Mitad del Mundo

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_mg_9320_32012095281_oIt was December 2016. I was in the Ecuadorean Andes staying at a mountain lodge at about 10,500 feet (3200 meters) above sea level, and only a few degrees from 0 latitude (the Equator). The mountain air was clean, lean, and crisp. The world had just witnessed an absolute lunatic win the most powerful seat in the world. I was still reeling from that shock (like millions of people) and desperately wanted to clean out my head in the hope of getting a grip on reality. How was I going to do that? I had no idea!

The plan was to leave behind the world of my daily life and lose myself in the lofty mountains and valleys in the middle of the world. The lodge I was staying at, happened to be just the right place for this. It was surrounded on all sides by mountains and lush valleys. I could wake up and choose one of the many trails that went by the lodge and venture into any valley or mountain I wished for. The possibilities were many, and I was ready to surrender myself to the Andes. I had disconnected myself from the news, social media, emails, and other such usual trappings. Not out of choice, but just because of the non-availability of the ubiquitous wi-fi. It was just what I needed. So the ritual was set – every morning, wake up before sunrise and after breakfast, go about exploring the trails, return by sundown, with a full heart, a brain just slightly emptier than the previous day, and two failing legs. After a shower and a quick nap in the cabin, head to the communal dining area in the main hut of the lodge. Other fellow travelers would join, pleasantries would be exchanged, each of us would tell their tale of the day’s adventures over glasses of wine and the cozy warmth of the wood fired stove. Delicious hot food would arrive and everyone would eat to their heart’s content. After a satisfying meal, all of us would retire to their respective huts. Wake up at the crack of dawn (the rooster at the lodge was punctual to a fault) and repeat it all over again. It was all a little too blissful.

One such evening, after I had come back from a grueling hike I was hanging out in the main hut with two Canadian girls and a French hiker. The main door creaked open and in walked an elderly white couple. The gentleman (lets call him C) was dressed in a white shirt tucked in khakis with a hiking jacket, hiking shoes and a baseball cap. The lady (I am going to address her as B) was dressed in hiking pants and a simple blouse with an elegant string of pearls around her neck. They seemed like they were in their late seventies or early eighties. They had kind faces and a general pleasant air about them. Everyone exchanged smiles and we made room for them at the dinner table. Hearing their accent, it was evident they were Americans (I found out later in the evening they lived in Detroit, Michigan). Edmundo (the manager of the lodge) announced that food would be served in about 10 minutes. All of us settled at the communal dining table. B and C enquired about all of us, the usual, where we were from, what brought us to Ecuador, etc. As it turns out, there were 4 Americans at the table, 2 Canadians, 1 French, 1 Venezuelan, and 2 Swiss nationals. Naturally, the non-Americans unleashed the dreaded questions – “What the hell happened in the United States? How DID he win? (Which should be read as – How could Americans be so stupid?)”  

Before any of the Americans at the table could speak, C said in his gentle manner “I have a request, I would greatly appreciate if we do not talk politics at the dinner table. Thank you.” His manner was polite and it was impossible to counter his request. Everyone respected his wish and the conversation drifted to other topics: from the conditions in Venezuela, to the Galapagos, and the activities that each of us had planned for the following day. After dinner and a game of bananagram we retired for the night.

The next morning, I decided to take a tour of a cheese factory established by some Swiss missionaries in the seventies in a nearby village. It was a 30 minutes ride from the lodge. About an hour’s drive away from the factory is a cloud forest and that seemed like just the kind of place I would want to spend an afternoon in. From the cloud forest the plan was to hike back to the lodge before sundown. After breakfast, as I was waiting for my ride, I saw B and C slowly walking towards me. They mentioned that they intend to also join me on the tour of the cheese factory and the cloud forest. I was happy to have company and off we went in the pick up truck, them riding with the driver and me in the open area of the truck in the back. At the factory, B and C relied on me to translate everything the cheese makers were talking about the history of the factory and the process of making the cheese. It was a challenge, but I think I managed to convey the gist of whatever I could understand with my elementary knowledge of Spanish. After tasting some cheeses (in all honesty, I didn’t quite like any), we headed for the nearby cloud forest in the pick up truck. The plan was to take a short walk in the forest while learning about the various plant species. While walking in the forest, I was accosting C since the trail was quite moist and slippery and he seemed to need some support on steep or slippery surfaces. On our walk C narrated to me stories from his past travels. I learned that him and B were well-traveled – Croatia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Burma, Lebanon, etc. I could figure out that he had a genuine appreciation of the cultures and people of various places. Never for once was there even a hint of prejudice or malice in his stories. After walking for a while, B and C said that they would like to go back to the lodge in the truck. I bid them off and promised to see them at the dinner table that night. Off I went into another valley to further empty my brain out.

At dinner that night, C was sitting right next to me. He inquired about my hike. B was sitting across from me and casually asked me where I lived in the United States. I said, DC. To which C asked  “Where in DC?”. 

I said, “In a neighborhood called Capitol Hill.” 

He said, “Oh really! Where on Capitol Hill?” 

By now, I wasn’t sure where this was going, but proceeded anyway to describe the geography of the neighborhood in the context of some major landmarks of the city, like the US Capitol. After a bit of that, I narrowed in on the few blocks of Capitol Hill where I reside. 

“By the Northeast side of Lincoln Park on Constitution Ave”.  I said.

B said with a hint of excitement “Oh, we used to live right there on 11th and East Capitol Streets”. 

I was surprised and blurted out “Really? For how long?” 

C replied “Almost 40 years.” 

That hit me like an Alpaca had kicked me in my chest. I felt like a complete idiot for explaining them the geography of Capitol Hill, about 90 seconds ago. I wanted to be invisible. By now, the rest of our fellow travelers had stopped talking among themselves and were listening on to our conversation. 

After swallowing my shame with a swig of some delicious Argentinian Malbec, I said “Wow, 40 years! You have lived in DC for 40 years, that’s my entire life span. What were you doing there?” 

Both of them fell silent for a few seconds. I immediately realized I had asked a question that wasn’t something they were willing to answer. But now it was out there, and the rest of the diners were also looking at them in anticipation of an answer. This is now the second time in a matter of seconds that I felt like a complete moron. More Malbec to dull the shame. 

B broke the awkward silence and said, “C dear, I don’t think you can hide it anymore.” 

To that C, smiled and looked up at all of us and said, “I am a recently retired Senator of the United States. A lifelong Democrat, and yes this the reason I wanted to stay away from all the talk about politics. But looks like the cat is out of the bag. So bring it on.” 

