Sunday, April 16, 2017

Of Kishori Amonkar, BoRomamu and Pujo (or "From in Delirium")

It was a nondescript morning in many ways. I got up early, made lunch for the kids, set up IB's breakfast and had a few minutes to glance over the BBC News website. It took me a few minutes to catch the news headline that Kishore Amonkar was no more. I am not sure why I was deeply moved by the news. I am an ardent fan of North Indian Classical Music but only when played on instruments and had not been listening to Kishoritai at all in the recent past. Restlessly I went on to youtube to find the documentary on her made by Amol Palekar that opens with her Bhoop. As I stared at the screen and watched the relatively dark opening shots of her in a temple, with her Bhoop playing the background, it took me to a different phase of my life  - a different time, a different place and amongst different people.

My boRomamu had a Philips Hi-Q International model of turntable, widely popular in its days and one of the few material possessions that he held onto dearly. He was a lifelong bachelor and a teacher by profession and his days were usually filled with giving private tuitions to students or being at his school right next door. However the Pujo days were different because he would not teach on those four days and of course, the school was closed. On every Shaptami morning, or so as my blurry memory suggests to me, he would play a Meera Bhajan Vinyl by Kishori Amonkar that he had; my memories of Pujo mornings in my boyhood and youth were that of hearing the notes of "Mhaaro Pranam" trickling through to my ear drums and (pleasantly) reminding me that Pujo was finally there at the doorsteps. Of course, those were not the days of earphones and smartpods - so the sound came gushing from all around - it got out of his windows, only to bounce off boRdida's house, got through my windows, door cracks,   to reverberate more and announce that a celebration was awaiting. The delicious expectations of what lay in the day ahead was in a way announced by Kishoiriji in the morning. Interestingly, I don't think my boRomamu was a ever a big fan of Kishoriji because I don't remember him playing this record often. However, he played it enough number of times right around this time of the year that I have a hardwired association between the two in my mind. In hindsight, I think that this was his way of doing something different on a Puja morning, that set the day apart. Musically speaking, I always got intrigued by Mhaaro Pranam because of the way it starts but the latter bhajans never etched my mind because either I was already up by then, which scattered my attention or I was back under the pillow trying to catch the last few minutes of post-sleep leisure.

It also reminded me of one of my boRomamu's favorite books by one of his favorite authors - Mohabharoter Kotha by Buddhadeb Bose. If memory serves me right, in Mohabhatoter Kotha Buddhadev Bose goes on to show how Judhisthir, otherwise often maligned as weak and indecisive, was the true hero of Mahabharat. One of the sections dwell on his conversation with Dharmabak and as I grow older, the simple yet profound answers Judhishthir offered to Dharma's questions seem increasingly wise, across space, time and culture. To Dharma's question -"what travels the fastest", Judhishthir replies, "the mind". I haven often been struck how fast my mind migrates, at the appropriate impulse, which is often only a sound or a smell.

As someone who is ignorant of the grammars of music, often when I listen to familiar music, incapable of being led by the technical nuances, my mind often strays and conjures up imageries of other times I had heard them, and the persons and  places around me at those times contribute to the emotional whirlwind that my mind goes through in the process. A few weeks ago, I was struck by how the taste of English Toffees reminded me of the Sohan Halwa that my father used to get from Ghantewala's in Old Delhi. And Judhishthir knew about all of that; amazing, isn't it ?

At least two things happened on that fateful morning. Prior to that, I had been, for a good thirteen years, solely been listening to North Indian Classical Music but only played on instruments and only by a handful of artistes. I have written elsewhere about another night that led to my relatively sustained interest in that medium. However, since then I have started listening to vocalists with a more engaged attention. I have been listening to Kishoriji's Bhoop on and off but haven't quite been able to bring myself to listen to Mhaaro Pranam. I suppose that would hurt too much !

But I think the more profound effect it had on me was that I started slowly succumbing to the realization that boRomamu is not around any more. His vinyl player is not in his room any more although the LP might still be there. Not having visited Kolkata since his demise, I have not had to face a closure and I am not quite sure that merely not seeing him in his room will bring it about; after all,  he might have just gone downstairs to teach or to have lunch. However, as the persons, both the physical and the vicarious, around him who formed part of my precious days of adolescence and youth slowly fade into oblivion, I surmise that I will be able to wrap it up, only to be reopened another time and another place.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Where is home ?

