Sunday, June 26, 2011

Songs for the Rains

There is something about rains – it brings out the yearnings for hot pakoras and adrak-wali-chai. It makes its own music – the soft patter of drizzle and the hard drum of a heavy shower on the roof. The deep bass of thunder rolling somewhere deep within the heavens and the streaks of purple brightening the grey skies. And sometimes, the music of the rains needs accompaniment by the songs of our heart:

  •  Aapki aankhon mein (Film: Ghar):  When you sit in the balcony, listening to the winds chime as the rain turns an early evening pearly, the strains of this song come floating to you. Beautiful lyrics, sung with so much love. Aapki aankhon mein kuch mehke hue se raaz hain / aapse bhi khoobsurat aapke andaz hai (Your eyes hide some fragrant secrets and more your nature / style is more beautiful than you are – the English translation just doesn’t stir the same feelings). And as the song progresses, you sigh dreamily and it teases a soft smile from you.
  • Rimjhim runjhun (Film: 1942 – A Love Story): Lot of people feel that R.D. Burman’s last movie as music director is perhaps one of his best. While the album consists of more famous Ek ladki ko dekha  and Kuch na kaho, when it rains, the song which comes to mind is the equally melodious Rimjhim rimjhim, runjhun runjhun. The song captures the sound of rain and the joy of lovers sharing that music.
  • I need you now (Artist: Lady Antebellum): Rain drums hard on the tin roof, venting some unknown passions buried deep in its heart as the world around sleeps or tries to sleep. You stand next to window watching the storm lash the trees, batter the vulnerable buds from the branches. You are both awed and intrigued by this display of raw power, as if someone up there deeply needs something or someone. Lady Antebellum’s beautiful song suits such weather perfectly. The lyric sings of a need that cannot be controlled. It’s a quarter after one, I am alone and I need you now. Said I wouldn’t call but I have lost all control and I need you now. Perfect.
  • Bheegi bheegi raton mein  and Kabhi toh nazar milao (Artist: Adnan Sami):  The Pakistani singer’s debut album in India was everything a romantic heart could wish for. Especially the first two songs. Kabhi toh nazar milao – a duet sung by Sami and the inimitable Asha Bhonsle ­– is just right for the rainy afternoons when you are all snug and warm in your bed and a tad restless for some unknown horizon. Bheegi bheegi raton mein is the song for the people who have loved and lost and the rainy night makes the ache a little deeper, a little more al
  • Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si (Film: Chalti ka Naam Gaadi): This old song from a black and white movie is such a timeless blend of mischief and flirtation, wonderful vocals and great picturization. Sample the lyrics: Tan bheega hai, sar geela hai / Uska ka koi pench bhi dheela hai (the second line hints at mental instability of the girl, bedraggled and wet). You have to see the song to understand the warm chemistry between two unlikely stars – goofy Kishore Kumar and the ethereally beautiful Madhubala. The latter plays a rich girl who has had a car breakdown on a rainy night and Kumar the mechanic who is repairing it. It’s funny and it’s endearing.

These are my personal favourites. Would love to hear about yours. Ciao.
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Of Cats, Dogs and Other Sayings

It’s been raining cats and dogs in my city since yesterday. Thank god, it’s Saturday today and I don’t have to step out unless I want to. Anyway, this post is not about my experiences in a rain-battered city but more about cats and dogs – the saying that is.

I find it fascinating how some phrases are such an integral part of our vocabulary that we never stop to think where do they come from. Take raining cats and dogs, for example. After all, it never literally rains cats and dogs, does it?

Yesterday once I reached office and settled down, I googled the saying (ever wondered where we would be without Google?). It took me to the site where I found quite a bit of interesting info. Apparently no one quite knows what is the exact origin of the phrase. There are several theories though.

Wolves and dogs in Norse mythology are associated with Odin, the god of storms. Cats are often seen as the pets of witches who could ride the win. Hence, some speculate, that could have led to the saying. There is another one which talks of how cats and dogs were washed from thatched roof during winter, where they would have buried themselves to find warmth! 