With that he asked Edmundo (the inn keeper) to replenish the wine on the table, as if anticipating that I may ask for more such questions which will require me to gulp down my over-eagerness in knowing other’s people’s business. It was going to be a long night. Everyone’s faces had lit up. A thousand questions were churning through our collective brains, 950 of which were in my brain alone. I did not know where to begin. 

Very naively (in hindsight now), I felt like I could get all the answers to all that had happened in the last few weeks from C. Before I could begin my line of questioning, C started to talk (thankfully, since I would have most certainly made a fool of myself, thus scoring a hat-trick, which, isn’t unusual for me). C talked about the months leading up to the elections, about his role in her campaign in Michigan (his home state). He talked about the Democratic primaries, the general mood during the primaries and then after her nomination was sealed. Of course, he divulged as much as he could without being unnecessarily salacious. There was a great amount of dignity in his speech, he never bad-mouthed anyone. We were all listening intently while sipping on the wine (Argentina had made way to Chile by now). 

After about 30 minutes C stopped, and there was an eerie silence in the dining room, save for the crackling sound of the burning wood from the fireplace. Needless to say, C didn’t have answers to any of my questions, but only his perspective on things. It was not enough for my greedy heart, not that night. 

So I asked C, “Mr. Senator, what do you tell fools like me? What should we do now?”. 

C looked at me and in his calm and assured voice said, “Know how the Government works, know what it does, know all that is good that is at risk and then fight for it. Dig deep, find what you believe in, and stand up for those things, talk to your representatives in the Government about them. Make them accountable. Find out what’s happening in your community. You don’t always have to fight the President for every issue, look out for the vulnerable in your neighborhood, the elderly, the homeless, the refugees. Be useful to them. You should do this regardless of who is in the office, there is no time like now for fighting for the good and right. And most importantly, do not let the outcomes define your actions. “ 

There, that was enough, enough for my heart that night and every night since that night. My brain had emptied out of the chaos and was a lot more clearer. What C said wasn’t new. I knew it all along, but just needed to be reminded. And that night, there in the middle (mitad) of (del) the world (mundo), with the two hemispheres on either side of me, I felt like my brain had emptied out of the hopelessness and filled with a new vigor.

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The Music of Trains

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Indian Railways are the arteries of the nation. They not only move a behemoth of its peoples, but also reflect a slice of life of the diversity of this land. Other modes of transports do not nearly compare to the romanticism and the experiences of a long distance train journey. I have a plethora of bitter sweet memories of traveling by trains in India, right from childhood until as recently as this month. Albeit, the number of train journeys I undertake now have greatly diminished, but even today every time I board a train, a certain thrill and excitement grips me. What I love about trains is the democratic nature of travel – you could be anyone in your stationary life, but once you are in a compartment with other travelers, all passengers live a “common” life for the duration of the journey. You could say the same about buses and planes, but where trains (especially the second class Indian trains), offer a freedom of movement and  interaction with other passengers that cannot be replicated on buses and planes. You share meals, you share stories, you sleep in close quarters to each other, you become a temporary family/society/community. I am not exaggerating when I say that you can literally find all of life’s emotions and experiences if you travel enough on Indian trains. I have had my fair share of experiences on the many journeys I have embarked on over the years. My romanticism primarily stems from these experiences, the sights and sounds of India you experience while watching the landscape unfold as the train rattles on. So, it is no surprise that Hindi films and their music has found a connection with trains. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was ubiquitous to find songs filmed in a train compartment in many movies. As air travel became more and more accessible, somehow songs shot in, or on trains became a rarity. This did not automatically translate into more songs being shot on air planes. The romanticism and the music that trains naturally provide is lost on air travel. This blog post is a compilation of songs that feature train travel. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. The reasons I chose these songs is based on a few criteria (aside from the obvious one that the song has to feature trains), each song meets at least one (if not all) of these:

  • the song is of high quality: composition/singing/lyrics OR
  • the song portrays a distinct emotion/feeling/situation OR
  • the cinematography or other film making techniques are unique OR
  • the actors on whom these are shot give a stellar performance OR
  • the song evokes cherished memories for me

The key to the index is:

Year of the film/Song Title/Title of the film/Singer(s)/Composer(s)/Lyricist

 

1942/Toofan Mail/Jawab/Kanan Devi/Unknown/Unknown

Unofficial claim, but this is probably the first Hindi film song about trains. Sung by and picturized on Kanan Devi who was an immensely popular singer/actress in the 30s and 40s. The simple (yet philosophical) lyrics of the song draws parallels of a train journey to life. “Koi kaheen ka tikat kataata, ik aata toh ik hai jaata; sabhi musafir bichhad jayenge pal bhar ka hai khel“. Such simplicity to explain life as an ephemeral train journey. Another trivia about the title of this song, Toofan Mail. “Mail” was a designation given to certain trains which carried passengers and also “post” from one city to another. Trains carry post to this day, but the term “Mail” in the name of a train has fallen out of fashion. While there is no written record of an actual train by the name of “Toofan Mail”, there however was a train called “Toofan Express”. Somewhere the idea of “Toofan Mail” took hold during the pre-independence era and this song immortalized that term. Films and film songs not only are a means of entertainment, but can also be looked at as documentation of a bygone era and this song is a proof of that.

1943/Hum chale vatan ki aur/Kashinath/Asit Saran/Pankaj Mullick/Pandit Bhushan

Such an upbeat composition from Pankaj Mullick, full of optimism and anticipation. Another reason I find this song, unique is that it is one unbroken shot (referred to as a “tracking shot”). You have to imagine, this is 1943, there weren’t moving dollies or multiple cameras, and films had to largely rely on a single (mostly) fixed camera. The director and cinematographer here are using the light they have on the set – a fan blowing on the actor to give an impression of a moving train combined with an occasional shadow from a tree or a building that we do not see. You can see the inside of the compartment, the luggage storage and the windows on the other side. The actor moves from the window to the door of the compartment and back and the camera follows him. Beautiful effects with limited means.

