How it sounded over the years (1970 – 1974)

The music in my head is very carefully organized in various files.  I was reading something about music therapy and the Proustian effect of melodies; how they can transport you to places where you’ve been.  Even Gabrielle Giffords is responding to music therapy as it helps her recover her speech.  If I ever need the restorative effects of such therapy I believe my mental files will come in very handy in resurrecting, reconstructing and restoring things for me.  The earliest discernible and autonomous recollections are from Patna.
Patna files (very early seventies):
The name Mujib-ur-Rehman was often heard.  There was a war going on.  
I remember a trip to Nainital and Mussoorie.  Dad was a botany professor at Patna’s Science College back then.  He had organized a “collection” trip to Nanital and Musoorie for all his students.  They used to collect and preserve various types of plants and leaves from the hills and dad used their finds as teaching opportunities.  Mom, my 2 year old brother and I had tagged along for a holiday.  
Somewhere along the trip we met several soldiers.  I remember mom saying – they were “jawaans“, a new addition to my growing Hindi vocabulary.  She encouraged me to talk to them.  I liked chatting them up.  That was my first sense of the heroism of “jawaans“.  My brother picked up the song “Aamar shonar Bangladesh“.  Why we sang about Bangladesh in India became clear much later.
Then came the construction of the Punaichak, Patna home.  I loved those days.  There was a big pool in the front of the house, I suppose it was used as a reservoir for construction purposes.  The majdoors (construction laborers) used to get water from there and use it to mix up the cement used for plastering the walls.  It was fascinating watching the bricks being placed, the plaster spread over them with a spatula and another brick placed on top as dad’s first home slowly took shape.  
The miniature reservoir was my favorite.  I know we saw the movie “Aadmi Aur Insaan” around that time.  Saira Banu was in a song where she was rowing a boat and singing, “Zindagi ke rang kai re, saathi re“.  I remember saying I imagined myself in a boat in that tiny reservoir singing,”Zindagi ke rang karenge“.   For the longest time I thought that’s what the lyrics said – zindagi ke rang karenge.
The day the construction was complete I remember the shiny and sparkly mosaic floors, freshly waxed.  We slid around it, the happiest we’d ever been.  The house was designed with so much love and so much attention to detail.  There were closet alcoves, a large kitchen, box windows my brother and I used to clamber into and make it like a tiny home within a home.  
I know dad often sang this lullaby for me, “Nanhi kali sone chali, hawa dheere aana” but my memories of hearing him sing this lullaby to me are associated with the Punaichak home.
Anand was the movie that came out around this time.  Its songs – ageless and timeless.  
Rajesh Khanna was everywhere with his Haathi Mere Saathi, Kati Patang, Saccha Jhootha.  I think my little brother had a “Rajesh Khanna shirt” too.  The songs on our lips were, “Chal chal chal mere haathi, oh mere saathi“, “Maine…tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne chune” and “Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye“.  
Mumtaz and Asha Parekh were equally ubiquitous.  I forget which movie but there was one where Mumtaz popularized something called a “lungi dress”.  At five, for some inexplicable reason, I was in love with the “lungi dress”.  My grandpa was the one who caved and finally bought me one.  I tried it on as soon as I got it and then came out to model it.  Grandpa took one look at me and said, “You look like Dalai Lama”.  That was it for the “lungi dress”. Much later, when I finally saw pictures of the Dalai Lama, I understood what he meant. 
I had a real early start with weird fascinations.  I remember the raisin incident from around the same time.  I decided I loved raisins one day and consumed one or two bags of it within the span of a couple of hours.  Unstoppable puking continued for the next few hours and that was it for raisins and me.  I haven’t touched them since.

It’s sad for me, in retrospect, to think that we didn’t live in the house dad built in Patna for more than a year or two.  It was truly a labor of love.  It was around for many years until it got sold around the time that my brother went to BITS Pilani but we never lived there again.  Many of our relatives did.

We moved to a place that not many people have heard of, a place called Sabour.  It is near the Bihari city of Bhagalpur and its claim to fame is an agricultural college.  This is where my dad’s next job took him.

