How it sounded over the years (1981-1988 and beyond)

I realized I didn’t quite finish reliving 1981 and 1982 in the last post.  These years were the ones when various sons were ascendant.  The first one was Kumar Gaurav.  His father launched him opposite Vijayeta Pandit with Love Story.   I thought Amit Kumar did his dad proud as the playback singer of choice here.  Dekho maine dekha hai yeh ik sapna was a big favorite as was the one where Aruna Irani was trying to seduce a nervous Gaurav in Kya ghazab karte ho ji.  It felt as though every ten years or so a towering superstar of yore launched a son into orbit and asked Aruna Irani to attempt a seduction (I am thinking Bobby and Main shayar to nahin).  Must say she didn’t age much in those intervening years between Rishi Kapoor and Kumar Gaurav.  Another song that hooked us with its melody at that time was Yaad aa rahi hai.

The next son to emerge was the droopy eyed, half asleep, half stiff son of Sunil Dutt and Nargis in a movie called Rocky.  This movie had some memorable songs as well.  I remember Kya yehi pyar haiIt sounded good at that time, that age.  His narcoleptic demeanor, the addiction, the rehab were the things that Devyani Chaubal et al liked to discuss in Stardust or Star & Style etc.

The march of the sons continued with Kunal Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor’s older one, in Ahista Ahista.  The conversation then was all about how he walked like Shashi Kapoor but looked more like Jennifer.  This movie had one of my all time favorite songs Kabhi kisi ko muqammal jahan nahin milta.  Sulakshana Pandit did a good job with another song from this movie Mana teri nazar mein tera pyar hum nahin.

But we aren’t quite finished with the sons yet.  Sunny Deol was yet to arrive with Betaab.  Once again, a bunch of songs that sounded quite melodious at the time but they wear thin now, like Jab hum jawaan honge and Parbaton se aaj main takda gaya.  I never saw the movie so not sure if Aruna Irani tried seducing him here or not.

Some sons succeeded for a time, some for a longer time and some didn’t make it at all.  We moved on, becoming a palimpsest like representation of songs from our teen years, songs from when our parents were our age and some even from the time when our grandparents were our age.  Songs, especially old songs from Hindi films, define and distill the essence of immortality.

The next record to grace our collection illustrated this concept.  It was The Best of Talat Mehmood.  By the time I was a teenager, Talat Mehmood, or Tapan, had been silent for many decades and yet I was in love with an album which had songs like:

O teer chalane waale zara aa saamne aa kar teer chala
Seene mein sulagte hain arman
Bechain nazar betaab jigar
Dekh li teri khudayi
Andhe jahan ke andhe raaste

These Talat songs were new to me, I had never heard any of them since they weren’t in my dad’s repertoire.  I was familiar with, and loved, the ones he used to sing or the ones I had heard on the Sunday Doordarshan feature film, like:

Jaane woh kaise log the jinke pyar ko pyar mila
Jalte hain jiske liye
Jayen to jayen kahan
Hum se aaya na gaya
Rahi matwale sun ek baar
Raat ne kya kya khwab dikhaye
Main dil hoon ik armaan bhara  
Shukriya ai pyar tera
Tasveer teri dil mera behla na sakegi

They just don’t make them like this anymore, nor do they sing them like this.  The Talat Mahmood LP in our collection was one of my favorite possessions.  There weren’t any new songs being made then that came close in melody or lyrics.

1983 and 1984 are a bit of a blur, perhaps I was studying hard for my ISCE exams.  The years in the life of an Indian teenager, when they are in the grades 11th and 12th are perhaps the worst ones.   One has to consider the engineering option, the medicine option, the Delhi University North Campus option (if one is a Delhi-ite), the BITS Pilani option or a doomed option if one is anything short of either being a genius or a tenacious, no-nonsense-ever type of bookworm.  I was neither.   There was much nonsense that kept me preoccupied.  But I would have lost any last shred of self-confidence I possessed if the only option available to me became the one where I was studying English, History or Political Science.  Yes, I was just that shallow then.

