Gulzar Kuch Khoye Huye Nagme – 22

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Film: Rahgir

Year: 1969

Singer and Music: Hemant Kumar

Lata Mangeshkar has famously said this about Hemant Kumar – “हेमंतदा की आवाज़ को सुनकर ऐसा लगता है जैसे मंदिर में बैठा कोई साधू गा रहा हो”

“Hemant da’s voice sounds like a monk singing in a temple”.

This spiritual, distant, and lonesome quality of his voice isn’t truer in any other song than this song from the 1969 film – Rahgir. (Loosely translated, “Rahgir” means a passer-by or a traveler).

Gulzar has penned a number of songs on the subject of “travelling and the traveller” – such as, “Musafir hoon yaaron” from Parichay and “Raah pe rehete hain” from Namkeen. For those, with a strong case of wanderlust and are lovers of Gulzar’s words, these songs speak to us in ways that is difficult to explain. In both the songs, there is the freedom and unrooted-ness of being an aimless traveler  -“musafir hoon yaaron, na ghar hai na thikana, mujhe chalte jaana hai”, “hum theher jaayein jahaan usko sheher karte hain..”, there is also the breezy carelessness of a fickle existence – “hawaa ke paron pe mera aashiyana” “udte pairon ke tale jab behti hai zameen, mudke humne koi manzil dekhi hi nahi”.

“Janam se banjaara” is also on similar themes. It is entirely possible, that the other two songs are a chronological continuation of this song, since Rahgir was released much earlier (1969) than Parichay (1972) and Namkeen (1982). But, here I make an assumption that Gulzar wrote these songs in the same year as the movies came out (trivia – both Parichay and Namkeen were written and directed by Gulzar). He repeats a number of words in all three songs – tinke, aashiyaane, subah, shaam, raat, namkeen!  However, there are subtle differences in the flavors of these songs. The Namkeen song is  about what he does in his travels, the Parichay song is about his condition of being a musafir, and the Rahgir song is about an attempt to explain the why of this nomadic existence. In this song, he claims that this nomadic quality isn’t an acquired trait, but something the he was born with. The opening line declares quite emphatically:

जनम से बंजारा हूँ बंधू जनम जनम बंजारा – (I am) a nomad by birth, (and will be) a nomad in all my lives..

The word “janam” is used in both the verb form – “to be born”, and the noun form – “life”. The second line then goes further to explain what this nomadic existence means:

कहीं कोई घर ना घाट ना अँगनारा  – (I) have no place to call a home! 

This line uses a common Hindi phrase “Na ghar ka na ghaat ka“, which means someone who is neither “here” nor “there”. It is generally used to hint at an useless and a hopeless existence. Gulzar adds a third word “anganaara” to this line – a poetic formation of the work “aangan” – the front-yard of a house. This word serves two purposes: alleviates the frivolous sentiment of “na ghar ka na ghaat ka” and completes the rhyme with “banjaara” from the previous line.

These first two lines on their own make it sound like the poet is wallowing in self-pity over his nomadic existence and the lack of having a home (with a yard). However, once we delve into the two stanzas, which are structured in the “triveni” format, we realize that this is no self-pity, but an attempt in describing this existence along with its joys and travesties.

जहां कहीं ठहर गया दिल हमने डाले डेरे : I camped wherever my heart decided to stay..

रात कहीं नमकीन मिली तो मीठे साँझ सवेरे : If I found a savory night I also found some sweet mornings and evenings..

Ugh! Namkeen literally translates to “salty/savory”, but the usage here is more sensual than that of the palate.  Note how beautifully, Gulzar describes the nomad’s (romantic) encounters without renegading them to one-night-stands. The escapades of the night are book-ended by the sweetness of the companionships of the evening before and the morning after.

In the second stanza, he delves into the fact that even the nomad is no stranger to falling in the “relationship” conundrum. However he must break away from them since that’s just his nature:

सोच ने जब करवट बदली शौक ने पर फैलाये

मैंने आशियाँ के तिनके सारे डाल से उड़ाए…

When (my) thoughts changed, and (my) likings spread their wings

I blew away the twigs of (my) nest from the tree branch….

कभी रिश्ते तोड़े नाते तोड़े छोड़ा कुल-किनारा….

I broke away all relations and bonds…I left my clan and my shores..

There is a lot that is lost in translation in the above lines. The core theme in these lines is the fact that he cannot be held down by any kind of a (long term) relationship, and as soon as he catches himself getting involved in one, he moves on. This may come across as intensely self-serving, but I look at it as someone whose inherent nature is to be un-grounded, so it’s futile to expect as such. An analogy I can think of is that of a lake, and a stream flowing downhill. Both comprise of water, but the nature of the water in each is polar opposite…one stays in a place, while another has to flow. It’s against the nature of a stream to just be (in one place).

Here are the complete lyrics:

जनम से बंजारा हूँ बंधू जनम जनम बंजारा,

कहीं कोई घर ना घाट ना अँगनारा…

जहां कहीं ठहर गया दिल हमने डाले डेरे

रात कहीं नमकीन मिली तो मीठे साँझ सवेरे

नगरी छोड़ी साहिल छोड़ा लिया मजधारा। ..हो बंधू रे….

कहीं कोई घर ना घाट ना अँगनारा ……

सोच ने जब करवट बदली शौक ने पर फैलाये

मैंने आशियाँ के तिनके सारे डाल से उड़ाए

कभी  रिश्ते तोड़े नाते तोड़े छोड़ा कुल-किनारा। …हो बंधू रे….

Best Hindi Songs of 2015

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2015 music

2015 was a more satisfying year for my musical tastes as compared to 2014.  There was a good mix of sounds and genres – Jazz: Bombay Velvet, Semi-Hindustani Classical and Marathi folk: Bajirao Mastani, the sound of the 90s: Dum Lagaa ke Haisha and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, etc. Two of my favorite composers produced albums so rich and flavorful, that I was drenched in their compositions for months – Amit Trivedi’s Bombay Velvet and A R Rahman’s Tamasha. The year ended on a stellar note with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s exquisite compositions for Bajirao Mastani! Every song from this album (yes, including the much maligned Malhari) is replete in creating an atmosphere that is suitable for the tonality of the movie.