Sabour files (early to mid-seventies)
I suppose it would be hard for a young US returned couple with two young kids to love a place like Sabour.  I don’t believe my parents were happy there.  I got the sense that there were many frustrations, financial woes and worries about ensuring a quality education for the two of us in the back of the beyond that Sabour was.  I accompanied my dad to his office one day and saw him tracing a cauliflower leaf on graph paper.  He didn’t seem too thrilled about it.  It must have been a far cry from his Caulerpa research days and electron microscopy in Hawaii.
Sabour’s only saving grace was the fact that my grandparents and all my mamas and mausis lived in Bhagalpur.  My mom’s two sisters (mausis) and five of her six brothers (mamas) lived there with my grandpa and nani (grandma).  They were always around, either visiting Sabour in grandpa’s official jeep or having us visit them in Bhagalpur, a few miles away.  I have fond memories of the time, I was happy in Sabour.  
We had an officially assigned living quarter.  There were many kids my age in the neighborhood and our quarters were surrounded with mango trees.  The Sony spool tape recorder was very active during this time.  Songs were recorded from the radio and on weekends it was open mike session where we’d record our own songs on to it. 
I remember the song “Haal chaal theek thak hai, sab kuch theek thaak hai“, especially the line, “gol mol roti ka pahiya chala, peeche-peeche chandi ka rupaiya chala“.  I found those lyrics fascinating as a six year old with no sense of its being a reflection of those times, of the educated and unemployed living in corrupt times of dearth (has anything changed one wonders?).
Then came Pakeezah.  The radio never stopped playing Pakeezah songs.  We had “Thaare rahiyo“, “Inhi logon ne” and “Mausam hai aashikana” which to me was the train whistle song.  We could hear the train whistling by where we lived in Sabour and we could hear it from the roof top of my grandparents’ place in Bhagalpur and every time I heard the train whistle I thought of the song.  Got some interesting words added to my vocabulary – like “shamiana“.  The dots connected later when we became the tenants of a family who were in the business of renting “shamianas” in Delhi.
Then there was “Inhi logon ne le lina dupatta mera” with its own strange vocabulary of “bajajwa” and “rangrejwa“.  I had no idea what these words meant for the longest time.  But they were fun to say.  There was also something in there about “asharfi gaz (we said gaj in Bihar) deena“.  I used to hear my dad talk about someone called Asharfi Ram in a not-so-complimentary fashion and always thought of “asharfigajdeena” and Asharfi Ram in the same spot in my brain.
My early memories of Hindi songs are littered with lyrical mondegreens.  Another one that came about was “Anamika tu bhi tarse“.  In conversations, when I heard my uncles, aunts, parents talk they would say things like, “Oo BHITAR se badmaash hai” (meaning someone was rotten to the core, not just superficially mischievous).  So when I saw the movie Anamika and Sanjeev Kumar appeared angry at Jaya Bhaduri while singing this song, for the longest time I thought he was accusing her of being rotten to the core by singing “Anamika tu BHITAR se“.  I guess I wasn’t too far off, he was accusing her of something.
The blockbuster Bobby came around next.  And just like the “lungi dress” from before all the little girls wanted Bobby dresses.  I think I had my fair share of Bobby dresses.  The songs that were heard everywhere then were “Hum tum ik kamare mein band hon” and “Jhooth bole kauwa kate“.  The first one was funny because we liked to sing “sher se main kahungi mujhe chhod de, tumhein kha jaye“.

We took a trip to Kathmandu when we were in Sabour.  I was six then and that trip was so fabulous that I can recollect it with tremendous clarity.  We were with my uncles and aunts and cousins close to me and my brother in age.  We sang these songs on the trains, on the scarily winding roads on the buses, in hotel rooms.  That trip was certainly one big sensory overload for me.

We either passed through this one place en route to Kathmandu or I heard the adults talk about it, a place called Bhainsalotan.  I still conjure up images of buffaloes lolling around in swamps when I hear that name – Bhainsalotan – wonder if it got that name because that’s what happens there – buffaloes loll around!

There was another funny sounding song that was immensely popular during this time – “muthukudi kabadi hada“.  I still don’t know what that really means.  But since the first two syllables mean something totally different in the part of the country where I was – the words were a source of much hilarity for us kids.

The mango eating, potato farming, cauliflower leaf tracing days of Sabour came to end when my parents heaved a big sigh of relief and proceeded to spend a large chunk of our lives in Delhi.
In Delhi we’ll talk about what I’ve mentioned to some of my readers: The Kapoor Singh Guliani Files.


  1. Good post, Pragya. Brought back all my own childhood memories as well. Of more or less, the very same songs. And of course, a lungi dress. 🙂

  2. Good post, Pragya. Brought back all my own childhood memories as well. Of more or less, the very same songs. And of course, a lungi dress. 🙂

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