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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mumbai : will Country India unite at least now ?

It is now six days since the attacks in Mumbai started – and three days since they ended. I should be beginning to get back to normal but I must admit I am still very much shaken by what happened in Mumbai. I just cannot get it out of my system. And, judging by responses of Indians on TV and on other forms of media, I can safely say that I am not alone in this disturbed state of mind.

It is not as if Indians are new to terrorist attacks on their soil or against their people. Or, for that matter, shocking acts of atrocities. Whether it is Mumbai’s thirteen bomb explosions on one fateful day in 1993 or umpteen attacks thereafter all over the country, even an attack on Parliament in 2001, Indians have seen it all. From the Indian Institute of Science campus in Bangalore to a pilgrimage site, Akshardham, from trains to marketplaces to the Charminar area of Hyderabad, no place has been spared. Indians have grieved, expressed their anger momentarily against the administration and authorities, and moved on. To the next calamity waiting to happen.

For that is what it has always been. Just a matter of time before the next wake-up call. But, just like the oh-so-convenient “snooze” button on an alarm clock, Indians have also “snoozed” each incident. As long as it does not hit home personally, Indians have not taken the time to take a step back and reflect.

This is not the slightest bit surprising. The daily grind of life demands a lot from the average Indian anyway. Whether studying or in work life or even in retired life, the pressure and need to think about one’s own self first, above all others, is often a necessity. There is no “social security system”, worth the name, to fall back on.

This has often resulted in Country India having no particular face. No identity. It is whatever the image of India is to the outside world that has defined Country India. A country of extreme contradictions. Having the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Having myriad shades to it, thanks to its diverse cultures, religions, languages, art forms, even topography.

While many, including myself, are fascinated by this diversity, it has not necessarily helped in building one unified India. There is this sense of a looseness that is India – a looseness that is somehow held together, with a few common rallying points like cricket, film and a sense of history.

It is a looseness that has been repeatedly exploited by the ruthless political leaders of the country for their own political gain. Caste has been pitted against caste, religion against religion, language against language. No political party can claim exemption from this approach to vote-garnering.

But now Mumbai has happened.

The whole country has seen – shocking image after shocking image – of how its pride, its world-city, has been laid low by the most brazen of attacks imaginable. A bunch of ten armed men coming from the sea, storming into the city, shooting at random and spreading terror on its streets. Ten men holding the city hostage for three days.

I sincerely hope every single citizen of the country has seen these images. Or, at the very least, read or heard of what happened at Mumbai. Yes, that fisherman in that remote Orissa village, whose life for the last forty years, has been all about going out to sea and earning his daily catch, should be as much aware of this as the Mumbaikar. True, his life has not been affected – but the soul of his country has been scarred. And, if he considers himself even a bit Indian, he will hurt.

The country needs this awareness. It needs this sense of hurt. It is this hurt that will unite that Orissa fisherman with the Punjab farmer and with the Kerala plantation worker. Unite them with all those IT professionals in Bangalore and other metros of India. And unite all these Indians living in India with the large diaspora of Indians living overseas.

I say “hurt” and not “anger”. I choose my words carefully – for there is no emotion I have heard used more in the last few days in the Mumbai context than “anger”. And while I can fully understand this – I am not immune to this emotion myself – anger is a dangerous emotion.

In one person’s hands, it is already a dangerous spark. In the hands of millions, the collective force it carries can result in an escalation of events that could easily overtake the wheels of reason. If brinkmanship is the consequence of a deliberated strategy, then so be it. But brinkmanship borne purely out of anger is immature and unlikely to have the success it seeks to achieve.

So, I prefer “hurt” as my unifying emotion to bring all Indians together for a response to the aggression on their soil.

All Indians need to be aware – and need to feel the hurt that was felt by Mumbai in the last week.

One more thing. There is a general perception that "hurt" is a weak emotion. This is not true ! Inaction from hurt - THAT is a weak response. If kept alive, it is this “hurt” that will raise the cry for action.

For there is a lot of action required. There is a lot that went wrong, there is a lot to be done. And done fast. Not hastily but fast.

For starters, India needs to take itself seriously. For too long it has been this soft mass of land in South Asia. I am not for one moment suggesting anything jingoistic or anti-global, but if even India does not take itself seriously, no other country will.

This now seems to be as good a start as any. Getting all Indians to rally around their country is an excellent starting point to build on.

That it has taken an event of this horrific nature to bring Indians together is very sad. But, if this results in Indians striving for self-respect, not just for themselves but also for their country, in their seeking to assert themselves as fore bearers of peace in this world (remember India was the country that gave the world Mahatma Gandhi), then those lives lost in Mumbai in the last fateful week would not have been all in vain.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Raman Chittappa (uncle)

Today when I returned home and checked my personal e-mail, there was a short e-mail from my sister with the subject heading "Raman chittappa".

Even as I clicked on it, I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I pretty much knew what it was about.

And it was exactly what I had expected. Raman chittappa (my uncle) had passed away today - in the early hours of the day.

I was filled with sorrow and my thoughts were entirely with him, with my aunt and with my two cousins - their son and daughter.

It was too late to call India so I decided to speak to them in the morning.

Not that news of Raman chittappa’s death had come totally unexpected. I don’t know his exact age but he was not old. He must have been in his late sixties. But he had been ailing for several years now and , one by one, his organs had been failing him. He was a diabetic – and if ever the cruel side of diabetes has been experienced by anyone, I think it must have been chittappa.

First he lost the functioning of his kidneys, resulting in his requiring a kidney transplant. His health continued to deteriorate. It took its toll of his eyesight. Then, about a couple of years ago, he had to have one leg amputated. He continued to have complications – diabetes is such a slow killer – it was just one thing after another.

I don’t know all the details nor – to be honest, do I want to think about this dimension of his life.

For there is so much more to remember him for.

Raman chittappa was one of those persons who you had to meet just once, to realize the strength and depth of his personality. Once was enough.

Even I have not met him many times in my life – entirely my loss. I spent the first seventeen years of my life in a remote part of eastern India, a period during which distances made it difficult to meet up with relatives.

Raman chittappa was then based in Delhi. I remember spending one summer vacation – 1978 – with him in Delhi. It was my first visit to Delhi and, despite Delhi’s heat waves, I thoroughly enjoyed the vacation. My aunt was, well, ever the doting aunt, my cousins – much younger in age to me – were also good fun. Chittappa himself - while having a tough exterior – was very interesting to listen to and learn from.

Chittappa was a very strong-willed person who believed in a disciplined lifestyle. He believed that if discipline is inculcated from an early age in a person, it would hold him in good stead later on in life. That summer vacation, he taught me and my brother some yoga exercises. We would get up at 5.30 a.m every morning, go to the terrace of the building - and do yoga for about 45 minutes. It was an excellent way to start the day before the summer heat kicked in.

Chittappa was very direct – and, to be honest, I was just a bit scared of him at that time. I think we all were to some extent. But behind that tough exterior was a really caring person who would joke and laugh and discuss any subject with you.

By the time I moved to Delhi in 1981, Chittappa and family had moved out. He was a civil engineer (from BHU) by qualification and had worked in different places – from Nepal to Iran to Libya, as far as I know. He returned to Delhi sometime in the 1980s to be with DLF. But by then I had left Delhi. So I never got to spend more time with him in Delhi.

After that, his health began deteriorating. I met him on only the odd occasion – at weddings and such functions. The few that I myself attended – and where he also happened to be present. It was always a pleasure, more an honour, to spend time with him even if it was only for a few minutes.

But his health kept deteriorating. He continued to work with DLF – they valued his services greatly and kept him on as consultant long after his retirement. I know he did a lot for DLF and was proud of all he had achieved.

In the last few years, as his son (my cousin), got a very good job in Hyderabad, Chittappa and Chitti (aunt) sold their Delhi place to be in Hyderabad with their son. It made a lot of sense – by then, Chittappa’s condition was getting worse and there was no point in their living on their own in Delhi.