1950/Dhak dhak karti chali/Dilruba/Geeta Dutt/Gyan Dutt/D N Madhok

The song itself is quite ordinary, but the shot taking and the situation is unique. The song opens with that classic shot of a fast approaching train from the front and the camera pans as the train zooms past it, followed by the beautiful dance of the rail tracks that we all usually see from moving trains. The camera then gets inside the compartment (which is clearly a studio set) and we see a tabla player, a harmonium player and the feet of a woman tapping to the rat-a-tat rhythm of the train. The rest of the song is full of extended shots of a dancer entertaining a rich man (a client? a husband? a lover?) to a steady Tabla beat that is imitating the sounds of a train. She has a whole troupe of musicians with her and the train compartment becomes an intimate performance theater for the man in the suit. The song intercuts with stock footage of outdoor scenes of white fluffy clouds strewn across the vast Indian plains.

1954/Aao bachchon tumhe dikhaye/Jagriti/Kavi Pradeep/Hemant Kumar/Kavi Pradeep

This song was a staple for the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations. You could hear it on Doordarshan, Aakashwani, and on the loudspeakers in most schools. As soon as I hear this song even today, it brings back memories of those early childhood days when the airwaves were filled with this and other patriotic songs. Kavi Pradeep was well-known for his passionate nationalistic poetry. He got into trouble with one of his first hits from the 1943 movie Kismet – “Door hato aye duniyawalo Hindustan humaara hai“. This song drew the ire of the ruling British government, causing Kavi Pradeep to go into hiding. Post independence he penned many memorable songs, the most popular being “Aye mere watan ke logo“. Aao bachchon is a showcase of a song that describes the beauty and the legends of “Hindustan”, it is a song full of pride for the poet’s homeland.

1954/Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat/Nastik/Kavi Pradeep/C Ramchandra/Kavi Pradeep

If Aao bachchon shows Kavi Pradeep’s adulation for his homeland, this song shows his disappointment in it. I do not mean to say with surety that he was personally disillusioned by the world around him. The song may just be a demand from the film-maker for a certain situation in the movie. The song is shot on Ajit (who later found fame as a bad guy in many movies) and is sung by Kavi Pradeep himself and composed beautifully by C Ramchandra. C Ramchandra is usually not mentioned in the same breath as the other composers of that era (like Naushad or S D Burman), but he was one of the most versatile composers of the 50s. This is the same man who composed the rollicking Shola jo bhadke from Albela and the previously mentioned Aye mere watan ke logonDekh there sansar ki haalat is composed to a Bhajan like tune, but the words are anything but devotional, in fact it derides religions and the ills of religious strife.

Raam ke bhakt raheem ke bande, rachte aaj fareb ke fande;
Kitane yeh makkar yeh andhe; dekh liye inake bhi dhande;
Inhi ki kaali kartooton se hua yeh mulq masaan; kitana badal gaya insaan.

A constant theme you may see in the songs shot in trains is that the mood of the song and that of the actors pervades everyone in the compartment. For example, in this song, the entire compartment is morose. They seem to be infected by the same emotions that the song and the lead actors are conveying. I find this interesting, because the chances of this happening in real life are slim to none, but the film makers took the cinematic liberty to shoot train songs in this fashion and really it does not feel forced. Somehow, this seems believable that everyone in that compartment partakes in whatever emotions the song is trying to convey through the lead actors.

1954/Gaya Andhera/Subah ka Taara/Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mehmood/C Ramchandra/Noor Lucknowi

Another beautiful melody by C Ramchandra sung tenderly by Talat and Lata. The overall emotion is of a hopeful love and a bright future for the couple singing the song. There is something very pure about the song and the expressions of the lead actors, especially the heroine, played by Jayshree, one of the wives of the great director,  V Shantaram.

1958/Hai Apana Dil toh Awara/Solwa Saal/Hemant Kumar/S D Burman/Majrooh Sultanpuri

A lilting melody by the great Sachin Dev Burman shot on Dev Anand and the ethereal Waheeda Rehman. This song is quite popular even today, just google it and you will see hundreds of cover versions. Hemant Kumar is usually not associated as the playback voice for Dev Anand, but here his voice and Dev’s flirtatious expressions work very well. The use of mouth organ (which was played by SD’s son Rahul Dev Burman) in the interludes gives it an extempore like quality.  Majrooh’s words are simple but \profound in expressing the travesties of romantic souls, of those who fall in love like they catch a cold and yet, are unlucky in finding lasting love. More on the great Majrooh Sultanpuri, later.

“hua jo kabhi raazi, toh mila nahi qaazi; jahaan pe lagi baazi, wahin pe haara, zamaane bhar ka nakaara, na jaane kis pe aayega…”

1960/Apani toh har aah ek toofan hai/Kala Bazaar/Mohammed Rafi/S D Burman/Shailendra

 

 

The 50s and 60s are considered the golden era of Hindi film music. This song is yet another example of the all round creativity in song compositions, lyrics, and the way the song is filmed in the general context of the movie. Shailendra’s lyrics are perfect for the situation where Dev Anand is clearly addressing Waheeda who is on the upper berth but could also be construed to be addressing God.

apani toh har aah ek toofan hai, uparwaala jaana kar bhi anjaan hai”  The word “uparwaala” is used in its masculine form but that’s how God is typically addressed in Hindi, so the word conveys two meanings quite beautifully (for him his God is Waheeda, while the fellow passengers become convinced that he is addressing the actual God). SD’s quiet tune uses the rhythmic strumming of guitar to the rhythm of the moving train punctuated by the sounds of the train’s whistle. Mohammed Rafi sings it like a devotional song but adds a dash of naughtiness. Of course Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman enact it all on the screen so delicately that you can’t help but smile all along. This song (like many others from this era) is a wonderful example of all departments working together to create the overall impact of the song.

1960/Jaane wale sipahi se poocho/Usne Kaha tha/Manna Dey/Makhdoom/Shailendra

Trains move more people in India than any other mass transit medium. It is no surprise then that during wartimes, soldiers also use trains to report to their fronts from all over the country. Post-independence, India has fought (and continues to) a number of wars with its neighbors. Especially in the 60s, the young nation saw its defenses and its unity put to test. Hindi films resonated the wartime sentiments that were sweeping the nation at that time. This song is about soldiers leaving their loved ones behind to answer to the call of duty. The mood of this song is not that of nationalism, but the devastation that war leaves in its wake. Makhdoom’s poetry is gut-wrenching and Salil Chowdhary’s composition evokes an environment of doom (the wailing chorus is so apt):

कौन दुखिया है जो गा रही है
भूखे बच्चो को बहला रही है
लाश जलने की बू अ रही है
ज़िन्दगी है की चिल्ला रही है….जाने वाले सिपाही से पूछो
वो कहा जा रहा है

1961/Jiya o Jiya/Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai/Mohammed Rafi/Shankar-Jaikishen/Hasrat Jaipuri

An energetic and playful song sung with incredible gusto by Rafi. Dev is on top of a car singing to the heroine, Asha Parekh who is riding the train. This format has been used numerous times in later years (Mere sapnon ki rani from Aradhana, for example). The song was a rage in it’s time and one can see why Dev Anand was such a successful romantic icon of his days.