With that, here’s the list of some of my favorite songs of the year, not in any particular order.

Legend: Song/Movie/Composer(s)/Singer(s)/Lyricist

Maati ka palang/NH 10/Samira Koppikar/Samira Koppikar/Neeraj Rajawat

I had never heard this song until it made its presence felt while watching the movie, and does it make an impact – a perfect cathartic outlet for the scene where Anushka is mowing down the goons who have tormented her until then. I was screaming inside “kill the fuckers”!

Moh moh ke dhaage/Dum Lagaa ke Haishaa/Anu Malik/Papon, Monali Thakur/Varun Grover

A wonderful throwback to the sound of the 90s, and who is better equipped than Anu Malik for it? I especially loved the use of flute and shehnai in this song.

Journey Song/Piku/Anupam Roy/Anupam Roy, Shreya Ghoshal/Anupam Roy

The music of Piku had a feel of life passing by along with all of its mundane details and occasional smiles and tears! This song evokes a sense of journeys complete and incomplete, of an open endless highway and the warmth of a cozy home, of dreams realized and the ones that weren’t.

Mann Kasturi/Masaan/Indian Ocean/Amit Kilam, Rahul Ram, Himanshu Joshi/Varun Grover

The sound is quintessential Indian Ocean, and works mighty well for one of my favorite movies of the year set in Benares. Varun Grover’s writing for the movie and this little song left me longing for more. The poetry digs deep in the existential dilemma (no breaking news that this is a topic that I mull over quite a lot) with lines so achingly beautiful, they literally made me weep the first time I heard them:

Khoje apni gandh na paawey
Chaadar ka paiband na paawey….

Agar tum saath ho/Tamasha/A R Rahman/Alka Yagnik, Arijit Singh/Irshad Kamil

Two words: Alka Yagnik. She was everywhere in the 90s and early 2000s, I liked a number of her songs but really started to look forward to her songs once she started singing for Rahman. To me there is an Alka before Rahman and another Alka after Rahman. Taal, I think was the first time she sang for Rahman. Taal, Lagaan, Swades, Yuva, Meenaxi, The legend of Bhagat Singh, Guru – she brought to life a number of Rahman’s compositions. Hearing her again after many years in this heartbreaker of a song gave me goosebumps. I must have listened to this song at least 20 times in a row. Her voice has aged but her singing is as ethereal as it was in Taal or Guru. Not to mention the lyrics – meri taraf aata har gham fisal jaaye, agar tum saath ho – you could almost touch Tara’s pain (the name of the character played beautifully by Deepika Padukone).

Safarnama/Tamasha/A R Rahman/Lucky Ali/Irshad Kamil

Aah another singer who hasn’t been heard in ages, whose voice is suited for only a few kinds of songs – Lucky Ali. Safarnama is a Lucky Ali song! His voice evocatively conveys wide open spaces, and has an illuminating quality to it! And tired as it may sound, the song spoke to me also because the poetry talks about the journey of life and existence  – jisse dhoondha zamaane mein, mujhi mein tha.

Aayat/Bajirao Mastani/Sanjay Leela Bhansali/Arijit Singh/A M Turaz

There is poetry, then there is grandiose poetry. This song is dripping with delicate yet epic declarations of love – the kinds of which was heard quite regularly in the poetry of the songs from the golden age of Hindi cinema – the 50s and 60s – for example the songs and poetry of the likes of Mere Mehboob and Mughal-e-Azam!

Tujhe yaad kar liya hai aayat ki tarah, Kaayam tu ho gayee hai riwaayat ki tarah..

Sanjay Leela Bhansali brings back the ethos of this era in his music for the entire album whether it be Mohe rang do Laal, Deewani Mastani, or Ab tohe jaane na doongi – every one of them are rooted in an Indian-ness which has become a rarity in today’s film music.

Albela Sajan/Bajirao Mastani/Sanjay Leela Bhansali/Shashi Suman, Kunal Pandit, Prithvi Gandharva, Kanika Joshi, Rashi Raagga, Geetikka Manjrekar/Siddharth-Garima

Now this one is not an original, the song was used previously in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The reason I chose it, is for its arrangement, for its synchronous singing by all the singers and above all the way it has been shot. The overhead shots of women with pooja thalis, Kashibai brimming with excitement of her Rao coming back to Shaniwarwada after years on the battlefield, and the image of her waving a gigantic saffron flag is a sight that I won’t forget for a long time. This song is a rare combination of all parts coming together to create an intensely pleasurable sensory experience.

Dhadaam Dhadaam/Bombay Velvet/Amit Trivedi/Neeti Mohan/Amitabh Bhattacharya

Bombay Velvet is my pick for the soundtrack of the year. I had the opportunity to meet Anurag Kashyap this year, and in a Q&A session he mentioned how difficult it was for him to digest the mega failure of this film which he has been a dream project of his for over a decade. With Bombay Velvet, for the first time, he was working with big stars and a big budget, a massive canvas, a period film, only to crash and burn quite spectacularly at the box office. The failure of the film has done a dis-service to its music, which in my opinion is one of the best soundtracks to have come out in the recent years. Just like Anurag has been working on this film for years, Amit has been at the helm of its music for an equally long time. I won’t say that he transported me to the 50s/60s Bombay Jazz clubs, since I do not know what that felt or sounded like, BUT he successfully does manage to create a sound which ‘may’ have been the sound of that era, that place, that time. Neeti Mohan gets to do most of the crooning and while I loved all songs, I am picking Dhadaam Dhadaam merely for the way it conveys the pain of longing and the despair for a love lost. Singing aside, just read the lyrics of this song and they sound un-composable. Not entirely in the same league as the lyrics of Mera Kuch Saaman from Ijaazat, but close enough.