I met him in Hyderabad when I visited that city in September 2007. I was meeting him after many years – and I cannot describe how happy I was to see him. He was very happy to see me too – he talked about a lot of things. Although he was confined to his wheelchair – and he was a bit hard of hearing – it did not deter his enthusiasm one bit. He told me “Chitti and I visited Amsterdam many years ago. Of course you were not there at that time. We will come again and visit you in Amsterdam”.

He talked about a lot of other things too – and stopped only when Chitti frowned and told him not to exert himself. With all his complications, even talking drained him of a lot of energy.
It was a most enjoyable meeting and I was very reluctant to leave him that day. But he needed rest and I left after an excellent dinner.

Whenever I would be in Bangalore he would speak to me on the phone. And everytime I felt his strength surging through in his voice.

I met him again in Hyderabad a little over a month ago. He had become still weaker but his spirit was as indomitable as ever. Again he talked to me about this and that – though this time it was for only about 5 or 10 minutes. I could make out that he was exhausted. I left somewhat reluctantly.

That was the last time I saw him.

Whenever I called up my mother, she would tell me about him. Usually it was not good news – he was in and out of hospital a lot. I know he hated it – he told me so during my last meeting with him.

Now he is no more.

And though the news is not entirely unexpected, it does not make it any easier to accept. I think about my aunt. Always cheerful, always a laugh on her lips. My cousins – both very well-brought up by my Chittappa and Chitti.

I think about Chittappa. Another person would have long since lost the battle to live, so many were the complications that he went through. But he was a different person. His determination, his courage, his will power, his strength – all of these kept him going. And not just going but as active as he could be. He was still cracking jokes when I last met him.

Rest in peace, Chittappa. I met you on only a few occasions (and spoke to you on the phone a few times) but I would like you to know that it takes no more than this for a person of your nature and strength to leave his mark on the rest of us. You were an inspiration for many of us and will always be with us in spirit.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kabhi sochta hoon, ki main kuchh kahoon, ki dekha hai zindagi ko kuchh itna kareeb se

The 1970s will always be very special for me from a Hindi film and songs perspective.

Although I know hundreds of songs of earlier decades (and love many of them) – and a fair number of songs of subsequent decades (without unfortunately being able to muster quite the same level of love for a vast majority of them) - the decade that I experienced as a young boy and early/mid-teens was the seventies.

I would like to think that the seventies was a special decade in terms of world events. And, events in India in particular. It certainly felt like a lot was happening at that time in the world and in India (for many of us India was “the world”, given our limited exposure to the wider world). “Foreign” in those days was really “foreign” – if you know what I mean.

I have my own recollections of world and Indian events.

It started with the war in Bangladesh (I vaguely but definitely do remember “blackouts”).

I remember the silver jubilee year of Indian Independence in 1972. I was in primary school then and our “March Past” and other events on that August 15th were celebrated with special pride.

I recall a lot of talk about oil price hike. I remember hearing the term OPEC a lot and knew it had something to do with oil but I had no clue what. All I knew was that prices shot up overnight and everybody blamed it on oil. So what’s new ?

I remember May 18th, 1974. Pokhran. India suddenly became a somebody from a nobody in the world of nuclear powers.

I remember the death of Railways Minister L N Mishra in “somewhat mysterious” circumstances. I had no clue what all the ruckus was about but I do remember there was a lot of ruckus.

I remember the imposition of Emergency. Again I had no clue what its constitutional implications were but I do remember people saying “arrey Emergency chal raha hai na”. And I do remember trains often running on time during that period (now, in those days, a train running on time was a major achievement !).

I remember reading, on Independence Day, headline news of the assassination of Mujibur Rehman, Bangladesh’s first President.

I remember my dad – a lifetime Congress supporter till the general elections of 1977 – talking at home about the upcoming elections and saying he would not vote for the Congress this time because Indira Gandhi had abused the Emergency. Guess what ? Right or not, millions of other Indians thought the same and she lost that general election very badly.

I remember the assassination of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – and the pleas that preceded it.

Oh, I have so many memories of that decade, I could write a book.

And I have not even started discussing about my cricket memories. Now THAT could fill a book. :-)

Or, for that matter, a discussion about my memories of Hindi movies. Definitely another book here. :-)

See ? Yet again, I have so easily travelled to Malad from Churchgate when my destination was Colaba. :-) And people say travel on Mumbai locals is difficult ? :-)

Anyway, getting back on that crowded Western train, barely able to breathe (and in fact trying hard not to) I am getting back to Churchgate – and back to the topic of this thread, old Hindi songs.

I would like to think that the 1970s was still a decade when music was pleasing to the ears. At least it was to mine. I know some oldtimers of that period (the “Pankaj Mullick” and “K L Saigal” types) frowned at some of what the 1970s dished out but if they had lived through the 1980s they would have gladly embraced the 1970s. Many things are relative in life and the 1980s helped to put the 1970s in perspective.

Musically, the decade belonged to Kishore Kumar. The female voices were still Lata’s and Asha’s but they were just continuing their hegemony of the sixties. Kishore, who till the end of the sixties had delivered many fine songs but never ruled Hindi music, now virtually ruled it.

It was Aradhana in 1969 that pretty much kicked it off for him. This movie and its songs were such a success all over India that even my grandmother, who knew only Tamil, was humming “roop tera mastana” and “mere sapnon ki rani” without knowing the words.

Of course, that was only the start of Kishore’s dream run. Rajesh Khanna became a superstar partly because of his own style – and partly because of the voice that Kishore lent him with his hit songs. One after the other, Kishore rolled out hits. Even non-Rajesh films, like Sharmilee, Blackmail, Anamika, Piya Ka Ghar, Aandhi, Parichay, Aa Gale Lag Ja, Chalte Chalte, Kora Kaagaz and many other movies had Kishore hits that are popular even today.

The other phenomenon was the change of guard in the world of superstardom. Shammi Kapoor had handed over the baton to Rajesh Khanna at the end of the sixties. Rajesh enjoyed it for about six years or so – I may be wrong but I think the balance of power began shifting around 1975 or 1976.

I distinctly remember discussing with my friends on my school football field about who would take over from Rajesh. We were all agreed that Rajesh Khanna “to gaya” (with movies like Chalta Purza, he was definitely on his way to becoming a Chalta Purza). At that time, the debate was mainly between Shatrughan Sinha and Amitabh Bachchan.

I cannot help smiling now, thinking about how far Amitabh ended up leaving Shatrughan behind. But at that time, Shatru himself felt he was number one material. To his credit, he had converted his villain image to a hero image (like Vinod Khanna had also done) and had just had a big hit, Kallicharran, to boost his position and ego.

But once Amitabh took off, there was no stopping him. Even pre-Sholay, and I daresay, pre-Deewar, he exuded a certain charisma that did not go unnoticed. Zanjeer and Majboor, two Amitabh movies that I saw in the mid-seventies, had plenty to suggest that here was definitely a new star in the making.

My two songs today are both Kishore Kumar songs. I am very fond of both these songs – as I am of many other Kishore songs. But these two seemed to complement each other very well in my “jugalbandi” presentation.

One of them is from one of the films I have discussed above – Majboor. Released in 1975, it was an average hit (remember this was before all that Amitabh touched became gold). But I liked the movie a lot and I liked the storyline a lot. I loved Amitabh's acting.

Above all, I loved this song. I used to sing it all the time. The lyrics are simple – typically Anand Bakshi, who was well-known for his simple lyrics. (remember, aadmi musafir hai ?). But they are meaningful and rich too – listen to them carefully.

The music is by Laxmikant Pyarelal. Don't miss Amitabh's acting - here he shows some glimpses of what would make him a superstar in the coming years.

Guess who the heroine is ? Yes, it is none other than the glamourous Parveen Babi. When I saw this movie, I did not even know who the heroine was. She had a fairly insignificant role in the movie anyway. Years later, I read that she was the heroine in the movie and I said to myself "What ? The heroine was Parveen ?").

