How it sounded over the years (1975-1977)

The Kapoor Singh Guliani Files

The days leading up to our arrival at Delhi were full of language trepidations.  We were told everyone spoke Shuddh Hindi in Delhi.  There were practice sessions where we tried so hard to replace the sound of our pronouns “ee” (this) or “oo” (that) with “yeh” and “woh”, respectively.

We had to train ourselves to stop saying hum (me) and tum (you) and to start saying main and tu.  Thank god kids learn fast.  But some things still tripped us up, especially since they weren’t quite as expected.  Where one expected aap aaiyega one heard aap aaoge or aap jaoge.  It didn’t compute sometimes.  Just as the presence of newspapers written in Urdu being perused by the older gentlemen around us didn’t compute.  We were sometimes called Hindustanis by our neighbors and that was especially disconcerting as we wondered what they were.

Malviya Nagar, in those days, was also a place where one saw women, often heftier than one was accustomed to seeing, walking around trussed in salwar-kameez and chunnis.  In my childish recollection of the Bihar phase, women were only seen in sarees worn either seedha palla or ulta palla.  I always associated one of those (I forget if it is seedha or ulta) with a more rustic aspect and was glad my mom never opted for the version I considered rustic.

The first house we found in Delhi was what’s known as a barsati, on the third floor of Sardarji Kapoor Singh Guliani’s house: 90/76 was its address.  It had two rooms, a kitchen, a large expanse of roof and a balcony overlooking most of Malviya Nagar.

I remember Sardarji and Sardarni-ji as kind souls, Sardarji gentler than his wife.  That was the first time my ears heard, “Aaoji rotti-shotti khao ji“.  I wondered why we were always being invited to chomp down dry rotis.  Biharis are rice enthusiasts and rotis were never too tempting.

Sardarni-ji was very fond of my brother.  We used to tease him and say he was going to marry her.  He answered with much anxiety, “Nahin, unse shaadi karne se buddhe bacche honge” (if I marry her I’ll have old kids).

They also had something called a television! 

In the bucolic settings of Sabour there was no television.  I was told I had seen television and that Mr Dressup was my favorite television character when I was a two year old slurping baby food in Canada.  But I had no recollection of television until we arrived at Malviya Nagar, New Delhi 110017, in 1974.

Every Sunday, at 6:00 pm sharp, my brother and I descended from our barsati and made a beeline for the Guliani’s living room.  We sat through each Doordarshan feature film, cross-legged on their carpet, glued to the black and white television set.  We declined offers of roti eating and watched them consume their own rotis with lip-smacking gusto and then dust off their hands and sit back.  No post-eating handwashing was ever witnessed.  We thought perhaps that’s why they liked eating rotis, they weren’t messy like bhaat, daal and sabzi.

The movies I remember watching here were – Nausherwan-e-adil.  Raj Kumar, who might have been in his fifties by the time I saw him playing a young prince in this movie, was probably my first screen crush.  He exhibited such a princely demeanor in that movie.  Whenever I heard my grandma tell us stories about princes and kings I pictured them looking like Raj Kumar in Nausherwan-e-adil.  The songs were beautiful – Taaron ki zubaan par hai mohabbat ki kahani, ae chand mubarak ho tujhe raat suhani and Yeh hasrat thi ki is duniya mein bas do kaam kar jaateThese songs are wonderful enough to have traveled thirty seven years with me.

The other Doordarshan movies we saw then were Lal Patthar and one in which Abhi Bhattacharya dies and comes back as a ghost haunting a scared looking actress known as Vijaya Mishra.  I can’t remember the name of the Abhi Bhattacharya movie and Google hasn’t helped much either.  Perhaps I am conflating a couple of memories here but I am certain there was a movie in which Abhi Bhattacharya was doing a lot of haunting.  I remember this because the movie terrified me! As did Lal Patthar.  I forever imagined invisible fingers reaching for me in the dark and felt certain there was a ghostly presence seated on a couch in our living room.  I am not sure what was creepy about Lal Patthar except that it was filmed around Fatehpur Sikri, I was told.  Some bits of it reminded me of the light and sound show at Lal Qila in Delhi…it was somewhat creepy to imagine life in these old places.  But the cheerful song that was filmed on Vinod Mehra in that film – Geet gaata hoon main, gungunata hoon main, maine hasne ka vaada kiya tha kabhi, is liye to sada muskurata hoon main – stayed with me for days to come – and of course Raj Kumar, once again.  I remember being so disappointed when I was told he wore a wig.