Darbaan/Bombay Velvet/Amit Trivedi/Papon/Amitabh Bhattacharya

The entire album has only two songs sung by male singers, this one and Mohit Chauhan’s Behroopia. Darbaan is all about broken dreams, of dashed hopes, of defeat! The slow guitar, piano and clarinets combined with Papon’s defeated, drunken voice compliment each other tragically.

Move on/Tanu Weds Manu Returns/Krsna/Sunidhi Chauhan/Rajshekhar

What a refreshing turn on the tropes of dard bhare songs of yore, where the protagonist used to mull over his/her lost love until eternity. The opening lines of the song announce this anti-dard-bhara-ness with aplomb:

O re piya re ghis gaye saare dard bhare nagme, ab rap-wap sa rock-wock sa bajdaa rag rag mein…Move on move on move one move on..

It’s basically saying “fuck the past and move on”! And to declare this we need a voice with energy and rebellion. Well, only Sunidhi Chauhan can rock this sentiment, and as expected she delivers. In the film, the song is picturized on Tanu when she receives a divorce notice from Manu and in a moment of snap defiance goes on a spree of meeting her lovers of a pre-Manu era – signifying her desperate attempts to “Move on”. Much later in the movie we see a devastated Tanu walking alone with a glass of whisky on a deserted village lane in the middle of the night to the background of “Ja ja ja ja bewafa” (from the 1954 film Aar Paar sung by Geeta Dutt) – the very kind of dard-bhara song that “Move on” mocks at! A wonderful way to show us the bravado of Tanu in the “Move on” song. She is nothing but a skin-deep rebel!

O Saathi Mere/Tanu Weds Manu Returns/Krsna/Sonu Nigam/Rajshekhar

Tanu Weds Manu Returns has an innovative song with lyrics entirely in English – “Old School Girl” which is sung in an Indian and a Western accent. While the song is topical and beautifully shot in the movie, I didn’t find myself tuning to it without the visuals. The Old School Girl song speaks about the old school-ness of the Kusum character. O Saathi Mere echoes the old school sentiments of eternal/forever companionship woven to an old school melody. I guess when it comes to old school-ness, I prefer the music, the lyrics and the singing to be actually old-school.

 

Gulzar Kuch Khoye Huye Nagme – 21

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Movie: Hip Hip Hurray

Year: 1984

Music: Vanraj Bhatia

Singer: Yesudas

A forgotten song from a forgotten film of the 80s. Hip Hip Hurray was Prakash Jha’s directorial debut, and as far as I remember, it is probably the first Hindi film of the sports genre. I remember this movie making an impact on me when I first watched it on Doordarshan in the 80s, but a recent revisit to the film, showed that it does not stand the test of time and feels jaded.

This song which comes on very early in the movie, sets the tone for the lead character of the movie, Sandeep, played by an equally forgotten actor of the 80s, Raj Kiran.

The music is by Vanraj Bhatia, who was primarily known for his tunes for art house films, TV shows, and ad jingles. If you listen to the first two lines of the song, you can imagine it being used for a TV ad for either Bournvita or running shoes or anything that gets you going in the morning.

The song is in first person, where the person is having a conversation with his life as if it were a separate physical entity. Gulzar has used this figure of speech personification in another song on life from Sadma – “Aye zindagi gale laga le“.

For someone who is listening to this song for the first time, the first line – Ek subah ek modpar, maine kaha use rok kar (one morning by the bend of a road, I stopped her and said to her) – does not indicate, who is it that the singer is addressing. You may think, it’s probably his lover, but then in the second line we get the reveal that he is talking about his life – haath badha aye zindagi, aankh milakar baat kar (give me your hand my life, look into my eyes and talk to me). I find this construct of using a pronoun before the proper noun very alluring, very mysterious.

Past the mukhada of the song, there is a lot of realistic hopefulness in the poetry. In the first stanza, he says –

roz tere jeene ke liye, ek subah mujhe mil jaati hai  – I get a morning in order to live you everyday (my life),

murjhaati hai shaam agar toh, raat koi khil jaati hai – if sometimes I get a sad evening, then its followed by a fragrant night

main roz subah tak aata hoon, aur roz shuru karta hoon safar – I come to you every morning, and I start this journey again

There is such fragile beauty and hopefulness in these lines – of renewal, of everyday being a new journey, of every setback being just a mile marker in a long string of journeys!

With this realistic optimism the second stanza dives into the nature of his intimate relationship with his life.

tere hazaron cheheron mein, ek chehra mujhse milta hai – in your thousands of faces, there is one face that likens to mine

aankhon ka rang bhi eksa hai, aawaaz ka ang bhi milta hai – the color of the eyes is the same and the body of the voice is also the same

sach poocho toh hum do judwaa hai, tu shaam meri main teri seher – if you ask me we are each others twins; if you are my evening, I am your morning

This is where he is accepting his life as his twin, as his companion, as two people who are witnessing each other’s ebbs and flows, ups and downs, being there for each other when things get difficult – he is the morning (hope/renewal) to her evening (despair/sadness) or vice-versa!

This song very neatly summarizes my state of mind. In the recent past, I found myself in a familiar melancholic mood, caused by a deep angst and quest of knowing the purpose of me and my life (cliched, you may say, but it’s something I live with every waking moment). I usually know how to deal with this state of my being, but this time around the spell lasted for a long time. It had become difficult to be around people, and I am assuming people found me quite difficult to be with. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to spend a week away from everything and everyone in isolation in the midst of a primary jungle. It was just what me and life needed. Us twins were able to talk to each other while walking for hours on the forest floor from day break (subah) to dusk (shaam) and even at night (raat). Making my way through the dense forest by hacking away vines and thorny bushes with a machete through vegetation so dense, you couldn’t tell whether it was evening or afternoon. Metaphorically, this helped me navigate through the webs inside of me. I am not saying, I found my purpose and the purpose of my twin, but it helped me reconcile with her, to be with her, to be a witness to each other’s existence. However inconsequential and pointless we may seem to each other, it was good to acknowledge each other’s presence, and for now that’s enough.