Aadmi jo kehta hai, aadmi jo sunta hai

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAVm2xy0W-s

So Amitabh became the runaway number one hero of the decade but what about the hero of the masses ? He continued to deliver hit after hit throughout the decade and yet somehow people always said “after Rajesh, it was Amitabh”. True it was – but even before Rajesh, there was Dharmendra. During Rajesh, there was Dharmendra. And during Amitabh, there was Dharmendra. He always had his following – and I don’t think anybody’s coming or going dented his following in the slightest.

My second song is therefore from a Dharam film “Ek Mahal Ho Sapnon Ka”. Also from 1975, it was also no great hit but I liked this movie too a lot. Apart from this song here, it also has another nice song “dil mein kisi ke pyar ka jalta hua diya”.

The song is written by that master poet and lyricist, Sahir Ludhianvi. As I have said before, I have a huge amount of respect for lyrics in general. Sahir, especially with his more cynical take on life and love, ranks right up there. If you listen to the lyrics of this song, it is small wonder that it is penned by Sahir. The music is by Ravi, better known for many glorious songs of the late fifties and sixties.

Dekha hai zindagi ko, kuchh itna kareeb se

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM4tAXsnpN8

Without throwing in spoilers, I want to say that I just realized that both these movies have one thing in common. They have medical diagnosis as a subject central to their plot. I will say no more.

I hope you enjoy the songs. In any case, let me know what you think about them.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

My Experiments with Truth : Leaving Home

The year, 1981.

Remembered by some misty-eyed British folk as the “royal wedding” year. When Prince Charles married Diana in what was often claimed to be the wedding to beat all weddings.

Remembered by other equally misty-eyed British folk, but more cricket-inclined, as the year when England pulled off the upset to beat all upsets at Headingley, Leeds and ended up winning the Ashes series against Australia.

Remembered by Wimbledon followers (the tennis, I mean, not the football club) as the year which signaled the end of an era and the beginning of another. When, much like 2008, the reigning king of grass was dethroned and another king was crowned, in what was one of the greatest finals Wimbledon has ever seen.

But, as is my wont, I digress again.

This is not a history lesson or flashback on world events of 1981. This is about Delhi, 1981 and me.

When I left my parents’ home for the first time to explore the big world out there, it was the city of Delhi that became my first stop. I was continuing my education in Delhi and, for the record, was 17-and-a-half at that time.

I can still remember, inspite of twenty-seven summers having passed since, the feeling in my stomach when the Kalinga Express chugged into Hazrat Nizamuddin station at around 12.30 noon that day in end-May 1981.

It was a very warm day (I do not need to elaborate on mid-day May temperatures in Delhi) and, as usually happens when a train finally reaches its destination, there was a hustle-bustle inside my second-class compartment as everybody began dragging his luggage and heading for the door. It had been a long journey for most and everybody was understandably happy to just get off the train as soon as possible. The compartment had already got a sea of red about it as coolies had managed to jump in – as only they can – well before the train had ground to a halt. Some of them approached me but – even with my almost non-existent assertiveness - I managed to brush them away.

I was in a strange mood. Almost lost in my thoughts. Tired ? Maybe a little. Hungry ? I suppose so - I had not had lunch yet and the breakfast I had had was at Jhansi or Gwalior (I do not quite remember now).

No, it was nothing to do with a physical emotion. It was all mental. Till then, I had been “on my way” to Delhi. I had been travelling, I had not got there yet. Inspite of the heat, I had enjoyed the journey – whether it was the previous evening, seeing stations like Bilaspur, Pendra Road (I had lovely “matke mein chai” at the station here), or in the middle of the night, Bina, or the next morning stations like Lalitpur, Jhansi, Gwalior, Dhaulpur, Agra and Mathura. Not to mention parts of the Chambal. I imagined Phoolan Devi, with other dacoits, emerging from those ravines and attacking our train. I love train journeys – and can never really get bored of them.

But now it was over. The journey had ended, the destination had arrived. That sign “HAZRAT NIZAMUDDIN JUNCTION” – in yellow – was much more than a sign. It was a definitive statement that I needed to wake up from my stupor. Because a different – and decidedly less sleepy - life now awaited me.

It was not that I was not looking forward to it. But I do distinctly remember a sort of sick feeling in my stomach. Not caused by hunger. It was everything that was happening around me that instant. The crowds, the noise, the chaos completely shook me. I had never seen so many busy people in one place before. (That everything is relative would be amply demonstrated to me later in life, when I would stand at Churchgate station in Mumbai at rush hour. Many Hazrat Nizamuddins could be consumed in one Churchgate snapshot).

Finally, nudged by a coolie (porter) “Saab, utarna nahin hai kya ?” I ventured to get up and get hold of my luggage. After a bit of bargaining (more to convince myself that I had made an effort rather than any meaningful negotiation), I hired the same guy to carry my luggage for me. I had somebody waiting for me at the end of the platform to take me to my place of stay so there were no further experiences of the type that one tends to have while dealing with the unknown.

I was staying at a place which had a caretaker to not just take care of the place but now also to take care of me. Or rather, more importantly, my food needs. This caretaker was a boy about my age. He was from Rajasthan (Nagaur district, he told me later). His name was Shankar (though he pronounced it, in what I later learnt to be a typical Rajasthani accent, as Sannnnnnnkar). ,

On that first afternoon, Shankar – mindful of the fact that I would come tired from the station - had made me a sumptuous lunch. Garm-a-garam soft rotis, daal, alu-gobi, another sabzi, excellent dahi. And lassi to top it off. I love North Indian food – and by then I was really hungry – so I think I had no problem keeping Sankar busy making the rotis. Finally when I could eat no more, I said “bas, bahut ho gaya, Shankar”. All he said was “Saabji, aur lo na. Aur banaata hoon main. Aap ne to kuchh khaaya hi nahin. Theek nahin hai kya ? Ye hamaari type ka humne banaaya hai – aapke liye kuchh alag banana ho to boliye”.

I looked at him. What had I done to deserve a guy like this ? I told him “Bahut hi achha hai, Shankar…par main itna hi khaata hoon…isse zyaada nahin”.

I relaxed for the rest of the evening , had a somewhat light dinner (much to Shankar’s disappointment but I was still heavy from the lunch) and actually turned in quite early.

It was when I woke up the next morning that it really hit me.

I looked up at the ceiling – and jumped up. My first reaction was - this is a strange place, this is not home. I suddenly longed for that familiar ceiling at home.

I almost instinctively realized - yes, this is not home anymore. This is the big city. Delhi. Where I would now have new experiences in my life. Hopefully good ones – but in any case, the type that I would never get in my sheltered life in Orissa.

It was just about 7.30 or so in the morning but I could already hear the noise on the streets, the hustle-bustle of city life.

There was a knock on my door.

Saabji, chai banaoon ?”. Shankar must have heard me getting up.

Haan yaar, chai banao…aur aaj ka paper mil sakta hai ? idhar nahin hai to dukaan se la sakte ho ? Koi English paper…Yahan Dilli mein Hindustan Times chalta hai na ?

“Sab milega, saabji…abhi laata hoon…chai mein kitni shakkar lenge aap ?”

I suddenly felt very good about everything. How stupidly I had been behaving ! I had everything going for me in my life – I had a good place to stay, I had somebody to take care of my food, somebody who actually cared that I felt at home – and I was in Delhi for a good reason. To further my studies. So what was I moaning about ?

Today, all these years later, my mind suddenly goes back to that time in May 1981. And Shankar. His ever-smiling face is as if in front of my eyes even now.

(Wherever you are, Shankar, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking such good care of me at that time. It meant a lot to me – and though I know you will not be reading this, I still want to say that I can never forget how cheerfully you went about making those many sabzis, rotis and parathas for me. Not to mention chai every morning and evening.)

My life in Delhi had just begun. I would have different experiences – some good, some not-so-good. But I believe I am much the richer in life for these experiences.