A couple of other Doordarshan Sunday screenings from this time were memorable.  One was called Akhri Khat, memorable because of the two year old kid who simply walks away from home.  I thought it was an amazing film.  The song, filmed on Indrani Mukherjee – Baharon mera jeevan bhi sanwaro – wasn’t too shabby either, it was hummed for days on end.  The other one was a weird movie, boring to me then except for the bit about a young couple living in a drainpipe.

The house numbered 90/76 also distinguished itself because of the movies we saw at either Uphaar in Green Park ( I hear it was gutted several years ago), Odeon or Regal (at Connaught Place – accessible via DTC Bus #520) and Archana (GK I) cinema halls.

The movie that I haven’t seen as an adult, even though I have a feeling I might like it now, I remember as the most boring movie in the history of movies: Aavishkar.  Was there any reason for the camera to stay on the “Ghar Amar aur Mansi Ka” sign for so long! I sulked throughout the movie.  Nothing happened in it!  It was just Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore being very gloomy and serious.  They didn’t even pretend to sing.  All the songs were in the background!  I heard my parents say they liked it and I couldn’t understand why.  I do remember the song Babul mora naihar chhooto hi jai, Vividhbharti Radio played it often.  I am very fond of it now.  But if I traveled back in time to meet my seven year old self and expressed this opinion about the movie and this song she would probably look at me in disbelief and disgust.

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse with the movies that resembled stills, my parents chose to see the movie Bleak Moments! First Aavishkar, then Bleak Moments! Who made these movies?  I couldn’t decide which one was worse.  They reside in the same corner of my memory banks.

Then came the movies Pratigya, Roti Kapada Aur Makan, Mili, Zanjeer, Ek Nazar, Zameer, Do Jasoos, Mili, Dharam Karam, Aandhi, Kabhi Kabhi and Sholay.  I remember the songs:

Main jatt yamla pagla deewana
Hai hai yeh majboori
Mehngai mar gayi
Aaye tum yaad mujhe
Patta patta boota boota
Do jasoos karein mehsoos ki duniya badi kharab hai
Ik din bik jayega maati ke mol
Is mod se jaate hain

Many of these songs talked about mehngai (inflation) and milawat (isn’t milawat really hard to explain in English? Is it a uniquely Indian phenomenon? Let’s say – things like the dilution of milk with water, the mixing of sand with cement or mixing small pebbles or stones with grains and lentils).  This was the time when Rajesh Khanna slowly faded away after overlapping for a bit with the angry young man – Amitabh Bachchan – going after all these people who did things like milawat, the original protagonist for the perpetual ninety-nine percenters.  As I look back I see eternal recurrence in action. 

The other noise around me at the time were protests and writings on the wall that said, tanashahi nahin chalegi, garibi hatao, hum do hamare do and the word nasbandi always associated with Sanjay Gandhi.

Of course, when one traveled from Delhi to Patna and beyond, along the Ganges route, during summer vacations and such, one never failed to notice the ubiquitous sign: rishte hi rishte.

Kabhi Kabhi and Sholay deserve special mention here because the song Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai and Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon became a permanent part of the weave of my quilt.  They were probably the first songs I memorized from start to finish and the first ones that emerged from my voice box when someone said, “Minki gana sunao.

Sholay always warrants special recollection, simply because of its Sholay-ness.  Not only did Gabbar Singh terrify gaon ka baccha baccha in the film he was pretty monstrous for little kids outside of the screen!  The song that stood out for me then was Mehbooba Mehbooba – loved trying to do the ooh ooh ooh part.

That was the end of the Kapoor Singh Guliani Files.

Mataji Files

In 1976 we left the barsati when we noticed that a house we could see from our rooftop was about to be vacated by Drs Bhola – the Khokha market physicians who offered up a greenish concoction for every ailment.  Mom told me and my brother to walk up to the landlady of house #90/81 and ask her if the duplex house was vacant.  We walked over to her and asked her, “Auntyji, yeh ghar khali hai?” (Is the house vacant?) and after giving us a bit of a hard time said that it was.  She also asked that we call her mataji and her husband pitaji.