एक सुबह एक मोड़ पर, मैंने कहा उसे रोक कर

हाथ बढ़ा ए ज़िन्दगी, आँख मिला कर बात कर
 
रोज़ तेरे जीने के लिए, एक सुबह मुझे मिल जाती है 
मुरझाती है कोई शाम अगर तो, रात कोई खिल जाती है 
मैं रोज़ सुबह तक आता हूँ, और रोज़ शुरू करता हूँ सफर
हाथ बढ़ा ए ज़िन्दगी, आँख मिला कर बात कर
 
तेरे हज़ारों चेहरों में, एक चेहरा मुझसे मिलता है 
आँखों का रंग भी एक सा है, आवाज़ का अंग भी मिलता है 
सच पूछो तो हम दो जुड़वा है, तू शाम मेरी मैं तेरी सेहर 
हाथ बढ़ा ए ज़िन्दगी, आँख मिला कर बात कर...

The delusion of Self-Importance and the truth of Existence

NASA’s voyager has sent many awe-inspiring pictures of the universe, the cosmos, the planets. One of the many pictures sent by Voyager shows our planet from about 6 billion kilometers. From that distance, the Earth appears no more than a speck of dust, a mere “Pale Blue Dot”.

Pale_Blue_DotPaleBlueDot

This photograph inspired the renowned astronomer/astro-physicist /cosmologist Carl Sagan for the title for his famous book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space“. In this book, Sagan pens down his thoughts quite poignantly on the significance of this image and the insignificance of our condition:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

From : Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

The words in bold above are not part of the original excerpt, Sagan did not call these words out, the bold typeface is my embellishment. I have been mulling over thoughts that are quite similar to the ones expressed in these words for over a year now. I have been grappling to come to terms with the reality of my “being” my “existence” and the ridiculously microscopic inconsequential aspect of it. Yes, a bit of a self-absorbed line of thought you can say while alluding to the “…our imagined self-importance…” line from Sagan’s writing above.

These feelings of “what matters?” and “why be?” got further fueled as a result of a traumatic incident in the recent past where I ended up losing a lot of material things causing a sizable financial loss. I do not care for “stuff”, “stuff” is replaceable (and there is no fake humility in this statement), so I did a minor shrug for the lost items and moved on. What continued to eat me at the core is the fact that with the tangible assets that were lost, I also lost a lot of intangible memories worth over a decade. Memories that were neatly stored in electronic form of photos and videos, which I would revisit every so often. I also lost a large collection of unfinished writings – my amateur attempts of writing film scripts, un-sent letters, unpublished blog posts, poems, random thoughts, ideas! All of which are non-replaceable, but here lies the quandary – as I am grieving for this loss, I am feeling a wave of guilt wash over me – guilt for grieving on something so inconsequential, so damn insignificant – if my existence doesn’t matter in the universal scheme of things, why should I then feel this pain? The fact that I exist (and hence my memories are real) is in direct opposition to the fact that my existence, and the events that happened in my life are of no significance. In the cosmic dust, there is no shifting of any balance if I ceased to exist…(for that matter if any of us ceased to exist). Why then should I care so much? This conflict spirals me into that ever mysterious question – “What is the purpose of my/our existence?”. To which many a scientists and thinkers would say – “It’s a stupid question. There is no purpose and hence the question is irrelevant.” I wish I could buy this statement, to me it seems like a cop-out from the scientific community. To draw parallels, centuries ago, questions like – “Why are there seasons?” or “Why can’t some people see colors?” or “Why does the moon change shapes every day?” etc. were probably met with a similar response – “Irrelevant questions”. Just like our collective knowledge in those days wasn’t sufficient to answer them, our extent of knowledge today is not equipped to answer this question. It would be a much humbler response to say “We don’t know the purpose of our existence, YET.”

I believe, there is some meaning to us being here…I am not talking from a spiritual or a divine point of view – for the record – I am an atheist – not an agnostic – an ATHEIST. So my quest for this is purely scientific, purely factual. I want to believe that my being matters, my doing things matter, my not doing things matter, my existence has some meaning – it is an essential piece in the completion of a mathematical or an astronomical theorem. Without me there will be a me shaped void, something will be incomplete – like how a small deformity in one of the legs of a chair makes it wobbly, like how a dash of salt completes a dish, like how one missing note can render a melody incomplete!

Tolerance & Pain

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Tolerance – Is there another word that has such self-importance and patronizing tone built into it? It suggests, nay, declares that the one who is doing the “tolerance” is being generous to the one towards which this “tolerance” is aimed at.  There is a word “Upkaar” in Hindi or “Ehsaan” in Urdu, which loosely translates to “favor” or “benefaction” in English. For me, “tolerance” is loaded with “upkaar/ehsaan”! So when someone (or some society/nation/organization) says “I am tolerant of all races/religions/nationalities/sexual orientations, etc.”, I smell self-righteousness in their claim of “tolerance”. For true equality, there shouldn’t be a need for any tolerating, there should just be “acceptance” of “you are who you are”.

Pain – It’s not new news that a majority of the great artists from around the world, from the past or the present, were people who harbored great pain. Whether it be pain due to difficult childhoods or unrequited loves or substance abuse or personality disorders or financial issues or abusive parents or conflicts (war/ideological conflicts/persecution), each one of them were troubled in their own way. This pain translated into some of the greatest pieces of art – music, paintings, sculptures, films, performances, books, poems, etc. There seems to be a direct correlation between creativity and the degree of pain the creator is experiencing. So by deduction, great art is borne from great pain. As I said, not new news! What intrigues me is – do the artist’s have a predilection to continue to nurture this pain, not let go of it, to seek out even more pain, in order to keep their creativity alive ? Do they consciously not want to heal their pain or attempt to alleviate it? Is pain their addiction, do they really enjoy pain, do they even crave it ?

