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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.

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


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


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.