1962/Cheel cheel chillake/Half Ticket/Kishore Kumar/Salil Chowdhary/Shailendra

Kishore Kumar at his uninhibited bufoonery best! He is wearing a skull cap and a boy scout outfit with round rim glasses. The rest of the folks in the train are from different walks of the society, men in suits, vendors, children, a team of musicians, young women, a money-lender, policemen, etc. Shailendra’s poetry outwardly reads like a nursery rhyme full of absurdism, but he brings social issues in one of the verses:

गोल मोल गोल मोटे लाला शौक़ीन, 

तोंद में छुपाये हैं चिराग ए आलादीन;  

तीन को हमेशा करते आये साढ़े तीन ; 

ज़रा नाप ज़रा टोल इसे लूट उसे छीन.. अरे वाह वाह वाह ….

1962/Na bhavra na koi gul/Aarti/Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosale/Roshan/Majrooh Sultanpuri

When every major composer of the golden era had a song set in a train, why should Roshan be an exception. Aarti has a stellar soundtrack (my personal favorite is the Lata number: Kabhi toh milegi, kahi toh milegi, baharon ki manzil).  This youthful Asha-Rafi duet is picturized not on the lead pair of Ashok Kumar and Meena Kumari but the side-kicks, Rajendra Nath and an unidentified actress. I love the general casual mood of the song, further accentuated by the performers eating moong-falli from paper cones. Trivia: Roshan is the father of actor/director Rakesh Roshan, composer Rajesh Roshan and grandfather of Hrithik Roshan. Rajendra Nath’s sister, Krishna was married to Raj Kapoor ,making her the grandmother of Kareena, Karishma and Ranbeer Kapoor.

1964/Ek matwala aaj chala/Aap ki Parchayiyaan/Mohammed Rafi/Madan Mohan/Raha Mehdi Ali Khan

Madan Mohan is usually celebrated today for his haunting melodies sung by Lata (lag ja gale, has found a new life all of sudden). It is refreshing to hear his other not so serious compositions, like this forgotten song picturized on a young and handsome Dharmendra. Once again, note the religious diversity of the people in the train compartment.

1969/Mere Sapnon ki Rani/Aaradhana/Kishore Kumar/S D Burman/Anand Bakshi

Well, who doesn’t know this song? A truly iconic song for a number of reasons: Rajesh Khanna established himself as a Super Star with Aradhana and ruled the Hindi films for most of the 70s. SD’s favorite male singer was Rafi, but by the time Aradhana happened, even he had caved in to the youthful voice of Kishore Kumar. The soundtrack and the film was a blockbuster in 1969. It was the last year of the 60s, which is now regarded as the Golden era of Hindi Hindi film music. From the 70s, westernized sound became a mainstay and Hindi film music was never the same again.

1970/Koi na jaane ram/Maa aur Mamta/Manna Dey/Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Anand Bakshi

The first time Laxmikant-Pyarelal feature on this list. The mood of the song is sadness and one of my favorite actresses, Nutan does a fine job of channeling this sadness. Her grace is the only reason for this song to have made it to the list.

1974/Gaadi bula rahi hai/Dost/Kishore Kumar/Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Anand Bakshi

I have a distinct childhood memory of this song. Its 1981, I am about 6 years old, playing by a park near our house in Aurangabad and this song is playing on someone’s radio transistor. I am not sure why this memory has stayed with me, but I think it’s probably the sound of the train incorporated in the instrumentation of the song. Other than that, I don’t find anything great with this composition or the lyrics.

1974/Hum donon do premi/Ajnabee/Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar/R D Burman/Anand Bakshi

Dost and Ajnabee came out in the same year, 1974 and both had lyrics by Anand Bakshi. Both the songs incorporate the sounds of trains in their instrumentation, and yet both convey different moods. This song is laden with romantic abandon and freedom which might be an outcome of RDs use of a pahadi tune. I also like the picturization of this song on a goods train (as against a passenger train in most songs from this list). And lastly, Zeenat Aman’s cool candor further adds to this sense of freedom and rebellion.

1975/Bombay se Baroda tak/Rafoo Chakkar/Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar, Mahesh Kumar/Kalyanji-Anandji/Gulshan Bawra

What a sight it is to see Rishi Kapoor and Paintal in drag having a whale of time. They seem to be fully invested in the absurdist premise of the song. At one point Paintal starts singing in a male voice only to be reminded by Rishi in-song to switch back to the female (Usha Mangeshkar’s) voice. Rafoo Chakkar was a remake of the 1959 Marilyn Monroe hit Some Like it Hot and was also a huge hit in 1975.

1977/Dhanno ki aankhon mein/Kitaab/R D Burman/R D Burman/Gulzar

Up until now we had songs sung by and shot on the passengers of the trains. This is the first of the only two songs in this list which puts the spotlight on those who are driving the train. Not a surprise that this is from a movie written and directed by Gulzar, who has a penchant of not relegating the obviously overlooked people by the wayside. The first time I heard this song in my college days, I was dumbfounded by the audacity of everything about it – the singing, the unusual composition, and the lyrics. Who is this Dhanno? What does he mean by Raat ka Soorma and pray, what does one make of Chaand ka Chumma? Nothing made sense, and yet I found myself under a hypnotic spell of this song. Note that I had no visuals to aid me. When I finally saw the movie and aided with the visuals, the song took some meaning. The song is sung by a train driver who is calling out to his lover (Dhanno) as the train passes by her village. This is probably his usual route and we are given a tiny glimpse of his life as a “full” person and not just a side character in a movie. He also becomes a person, and shown to have relationships and stories like you and I. So, why wouldn’t he be singing a song in Hindi movies, even though he is not the central character in this story? You will find this trait of Gulzar humanizing the fringe that occupy our world without pointing a finger at the them in many of this films. He makes us take notice of all “persons” without patronizing us or exploiting them. The next time you are riding the train, it makes you think about the driver or the guard or that guy who came to clean your coach, about who they are leaving behind as they get along with their jobs of taking us to our destinations.

