Kal

04/01/2010

NOTE: No, my memory is not failing me, I believe those of you who have read my blog(s) for a while, might have come across this in some form already. But just in case those wanderers in and out have not . . . . Also, I added a glossary for those of you who are not familiar with Urdu/Punjabi. This essay is also published in my Chowk blog as well as my Facebook notes.

The fifth of January has not been just another day for me. Not since weeks before my twelfth birthday. This year marks thirty-four years since my Nana passed away and while life has gone on, and every fifth of January has been filled with other activities, there are those moments when I am standing next to the charpai on which he rests serene, with the same majestic aura that enveloped him when he lived and walked on the earth. The verandah is populated with mourners, but all I can see, all I want to see – is him, until he is taken away.
Nanaji was born at the turn of the century in Lyallpur. His family or part of his family came from Gurdaspur. He was in his late seventies when he died in the village where he had raised five children – one of them who did not live beyond his teens. Ma still talks about how the number of people present for the jinaaza and the afsos was testament to the impact he had made on so many lives, the ties within his community and beyond. Among the people who paid their respects to my Nani was his old friend Gilani sahib, the father of the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, who with another friend had encouraged Nanaji to go into politics many years ago. He was a teacher and a headmaster before he entered local politics. He was a landowner. He was a very principled man. And from the first day he saw her until the night he died, he was very much in love with my Nani.

I first met Nanaji when I was six, and while as a child I was either too busy wreaking havoc or as an adult having blocked certain childhood events, the glimpses of my grandfather are still rather vivid. I remember the afternoon he sat next to me for a few moments in our back lawn. He looked at the notebook in which I was writing and asked to see it. As he gazed at my handwriting, he told me that what he saw was that I was intelligent, and that I would go far. I do not know that I have fulfilled his “prophecy”, but I do still remember his words. I did not know handwriting could tell something about a person.

I do not hear the words “mudabbar” and “mudallal” a lot. Most of the time has been in connection with Nanaji. These words come up when we speak of the Punjabi language. Unlike my father’s side of the family, Nanaji’s Punjabi was spiced with words from Urdu and Farsi, and the examples Ma gives are those words mentioned above. For purists, this would likely be a pollution of our mother tongue. For Nanaji and Naniji, it WAS Punjabi. Let me just say that if I had attempted to speak in Punjabi with my maternal grandparents, I would not have been chastised for the mixing in of Urdu words, as I was by a ThaiT, maajhay di Punjabi speaker.

There is so much that I can say about Nanaji, so much I have said before. But these past few days I have been thinking of those times when he championed or defended some of his grandchildren, including myself. When one of my cousins had flunked school and decided he had just about enough, Nanaji was of the opinion that we should not be scornful of his choice. When one of my uncles had stopped speaking to one of his daughters because of her elopement, my grandfather told him to reconcile with her.

BaRe Maamoo’s eldest daughter, who is also no longer with us, had received her secondary education in the village school, the same school where her grandfather and one of her grandaunts had once been the principal. She sent in her application to Kinnaird College, which in Lahore, was known to be one of the best colleges for women. Despite having been at the top of her class, and doing very well in the boards, Baji was denied admission to the college in the city. The reason given: she was not sufficiently prepared for the rigors of Kinnaird. Not necessarily in their words: her village education was not good enough for them.

This was not acceptable to her Dadaji. He traveled to Lahore, and met with the Principal of the college. I can picture him sitting opposite her, proudly, demanding to know in what ways was Baji not prepared for an education at that college. What Nanaji did do, was something he had never done before, at least where his children and grandchildren were concerned: he suggested he could use his connections to ensure his granddaughter would be admitted. All he asked was that the Principal give Baji a chance. See what the latter could do the first semester or the first year. And if indeed, the “rigors” at Kinnaird were too much for her, she would withdraw. He must have made quite the impression on Principal sahiba because she agreed to give Baji a chance. No one regretted that decision.

Baji would go on to graduate with honors from Kinnaird with a B.A in English Literature. Whether consciously, or not, she has always been part of my inspiration. And so has my Nana.

Nanaji was a proud man, of that there is no doubt. Not in an arrogant way though, the way many Punjabis are thought to be. Naniji had something to do with that, but not too much needed to be done to soften my grandfather’s heart. With some of the stories Ma tells, she notices my eyebrows knit together and says, “You think he was wrong to do that?” He was conservative, most likely a reactionary, and some of his actions reflect the class to which he belonged. He was also capable of change, of stepping into someone else’s shoes, and always, of compassion.