We moved into their house soon after.  One half of the house, split down the middle, was rented to us and the other half belonged to mataji’s nuclear family of five.  There were her daughter Baby, son Parvesh, adopted son Amar (Baby auntie, Parvesh uncle and Amar uncle to us), mataji and pitaji.  Her extended family included another adopted son Darshan Gulati.  Darshan Gulati owned and operated a shamiana (tent) rental place.  He had two kids – Dimpy and Kaka – who were our age.  They became our playmates.

Dimpy, Kaka, Samir (my brother) and I watched a lot of the Doordarshan stuff together.  The movies and the Wednesday night Chitrahaar were big favorites.  We were still watching their TV, however. 

We got up to no good with some of the songs, like nagari nagari dware dware, we managed to sing it with every letter of the Hindi alphabet, taking special pleasure in the “th” substitution.  It became “thathari thathari thware thware” for quite sometime. 

The most unforgettable song during this period will always be the one from the movie Do Aankhen Barah Haath starring V Shantaram as a prison reformer and Sandhya – playing a one stringed instrument and balancing things on her head while doing so, for the most part.  We were watching the movie with mataji, pitaji and the rest of her family when the song Ae malik tere bande hum came along.  Pitaji had been kidding around and conversing with us until he suddenly wasn’t anymore.  It happened around the same time as the line in the song that says, “taki hanste hue nikle dum” (as I draw my last smiling breath).

This was probably the first time I witnessed death.  It was hard to grasp.  He was laughing, joking, conversing and then suddenly he wasn’t.  The mourning rituals the breaking of the bangles, several days of grieving and of not knowing how and where to be as kids make up some sharp recollections.

That wasn’t the first time we saw death in that house.  My uncle (my dad’s older brother) passed away while we were in that house.  Another stream of mourners and this pervasive feeling of incomprehension and the creeping up of an errant smile in the midst of it all is what I remember.  I didn’t understand why my face kept wanting to smile despite my feeling so anxious and so sad.

I used to call my late uncle babuji.  I remember how fond he was of me.  He called me Bulbul.  Sometimes he wrote to me and addressed the letter to “Chi. Bulbul” (in Hindi).  I wondered why he preceded Bulbul with “chi” and if it was supposed to represent the sound the Bulbul bird made.  Mom later told me that “chi” was short for “chiranjeevi” (live long).

He had always wanted me to sing for him and in 1977 the songs from the movie Doosra Aadmi were all the rage.  I had memorized the words to Aao manayen jashn-e-mohabbat.  I used to sing that for him.

I also remember Doosra Aadmi well because it was 1977.  The “tanashah” (rumored to have been the subject of the movie Aandhi) had been ousted from power, for the time being, and Morarji Desai with his unique beverage preferences and Charan Singh, Atal Bihari Bajpayee et al had come to power.  I think Charan Singh had something to do with bottles of Coca Cola disappearing overnight.

No more Coke.

And yet there was a scene in Doosra Aadmi where Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh were sitting at an outside restaurant, under an umbrella, sipping Coke.  I had asked mom why they got to have Coke while we had to get used to things like Campa Cola and Thumbs Up (Happy days are here again, everybody is feeling good with Thumbs Up, refreshing cola, Thumbs Up refreshing cola, Thumbs Up refreshing colaaaa – that has to be a part of the soundtrack as well!)

Then came the phase where all I ever sang was Chain se humko kabhi.  It was during a trip to Allahabad,

at Mr Dhaulakhandi’s house when one afternoon, on a hot summer day, when we had nothing better to do, dad decided to take on the role of music director as he meticulously coached me through the intricacies of the melodic twists in this beautiful Asha rendered song, especially the sudden key change in kaash na aati apni judaai.  This signaled the launch of my career as a performer of film songs for friends and family.  I have lost count of the number of times I’ve performed this song for people.

We are coming close to the next phase of owing a television and a record player.  Those events signaled a significant change of sound.  But before that phase we must talk about Hum Kisise Kum Nahin and what I ended up doing to the song Kya hua tera vaada.  When the constant singing of that song became too boring for me I inverted the whole thing.  And even now I can’t help singing it in this form: “yak ahu rate daava, woh masak woh darai, galebhu ladi, saji nadi hemtu, woh nadi gidnazi ka rikhiya nadi ga ho“.

1 Comment

  1. Pragya, this is wonderful. You've brought back so many memories, while sharing your own. Also, singing songs in an inverted form

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