For what is life without experiences ? Just a number of minutes of existence. That is all.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Aap To Aise Na The

My selection of songs for this post may well come as a bit of a surprise to those who know me. My tendency to stay within my self-defined time warp would appear to be seriously challenged here. The main actors here actually began their careers when I was already in high school – now this seriously undermines my “old hindi songs” label :-)

Not really !

This post is all about just one 1980 film – Aap To Aise Na The. And, though less than three decades have passed by since, heaven knows there have been at least four or five generations in this period.

So 1980 could well qualify as “old” – and in any case, it would be a pity to allow such nitpicking to come in the way of enjoying songs of this quality. Perhaps I will draw a line at 1988 – being the year of Tezaab and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak.

I cannot speak for others but I cannot help feeling that from this time onwards, things just became different in Hindi films. We had a new set of actors coming up (Aamir, Juhi, Madhuri) , a new set of music directors (Nadeem Shravan, Jatin Lalit) and even a new style to film-making and music composition. Gulshan Kumar and his T-series took off and music – and even singers - suddenly seemed to become a commodity.

But this is stuff for another post – we are not discussing the changes in the music landscape here. Let us just say that even 1988 was all of twenty years ago (wow, how time flies ! Perhaps I should book a flight to India on time instead of on another airline - I should reach there real quick. ;-). (Sorry, I know even by my PJ standards, this is pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel but restraint places too heavy a demand on my natural self and I just have to let myself go every now and then. Some will wistfully eye the “then” piece but there is a “now” inextricably attached to this expression – so just cope with it).

So where was I ? I think even I have forgotten now. Even by my not-inconsiderable digression standards, this is one hell of a detour. Almost like going to Malad from Churchgate when the destination was actually supposed to be Colaba.

So let me get back on-topic.

Aap To Aise Na The.

(Aji, hum to hamesha aise hi rahe hain ! Jab se hosh sambhala hai….aap ne hosh sambhala bhi hai ?…nahin, aapse guftagu jo karne lag gaye na… ok, STOP. None of this nonsense…back to topic. I do not want to be certified mad……………………..I would rather be uncertified. ;-) ).

So there was this movie which was released during the AB days. A mention must be made of this time period because at that time – when AB ruled like a colossus - there was not much space for other movies to exist, let alone leave much of a mark. And I do not recall ATANT actually doing too much at the box-office though I think it was a moderate success. With a hero like Deepak Parashar and a typical love-triangle story, that ATANT did not tank completely has probably a lot to with the then-upcoming actor Raj Babbar. And of course, the songs.

Or rather, one song. Which has three versions to it.

There is the Manhar Udhas version – picturised on Ranjeeta and Raj Babbar.

There is the Hemlata version – picturised on Ranjeeta.

And there is the Mohammad Rafi version picturised on Deepak Parashar (just realized, the name almost sounds like a male version of Deepika Padukone).

Normally I would always go with Rafi as my first choice to listen to – but in this particular case, I cannot help feeling that Manhar’s version is the best of the lot. I know this sounds blasphemous but it is not just the voice, it is the music and the picturisation also that influences me.

I find the Rafi version - the faster version - a louder version too, compared to the Manhar version which is more deliberate, romantic and has the outdoors as an added advantage. Not to say that Rafi saab’s version is not good – it is just that I personally prefer the slower rhythm version.

The Hemlata version - also in slow rhythm - I find decent. There are other Hemlata songs (like in Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se) where she is outstanding – I cannot help feeling that here she does not quite match up to that high standard. But the overall effect, thanks also to the soft music, is still pleasing.

The lyrics all through are excellent though – they are penned by Nida Fazli and the music is by Usha Khanna.

As with most songs that are close to my heart, I can listen to this any number of times. Any of the versions actually – I just love this song so much that the version does not matter.

I am presenting all three versions here for you to enjoy and comment on. Let me know what you think of them.

So just sit back, completely erase the nonsense of this post from your mind (assuming you actually read it) and just enjoy.

The Manhar Udhas version
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjh20uFlzKI

The Hemlata version
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfmWA1QL7t8&NR=1

The Mohammad Rafi version
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QntH-Uq9YiY&NR=1

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pulling at the chords of my heart

First of all, my apologies for not following up on my previous post "Aye maalik tere bande hum". I have many songs that I want to post here and share with you - so it is not for lack of intent that nothing has been forthcoming from me for almost two weeks now.

Today I will be sharing two songs with you. Both these songs have one thing in common. They immediately go to my heart. Every single time I hear them. I can listen to them time and time again without ever getting bored or tired of them.

I cannot put a finger on what I find particularly heart-rending about these songs. I suspect it is not just one aspect of these songs. Not just the melody or the music or the lyrics. It is a combination of them all.

Listen to them and judge for yourself.

Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya - Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya (1966)

I first heard of Sonik Omi (the nephew-uncle combo) as a young boy. In the midst of the RD Burmans, Kalyanji Anandjis and Laxmikant Pyarelals who were beginning to crowd that generation’s music space, Sonik Omi as music composers managed one fleeting shot at fame. Their song “Kaan mein jhumka” from Saawan Bhadon was a tapori superhit.

I would however like to remember them for this classic from DNPYK.

As far as I know, this was the film where Sonik Omi made their debut as independent music composers. Till then, Omi had composed as music assistant to Roshan for such superhits as Taj Mahal and Dil Hi To Hai. DNPYK was his first independent venture – and straightawy he hit the jackpot !

What a fantastic composition this is ! Everything about it is just perfect. The soft music actually accentuates the effect of the voices of Mohammad Rafi, Suman Kalyanpur and Mukesh.

And the picturisation is to kill for. Nature at its most beautiful. And Dharmendra rowing a boat with Nutan and Rehman. I have not seen the film and therefore cannot comment on it but this song is enough paisa vasool for me for the whole movie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2v0QEiYRyE


Lakhon Taare Aasmaan Mein - Hariyali Aur Raasta (1962)

I remember seeing this movie as a young boy. And, since I love old movies, I caught up with it again a few years ago.

I loved it – from beginning to end.

There is something about old movies that I find very endearing. Maybe it is that they transport me to a time so different from today that I actually feel that I have escaped reality for those two or three hours. True, the stories are hackneyed, the dialogues could have been written by you in your sleep – and often they are in black-and-white. Inspite of all this, I love them.

And nothing gives me more pleasure while watching an old movie than waiting for that song to come. You know the song, you are guessing when it is going to come – and as the situation in the movie develops, you can almost “feel” it. When the song finally hits you, it is totally in context – and the feeling is exhilarating. (There is only one feeling to beat this one – the feeling of hearing a song that you did not even know belonged to this movie. You go like “wow….this is from THIS movie ?”).

As usual, I have digressed considerably and must get back on track.

HAR (sorry, too much influence of today’s generation :-) ) has a soundtrack that can hold its own against any other. All-time classics (ATCs :-) ) like “Ye Hariyali Aur Ye Raasta”, “Bol Meri Taqdeer Mein Kya Hai”, “Itbidaaye Ishq Mein Hum”, “Teri Yaad Dil Se Bhulaane Chala Hoon”…and the song I am presenting here “Laakhon Taare Aasman Mein”.

There is a lot about this song that I love. First of all, like I have already mentioned, it pulls at the strings of my heart. By his own very high standards of soulful songs, Mukesh should be proud of this particular song. And, amazingly matching him outcry-for-outcry, is Lata Mangeshkar here. The combination makes for enthralling listening.

Which is precisely what I did on that train journey in 1982. I was travelling from Delhi to Kolkata (then Calcutta). It was my first journey on this route - and most importantly, I was travelling by the Rajdhani Express, then the pride of Indian trains.

It was a pleasant though not particularly eventful journey.

As the train left Mughalsarai station, I heard some music. I thought somebody had got a transistor with him but it was, I believe, part of the "service pack". Music played on that train for the benefit of passengers.

