Movie: Kabuliwala (1966)
Music Director: Salil Choudhury
Singer: Hemant Kumar

In 1966 Bimal Roy Productions adapted the short novella of Rabindranath Tagore Kabuliwala” to the silver screen. Salil Chaudhury composed the music to Gulzar’s poetry. Manna Dey’s soulful rendition of “Aye mere pyaare watan” still evokes emotions in all those who have left their homelands in search of a better life in a distant foreign nation. The song that got overshadowed by the popularity of the above song was the one sung by Hemant Kumar – “Ganga aaye kahaan se”.

The composition purely relies on the vocals and makes minimal use of musical instruments – the most prominent being a one string instrument and a small percussion instrument (called – duff or duggi) used in rural eastern India. Gulzar uses Ganga as a larger being to drive home the point: “Equality amongst religion, color, race, social status, languages and caste”. Gulzar shies away from using Urdu or difficult Hindi words, instead chooses light rural slang, sample these: Maati instead of Mitti, Ujiyaaraa instead of Ujiyaalaa, Kaari instead of Kaali.

Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re aaye kahaan se,
jaaye kahaan re laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re

raat kaari din ujiyaaraa mil gaye donon saaye
raat kaari din ujiyaaraa mil gaye donon saaye
saanjh ne dekho rang roop ke kaise bhed mitaaye re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re
Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re

Here, Gulzar masterfully uses the metaphor of evening (saanjh) to convey the message about how it eliminates (or mixes) the difference in the brightness of the day and the darkness of the night – the former being a reference to fairness/beauty and the latter being the dark skinned/ugly (could also be referenced to the caste system which was much more prevalent in the sixties).

kaanch koyi maatii koyi rang-birange pyaale
kaanch koyi maatii koyi rang-birange pyaale
pyaas lage to ek baraabar jis mein paani daale re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re
Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re

This one is my personal favorite of the three couplets. Translating this literally, he is saying that when one is thirsty it doesn’t matter how one drinks the water (of the Ganga) – through a cup made from clay or made from colorful glass. I leave the underlying meaning for you to figure out. Other than the meaning, what I really like about this couplet is the structure. He starts with describing the different types of cups in the first line, and then gets to saying that if you are thirsty, they are all the same when you fill them with water. It’s hard to structure it in English the same way, but if you listen to the song for the first time without knowing the subsequent line, it enhances the effect a thousand times than if it was structured linearly.

naam koyi boli koyi laakhon roop aur chehre
naam koyi boli koyi laakhon roop aur chehre
khol ke dekho pyar ki aankhen sab tere sab mere
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re
Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re
Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re

This one is straight: He is talking about how God has many names, forms, faces, but when viewed through the eyes of love, they are all the same – your (Gods) and my (Gods). Each couplet begins and ends with the reference to Gangaa which seems to be flowing for no purpose and from no particular place to no place in particular. Get it?

Overall, a song with an underlying message (without being too obviously preachy),a haunting melody and a distant quality in the voice of Hemant Kumar makes this a timeless classic.

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