came to know that it was none other than mehboob. There is the mehboob memorial orchestra even today in calvethy region of fortcochin near mattancherry.

Before going, would like to point a typo: in the mohd.rafi part of this post, mehboob is misspelt as mehmood. Pls. correct it.
Thanks again maddy! And keep up the good work!
Maddy said…
thanks deepdowne, i have corrected it. also for those who heard the medley, i have to state a correction - vandi kaaran beeran kaka which is in the medley was sung by Zero babu, not mehaboob.
N V Krishnan said…

You have done a great job by posting such a detailed write up on the one of the most brilliat singers of the yester years, Mahboob. was really sad that he spoiled his career and ended his life a pauper...

Thanks Maddy...

maddy. umbayi was playing tabla for bhai and not harmonium.

firoz bhai
thahseen said…
Maddy ,
Enjoyed this post..
As you already know , I also grew up listening to the stories about Mehboob Bhai.
Umbaayi might have played Tabla for Bhai , towards the end..when he was shading away. There were other great tabla players in Kochi like Tabla VaRuthu, Aisha Radio .. et al.. who played with Bhai in his prime days...
Maddy said…
Thanks NVK, B&B and Thahseen..

I still love his songs & style & the person..
hope you read my mammad kaka blog
do any one have the lyrics of mehaboob bai song. kayalinarike kuthichu pongum companikal
vinu vignaswan said…
maddy can you please upload the song
"Vandikkaran Beerankakka"
My uncle after drunk used to sing this song and that was awsm but unfortunatly he is no please upload
Maddy said…
thanks vinu
glad this struck a chord...
check out snehasallapam, i am sure you can find links to the song.
Hi where can i get the orginal Mehboob version of "Kochi kayalinarike" please do reply to