1979/Suniye Kahiye/Baton Baton Mein/Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosale/Rajesh Roshan/Amit Khanna

Rajesh Roshan (the son of Roshan) did not quite reach the heights that his father did, but managed to give an some decent melodious music in his career (he is now restricted to just composing for his director brother, Rakesh Roshan). I love the music of Baton Baton Mein, and especially love this song for the way Kishore and Asha have sung it, there is a soapy frothiness to their singing. While the entire song may not be set on a train, it still deserves a place on this list because the Bombay local trains form a major plot point in this lovely romantic comedy about the Anglo-Indian community of Bombay. The Bombay locals are a lifeline for the millions of her residents. They say, everything that could happen in life from giving birth to dying does happen on these locals. So it was only a matter of time that they featured in Hindi film songs. In this song, the lead couple are going through their dating rituals while commuting in the city. There is a strange lost innocence to everything that is shown in this song. I feel that place, that Bombay, that music, that uncomplicated way of living, has been lost. Of course, I am romanticizing the past, but then music has that power over me, so let me. (And how can I not mention two other things: 1) David – This actor embodies the patronly, jovial, progressive thinking elder who is always there to mediate between the young and the old generations in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ & Basu Chatterjee films. All of us have craved for a David in our lives to make our parents understand our angst in our teenage years. 2) How delicately beautiful Tina Munim looks!)


We venture into the 80s now, and there is a sharp drop in the number of songs on trains from here on. The next three and half decades barely have 10 songs in all. That’s barely three songs for every 10 years. Not to mention, the quality of the music also drops drastically. However, they do have memories associated with them, since your truly had arrived on this planet by then.


1980/Logon ka dil agar/Man Pasand/Mohammed Rafi, Tina Munim/Rajesh Roshan/Amit Khanna

This song from an awful remake of My Fair Lady features only because for the first time we see an entire song shot on a local train in Bombay. And also, Mohammed Rafi’s voice as Dev Anand’s voice (Kishore Kumar had replaced him as Dev’s voice after Guide). Ravi had ceased to be a mainstay in playback singing by the 80s, so its good to hear him through an actor who together built a solid body of work in early years of their careers. (A coincidence that the last song of the 70s and the first of the 80s have three things in common – Rajesh Roshan, Amit Khanna and Tina Munim).

1980/Pal do pal ka saath hamaara/The Burning Train/Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi/R D Burman/Sahir Ludhianvi

This is the first (and the only) song from the Qawwalli genre to feature on this list. Not only is the song shot in a train, but a large part of this so-bad-its-so-good movie is also shot in/on a train, which ends up burning (well, the title does give it away). Both Rafi and Asha are in full form right from the opening alaap. Everybody who was a somebody at that time, is in this movie (no really, look up the IMDB or Wikipedia entry for this film), Funnily enough, everyone’s playback is Rafi and Asha. Hey, they had to save the money somewhere on this mega-budget epic movie (which ended up losing a lot of money for its producers). The lyrics by Sahir are also in sync with the temporary aspect of a train journey and life itself.

1981/Hoga tumse pyaara kaun/Zamaane ko dikhana hai/Shailender Singh/R D Burman/Majrooh Sultanpuri

There it is, RD using the Pahadi tune again! This film was supposed to be the next blockbuster from the Nasir Hussain production house (who in the previous years had given phenomenally successful films like Yaadon ki Baraat and Hum Kisise Kam Nahi). Nasir Hussain retained RD as the composer, who for some unknown reason, decided to not have Kishore for any of the songs and instead had Shailender Singh be the lead singer for the entire album. This is the only claim to fame of this singer who for a brief period was known as the voice of Rishi Kapoor. The film failed miserably but its music endures among ardent RD fans. (Admittedly, its sub-par compared to Yaadon ki baraat or Hum Kisise Kam Nahi).

1982/Haathon ki chand lakeeron ka/Vidhaata/Suresh Wadkar, Anwar/Kalyanji-Anandji/Anand Bakshi

Another song shot on the drivers or the trains, in this case though they are the leads of this Subhash Ghai film. The 80s was all about finding a replacement for Rafi’s voice, Anwar was one such Rafi-light (Mohammed Aziz was another, who had a slightly longer run than Anwar). I love to watch this song, to see Dilip Kumar and Shammi Kapoor sharing screen space together. They do this filmy natural-ness that is rarely to be seen in today’s actors.

1984/Mujhe tum yaad karna/Mashaal/Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar/Hridaynath Mangeshkar/Javed Akhtar

So far, we have had songs on moving trains, this song is a departure. It’s set around stationary trains in a train yard. I have memories of Maharashtra Express (the train we would take to travel between my hometown and my college town) before pulling into Nagpur Station. It would slowly crawl through an area which is popularly referred to as “outer” where many coaches and locomotives are parked awaiting their turn to go someplace in this vast nation. Looking at them quietly sitting there, the whole logistical complexity of running a network like the Indian Railways would boggle me (it still does). This song, is like a little nod to that memory of those coaches and locomotives in the “outer”. On a trivia note, this movie was produced and directed by Yash Chopra based on a Marathi play called “Ashroonchi zaali fule”. It was his last social drama before he moved on to full on romantic films.

1994/Deewana dil deewana/Kabhi haan Kabhi naa/Amit Kumar, Udit Narayan/Jatin-Lalit/Majrooh Sultanpuri

The 90s arrive and with them bring a breed of new composers, actors, singers! But what remains the same are the lyricists. This youthful song is written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, who was about 75 years by 1994. Majrooh has been writing lyrics right from the 40s to the tail end of the 90s, a career that span almost 60 years. His contribution to Hindi film music is monumental. Just think for a while, Majrooh’s songs have been sung by K L Saigal and Udit Narayan, have been shot on Meena Kumari and Juhi Chawla, have been composed by Naushad and Anand-Milind. Show me another pop culture personality in the entire world whose contributions span (and left their mark) so many generations? Back to this song, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na was one of Shahrukh’s earliest films. Suchitra Krishnamoorty (who eventually married director Shekhar Kapoor) was the heroine. You can also spot Ashutosh Gowariker (the drummer in the video) who later directed Aamir Khan in Lagaan and then Shahrukh in Swades. This film also marked a beginning of a successful stint for Jatin-Lalit who churned out a number of hit soundtracks in the 90s.