I was not used to all this "luxury" at that time - being more used to second-class compartments where you try not to keep your feet on the floor or, even your luggage, for fear of suddenly discovering that somehow, miraculously, water has managed to find its way exactly where your feet are.

Anyway, I heard some music. And then I heard this song "lakhon taare...". I was mesmerised. It was early morning. At the risk of the bhajan-types frowning at me for drinking in film songs so early in the day, I will admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it and craved for more. A few more songs followed - but they were neither of the same quality nor were they clear. Maybe the audio system in the train had conked. Maybe it had not been working all the way till Mughalsarai - somebody had fixed it for a few minutes before it conked again. Whatever it was, that one song was total paisa vasool for the trip. I would have been happy to listen to that song again and again for the whole duration of my journey.

The other things about this song. It has simple, but emotionally rich, lyrics from Hasrat Jaipuri. And the music - somewhat typical of their style - but in no sense meant derogatorily is from the reigning music badshahs of the time, Shankar Jaikishen.

The picturisation is on Manoj Kumar and Mala Sinha. I like watching Manoj Kumar’s mannerisms (there is something about them :-) ) and in this particular song, Mala Sinha is not bad either.

All in all, a classic. Yes, and not just by my definition. :-)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CUh3HKw__w


I hope you listen to these two songs and enjoy them as much as I do.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Warming up with "Aye maalik tere bande hum"

I have often asked myself what sort of songs I like in particular. And I must admit I have never been able to answer that question.

Songs of a particular singer ? No, I like songs of a wide variety of singers. Particular composer, particular lyricist ? No. If I draw up a list of favourites (it would be very difficult to do so, by the way), the variety would be evident at first glance.

Songs of a particular genre ? Period ? Raag ? Again, no, no and no. (Raag ? I have no clue of the raag of a song, so this is most definitely not a criterion).

One criterion I can possibly think of is the lyrics in general. I am a big fan of lyrics, so a song with very good lyrics is likely to hold my interest. I like shaayari (I am not good at it) , I like good dialogues in movies – so I think good lyrics could be considered a criterion.

Good lyrics does not necessarily mean heavy-duty language. Or, for that matter, classy Urdu words. Of course, these would help to get me interested enough to start looking for translations (I learnt the Urdu word "tawajju" a few months ago :-) ) but I also find that I am just as happy with simple lyrics that combine well in a song to express an emotion.

For example, I find a song like “tujh sang preet lagayi sajna” , with reasonably simple lyrics, very nicely “threaded” into a beautiful expression of love. Compare this with “baith ja, baith gayi, khadi ho ja, khadi ho gayi, jhoom ja, jhoom gayi, ghoom ja, ghoom gayi, ghoom ja, ghoom gayi gayi gayi gayi gayi gayi gayi gayi..”…I think you get the point.

So, good lyrics, yes. Or, at the very least, not bad lyrics.

Another thing I tend to like is a sense of involvement in and with a song. I get involved with songs I listen to. They can be happy songs or sad songs but if I find myself singing along naturally - or not wanting to be disturbed while listening to the song - then yes, it has got me.

A third criterion (if you can call it such) is that the song should have caught my interest the first time itself. I know some songs can “grow” on people but I do not think I am that type. I need a sort of “love at first sight” or rather “love at first listening” feeling. Thankfully, there are many, many songs with which I have this sort of relationship. Especially amongst old Hindi songs.

I cannot think of other criteria at the moment. Nor do I intend to analyse this any more. Some songs click in my mind, some do not. And, like I have said before, they cut across singer, music director, lyricist, picturisation, genre and era. Since I am often not even aware of some of these details while listening to a song the first time, it is safe to say that the song comes first – the details come later.

I think I have talked enough. It is now time to move on to sharing some of my songs with you.

All the songs I have in mind satisfy all the above criteria for me. These are songs that held me captive the first time I heard them. So it was definitely a case of "love at first listening". Even now, when I listen to them, I get totally involved.

Given the number of songs that I love, my list will be a long one. It will contain happy songs and sad songs. Obviously I cannot include them all in this one post.

I will therefore start with just a couple of songs. You could see this as a "teaser" - with more to follow.

Being a start to this series, I thought it apt to start with two songs which are prayers rather than typical Hindi songs. I was mesmerised when I heard them the first time. And, even today, when I listen to them, I am totally lost in them. Just listen to them and judge for yourself.

Here is the opening song...from the Nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar...

It is a song from one of my favourite films "Do Aankhen Barah Haath" (1957). One of V. Shantaram's classic films (featuring Sandhya of course !), it made a huge impression on me when I first saw it as a little boy. When I saw it years later, it made just as much of an impression on me. A very good movie. Apart from a very good storyline, it has some pleasant songs (like sainya choron ka bada sartaaj nikla). But this one from Lata is a masterpiece. Written by Bharat Vyas and composed by Vasant Desai.

"Aye Maalik Tere Bande Hum"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2CJZiP4_Sc

Lata, having brilliantly opened the innings here, hers is a very tough act to follow. But I think Manna Dey does not do a particularly bad job here. In this song from Seema (1955), watch Nutan in an agitated state of mind as Balraj Sahni appeals to a higher force. Shailendra's lyrics and Shankar Jaikishen's music.

"Tu Pyar Ka Sagar Hai"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QM8ohMGneY


That's it for this post. Just a "jhalki". For all you "jhalak dikhla ja...jhalak dikhla ja" guys. :-)

Adios ! Till the next time.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More than cricket - a passion for old songs

Many of my posts until now have been about cricket. It may give the impression that cricket is my all-consuming interest.

Well, not really.

Yes, cricket is one of my biggest passions. I can spend hours watching it, discussing it, reading about it, checking scores and statistics. And I do. I have spent many nights just following cricket scores on the internet. And not just weekend nights. Many a sleep-deprived messy work-day morning has my cricket passion to blame entirely for it.

But there is one other interest of mine that beats even cricket. It may not seem possible but yes, there is. It is my interest in old hindi songs and movies.

I have intentionally been very specific and said "old hindi songs". Instead of saying "old hindi music" - and appearing to know more about music than I do.

I have absolutely no claims to knowing anything about music. I have never learnt music, never played a musical instrument, never learnt singing.I will almost certainly fail to recognise an instrument nine out of ten times, a raag ninety-nine out of hundred times.

So I know nothing about music. What I do know is that one does not need to know about music to be able to enjoy it. There is something natural about music that seems to get into one's psyche. It cuts across age, sex, race, every type of barrier.

Of course, tastes are different. Thankfully. If everybody liked only one type of music, other types would not exist at all. Life would be so monotonous. The different tastes allow different types of music to get created. And to flourish.

I would also like to clarify another point. My interest in "old hindi songs" is not in any way a criticism of other songs. Of other languages or generations. It is just that I have been exposed much more to these songs and they have found a special place in my heart.

Maybe I should make an effort to listen to other types of songs. Maybe I will. I am sure there are plenty of new songs out there that are just as melodious as old ones. And plenty in other languages too. The few English songs I know, I actually like. I happen to hear Spanish songs every now and then. And find that, even without understanding a word of the lyrics, they are quite catchy. Understanding the lyrics would probably enhance an appreciation of the music.

Another clarification. When I say "old hindi songs", I am talking about songs of upto the 1970s or early 1980s. I feel that somewhere in the mid-80s, there was this gap. It was as if all the good music directors and lyricists had decided to take a sabbatical at the same time. They returned in 1989-90 (QSQT, Aashiqui et al) and once again songs took centrestage in Hindi films.

I have been very much out of touch with Hindi songs since that sabbatical. I know some songs of the 1990s. But this century has completely passed me by. I can count on my fingers the number of songs I know of the current decade. And I have absolutely no clue about the composer, singer, lyricist, film.

So I think it is best to stick with what I know. I will stick with "old hindi songs". Mostly film songs but the odd song that I recall may be a non-filmi song. Like a non-filmi ghazal.