If the fine people who have pursued a genuine interest in the liberal arts and humanities are reading this and want to send some choice expletives my way, they should note that I was very young and very shallow back then.  I wasn’t studying Physics, Chemistry, Math and Biology because I was so exceptionally good at those subjects, I wasn’t bad but I wasn’t going to be a star.  It felt prestigious to be a student of the sciences.  Of course the trade-offs for this false sense of prestige were the levels of difficulty one encountered. 

Calculus stopped being just about dy/dx and morphed into d square y/ d x squared.  Things just weren’t changing anymore, they had to change at a certain rate.  Integrals, where we needed to figure out what the shape of a line or curve would be if it was rotated a certain way, differential calculus! Conceptually all very clear but the hours of problem solving, the ensuing tedium was nightmarish in its intensity.

Biology gave me no grief, no anxiety at all, except when it came to dissecting cockroaches or frogs or rats.  It wasn’t about being nauseated with dissection, it was more about breaking things like cockroaches into unmanageable little pieces instead of making clear ventral cuts and removing the exoskeleton in order to see things like the caeca and the Malphigian tubules.  Every dissection of P. Americana was botched beyond recognition at my hands.

Physics and Mechanics – the lesser said the better.  All I remember from Physics is Mr Kennedy saying “capacitor” and “adiabatic”.

I couldn’t balance a single equation in Chemistry, the art of chemical equation balancing felt like a mysterious, shamanic ritual or legerdemain when I saw the smart ones do it on the blackboard in a jiffy. Yes, Avogadro’s number is 6.022 x 10 to the power of 23 but I wasn’t sure how I could use this priceless information to solve millions of problems.  Titration in the Chemistry lab was a whole other story with me sucking to deep on the KCl and then coughing it up.

If my Nelson & Abbott Physics textbook wasn’t always surreptitiously sheltering something like Atlas Shrugged or Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel or Prodigal Daughter I might have had more than a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming a doctor or something but the lazy devil on one of my shoulders always convinced me to go south.

And yet, there was this need for music, to be involved in it somehow.  When the school decided they would enact the Gilbert & Sullivan musical – Trial by Jury – I was thrilled.  I wanted to be in it and I signed up.  We practiced for days, so much so that the song, Hark the hour of ten is sounding/Hearts with anxious fears are bounding/For today in this arena/Summoned by a stern subpoena/Edwin sued by Angelina/Shortly will appear is still a part of my soundtrack.  Alas, the upcoming exams were breathing hope and fear down my neck and I had to withdraw from the play.

The nightmare was over, although not quite over right away, not until we lived the “cut-off point” hell for awhile.  The year was 1984.  I have bitter recollections of the gruelling trudge through various colleges, various campuses, disappointments at not making the “cut-off” points, shame, regrets etc. and then a compromise: if it had to be the dreaded “humanities” then it needed to be a quasi-scientific subject and thus the first tentative steps into the world of economics and finance.

No wonder those years are blurry, I’d rather forget them.

At some point I even thought it would be cool to study at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications.  I made it through the written entrance exam and was asked to appear for an interview.  A very stern interviewer asked me a question that made me use the word “consumerism” in my response.  I used it casually, as people often use this word, but he pinned me down for a definition.  He wanted to know precisely what I meant by the word “consumerism”.  I probably told him it referred to a culture of mass production and mass consumption.  But I don’t think he liked that.

That word has troubled me ever since.  We didn’t have the benefit of Wikipedia back then but it tells me now that consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts.  In retrospect, I think I was close enough and I was only 17, he should have given me a break.  Well, no such luck.

College was a lot of fun.  For once in my life I had many friends.  There were usually seven of us in a gang that did everything together but I was especially close to D.  I saw D at the DTC bus stop in Malviya Nagar on the first day of college.  I had no idea she was headed for the same college until we saw each other again in class.  We hit it off from the very beginning and for the next three years she was the catalyst for every transformation in the soundtrack of my life.

D liked to live on the edge a bit although one couldn’t tell from looking at her.  I had seen her smoke.  She said she had been smoking since school days but then she used to like dropping conversational bombshells like a propensity to experiment with things like Mandrax.