Lately, I have been doing some self-evaluation and introspection, what I have noticed is that I have been the most lucid in my writing when I am in a place of emotional turmoil/pain. Once I am in this state, I see things more clearly, I feel energized to exercise my creative side while all other parts of my biology want to shut down – sleeplessness, restlessness, snappy behavior with close relations, and a general lack of focus at everyday tasks – such as my job, household chores, socializing, etc. During this period, I feel like two different people are inside of me – one, which feels like it’s drowning and sinking into an abyss and another – who is charged up to “create” something. It’s an extremely confusing and exhausting period, but what I am coming to understand is that maybe, just maybe, there is a chance I actually enjoy being in this state. If this is true, does it also mean that I have an affinity to pain? And does it make my actions that cause this pain, masochistic?

The Nostalgic 90s – Part 1

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Public Service Announcement – These series of posts are strictly for those who lived and loved the 90s, more specifically for those who have a curious fondness for the Hindi movies and music of this decade. If a mere mention of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Jaan Tere Naam, Anari, Kishen Kanhaiyya, Sadak, Khiladi, Lekin, Coolie No. 1 – make you a bit warm and fuzzy, then this series is for you. Ok, that’s all.

When 1990 arrived, I was in my prime teens – which equates to a sense of “I am my own person and nobody can tell me what to wear, what to eat, what to watch, where to go” and a general distaste for anything that had to do with OLD and OLD people. Facial hair were making their presence felt, acne were erupting with surprising speed & numbers all over my face, other physiological changes were screwing up everything that was holy inside my body and head. We have already established my love for the movies in a number of previous posts, but up until the last year of the 80s, I was still watching or listening to what the elders were watching or listening to – none of it was out of my volition. The 90s were different, I was choosing to listen and watch what “I” wanted – and boy did I want to listen and watch everything. I consumed almost all of the music and the movies of this decade with a ferocious voracity – at least in the first half of the decade, this consumption got a bit selective in the later years of the decades.

A bit of a background on the mediums of this consumption: For music in the early years of the decade, it was mostly via Radio, especially a program called “Chitralok” which showcased songs of unreleased or newly released movies. We did not own so much as a cassette player then. After much deliberation with my dad, we bought a Phillips two-in-one (with nothing less than two detachable speakers) which led to a ravenous phase of purchasing many audio cassettes, including blank cassettes. On these blank cassettes, I would record songs played on the radio, with my two fingers on the Record button so as not to record the commercials or the commentary. I must say I honed this skill over time, but my early recordings had a song ending with an opening of “Washing Powder Nirma” or the ending of “Paragon chappal”. Another way to get my hands on the news about movies and their stars was “Mayapuri”, a cheesy Hindi film magazine that was found in the barbershops of Nagpur. I devoured them like a person who is on a hunger strike would after he/she breaks his/her fast. I would be quite disappointed when my turn for a haircut would come if I had not gone through all the magazines.

Now to the subject at hand, the movies and the music of the 90s. This series is not so much about the quality of the movies or the music, which we can unanimously agree that, it was largely abysmal. This series is about what was popular then and more specifically, the dormant memories that these songs evoke for me. I am sure for those of you who also savor the 90s, you have your memories associated with these songs. So please do share them in the comments section. I have tried to break this series down by year, but may change the pattern depending on how it evolves. I am also providing some additional non filmy tid-bits about what was happening in my life around that time and any big news from the affairs of the country or the world. I am hoping this helps in coloring that particular year in more than just a cinematic hue.

A disclaimer: This series is not a factually researched piece of work, so I may mix the year of a movie especially if they came out during the end or beginning of an year. I am using the interwebs to fact check, but as we know, even the interwebs can be wrong. So if you see such errors, please let me know and I will update the posts as much as possible.

OK, lets get going.

1990:

The non filmy stuff: I was in my tenth standard and as was the norm, all of my energies were supposed to be focused on acing the SSC test. My family had high hopes from me, and I could feel the pressure physically & emotionally. Nonetheless, I was not the kind who studied much, I always had a radio or a TV in front of me as I studied, a habit which continued until the end of my formal education. I would always need another distraction while I studied – this is probably the reason why I was always mediocre in my studies (see how cleverly I shift the blame from my average intellect to external factors). There just wasn’t enough in any of the academic subjects (save for Geography) that could keep me engaged for more than 15 minutes at a time – I guess only now do I realize that academia was utterly boring for me…I would much rather prefer to live in the dream world…aka the “Movies” or the real world aka the effortlessly educational “Outdoors”. This was also the year when India’s then Prime Minister, V.P. Singh, had implemented the Mandal Commission report which was causing quite a bit of ruckus in the nation – news of people setting themselves on fire was an everyday affair.

The stars of the year: Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol & Jackie Shroff were the established male stars of the time while, Madhuri Dixit was giving Sridevi a tough competition for the top spot in the world of heroines. The stars of the 70s and 80s like Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Rekha, Hema Malini, Dimple Kapadia (who was back from a hiatus) were also putting up a fight to rule the box office. The youngsters like Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Juhi Chawla, were trying to find their bearings. Among the ones who were playing second fiddle but had a sizeable following were – Govinda, Meenakshi Seshadri, Sanjay Dutt, Chunky Pandey, Jaya Prada (her rivalry with Sridevi from the late 80s, was long over and Sridevi had emerged a more sustainable presence at the Box office).

Slide1The movies of the year: I remember the following movies from that year, and have tried to pen down a line or two of what has stayed with me.

Aaj ka Arjun: The hugely popular song “Goree hai kalayeeyan” and the obnoxiuous “Chali aana tu paan ki dukaan pe”. No amount of make-up, costumes, lighting and camera angles could hide the fact that Amitabh was almost 50 years old and was seen harassing a much much younger Jaya Prada to cavort with him. Creepers!

Aandhiyan : The only reason is Mumtaz – her of the heaving bosom and impossibly tight sarees – who made a disastrous comeback.