1998/Chaiyya Chaiyaa/Dil Se/Sukhwinder Singh, Sapna Awasthi/A R Rahman/Gulzar

The one song that made A R Rahman establish himself in the Hindi Film-world. Don’t get me wrong, he was already popular in the non Tamil world, but Dil Se established him as a legitimate pan-Indian composer. I distinctly remember listening to the songs of Dil Se on a trip from Pune to Mahabaleshwar in peak monsoon. The lushness of the green of the Western Ghats in the monsoon is unparalleled. To me, Chaiyya Chaiyya forever is tied with my memory of being soaked to the bone while riding my friend’s Kawasaki Bajaj on the misty roads of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani. Sukhwinder Singh and Sapna Awasthi bring a rustic earthiness to Rahman’s composition of Gulzar’s complex but beautiful poetry. A very young & fresh looking Shahrukh Khan does his energetic shtick while a nubile Malaika Arora (who was known for just this one song until Munni happened and then she was known just for that) contorts with a bunch of Rajasthani musicians on top of a train, that seems to be far away from Rajasthan. The whole picturization and the placement of the song in the film itself is quite gimmicky, but nonetheless, it remains an iconic “train” song, only because it’s shot on a train. I have always found Mani Ratnam’s placement of many of the songs in his films quite abrupt and regionally confusing (like the Rajasthani musicians in the Nilgiris). If it was another casual film-maker, say David Dhawan, not demeaning David, just saying that he doesn’t take his films so seriously, so as an audience, I give him a lot of leeway. But Mani’s films are supposed to be “artier” and yet his regional sensibilities just don’t hit the spot (I have received many a angry glares whenever I bring this up in a group). But, that’s for another post, lets get back to the trains.

2005/Dhadak dhadak/Bunty aur Babli/Udit Narayan, Sunidhi Chauhan/Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy/Gulzar

Not since “Gaadi bulaa rahi hai” we have a song in this list that directly talks about “trains”. Gulzar, of course is using trains here as a mere medium for Bunty and Babli, the lead pair of the film who hail from small towns of India, to achieve their big aspirations. The mood here is that of hope, ambition, and a can-do spirit. It’s a theme that is not far removed from reality. Thousands of Indians from small towns and villages migrate to large cities with their full hearts and empty pockets in search of their destinies.

2005/Kasto Mazaa/Parineeta/Sonu Nigam, Shreya Ghoshal/Shantanu Moitra/Swanand Kirkire

The oft-used pahadi tune makes an appearance again, this time its Shantanu Moitra doing the composing to Swanand Kirkire’s beautiful words. The tune is melodious in that old wordly way and weaves in the train sounds quite effortlessly. You can almost see Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman or Asha Parekh in this song. Vidya Balan does a fine job of evoking that demure quality of the yesteryear Hindi film heroine. I have fond memories with the soundtrack of Parineeta. We had just moved into our first house and we would play the soundtrack of Parineeta (and Hazaron Khwaishein Aisee) over and over again while unpacking boxes or arranging furniture and when Kasto Mazaa would come on, I would have an extra spring in my step.

2011/Mannu Bhaiyya/Tanu Weds Manu/Sunidhi Chauhan, Niladri, Ujjaini, Rakhi Chand/Krsna/Rajshekhar

This song gets the milieu of the middle class Indian wedding party traveling together on a train in the 3-tier sleeper. If you don’t know what the previous statement means, well, you won’t until you have lived it. The way Aanand Rai has shot this song (and his movies, which are set in small town India), it tells me he has lived this life. This life of growing up in second tier cities, with a plethora of relatives constantly in your business. For someone like me who has also lived a similar life in his early years, there is an intense feeling of familiarity with the world he creates in this song (and his movies).


 

That’s where this journey ends for now. As you can see, the list spans over half a century. It’s by no means an encyclopedia of all Hindi film songs about trains. If you think of any songs that deserve a mention, or want to share your memories associated with the songs listed above, I would love to hear about them.

Gulzar Kuch Khoye Hue Nagme – 23

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Song: Din jaa rahe hain

Film: Doosri Seeta (1974)

Composer: Rahul Dev Burman

Singer: Lata Mangeshkar

It’s not new news that Lata was capable of expressing every possible human emotion in her singing. This song from a forgotten film of 1974, is just another exhibit of the colossal vocal prowess of this woman. Gulzar’s poetry here is loaded with despair, of a complete hopeless existence:

Din jaa rahe hain ke raaton ke saaye, Apani saleebein aap hi uthaye..
(my) days are passing like the shadows of nights, each one of us has to bear our own crosses (burdens)..

For words filled with such despair, RD’s haunting tune has all the bearings of doom and gloom. The song has minimal instruments when Lata is singing (a mild strumming of the guitar can be heard in the background). Her singing and the tune have a quality of a woman wailing from the darkness of the depths of an empty well. During the interludes, RD uses the guitar and the flute quite wonderfully to further accentuate this effect. Note in the interlude right after the second antara. Notice how the guitar strumming follows the sharp but tapering sound of the flute. What we have here is the composer, the poet and the singer completely in-sync with the mood of the musical piece they are creating together.

Doosri Seeta was the directorial debut of one of RD’s lifelong friends, Gogi Anand. The only salable star of the film, was it’s heroine – Jaya Bhaduri (before she became Bachchan). Jaya had given a string of successful hits in the early 70s. Aside from her, there wasn’t much going for this film and it is quite evident that RD, who was a very successful hit-making composer by then, did this film purely for his friend. This film also is only the second outing of the now legendary combination of : sangeetkar hai Rahul Dev Burman aur bol hai Gulzar ke. In 1972, RD had composed music for Gulzar’s directorial venture – Parichay – which was their first of many collaborations (coincidentally, also starring Jaya Bhaduri).  Parichay was a successful film,  musically as well as at the box office. In 1975, RD and Gulzar teamed up once again for two other successful films – Aandhi and Khushboo (both directed by Gulzar). Doosri Seeta, lies in the middle of these more famous collaborations and was largely forgotten until, after RD’s untimely death in 1994. The songs from this film found a new life after RD’s fans started combing through his forgotten music. I have heard this and other such forgotten gems on FM radio stations in India, and they still hold the power to grab my rapt attention at the very first note.

दिन जा रहे हैं के रातों के साये
अपनी सलीबें आप ही उठाये

जब कोई डूबा रातों का तारा
कोई सवेरा वापस ना आया
वापस जो आये वीरान साये
दिन जा रहे हैं…

जीना तो कोई मुश्किल नहीं था
मगर डूबने को साहिल नहीं था
साहिल पे कोई अब तो बुलाये
दिन जा रहे हैं…

साँसों की डोरी टूटे ना टूटे
ज़रा ज़िन्दगी से दामन तो छूटे
कोई ज़िन्दगी के हाथ ना आये
दिन जा रहे हैं…

Walk in their shoes

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Warning: A rant of a post.