But the most probable is the one where Jonathan Swift has been accredited with the origin of the saying. In one of his poems about the general mess caused by rains in London, he refers to how cats and dogs drown in the rain and are washed out into the street (“Drown'd Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud, Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood”, ‘A Description of City Shower’). One of the earliest records of the phrase in its current form is found in Swift’s own ‘A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation’ in 1738:"I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs".

There are other not so illogical idioms and sayings also. For instance, stubborn as a donkey. Now there is plenty of evidence of that. And too many cooks spoil the broth. I am pretty sure that most of us have experience on that front. Ditto for you cannot teach an old dog a new trick.

Curiosity killed the cat is another matter though. How many of us have ever seen that happen? Again there is no definite idea on where did the phrase come from. It is in its earliest form was seen Ben Jonson’s ‘Every Man in His Humour’, where Care was supposed to be capable of killing a cat. Its current form apparently is, however, merely a century old, tracing back to 1898 in ‘Galveston Daily News’.

A cat (the animal is all over the place!) is also said to have nine lives. This one, it is said, originated in ancient Egypt, where Pasht or Bashtet, a cat-headed goddess was attributed with nine lives.

Gosh! I sure could use nine lives. Or may be not. It just might get too boring!


Friday, June 10, 2011

Best and Worst of Times

These are the best of times. These are the worst of times. Dickens might have been thinking of French revolution but I cannot but help draw a parallel with the state of affairs in my own country.

Normally, I am pretty clued in about what is happening around me. I keep abreast of all the happenings, without spending hours watching the news channels show the same clippings and analysing them to death.

This last week has been the same. Only I am not too sure as to what has been happening. Who is right? And who is wrong? Forget black and white. The shades of grey are so numerous and similar that it is well nigh impossible to even guess where one ends and other begins.

There have been scams galore – from 2G spectrum to Commonwealth Games. Surely we all knew – even Kanimozhi and Kalmadi, the alleged perpetrators of the two biggest scams in Indian history – that things will come to a head. In a country where there are millions who toil so hard for daily bread that they would be hard-pressed to tell you how many zeroes there are in ten thousand, millions of billions worth rupees goes unaccounted for in the pockets of a few. Obviously, the acceptance of corruption as the integral part of our business and political fabric was bound to be renounced someday. Someone would have belled the cat and started a revolution.

Anna Hazare addressing his supporters
So, when Anna Hazare sat for his fast-unto-death for the formulation of Lokpal Bill which would bring all grafters to speedy justice, the entire nation supported him, including yours truly. But since then so much water has flown under the bridge. I am no longer sure as to what is happening. Cracks appeared within the civil society vigilantes who Anna leads. Mysterious CDs appeared undermining the credibility of our Light Brigade. Some claimed it was a conspiracy to raise doubts by a government beleaguered by the charges of corruption. Others felt that there is no smoke without fire.

Kanimozhi after arrest
While all this drama is playing out on one stage, a red bastion is overthrown and Bastille stormed. Political heirs are arrested on corruption charges and even Kalmadi, months after first rumours of large scale irregularities appeared in CWG organisation, is booked by authorities. Commoners like myself rejoice. Finally, things are looking up. Justice will prevail. Anna and his merry men would ensure that no more Rajas, Kanimozhis and Kalmadis are allowed to strut around un-accosted for so long.

But then nothing much happens. The government and vigilantes reach a dead-end. Another dramatis personae emerges – this time a saffron robed, self-proclaimed saint followed by thousands. Ramdev decides to join the fray and declares a manifesto against corruption. He wants all the issues solved almost overnight, Rajinikanth style, if you please. He threatens to fast-unto-death in Delhi until his demands are met. The government panics. Sends senior ministers to receive him at the airport and to strike a deal with him. God only knows what happened in that meeting but Ramdev starts his fast surrounded by thousands of his followers until the government decides to arrest him in the dead of the night. Baba tries to run in the disguise of a woman, is actively seen to cohort women into following a protective circle around him but is finally caught and deported back to his ashram.

