KATHMANDU: His satisfaction with life and the way it has shaped up is obvious in the smile that he flashes while talking about his glorious and interesting past. His small music room at his home in Baghbazar reflects his popularity with every token of appreciation that adorn the walls and awards that fill up the showcases. He is the singer of probably the most popular romantic songs of the Golden Era of contemporary Nepali music. Who can forget the melodious Ghumti ma na au hai, Na maana laaj yesari, Rajamati kumati and Tara matra haina timilai among others.
Folks, that in romantic essence is Prem Dhoj Pradhan, a legend of the Nepali music industry.
Born on June 11, 1938, Pradhan is the only son of Pran Devi and Ranta Dhoj Pradhan. His father later married Ganga Devi. The environment he grew up in was very musical thanks to his mother’s interest in music.
“She use to sing songs and was a classical singer. She was the one who taught and encouraged me,” shared Pradhan pointing to a black-and-white photo of his mother on the wall.
He remembers that during the late 1940’s he used to dance and sing as a member of the Jyapu Nach during Dashain. While his mother was ever supportive, his father was the exact opposite. “He wanted me to study hard and look after our clothing store,” remembers the singer.
He got his primary education at home and later studied in schools like Vishwa Niketan, Shanti Nikunj and Kanti Sishu Vidhyalaya. He sat for School Leaving Certificate (SLC) from Durbar High School, which provided night classes. Pradhan used to attend classes after his shift at his father’s shop.
“In 1953 I gave my SLC but I flunked in Sankrit,” reveals Pradhan.
Then he took a break from studies and went to Bombay (now Mumbai) with Indian Sahuji in 1955 for three months. That trip brought about change in his perception towards studies.
“When I was there I met educated people who spoke fluent English. I could speak English but did not have a command over it. So I was determined to study again,” recalls Pradhan.
As soon as he returned, he joined Padmodaya and studied with a new vigour.
“I almost managed a first division in my SLC,” he shares adding, “I realised that if you do something with determination, nothing is impossible.”
The musical step
It was in 1952 when he went to give voice test at Radio Nepal that he sang his first solo song — Yaad kasaiko ai rahecha — under the guidance of Ustad Bhairav Bahadur Thapa. During those days recordings of Nepali songs were mostly done in Kolkata, but around 1959 the American Embassy had gifted a recording machine to Radio Nepal as a test. The popular patriotic song Yo Nepali shir uthayi penned by Bhupi Sherchan was recorded by Pradhan and Tara Devi to which Nati Kaji had penned the lyrics.
Sharing a very funny story related to the whole experience, Pradhan says, “Everyone was so excited that the orchestra decided to show off and started playing so loud that our voices could not be heard and Nati Kaji dai had to tell them to play more softly.”
He also learned music for 16 months from Badya Siromani Ganesh Lal Shrestha who could play “56 instruments”.
After SLC his father wanted him to study ISc, which he did but dropped after a year as he did not like it much. “By then my parents had separated and I felt I had to look after my mother. So I applied for job in Radio Nepal as I was already singing there. At that time the monthly salary was Rs 100 and I was so desperate I said I will work for half the salary but did not get the job,” he says.
But when one door of opportunity closes, another opens and the same happened with Pradhan. He got job at the American Library from where he retired later.
In 1961 a non-malignant growth of polyp was detected on his left vocal cord and after a successful operation he was forced take a break from singing and that was when he discovered the guitar making him one of the few first Nepali artistes to perform playing a guitar.
Rise to fame
When he started to work at the American Library he realised that he could afford to record songs and so went to Kolkata in 1962 and by 1965 he had recorded 16 songs. Among those songs were the popular numbers Goreto tyo gau ko, Maya na mara mayalu among others.
In 1965 a Nepali movie with Indian artistes Maitighar was being planned and Pradhan got an opportunity to meet Jaidev Verma, a National Award winning Indian musician who was composing for the movie.
“He was staying at Paras Hotel in New Road (now the building that houses Peanuts store) and I went there for an audition,” remembers Pradhan.
He sang the then hit numbers Chahunga main tujhe and Rahi manua and he was selected to sing the duet Na mana laaj timi. “The recording was to take place in Mumbai, so we left for Mumbai where I was supposed to sing with Asha Bhonsle but later Usha Mangeshkar filled in as Ashaji was very busy,” shares Pradhan.
In 1967-68 he decided to build house for his mother who was staying on rent at Jamal. “To buy the land and construct a house I needed money, so I decided to organise a solo concert at Nach Ghar. It was a three-day long show where Nati Kaji and Tara Devi supported as guest performers. I made around Rs 5,700,” says Pradhan. He completed the house in 1969 and left for Bombay again.
A few years after returning from Mumbai he built another house in Baghbazar and a few days after he shifted there he married Kiran Devi. He has two sons Prasanna and Kabir, both settled in the US today.
“Prasanna even came up with two albums,” says the proud father. He also has a grandson Prayam.
Now-a-days Pradhan gets up at 5:00 am, places holy water in front of his parents photos and goes to feed the pigeons. Around 5:30 am he starts his yoga and swears by Ram Dev’s ashans. After light exercise and a walk, he sits for riyaz for an hour. “Then I have my breakfast and read the newspapers,” he shares.
He used to be a big movie buff and was a fan of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Madhubala and Hema Malini. He insists he “had to watch the first day, first show and use to take his wife along”. But now he rarely watches any.
A vegetarian by choice Prdhan loves curd and stays away from salt on Sundays, which he believes has been very beneficial for his health.
Listening to him talk about music and watch him play the guitar builds an anticipation in one to watch him perform live to bring
the romance back to Nepali music once again.