Scene 1

As the aircraft started hovering over the city and started moving close to it, from down below the clouds the unmistakable skyline showed up. In the afternoon sun, it looked magical even to a seasoned non-New Yorker like me. I looked at the man sitting next to me and asked him – “ Now that you have lived in New York for so long, do you find yourself at home here ?” He looked away, uncharacteristically, at the now prominent skyline and said slowly – “Well, you know Anirban, I grew up in the suburbs of Boston but I have left it and my parents now live in Florida. But I don’t quite feel like a New Yorker yet although I enjoy being here.” He stopped for a second before he said , almost hesitatingly, “ I have this feeling of homelessness now - I don’t quite know where my home is anymore. “ After an even longer pause, he added , “ I am not sure I like it but its not that I can change it”.

Scene 2

A sudden wave of sleeplessness gave me a jolt. I looked at my phone. It was 3:30 am. I was back in India after almost three long years and was sleeping in the room where I spent my high school and college years before I left Kolkata. I knew I couldn’t go back to sleep any more. I got down from my old bed and unsure of what to do, started connecting my computer to the power socket.  A few moments of electrical lapse of reason and the light turned up. I looked around. Almost nothing in the room looked like the way it used to be. I sat down on the lonely sofa and started opening my e-mail. Almost like a long-lost reflex action coming back to me, I had a sudden yearning to listen to Gulzar’s Fursat Ke Raat Din. I did not have the cassette anymore with me and my portable stereo system that had kept me company on many such late nights was several miles away in another home. I turned to my friend that had rescued me abroad on many such occasions. A quick search, a few moments of  nervousness and then it showed up. Like a friend who never betrays you, Fursat Ke Rat Din was indeed online at mio. I clicked on the “play” icon desperately hoping that it would work one last time. Gulzar’s unmistakable voice came ringing through – “Ek mood, ek kaifyat, geet ka chehra hota hai. Kuch shahi se ……..”. I opened up all the windows. It was dark outside and almost everyone around was asleep. A mild wintry chill came gushing into the room. Suddenly something clicked into place. I sat down in front of my computer and started working on my e-mail. I was at home again.

Scene 3

On the morning of the day before my flight back from India, I boarded a bus from Rabindra Sadan and asked the bus conductor – “ Will this get me to Purna cinema ?” He nodded and looked at me with slight disregard – anything that moved in this direction, by necessity, had to go by Purna. When he finally signaled me to get down, after managing the act of getting off from a slightly moving bus, I gathered myself and looked around. Suddenly I got a tremendous jolt ! What I had expected to see right across the street was a stripped down version of the Purna that I had in my mind - with large hoardings and posters of movies, mainly Bollywood, occasionally Bengali. It had been an unmistakable landmark and even from within a crowded bus, you could figure out that you had reached there. Nothing remained anymore. The cleaned-up front face of the building looked scarily naked. It seemed like even the political parties were reeling from a hangover before taking over the space with their agenda.

Scene 4

As I walked towards school with my elder son, he complained “It is really cold”. I reassured, “ Well, you have been in a warmer climate for three whole weeks. That is why it feels cold. I am sure it won’t feel so cold tomorrow”. I added, with hesitation, “Well you know Ishaan, that you have missed school for two weeks”. He didn’t look at me when he replied , “Yes, I know that”. I responded, like my typical self, worrying about his progress in school, but in a low voice since I could not anticipate his reaction, “Well, you must try to catch up”. He said, “Yes, I know”. Unlike other mornings we were not walking to school with his friends since they had decided to go by car. The windchill, after all, really bit into the skin. We chatted more about his trip back to India as we approached the school and I became yet more unsure of how well he would connect back. This was the first time he had been away for such a long time. As we got down the final flight of stairs, he said, “Well, you know that you have to stop here”. Right at the beginning of the school parking lot, we had a mutually-agreed-upon, unmarked line, beyond which he had to be on his own. As I watched him walking away, head slightly down, my worries grew. Suddenly there was a shout and he sprang towards a group of three kids. They jumped up and started running together towards the school. Ishaan became a red running spot getting away from me, into the doors of his school. In the soft winter morning light, I knew that at least my son was back at home.