In discussing songs here, my approach is going to be very simple. This is MY blog - and I can discuss whatever songs I like. Whether anybody has heard of them or not. Or finds them interesting or not.

No, that is not exactly the attitude I am going to adopt. Yes, I do want to personalise my song presentation with my comments about the songs, any experiences associated with the songs, maybe some background information about the songs.

But I do not want this to be all MY show. There is no greater joy than sharing. Sharing experiences, sharing interests. Educating one another.

THAT is going to be something I hope to achieve here. I will be presenting some songs - not necessarily the most popular ones. In fact, most likely they will not be the best-known songs around.

I can almost visualise my niece Nandu, and my nephew Chikki, smiling. I have forced my choice of songs on them a number of times. They jokingly refer to these songs as ATCs (all-time classics). The main qualification of such songs for them is that they would NEVER have heard the song before had it not been for me.

Well, N & C, you are my prime target audience for this blog. And others of your generation.
You like old songs, you know a number of old songs. But there are so many old songs out there (yes, ATCs :-) ) that you do not know about. Maybe the combination of the song, the lyrics, the music, the visuals - you may just find yourself enjoying the song.

Or maybe not. In any case, I would just request all you youngsters out there to have an open mind about old songs. One man's food is another's poison. To each his own, I always say. If you like the songs, fine. If you don't, that is just fine too. (I have even listened and tapped to "jhalak dikhla ja" to try to understand the taste of today's generation. :-). And believe me, I do like catchy songs like "oonchi hai building". :-)).

Since nowadays many songs are available on youtube, I plan to use this where possible. It is fantastic to be able to present the song in its entirety - song, music, lyrics and visuals.

That is how and why I plan to go about presenting my songs. This is an outlet for myself - to share my songs (well, not my songs but my choice of songs) with the world. Anybody who wants to join in and comment, is most welcome to do so.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It must be me

This is not about work. I try to keep work and life outside work, including blogging, separate. For my own sanity.

This is about what happened to me after work today.

For the last couple of months, I have joined a small group of my office colleagues for evening "running classes". Nothing fancy - we have a trainer with whom we do some exercises and running. It is just once a week - every Wednesday, for about 1 to 1.5 hrs. Like I said, nothing fancy.

A few other observations. Completely irrelevant to the story. But then, relevance has never been my strongest suit. When I expound, I like extravagance. It costs nothing except the patience of the reader. Considering my story today has its share of grief for me, you will understand if I am slightly unsympathetic towards others' suffering today. So, for today, partners in sufferance, I would say. Or, becoming Shakespeare's Shylock for a moment, I would say "bear it with a patient shrug - for sufferance is the badge of all our tribe."

My first observation has to do with my acute awareness of being the oldest person in the group, with some of the others being half my age and having twice my biceps, triceps and all other muscles in the human body.

And I am talking about the female members of the group here. Years of being fed on Gouda, Alkmaar and various other Dutch cheese, not to mention swimming in the womb of their mothers and riding a bicycle the minute they got out of that womb have definitely resulted in giving the Dutch member of the female human species a reasonably muscular, if not necessarily particularly attractive, frame. (To all Dutch readers of this piece, I want to emphasise that I say this in a most endearing sense and mean absolutely no slight on a most wonderful people).

My other observation, more like a realisation, is that a lifetime of poor housekeeping cannot be undone by a one-hour-a-week attempt at redemption in what, in sporting terms, must be considered a reasonable twilight in one's life. OK, I am not eighty yet, but boy, when I do some of those stretches, I feel like each one of my muscles is getting back at me, with a vengeance, for years of abuse. As realisations come, there are not very many morale-shattering ones challenging this one. Coupled with the experience of finding that in a running group, after ninety seconds, when you look behind you there is no one - not one pathetic mammal - looking back at you, you can be excused for adding to your miseries the additional realisation that it must have been a momentary seizure of madness that made you embark on this physically stretched and mentally wretched experience.

It happens to me every time I go out there - and yet, for somebody who has a remarkable record of not making an effort in anything and just hoping that everything comes to him by itself - I have hung in there so far. I am not sure how much longer I will be able to carry on with this but so far, so good.

The group is talking enthusiastically about taking part in a 4-mile or 6-mile run soon. Just the talk makes me sick in the stomach - as if I did not have enough misery to cope with already. Guys, can we just take it one meter at a time, please ? When I drive, the kilometers on the counter tick along nicely and quickly. When I run, why is it that every meter seems to take ages, much like a tortured Rahul Dravid innings, not moving at all. (Sorry Rahul, just kidding !)

For all this, I keep hearing things like "no pain, no gain". So I feel the pain, will somebody please tell me when I am going to feel the gain ? There better be some gain otherwise this would be the biggest lie since the US claimed that the Apollo mission successfully landed man on the moon in 1969 (kidding again, of course !). Actually, I can think of more recent lies but I want to avoid politics in this piece.

Ok, that's enough of self-pity. Even I am beginning to forget what the purpose of this whole piece - apart from self-pity of course - is.

Coming finally to the point. Or at least closer to it.

The way the Wednesday process works is as follow. The class starts at 6.00 p.m. Which means till 5.45 p.m I am undecided, searching for some reason to skip it this one time (I will certainly catch up next time ! Yeah, right - like THAT is going to happen). I think of reasons, feel guilty - and then at 5.55, after seeing some of my co-runners getting out of the office, my guilt wins and I decide that another evening of torture was probably ordained in my stars.

I then rush to this sports center very near my office where we assemble as a group. We use this sports center to change into our running gear, leave our stuff in our cars and then head out onto the running tracks.

Today, I did nothing different. 5.45 happened, 5.55 happened. And the rest too. Yes, all of the rest. Including the turning back and not finding another pathetic soul.

So I get back home at about 8.15 and just as I turn the key in the front door I realise something. Yes, this piece is all about realisations but this one is more mundane.

I realise that, during my gear-change process at the sports center, I have actually left behind my work shoes. I had, as usual, hurried through the changing process in order not to delay the rest of the group. And, as a result, had left my black pair of shoes behind at the center. My favourite pair actually.

Now, the sports center is a fair distance from my home. And I could actually have picked it up the next day on the way to work. If I really wanted to be sure the pair was still there and kept in safe custody I could probably even have called up the sports center and told them to keep my shoes safely.

I weighed all this and decided I was kidding myself. How would I communicate to a busy sports center that they had to look for a particular black pair of shoes amongst all the stuff they have in their changing room (it is always busy) and keep it aside for me ? Why would they do this at all, anyway ? I don't even actually use their sports facilities - I use only their changing room.

The idea of picking it up the next day on the way to work is great in theory but I know myself. Considering I barely make it to work within one hour of office opening hours (avoiding eye-contact as much as possible with colleagues, I might add), my first priority would be to get to work. Then, going to this sports center would become a project. Yes, I know this sounds ridiculously silly but that is how some things become for some people.

So I decided that I had to sort this out rightaway. I step into my car and drive back all the way. I feel proud of myself when I walk out of the center, shoes in tow.

I am still proud of myself as I am driving on the long road leading to the highway. It is pretty deserted at this time of evening and I am actually in a good mood. I am listening to the radio - and, for a couple of minutes, in a different world.

The camera flashes - and I just realise (yes, another realisation) that I was well over the speed limit !

Come on. The only reason there is a camera there is that there is a school nearby. Totally understandably, the idea is to deter drivers from exceeding the speed limit of 50 km during school hours.

But this was past 8.30 p.m. Surely there is no reason to expect children to be at school at this time of day ? (Some teachers would argue that you are lucky if you find certain children in school at any time of day but I will not go there - I have had enough digression for one evening. No, there is more to come in this piece - at a more literal level).

So the camera flashes, I sigh, curse and drive on. I get on the highway - and for five minutes it is like highway driving at 8.45 p.m. Easy, no traffic.

And then, it changes dramatically, much like my mood after the camera incident.