Aashiqui: Mahesh Bhatt created history with Aashiqui, the publicity poster of a girl and a boy under a jacket remains one of the most iconic posters of Hindi cinema. Nadeem Shravan’s songs have stood the test of time (even though a number of them were straight lifts from Pakistani music). T-Series became a music label that changed the game of how mass produced music was generated. They made cassettes affordable to even the likes of me! Anuradha Paudwal and Kumar Sanu became household names while Rahul Roy and Anu Agarwal struggled to stay as household names!

Agneepath: Three words: Vijay Dinanath Chauhan! Amitabh aside, I was thrilled by the chawl scene – the one with copious amounts of water and mud and a massive crowd – Mukul Anand had at least one such crowd scene  in all his movies and he did shoot them with panache! I also remember Rohini Hattangadi mouthing “Apane haath dho le” and of course Neelam, I had a thing for her!

Agneekal: Abbas-Mastan who would make waves later on with Khiladi and Baazigar directed this forgettable film, the only reason I remember it is because of the song “Pankhida o Pankhida” that would play incessantly on the radio.

Appu Raja: I remember watching it in a theater called Regent which was entirely made of tin. It used to get as hot as a baking oven, but a dwarf Kamal Hassan was what made this movie a joyride.

Awwal Number: This is one of those movies – It’s so bad it’s good! Sunny Gavaskar made a cameo appearance in this ridiculous Dev Anand directorial mess which featured a newcomer called Ekta who was required to twirl a lot to showcase a collection of colorful underwears.

Baaghi: There was something refreshing about Anand Milind’s music and the song picturizations, I still love the way “Kaisa lagta hai” has been shot – it may be the image of Nagma dangling from a crane! I remember listening to these songs during the monsoon season, and even today every time I listen to them, they transport me to an overcast and wet Nagpur.

Dil: Honestly, I have not seen Dil, but the songs were everywhere….also a pimply Madhuri!

Ghayal: A true blue action flick which I absolutely LOVED. Sunny had arrived as a bonafide action star. Also, “Sochana kya jo bhi hoga” (another plagiarized tune by the Bappi!) was on my lips for a long time.

Jamai Raja: I have not seen this movie, but I would dig it’s songs..especially the cacophonous but well choreographed “tere pyar mein hum” which has been bizarrely shot on a set of a Western, and the sneezing effect in “Teri pyaari pyaari baatein much aaaaaachhhhiiiii lagati hai”!

Kishen Kanhaiya: The songs were a hoot, but what got people flocking to the cinemas was a bathing Shilpa Shirodkar! She is nowhere to be found now.

Lekin: Yes, the music (By Hridaynath) , the poetry (by Gulzar), and Lata’s home production! But what I remember is that my dad used to work in Bhandara then, and he told me, that his room-mate and him went to watch this movie one fine evening at a theater in Bhandara. While it’s surprising that this movie should play in Bhandara it is even more outlandish that my dad and his colleague/room-mate would go watch it – because, if you knew my dad, he doesn’t voluntarily go to the cinemas, and if you knew his room-mate, he didn’t know what “cinema” was! This event of them watching Lekin together baffles me even today.

Naaka Bandi: Absolute trash of a movie, redeemed by the bright lightbulb called Sridevi. This is one reason I like performers like her, they give a 100% no matter how ridiculous and outlandish the overall product is. They are fully engaged and honest in their work. Shahid Kapoor from today’s generation is like that! The self-referential song in the movie ” Main lagati hoon Sridevi lagati hoon” is a piece of awesome mimicry.

Sailaab: “Humko aajkal hai intezaar”….enough said! Did anyone honestly see this movie for anything else? If Youtube existed then, I bet it would’t sell half the tickets it sold.

Shiva: Ram Gopal Verma arrived with this….he brought back realism to mainstream movies,  making him a director to look forward to. Also, Amala – God I loved her! The minimalist all black poster of just a fist holding a bicycle chain with the words “Shiva” popping in bold red letters is also something that left an impression on me.

Thanedaar: The Tamma Tamma Loge controversy, but I also remember it because I liked two other songs from this movie: the hilarious Jabse Huye hai Shaadi by Amit Kumar) and the horrendous Aur bhala kya maangoo main rabse by Lata and……….Pankaj Udhaas!!!

Here’s a playlist of some of the popular songs from this year! Thanks to AB for the contribution to the playlist.

Today and the rest of “todays”

Been 14,600 days, today. Can’t say how many more! Important thing is to make the most of the remaining todays, looking forward to make them somewhat relevant before there is no more “today”. Until then, want to keep this hopeless optimist heart, loving and living, more importantly – Loving and Living with no receipts!

Predictably, borrowing Gulzar’s words to express my constitution today!

अभी न पर्दा न गिराओ ठहरो

के दास्ताँ आगे और भी है
ये इश्क़ गुज़रा है इक जहाँ से, इक जहाँ आगे और भी है
अभी न पर्दा न गिराओ ठहरो
अभी तो टूटी है कच्ची मिटटी
अभी तो बस जिस्म ही गिरे है
अभी कई बार मरना होगा अभी तो एहसास जी रहे है
अभी न पर्दा न गिराओ ठहरो
दिलों के भटके हुए मुसाफिर
अभी बहोत दूर तक चलेंगे
कहीं तो अंजाम के सिरों से
ये जुस्तजू के सिरे मिलेंगे
अभी न पर्दा न गिराओ ठहरो
के दास्ताँ आगे और भी है.…

Cafe Samovar

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The year was 1985, a time when one of the most exciting things about the week was the screening of a Hindi movie on Sunday evenings on the state owned (and the only) television channel Doordarshan (DD). Everyone in my household would finish their chores and be ready for the 6 PM start of whatever movie was chosen by the overlords at DD. One such Sunday evening, our Black & White Dyanora television showed us a movie called Choti si baat. Of course, these were the days of no internet, and hence no ready access to Chhoti_Si_Baatinformation on the movie one was about to watch – unlike current times when you get to tune yourself before watching any movie – you know the cast, you know the genre, you know the reviews, the IMDB/tomatometer ratings, etc. As a 10 year old in 1985, I had no such baggage. The only thing I would be interested in a movie was what we kids called “dhishoom-dhishoom” – aka action scenes – stunts, car chases, gun fights, sword fights, galloping horses, sword fights or gun fights on galloping horses – you get the idea. Due to the previously mentioned lack of the internet, there was no way of knowing whether the movie I was about to watch fed to this violent appetite of mine. However, I had figured out a way of finding out whether the said movie may have any of the dhishoom-dhishoom, I so eagerly wanted to see – I had figured out that if the opening credits showed “Action” or “Stunt coordinator”, there was a good chance that I will be a happy camper by the end of the movie. And if the credits did not mention these, well, it was time to find something else to do. After watching the credits of Choti si baat, it was quite clear that there won’t be any action – moreover one look at this Amol Palekar chap (the “hero” of the movie) and I knew it was a hopeless pursuit.