I have heard too many people (including some friends) say, or support those who say –  “Farmers & activists/organizations who fight for farmer’s rights should stop romanticizing agriculture and grow up to face the fact that it needs to be run as a ‘business’ just like every other profession/vocation is.”

Those who say this or support this, unsurprisingly have little or no first hand knowledge or experience in farming. They dole out this completely idiotic & unnecessary drivel of an opinion, from their cushy existence. Most of them have no clue of what it takes in today’s market driven economy to grow a decent crop – harvest it – sell it at a fair price – make some profit – and feed their families. Disclaimer – I have no direct experience in farming as well. All I know is from the folks who I know are farmers or are working with farmers. I know from them that this profession is at a tipping point due to unfair advantages given by governments to corporations, and the errant climate patterns. This knowledge is enough for me to bear  a humility of not barking my opinions on how farming should or should not be done.

After all, how many of us have to rely on predictable weather and rainfall for our paychecks? Do we have to fight with wildlife encroaching our work spaces? Do we have to buy expensive seeds/fertilizers for our power point presentations (only to find out that we have to buy them again for the next presentation)? Do we know what a “failed crop” really does to a farmer? Have we toiled the soil?

It’s so easy to chastise farming and farmers – they have been portrayed and played up as victims by the media  (and to a degree, albeit rightfully, by the farmers themselves). So it’s easy to shift the blame on the victims, instead of standing up against the policies that have failed the farmers repeatedly and systematically. Am I saying that all farmers are holier than thou? No, I am sure there are rogue ones, but that’s not the point. The point is, you are not a fucking farmer –  so stop thinking that you have the right to advice on what they should or shouldn’t do. Would you want a farmer to tell you how to do your job better? No, right? Well fuck that, s/he has no time to spare in giving you advice, s/he is preoccupied with way too many things – & remember one of his/her worries is directly related to what and how you feed yourself and your kids. So the next time, you think you can spare a word of wisdom to a farmer, try to be one, try to walk in their shoes for just one season and then you are qualified to share your precious thoughts. Until then, shut the fuck up. That’s all!

2016 – Musically Speaking!

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Time for the yearly list of my favorites in film music. They are listed in no particular order and are drawn from what I managed to get my hands on.

Mirzya/Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy/Gulzar

Mirzya is my favorite album of the year. The year was full of pedestrian music from the likes of Ankit Tiwari, Mithoon, Amaal Malik, Badshah, etc. It’s unable to tell one song from another – be it in composition or the vapid poetry. With Mirzya, Shankar Ehsaan and Loy redeemed the year with an album full of grandiose and daring compositions. Aided by Gulzar’s sublime poetry every song shines uniquely. Sounds that blend in Rajasthani folk with techno (Chakora, Hota hai), Hindustani Classical with Western symphony (Kaaga). The overall effect not only brings an auditory bliss but also paints a visual with its soundscapes. While I like all songs from the album, a few of my favorites are:

Doli re doli: Shankar Mahadevan spills his heart out in this take on the girl-leaving-her -father’s-abode genre song. Set to a New Orleans jazz/brass sound, the song tugs at my heartstrings. And then there is this poetry,  just makes my heart bleed dry:

बारा मास खिलायो बाबुल
सावन झूला झुलाओ बाबुल
नैना रैना काटी मैया
लोरी गान सुनाओ बाबुल
चौखट पार जो पैर धरे तो
तो मैं लेन-देन चुकाओ बाबुल ..

Gulzar saab – Never stop writing, please!

Hota hai: The energetic singing by the Nooran sisters had me literally jumping out of my chair the first time I heard it. Sarangi, Dholki, & Ghungroo meet techno for an hypnotic effect.

Ek Nadi Thi: Opens with the Nooran sisters’ alaap, followed by Mohan Kannan’s voice which fills the room and then the a cappella joins them. The three sounds play with other deftly to create an effect of three rivers gushing into each other. The “nadi(river)” is a metaphor for Sahibaan who was torn because she wanted to hold on to her family and her love (which her family was against) at the same time: एक नदी थी दोनों किनारे थाम के बहती थी…

Aave re Hitchki: Shankar’s voice along with the chorus, guitar, and sarangi create an ecosystem of their own in this addictive melody. Gulzar’s poetry is a throwback to that now forgotten notion that a hiccup (hitchki) is an indicator that someone (someone beloved) is thinking of you! This song takes me to places and times I had forgotten (and that to me is the success of any art-form: transport me somewhere away from my current state).

Sairat/Ajay-Atul

Sairat zala ji:Chinmayi Sripada-Ajay, Attach baya ka:Shreya Ghoshal, Yad lagala:Ajay

These three songs of Sairat had me in raptures. Ajay-Atul have always shown a penchant to using Western Symphonies in their music in the past, but the way they have used them in Sairat is unprecedented – strings, woodwinds, brass, horns & percussion – all of them blend in seamlessly with the Marathi-ness of the lyrics and the base melodies. The soundtrack is an example of the “language” of music . Each track is tender and rousing at the same time. Also, the production design of this soundtrack is astounding: listen to the original tracks with decent headphones and I swear to Mozart, if you aren’t swept away in the interludes of “Sairat zala ji” or “Yad lagala”, you are dead inside, DEAD!

Fitoor/Amit Trivedi/Hone do Batiyaan: Zeb Bangash, Nandini Srikar/Swanand Kirkire

Two estranged lovers or two estranged nations, Swanand Kirkire’s poetry applies to both situations. Nandini and Zeb lend a conversational quality to this delicate melody – which is what Swanand’s words are all about: होने दो बातें होने दो बतियाँ. Amit blends Kashmiri/Pakistani/Afghani musical instruments like Saz, Santoor, Rubab to create an atmosphere relevant to the situation in the film (the song is filmed at a Indo-Pak unity concert).

Ikk kudi/Udta Punjab/Amit Trivedi/Shahid Mallya/Shiv Kumar Batalvi

Thanks to the makers of Udta Punjab to breathe new life into Shiv Kumar Batalvi‘s work and remind the youth of today about this forgotten poet. Ikk kudi has been one of his most recited/recorded poems and it worked beautifully in the narrative of Udta Punjab. Amit’s composition has tranquility and Shahid Mallya sings Batalvi’s beautiful words with great sadness and passion.