Monday, January 28, 2013

My favourite 15 RD songs (for today!)

Today was Pancham's ! I had half-written this post after reading my good friend's post on his favourite Pancham songs. What prompted finishing it today were two things - listening to a collection of songs from RD that one of my maternal uncles had recorded for me on one of my trips back to India. The way he recorded it had the Bengali song and the corresponding Hindi version next to each other. The other driving force was watching Pancham Unmixed that the same friend of mine had sent me as a gift, most likely, on the same trip to India.  Diptakirti, I owe you a big one for this.

I remember that there was a distinct phase lag in my humming Pancham's tunes in shower and the realization that they all were creations of one genius of a music director. Sometime in college, I bought one of the first Golden Collection 4 cassette series that HMV published. I was surprised how hard it is to find the cover image of that collection now, even with the help of the mighty Google but this may be it


In any case, this 4 cassette (yes, CD's were expensive those days) series introduced me to some of the gems of RD's compositions. It will be a fun exercise to repeat choosing 15 favourite songs some other day and see how many common ones pop up. The amazing thing about RD is that there are almost an infinite number of 15-tuples that can be chosen with complete mutual exclusivity.

kahin na jaa

 I first heard this song coming from the other side of the building in Hall 5 at IIT K and wondered where on earth had I been living that I had missed it till then. Although I have switched from my old two-in-one to listening to songs mostly on youtube these days, I still find it impossible to stop this song midway, ever.

katra katra

Mera Kuchh Saman was a close contender from Ijaazat but musically Katra Katra is completely engulfing including the musical interludes, in a way that is hard to even begin to describe.

rishte bante hain

It was hard, yet again, to pick a single song from Dil Padosi Hain but that was a constraint I made for myself - no more than one song per album or movie. 

dil dhoondta hai

I had a hard time deciding whether to chose the sad version or the happy one and ended up with the solo by Bhupinder. On second thoughts, isn't it completely amazing how the same song can be tuned so well, yet in two completely different moods ?

aanewala pal

The one song from Dipta's list that is here as well and will find its way to most RD favourite lists, I suspect. Kishore in completely sublime form - completely sublime !

roz roz aankhon tale

I often wonder how RD decided between Asha and Lata when it came to choose  his lead female vocalist. For this one, I often wonder what it would have been like if Kishore sang it. Nevertheless, the Amit-Asha combination worked wonders !

do lafzon ki hi dil ki kahani

Vintage Asha-RD cocktail. 

yeh sham mastani

This is, in some ways, a predictable choice but who is to say that it is not a worthwhile one ? I am equally in love with the Bengali version - "akaash kyano daake" by Kishore.

biti na bitai raina

A lot has been said about the Asha-RD combination and how it worked wonders. I think it is somewhat understated the many magical moments that RD created with the venerable elder sister, may be because she had created many other such magical moments with other music directors as well.  This song from Parichay has Bhupinder joining in the later parts, making for a stunning duet.

raina beeti jaaye

In the middle of this song, Sharmila Tagore stops in the movie and Rajesh Khanna urges, almost begs - "gaiye na, aap ruk kyon gaye ?" The pathos in that request does completely judgement to this song and what happens to the listener when it stops so abruptly !

naam gum jayega

I hope no one ever dares to make a remix of this. I will personally go pee on his/her head.

tu tu hai wahi

Once again, a personal favourite. This song seems to flow so easily, creating almost a web of notes around you that I always have to play it twice, at least.

rah pe rehte hain

Okay, I was trying to decide between this and Musafir Hoon Yaaron and this one won. I suspect the words have something to do with that choice. "jo guzar jaati hai bas, us pe guzar karte hain" - Gulzar, oh Gulzar, did I ever tell you I love you so ?

sawan ki jhole pade

Monsoon is such an integral part of life in the subcontinent and is central to so much music, including that of RD, that it was hard to choose only one "rain song". But this song, in my mind, completely evokes the mood of the first monsoon, that comes only after a long wait.

phir kisi shaakh ne

Silli Hawa was a close contender but then I asked myself that if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to choose only one before I died, which one I would choose and here is the answer !