It becomes like highway driving when an accident has just happened. That is what has just happened. I spare a thought for the victims, hoping it is only vehicle damage. As for myself, I can do nothing but just add to the sea of cars inching along. Where is that camera now, I wonder ? I am allowed to drive 120 but I am not able to drive more than 5. So do I get any money back ?

The radio is playing Abba's "Voulez Vous". I can only think "No, this is not what I want". I try to be smart. I get off the highway one exit before my usual one. Ok, it would be another ten-minute drive but better that than the inching along.

I should have known. When it is not your day, it is really not your day. I find diversion signs from my usual route. There is some road construction activity happening. The diversions are well sign-posted (I will give the Dutch that), but it means I will have to digress quite a bit from my usual route, encountering a fair number of traffic lights along the way. Some of them would not be operational at this time of night but some of them make you see red, literally and figuratively.

Anyway, I do the circuitous bit - very mindful this time of my speed since I realise (yes, another realisation) that there are a couple of cameras on this route. I am not going to allow myself to be ripped off twice in one evening !

So I get home with no further damage - a bit tired from it all. I have had my usual post-run shower and I must admit I am feeling much better now.

But I cannot help wondering - why does an evening have to be so complicated ?

Is it normal or is it just me ?

And now the final realisation - and possibly the most damning of them all. I realise it is just me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The "R" word

This post is about a very sensitive subject - racism. In general, people stay away from this subject. But I have no qualms discussing it. A case of "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" ?

I am sure I will be raising plenty of eyebrows with this post. If people think I am racist because of some of the things I say here - then, frankly, I don't give a damn. I know what I am and I do not need others to tell me whether I am racist or not.

We have just seen an Indian cricketer being hauled up for racist comment. At the same time, we have seen cheating on a cricket ground, or at the very least, the game not being played in the true spirit of sport. As expected, everybody the world over will go "OMG" about the racist comment. The cheating will be accepted as another of those "what's the game coming to nowadays ?" and people will move on.

Harbhajan Singh will have to live the rest of his life with the stigma of having been banned from a few cricket matches because of his "racist" comment. This is no small matter - being called a racist in today's world. Which is why I am writing this piece.

Let me start by making one thing clear. Racism has no place in any sport. Not in sport, not in life. But before making this United Nations-like diplomatic declaration of condemnation of racism, we need to get it clearly defined.

Because according to me, sadly, there is no universal definition of racism. Maybe there is something in textbooks and in law, but there is no universal definition of racism available to the common man on the street in every country.

And therein lies a huge problem when one tries to apply racism-related laws and rules across cultures which do not necessarily share the same definition of the term.

Why run away from the subject ? Let's face it. It is a fact that there are many races in this world. And each race has its identity and origin. Each person belongs to a particular race. Whether we bring the race into our discussion or not (I know in the West, it is a studiously avoided subject), it just cannot be denied. So why not accept it and deal with it in a mature fashion ?

In my opinion, where racism is clearly an issue is when it is divisive or discriminatory. For example, when opportunities are based on race, and not on merit. Or, when a "colored" MK Gandhi was thrown out of a "whites only" train in Pietermaritzburg, that was about as clear a case of racism as one can get. This sort of discrimination / deprivation based on race is what Martin Luther King fought for, all his life. The apartheid regime in South Africa had racism written blatantly all over it.

I could not agree more with the evils of racism, if THIS is its definition.

But no - what we as a global society have managed to do is to complicate day-to-day life by making anything and everything a "racist" issue. To the extent that people of different races feel uncomfortable talking to each other about something that is pretty basic and undeniable. And why ? Because if you say something to another of a different race, you could be hauled up for being a racist.

Utterly silly. It is time we took off our blinkered glasses, got off our high pedestals and mustered the courage to talk about this from a purely human and not political perspective. Let me give you my own experience. I work in an environment where I have blacks (or should that be African Americans, to be politically correct ?), Caucasian race whites, Chinese and Indians. We need to spend several hours together every day - so we do realise that we better get along with each other. Fortunately, inspite of all our racial differences, we do. In fact, our racial differences are part of the reason we actually get along - we have an opportunity to have a dig at one another or pull each other's leg with, yes, what the whole world would perceive as "racist" comments. Frankly, we could not care less.

Why do we do this ? Because we recognise that each race has its uniqueness - and that is perhaps what makes it charming too. Why pretend otherwise ?

For example, one of the black Americans who works with me was once told by one of my "white" friends - "come on, you don't have a problem if you lose your job - you can always go on the streets and become a rapper. Worst case, you can always play basketball". The Afro-American had a huge laugh about it - and got back with his own "racist" comment.

This is how different races can behave with each other - if they are allowed to behave in this way. But no, we immediately start drawing lines of communication around us and make sure "boundaries are not crossed". This way, we force everybody to become uncomfortable.

I can expect somebody to say "yes, but that is different from calling Symonds a monkey". It may well be but the point is that Symonds has been so indoctrinated into thinking that his being of African-American origin is going to result in him being abused, that he can think of nothing but complaining about this as being the biggest crime ever committed on earth.

Instead, if somebody had just told Symonds long back "Listen Andy, you know what ? thanks or no thanks to your origins, you do resemble a monkey to some extent. People may have a dig at you from time to time about this. It is not your fault - in any case, just forget it, it is no big deal. You are a good guy from the inside - and that is what matters. And even if your face does look like a monkey's, you are good-looking in your own way. So don't worry about these sort of things", things might have been different.

I guess nobody had this chat with Symonds. So he has grown up all along being defensive about his origins. While he has absolutely nothing to be ashamed about, or worried about. Now, as a professional cricketer who has huge talent and can go very far in his career, he is worried about what people comment about his looks ?

The point I am making - and I know I am making it in a very laboured fashion - is that racism is in your mind. Since its definition is anyway not universally consistent, you will have problems of perception more than reality. Yes, if you have been deprived opportunity on the count of race alone, by all means, scream. Use the racist card. But if somebody in another culture has called you a monkey, frankly, if you are mature - you should not give a monkey's. You know what and who you are and no names that anybody else calls you should matter. Not if you are a thorough professional who concentrates on the job at hand.

If we are talking just racist remarks that hurt a person, I don't see it very different from sledging. Sledging is also intended to hurt or disturb the sledgee. In the final analysis, it is the hurt you cause to another that should be the measure of the crime - not whether it was a "racist" comment or not. You can sledge really cheap and dirty (like the disgusting McGrath-Sarwan incident) but not call somebody who looks like a monkey a monkey because, ooooh, that is a "racist" comment ? Come on. If this comment hurt, so did that comment of McGrath to Sarwan. Where do you draw the line ?

Now, my final point - I am tiring a bit. Cheating. Now, there can be no two views about that one. Here the rules can be set much more clearly because this is universal. There is one game (it is not like one person is playing cricket and the other football). There are rules of the game, there is a spirit of the game. Every person who enters the sport is educated on this from day one - so anybody who breaks this is cheating. As simple as that.

Since cheating is done with the primary objective of obtaining an unfair advantage over the other party, there is no doubt about whether there is hurt caused by it or not. There is - and the party cheating has to realise that he has been out of line. He needs to be brought to book. With cheating, there is no scope for misinterpretation.

Cheating in sport, in life whatever. I don't see it as being any less a crime than what I would like to label "pseudo-racism" (as distinct from genuine racism as I have defined above). In fact it is worse.

In my book, Symonds' case is one of pseudo-racism. Very much in fashion. But pseudo-racism, nonetheless.

One day in the future, I hope Symonds looks at himself - and feels proud of his immense abilities. Some of this may even actually be race-related. Instead of feeling defensive about his race, he may even be able to joke about it.

Maybe even joke about it with Harbajan ? It may be a dream but it is worth dreaming. For this, more than anything else, will make a difference to the perception of racism around the world. The more you cry "racist", the more racists you create. As simple as that.