I was rather unsettled by these admissions.  That unsettled feeling wasn’t some manifestation of correctness or of sitting in judgment while depicting a straight-laced – ness, as it was a familiarity with that word Mandrax.

I had an uncle, a much loved, favorite uncle, who was a talented musician, sculptor and artist and throughout my childhood I had witnessed him wasting away, bit by little bit, because of his addiction to this thing.  That word had always been around our family for as long as I could remember.

I was in thrall of his exceptional talent.  I remember his rendition of these songs:

Nathali se toota moti re
Saranga teri yaad mein (this is my rendition, not Mukesh’s – just to make the point that I remember him when I sing it)

My mama (uncle) passed away in 1986.  But in 1984 he was still alive and in trouble with an addiction to Mandrax, to bhang (cannabis) and even to alcohol.   The family was distraught.  So when I met D and she mentioned the M word, I was very nervous, very anxious.  I worried about my strength to resist even as I always knew I would be immune to inebriation.  There was always the “what-if”.  Could one resist things like this in moments of weakness or peer pressure?  I continued to be her friend through all this because I really liked her.  I often wondered if the other stuff was just pretense at rebellion since she never appeared off-kilter.

Until I met D the only version of Ticket to Ride I had ever heard was the Karen Carpenter one.  I had no idea it was a Beatles original. Top of the World (KC looks pre-anorexic in this video) was another Carpenters favorite that was probably not an original Carpenters song, but I didn’t know any better then.

When D told me about the Beatles it was like a big bang of sorts in my musical education.  I just couldn’t get enough of them.  Abbey Road was the very first followed by Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White Album.

D used to go to Calcutta (Cal) every summer and she used to return with stories of a Cal friend of hers who she called Heroc.  Our chat sessions were always full of Heroc stories.  He was probably the one who got her to experiment with certain things.  One summer she came home full of the merits of Simon & Garfunkel – I had never heard of them.  D’s Cal summer had yielded a fascination with I Am a Rock.  Apparently “He-Roc” used to think of himself as “a rock”.  I was absorbing these bands and these songs via a weird osmosis – Heroc – D- Me.  The Simon & Garfunkel LP was naturally the next addition to the ever growing record collection, every track a gem:

Mrs Robinson
El Condor Pasa
Bridge over troubled water
Sounds of silence
Scarborough Fair
Homeward bound

The Heroc phase of D’s life diminished after a while only to be replaced by BITS-Pilani and the music preferred by the department of Instrumentation Engineering and a student therein.  D was dating someone who couldn’t stop raving about Pink Floyd.  The sound was sublime, the music superior to anything anyone had ever heard, according to the Pilani boy who I had only indirectly met.  Pink Floyd now entered my consciousness with Comfortably Numb.

Jethro Tull came next, also courtesy the Pilani boy who knew “sound”, and we got Aqualung and Bungle in the Jungle with Ian Anderson, the god of flute.

That took me through college along with some exceptional soundtracks in the Hindi films: Saagar, Aitbaar, Utsav and Ijazat.

We’re drawing close to the end of the India phase of my life.

College led to The Delhi School of Economics.  Making it through the entrance exam brought with it a sense of validation, a sense of accomplishment and the fatal flaw of hubris.  Everyone around me was a brain and a half and those who didn’t spend every waking hour and every glorious dream in visions of qualifying for the Indian Civil Services exams had stars and stripes in their eyes and worried about taking their GRE exams,

Once again, I was woefully short on goals and ambition and long on distractions and fun.  Somehow the folks here had figured out my interest in singing and I was often asked to sing.  The song that I favored those days was Dil ki awaaz bhi sun.

That was until D introduced me to American Pie (stupid video but best sound quality I could find), by way of Pilani.  Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night became a big favorite soon after.

And now we are at the very end of this phase.  The bits about poring over Jung’s words on dreams and wondering about the meaning of the lyrics of American Pie at D’School’s Ratan Tata Library, with someone who went on to a rather illustrious career in the Indian Police Services, would have to wait for another day and another post, or perhaps the lesser said, the better.

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