As a result, I ended up watching bits and pieces of the movie. Two things I remember from this first watching of the movie  – 1) the heroine of the movie (Vidya Sinha) did a lot of standing around at a bus stop followed by walking around on the streets of Bombay while being followed by the lame Amol Palekar & 2) the heroine and another character played by Asrani  along with Amol Palekar eating what looked like some delicious food at a cozy & comfortable looking restaurant. The restaurant/cafe is what left a mark on me : I distinctly remember thinking that this is unlike any restaurant I have seen in the movies – to remind you this was the 1980s, restaurants in Hindi movies were large, mostly windowless rooms with chandeliers and plaster of paris statues of half-naked women! These rooms would be filled with men in ill-fitting suits sitting around round tables while a svelte woman pranced seductively around them. These mustachioed men would cast occasional lascivious looks at the camera while sipping their beverages and puffing their cigars. The restaurant in Choti si baat, was nothing like these unattainable places, it seemed like a “real” place, a place where “real” people go – the decor had simple paintings, bamboo curtains, there was a hubbub that had a genuine restaurant-ish vibe about it and no svelte woman was gyrating about since this darn place seemed quite cramped – almost like a narrow hallway. There were no chandeliers for lighting, natural light was flowing in, you could

see the greenery outside, table fans were hung from the walls, a clumsy looking menu board could be seen in the background, the tables were too close to each other – overall, it was all very “non-filmy”. I distinctly remember, the 10 year old me wanting to go there and eat whatever the characters in the movie were eating.

Years went by, and as I started to get interested in music and movies, I happened to stumble upon Choti si baat once again in my college years. I must say this might be the first movie of the romantic-comedy genre that I enjoyed entirely – for its grounded characters, for its easy humor, for the wonderful lightweight performances by Amol Palekar, Asrani & Ashok Kumar, for its wonderful music (especially – Lata’s soulful Na jaane kyon and Yesudas and Asha’s lovely duet Jaaneman Jaaneman) and most importantly for its nonchalant depiction of realism by it’s director – Basu Chatterjee. The realism of his rom-com movies is unlike the ones from the rom-com movies of this decade, where the realism seems to be deliberate and created out of meticulous production design. Examples: Wake Up Sid, Life in a Metro, Band Baaja Baraat, etc. Seeing the restaurant scenes again, brought back memories of 1985, brought back that longing of going to that restaurant. This time around, I paid attention and the Asrani character says the name of the restaurant “Cafe Samovar”. I had no idea what Samovar meant, but the name somehow just sounded so perfect for that place.

Years passed, and every once in a while whenever a Choti si baat song would hit my ear drums, I would think of Cafe Samovar and the desire to go there would be awakened. I lie not when I say, I could literally picture myself in that place. I googled the place and found out that it’s in the Kala Ghoda neighborhood of Bombay inside the same building as the Jehangir Art Gallery. Knowing where it was, made my desire of visiting Samovar even more stronger. It was just a happy coincidence when I found out that loves Choti si baat too and would also love to go to Cafe Samovar someday.

I have visited Bombay numerous times over the past 20 years, sometimes staying there for weeks, but never acted upon the desire to visit Cafe Samovar. Until one sweltering muggy day in June of 2014 when me along with A, my brother, his wife, and his son found ourselves in Bombay. Come hell or high water, I had set my heart upon having lunch at Cafe Samovar that day.  After a bit of wandering around looking for the gallery and getting drenched with copious amounts of sweat in the process, we found it and made our way to the cafe which is tucked away in the right corner of the lobby of the building. We saw the sign of the cafe on its narrow doorway and as soon as we entered the IMG_4764restaurant I had a sense of being transported back almost 29 years after I had first laid my eyes on this place on the black & white screen of our telly. When one anticipates and desires something for a long time, the actual event, or the place, or the thing that one was looking forward to does not usually live up to ones expectations, leading to heartbreak and disappointment. This, however was not the case with Cafe Samovar, the moment I entered the narrow hallways, it was exactly how I had imagined it in my head for all these years. Sunlight was streaming in through bamboo curtains, tables were arranged too close to each other, there was non-pretentious art work hanging on its walls, there was a comforting hubbub of people, servers, conversations, whirring of the fans from the walls, clinking of silverware on ceramic plates, fragrance from parathas/chole/kheema wafting in the humid air – it was all too blissfully perfect.

We settled into a table and ordered a plethora of things – I ordered what Nagesh ordered in Choti si baat  – kheema paratha! We also had chole, dahi wada, neembu paani, lassi, egg curry, aloo paratha, etc. As the food arrived, we IMG_4766gobbled it up with much love and fervor. It was delicious, satisfying, and what can I say, but you had to be me to really feel how I was feeling! I was sitting there in Cafe Samovar lapping up every moment and I hear my name being called out from a table two rows from where we were sitting. Needless to say I was quite surprised and saw in the general direction of the sound to find an old friend from college beaming at me. PB and I had not seen each other in over a decade, and it was quite pleasant to meet him. He was on a day trip to Bombay with his wife and they had decided to come to Samovar for lunch. Serendipity or Choti si baat, whatever it was, this added to the whole experience of Samovar. IMG_4768After catching up with PB, exchanging our phone numbers, and paying the bill, we left the cafe and browsed a bit in the art gallery.