I am still grappling with what this accomplished. Do we need so many vigilantes? And what was the crackdown all about? The government spokesperson called the baba a thug. Is that so? Maybe. Then why did the nation’s Finance minister set about to bargain with him and welcome him to the capital? Ramdev maybe just a showman under the saffron garb of a revolutionary but I think the government might just end up turning him into a hero as he nears a week of fasting.

What is a very serious issue has been turned into very crass and political melodrama. There is absolutely nobody in this entire fracas who will come out smelling of roses and it only reaffirms my contempt of politicos. Decorum has been shunned by everyone who can grab a news channel’s microphone. And the heart of the matter is lost somewhere in the game of one-upmanship.

In fact, for me one of the sanest voice of reasons came from Salman Khan! When asked about all this fasting going around, he advised the junta  to stop aiding corruption. That is how we start. More in the style of Tata Tea Jaago Re  campaigns. The revolution begins with me and a ‘no’ to grease the palm of the traffic policeman.

I agree, we also need quicker, more efficient laws. However, the entire process is complex and will take some time.  Regardless it has to be transparent; ideally it should be televised live to all and sundry as and when it happens. So that there is no hidden agenda being enacted behind the closed doors. Perhaps I am being very naive when I suggest all this but surely there is a better way than what is being practised now.

The upshot of it all is that perhaps now scams will not just come and go, to be swept under the carpet of burgeoning news stories. In a sense all that has happened has been for good. Yet until and unless, this protest is galvanized into practical action, everything is meaningless.

And while such cacophony holds centre-stage, India’s Picasso walks lonely into the London night, away from the country he loved.

Isn’t it sad that M F Husain was denied the chance to breathe his last in India while those who plunder and loot the country can roam around scot-free, unabashed? There cannot be a harsher judgment than this on our country. None whatsoever.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011


I stand atop the small sand dune that slopes down towards the rumbling sea. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and feel a smile blooming within me.

I start walking towards the sea. The sun is a big ball of beautiful fire, slowly sinking into the churning waters. The sky has so many shades of pink, red and crimson tinting the delicate blue. It reminds me of a wish a friend once made. I want curtains of exact that colour. Today, I want them too.

I reach the sea and the first waves eagerly welcome me. I delight in their embrace, the sensation of the earth slipping out from between my toes. My eyes sweep the beach. I am alone. I like this solitude. This world at this moment belongs to me. The sea, the sun, the evening – everything. I am greedy and not willing to share it with anyone else.

For some moments, I stand still, absorbing the beauty of the seascape, trying to see beyond the horizon and to scoop out a bit of the crimson glory out of the sun on my fingertip. I give up a little later and turn to walk aimlessly along the sea.

As I walk, I can hear in my head the melody of a song, the rhythm of an Iktara. I smile and hum it slowly under my breath, letting the breeze carry my voice over the waves. Almost like a message in a bottle. Maybe it would reach some distant shores and an answering song would come dancing. Pure fantasy, some may say. But who decides what is real and what is fanciful.

Coming across a partially embedded conch shell, I stoop and dig it out, even as the mischievous waves attempt to steal it out of my gritty fingers. I finally hold it in my palm and let out a small whoop of joy. A little further on, I see a crab scuttling towards me. I take a frightened step back, only to realize that it does not seek to bite me. It only seeks to go to its hiding hole, close to my feet. I shake my head at my own fear and decide to continue.

There is a lighthouse that I can see in the distance. It does not look too far. But I know that that could simply be the result of optical illusion. It does not matter, though. I have this evening and the night to come. All of it my own. For the first time. And who knows it may be the last.

I shall not turn back, I resolve. And continue my not-quite-aimless meander towards that beacon, as the evening began to gather the last vestiges of twilight in her arms, to make way for my favourite silver Enchantress.

And Iktara continues to play, silently, ceaselessly.....
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