Channa Mereya/Ae dil hai Mushkil/Pritam/Arijit Singh/Amitabh Bhattacharya

Arijit Singh is everywhere! 9 out of 10 of his songs sound the same, the texture of his voice is the same and the lyrics are more or less the same. Not his fault, all popular singers have at one point in time made the most of their popularity (or the lack of it) by singing most anything that came their way – Lata, Rafi, Asha, Kishore from the golden era to Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Sonu Nigam, Udit Narayan in the more recent past. So kind of unfair to call him out, but it is so.

Once in a while, however comes a song that is not merely an Arijit song, but is elevated by beautiful words. In Channa Mereya, Amitabh Bhattacharya’s poetry towers over everything else. Amitabh, in a short span (he started with Aamir in 2008), has written an immensely diverse set of lyrics and has become a leading filmy poet of this decade (in my opinion of course).

Channa Mereya is about unrequited love – it reeks of the songs from yore – the kind that were once mouthed by the likes of Guru Dutt or Rajendra Kumar – full of self pity and the stabbing aches of a love that has slipped away.

अच्छा चलता हूँ, दुआओं में याद रखना
मेरे ज़िक्र का जुबां पे स्वाद रखना

दिल के संदूकों में मेरे अच्छे काम रखना
चिट्ठी तारों में भी मेरा तू सलाम रखना

अँधेरा तेरा मैंने ले लिया
मेरा उजला सितारा तेरे नाम किया, चन्ना मेरेया मेरेया

Pritam’s composition opens with a melancholic mood in the above lines and traverses into full on ecstatic pain mode in the end:

तेरे रुख से अपना रास्ता मोड़ के चला..
चन्दन हूँ मैं अपनी खुशबू छोड़ के चला..

मन की माया रख के तेरे तकिये तले
बैरागी का सूती चोला ओढ़ के चला…..चन्ना मेरेया मेरेया

Massive emosional ride this one!

Haanikaarak bapu/Dangal/Pritam/ Sarwar Khan & Sartaz Khan Barna/Amitabh Bhattacharya

In the same season that Amitabh writes Channa Mereya, he writes these words:

टॉफ़ी चूरन खेल खिलोने
कुलचे नान पराठा
केह गए हैं टाटा
जबसे बापू तूने डाटा
जिस उम्र में शोभा देते मस्ती सैर सपाटा

उस उम्र को नाप रहा है
क्यूँ घडी का कांटा!

तेल लेने गया रे बचपन
झड गयी रे फुलवारी
कर रहे हैं जाने कैसी
जंग की तैयारी
सोते जागते छूट रही है
आंसू की पिचकारी
फिर भी खुश ना हुआ मोगाम्बो
हम तेरे बलिहारी

तेरी नज़रों में क्या हम इतने नालायक हैं

रे तुझसे बेहतर तो अपनी  हिंदी फिल्मो के खलनायक हैं
बापू सेहत के लिए…तू तो हानिकारक है

If you have’t seen Dangal, these words may not make a whole lot of sense. But if you have, these words neatly summarize the predicament of the Phogat sisters. It would have taken miles of film-stock to explain their condition. (Ok, Nobody uses film anymore, but you get my point!) Amitabh gets  into a child’s head and uses words that are very much from a child’s world, and then adds the local flavor of Haryana by using the lingo of the region. The song combines wit (fir bhi khush na hua mogambo), innocence (churan, toffee, sair-sapata, paratha, etc.) and yet maintains a natural poetic meter. Pritam’s composition and the singers compliment Amitabh’s words to create an overall satisfactory listening/viewing experience. I find myself with a smile on my lips and my heart every time I listen to this one!

Gilehriyaan/Dangal/Pritam/Jonita Gandhi/Amitabh Bhattacharya

What a departure this song is from Hanikarak or Channa Mereya in which Amitabh tackles the feelings of an adolescent girl who is discovering the joys of being a normal/free girl.

रंग बदल बदल के क्यूँ चहक रहे हैं दिन दुपहरियां?….मैं जानू ना जानू ना जानू ना जानू ना
क्यूँ फुदक फुदक के धडकनों की चल रही गिलहरियाँ?….मैं जानू ना जानू ना जानू ना जानू ना

The song is shot on the older Geeta Phogat who is living away from her strict father’s watchful eye for the very first time. She is seeing the world around her in a whole different perspective. Amitabh’s choice of words are delightful  – gilehriyaan, maskara, teheniyaan, zayka, kechehriyaan – which demands Pritam’s composition to have a lilting inquisitiveness to it. Jonita Gandhi’s soft vocals complete the overall effect – you can sense Geeta’s freedom, longing, joy, skepticism, and effervescence. Maan gaye Amitabh!

Kho gaye hum kahaan/Baar Baar Dekho/Jasleen Royal/Jasleen Royal, Prateek Kuhad/Prateek Kuhad

Jasleen Royal owns this simple melody with her textured voice and a simple composition. I first noticed her voice in Preet from the under-rated Khoobsurat from 2014. Her voice has a feel of stark honesty to it – hard to explain what I mean by that, but it’s like she is singing (or rather humming) right next to you without any technical aids. In Hindi it can be explained as “Gaati nahi hai bus gungunaati hai“. In Kho gaye hum kahaan, it’s this gungunaane waali quality that won me over.

 

Mai ri Mai/Parched/Neeti Mohan, Harshdeep Kaur/Hitesh Sonik/Swanand Kirkire

Neeti Mohan, who rocked 2015 with her full-throated singing in Bombay Velvet is a different singer in this delicate composition by Hitesh Sonik. Harshdeep Kaur, also known for her vocal heft (Katiya karoon from Rockstar, Heer from Jab tak hai jaan, Nachde ne saare from Baar baar dekho), joins her with the same cadence. An interesting choice of singers by Hitesh Sonik (who is  Sunidhi Chauhan’s husband and an assistant/arranger for a number of Vishal Bharadwaj’s albums).

Safed Kameez

आज शाम बादल कुछ ऐसे खुले जैसे अचानक कपड़ोंसे भरी सन्दूक खुल जायेँ,

ऊन सी मोटी मोटी बूँदें सड़क को डुबोने लगी,

और तुम्हारी दी हुयी वह सफ़ेद कमीज कीचड से लथ पथ होने लगी ।

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!