A few weeks back, I got a text on my phone from PB that Samovar has closed. There was a small cloud of sadness that followed me for some time, but it cleared off pretty soon, and was replaced by a feeling of contentment of having been there, and having experienced its “being”. I am not going to get in the matter of why it closed etc. Simply because, I do not want to know and will leave it to the fact that, it’s the way of the world and life – Old has to go to make way for new.

We all keep the memories of places and people we love and are no longer around, inside of us. It’s a natural human condition. Although even before Samovar closed, I had brought one little relic of Samovar into Washington DC. I put Kheema Paratha on the menu of a cafe (Pansaari) run by a friend. A and I can frequently be found making and serving food at this cafe. Everytime I explain the food to the customers at Pansaari, I upsell the Kheema Paratha – and when they order it, I get a warm feeling. This is how I have managed to keep my Samovar alive.

P.S: Writing this post has been a good reminder that what and who I love today, may not be around tomorrow. Loving them fully and unconditionally is the only way to keep them alive for as long as I am alive.

ना जाने क्यों होता है यह ज़िन्दगी के साथ, अचानक ये मन किसी के जाने के बाद, करे फिर उसकी याद

छोटी छोटी सी बात….

Learnings from 2014

  • We are all racists, I am and you are, you may deny you are not, but I assure you, you are
  • It will never be out of fashion to drop everything you are doing for a friend in need
  • A song to be good must have good words, composition isn’t enough
  • Kids can be evil and babies can be ugly
  • Religion/s should perish
  • Border/s should vanish
  • Foxcatcher is a steaming pile of poo
  • The guiltless have a gala time
  • Angry activism is counter-productive and alienating
  • Indians have a low tolerance to humor aimed at India/ns
  • If you stand against or for something, don’t just fucking stand…DO something (just tweeting & “liking” shit on Facebook isn’t DOing)
  • Americans scare easy
  • Everyone lies and judges, often at the same time
  • Real and honest food has no short-cuts
  • Science and mothers can be wrong
  • Acting ones age maybe the norm, but the opposite is not ‘exceptionally’ wrong
  • Being guarded and in control is dull, not to mention, exhausting
  • True Detective is worth all the hype and then some
  • Conservation for the sake of it is a convenient cop-out
  • Normal is relative, Normal normal is a fucking bore
  • Atheists need to relax (see angry activism above)
  • Kangana Ranaut can act
  • Must teach kids to question the uniform more than to respect the uniform
  • Louis CK is extremely funny and extremely sad
  • Giving & letting in will always make me happy
  • I hurt those I love

With that, I resume another Gregorian year!

Best of 2014 – Movies and TV

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A list of movies and a tv show that reached out to me in 2014 (not in any order of liking):

2014 movies

Boyhood: I had liked the first two “Before” movies of Linklater, but by the third installment I got weary of the pseudo-existential-crisis of two self-absorbed individuals. So when Boyhood arrived in the cinemas with its back-story of having been shot over 12 years with the same actors aging in real time as the fictional characters they play, I approached it with excitement tempered with a bit of skepticism about the “12 years in the making” being merely a gimmick. All skepticism disappeared in the darkness of the cinema once the movie started, it touched me and talked to me. It was life unfolding on the screen – no big melodrama, no cinematic-ally styled conflicts and resolutions, just daily life in all its beauty and pain. Sounds dull? But so is everyday life if you had to watch it on the screen.

Ankhon Dekhi: The only movie where I got misty eyed this year. Babuji is tired of the lying world after being party to an incident which he regrets when he finds out how wrong his actions were, actions which stemmed from hearsay and not his first hand experience. There on he decides to believe only in those things that he has seen and experienced with his own eyes. What follows is a delightful take on life, love, family, relationships, everyday life, and subsequently death.  The house that Babuji and his family inhabits is captured so beautifully on camera that I have not felt so “lived in” in a house since Satyajit Ray’s depiction of the house inhabited by Arati and Subrata  in Mahanagar.

Snowpiercer: An experiment to thwart global warming fails and the world freezes. All of humanity has perished except for a few hundred who are on a train called the Snowpiercer that’s circumnavigating the planet. The train houses a microcosm of the global society – class, income inequality, power struggles, all of it! A visually arresting piece of film-making that shows a mirror to the existing state of the world and delves into evolution and creationism at the same time.

Queen: A film about self-discovery of a diffident girl-next-door. The film is a triumph in the genre of character driven cinema. Have written at length about this one here. Kangana is my pick of actor of the year (male or female).

A Most Wanted Man: Phillip Seymour Hoffman‘s last lead role and as expected he owns the part of a disillusioned CIA operator who is struggling to find the validity of his work and his life in the murky world of espionage and the war against “terror” waged by the super-powers against an enemy which they try to manifest to maintain themselves as a relevant force for global peace.

Highway: Another movie about self-discovery with a mix of the Stockholm syndrome plus parts of Dil-se plus an oedipal complex plus a road movie! Imtiaz Ali’s most honest movie in my opinion (save for the last 15 minutes – which I am willing to let go of) with a heartbreaking performance by Randeep Hooda (who is right there with Kangana as far as performances of the year go). The Indian highways and the scenery that forms around it is a thing of un-capturable beauty but Anil Mehta’s cinematography presents it with its natural raw quality without overtly romanticizing it.

True Detective: The police procedural aspect is a mere excuse for this gripping human drama. Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin “Rust” Cohle must go down as one of the greatest on-screen fictional characters of all times. Rarely does one see a character with such integrity and genuine-ness in fictional contemporary art. The ugliness and the beauty of humanity was never laid out so starkly. Rust mouths some of the most memorable dialogs about human nature and human evolution like the one below which is my favorite quote from this year :

I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, this accretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming. Stop reproducing. Walk hand in hand into extinction. One last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

Satya-vachan!

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P.S: I read the list above and I realized that all of my picks of the year are on the themes of self-purpose, self-worth, and the quest of why-we-exist. It cannot be merely a coincidence, it cannot be!

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