My Experiments with Truth : Black

I was a very simple, "goody-goody" boy growing up in Orissa, completely oblivious of the big, bad real world. I lived a pretty protected life where most things in life were taken care of for me. So my experience in actually DOING things myself in the real world was very limited. I learnt a lot about life only after I left the comfort of my parents' place in Orissa.

One of the things that got taken care of for me was movie tickets. Somebody would always arrange the ticket beforehand, often in advance booking. Or, even if we reached the hall, somebody else would somehow manage to get the tickets. I would just walk in and enjoy the movie. In a sense, I guess I was quite pampered.

The year 1977. Three of my friends and I suddenly got into the mood to see "Hum Kisise Kum Nahin".

It was the last day before school would re-open after the pooja holidays. The movie had been released a couple of months earlier and had become a rage pretty much all over the country. Almost all our friends had already seen the movie (some of them "first day, first show" - which was a HUGE deal in those days. Arrey yaar, first day, first show nahin dekha to kya dekha ? types ("Hey, if you haven't seen it first day, first show, what have you seen?").

Those who had seen it would discuss all the scenes, the songs - and we would just get more and more irritated. The songs (all nine of them) were hits - some of them superhits (like Kya hua tera vaada, yeh ladka hai allah, chand mera dil, bachna aye haseenon). We knew all the songs pretty much by heart.

Feeling like the only boys on the planet who had missed the show - and fearing for the ostracisation by our other friends, we decided enough was enough. We just HAD to see it. And had to see it NOW. After all, it had been playing for many weeks already.

We informed our parents and set off - the four of us.

The film hall was about 25 km from home. But we had a direct bus to take us, so there was no problem. The idea was to see the 6-9 evening show. What we had not reckoned with was that the busdriver was not seeing the 6-9 show. He had absolutely nothing to gain by taking us there in time.

By the time, we got there it was 5.50.

There was pandemonium all over the place, some people were screaming at the counter, others were dejectedly going back.

The reason ?

The most dreaded sign for any Indian movie-goer who lands up to see a movie at a hall was up. "House Full".

We felt very upset. What to do? We could have reached there earlier but for that stupid bus driver! My friends blessed him with some colourful gaalis (abuses) - we then decided that we would somehow try to still get tickets.

We dispersed - each trying his luck.

A guy walked upto me, "Kitna chaahiye?" (How many do you want?)
I : "Chaar" (4).
He : "Chaar ka bees". (20 for 4).
I was thrilled.
I :  "Ticket hai?" (Do you have tickets at all?).
Just to confirm my luck. This sounded too good to be true.

People were desperate to get tickets. And here was a guy who had four tickets, exactly the number I needed, and who was willing to give them to me.

I said "ek minute, abhi aata hoon". (Give me a minute, I'll be right back!).

I raced back to my friends saying "hey, mil gaya, mil gaya". (Got them, got them!).

"Sach?" (Really?)

"Haan yaar, there is this man who has four tickets and he wants to sell them".

"Black?"

"Nahin, yaar...not black!". I recoiled. How could they even THINK I would buy tickets in black ?

"Kitna?" (How much?)

"Twenty Rupees...Five rupees ka ticket hai yaar. Balcony four rupees ka hai na..yeh DC hoga, five rupees ka". (Rs 20. Each ticket is Rs 5. Balcony's normally Rs 4, this must be the Rs 5 DC ticket.).

"Not bad yaar, Raja...chal chal, jaldi kar....usko pakad nahin to ticket chala jaayega". (Not bad, Raja...come on, hurry up, catch the guy before we lose the tickets).

I felt like my chest had swelled a few inches. Never before in my life had I done anything practical like this - I felt like I had saved the day.

As we approached the guy, one of my friends stopped.

"Wo hai kya?" (Is that the guy?)

"Haan". (Yes.)

"Wo black bech raha hai yaar." (I tell you he's selling tickets in black).

"Nahin yaar....tu bhi kya bakwaas kar raha hai..." (No, what rubbish are you talking!)

"Wo kya bola tere ko? Kitna mein bechega?" (What did he say? How much is he selling them for?)

"Arrey twenty rupees yaar...chaar ticket ka twenty...ek ka paanch". (Rs 20...for 4 tickets...that's Rs 5 per ticket).

"Wo kya bola...chaar ka bees?" (What did he say...4 for 20?)

"Haan." (Yes).

"Yaar...tu gadha hai...awwal number ka gadha hai...saala, uska shirt pant dekha...(Man, you're a real dumbo of the highest order...just look at that guy's shirt and pant, for crying out loud!)

Only then did I actually look at the guy a bit closely. Till then I had just been too excited to notice anything. He did look very unkempt...dirty black shirt..first two buttons open, revealing a very ugly hairy chest. A pant that looked like it had never been washed. Unshaven. Hair uncombed).

"Saala, bet laga black mein bech raha hai". (You want to bet he's selling in black?")

I looked at him, pained.

"Yaar Raja, tu bahut bhola hai yaar...chaar ka bees means he is selling one ticket for twenty rupees, samjha?" (Raja, you are just way too naive...4 for 20 means he's selling each ticket for Rs 20).

"Nahin yaar". My chest had deflated at a very unhealthily rapid rate and my "nahin yaar", uttered in a rather low voice, had a clear mix of shame and disappointment in it.

My friend now took total charge.

"Lagta hai aaj ticket nahin milne waala hai. Tum log ko black dekhna hai?" (It looks like we're not going to get tickets today. You guys want to see it in black?)

My friends immediately nodded. They could not care less.

Yours truly, typical Tamil Iyer, turned red. I could not bring myself to nod. Black was wrong! I could not be doing this.

"Kya bolta hai, Raja ? Ticket to aise nahin milne waala hai. Jaldi bol - picture start hone waala hai. Ho bhi gaya hoga". (What do you say, Raja? We're not going to get tickets any other way. Decide fast - the movie's going to start any moment now. It may already have started actually).

That last bit "ho bhi gaya hoga" (it may have started actually) was enough for me. I hated missing even one minute of the trailers that came before the movie. Even the U certificate for the trailers (with the scrawling of two dates, like 1-11-77 to 1-11-87, on them. You know what I mean).

I said - in a very low voice - "chal dekhte hain". (Ok, let's see it).

In their desperation to see the movie, my friends had already begun negotiating with this guy, completely ignoring my opinion. Thanks for asking my opinion, guys, I thought.

We did not have Rs.80 on us - I think we had about Rs70 or so between the lot of us. That was a decent amount of money in those days, considering the ticket would normally have only cost us Rs 16 for balcony or maximum Rs20 for DC.

My friend negotiated all four tickets for 40 bucks. It was getting to be just over 6 by then and the "black" guy, desperate to make whatever he could would have been happy to get rid of the tickets.

We rushed in - it was already dark. The usher scowled at us, muttering something under his breath. When he went about flashing the torch at our seats - and we made our way, bending so as not to hinder the sight of the guys in the next row - we got a few more abuses coming our way.

But it was all worth it. When Rishi Kapoor sang "Bachna aye haseenon" we forgot all about the world outside the hall. We enjoyed every song (including the 4-song competition) and when we came out of the hall, we felt - yesssssss ! Hum bhi kisi se kum nahin. (We are also as great as anybody).

The next day in school, my three friends told all the other guys in class that we had seen the movie. What they also said was "jaanta hai, ticket bilkul nahin mil raha tha. Raja jaake black mein leke aaya". (You know, we were just not getting tickets. Raja finally got them for us in black).

I tried to look the other way. That was my way of denying it.

All my friends looked at me like "Wow".

It took me a while to realise this but then it struck me.

I had actually grown several feet high in their esteem.

From the quiet boy in the class, I had become a guy who does stuff...who buys tickets in black.

I realised that THIS is what being cool in school is all about. Not being a good student and all that.

"Raja, tu black mein khareeda?" (Raja, you bought the tickets in black?)

"Haan yaar, mil hi nahin raha tha, chaar ka bees bol raha tha..." (Yes, we were just not getting them otherwise, so when he said "4 for 20"...)