He told anecdotes like the one about the Persian prince and the pack of wolves to remind his children that they had to shape their own identities and be responsible for their actions, not to fall back on their parents. He encouraged his daughters to work and be independent, but he was also prepared to help them if he perceived that they went through needless hardships, as he did on more than one occasion with my mother.

***

I remember a few years ago, getting into a mini-argument with my eldest brother, who believes he is right about most things. We argued about the year that Nanaji died. He insisted it was 1975, and I knew it was 1976. Finally I turned to my mother, who to my dismay, thought at first that my brother was correct. It turns out that I had the right date. For a very long time, the only date of someone’s passing that I could remember in my extended family was that of Nanaji’s. Not because I loved anyone else less. Perhaps because it was the first family funeral at which I had been present, even though my parents would not let me see the burial. Mostly, though, because, and this is no exaggeration, my world changed when Nanaji died. I saw how it changed for much of the family; at times it seemed they were like a ship left afloat with no anchor. I was eleven years old, weeks away from my twelfth birthday, and observed what happens when a strong patriarch exits the world as unexpectedly as he did. Hours before his death, he had summoned his eldest son, and reminded him that if anything should happen, he was to take the utmost care of his mother, and not to let her want for anything.

Naniji’s world crumbled when he died. And if I had not been introduced earlier, I had begun to get more familiar with cynicism.

I did not get along with ChhoTay Maamoo’s children a good part of the time, when we were kids. The main reason was because they made up stories. There was nothing wrong with being creative except that their stories were malicious, not innocent like another one of my cousins. Rather than ignoring them, I used to get into knock down drag out screaming fights with them, because their stories were about our relatives, people I loved.

One of these times, after having shouted at my three cousins, who were like speak evil, speak evil two and speak evil three, I went into the room where Nanaji was resting. The room was dark, save for the moonlight, and the light outside the room, but he could tell that I was upset, as I sat with him. “Kya baat hai beTa?” He asked. Well, I did not need any more coaxing to pour out what had just happened, and the awful things that my cousins had said.

He listened and told me to go and get ChhoTay Maamoo. When his youngest son entered the room and sat down, I watched how he quietly but sternly scolded his son for the actions of his children. “Where were they learning such things?” he demanded. He told Maamoo to take care of them, and to educate them properly. I never thought at that time about how Maamoo must have felt about me for having complained to his father. I do know that what Nanaji said that evening made absolutely no difference, it did not change their behavior. It would not change their behavior for years, as I was to see seven years after Nanaji’s passing. It was sad to see creativity wasted like that.

In those brief moments though, when I felt alone and angry and confused, Nanaji was my champion, and I knew as long as he was on my side, I had nothing to fear (except from my father). I wonder sometimes, as I think about the choices I have made, how much he still would be on my side. Not much, perhaps, but I still feel his spirit hovering close to me, watching over me. Much has happened in thirty-four years, but the memory of my grandfather lives in many of us. Uncle V. was telling one of my cousins, or nephews who had never met him, how he dressed, he had stopped wearing western clothes a long while back and one could see him walking in a shalwar kameez, accompanied by a sherwani and a cane. He rarely ever went out without his turban which consisted of a starched white cotton cloth wrapped around a kula, with a certain flourish. Either I had forgotten, or it was new even to me, that to wear a turban in such a fashion indicated something about the honor of a man in his community.

I do not know if the story, the memory of our grandfather will continue with the next generation who never saw him, or if it dies with us. I do think that what my grandfather imparted to his children has in turn been shared with us, and if we have listened and not forgotten, and hold on to some things in which he believed, there is still some chance that his story will continue. And that, when one remembers his philanthropy, his compassion and his wisdom, among other things, is not bad, not bad at all.

Eonia i mnimi – Memory eternal.

GLOSSARY

Kal : refers to both “tomorrow” and “yesterday”

Nana: maternal grandfather. Maternal grandmother would be Nani. “ji” is used to refer to someone respectfully, particularly elders.

charpai: literally “four legs”. Quite a few sites describe this as a string cot, which is not altogether incorrect, but I differentiate between a cot and a bed, and a charpai, while easier to manuever, is a bed made of string.

jinaaza: funeral/burial

afsos: the period of mourning and condolences

sahib: A term of respect. The feminine is sahiba

mudabbar: pertaining to wisdom

mudallal: I am not exactly certain what this means but its root lies in the word “daleel” which pertains to an argument, or to witness. According to my mother it refers to someone who is always questioning

ThaiT: is what we refer to hard-core mostly unadulterated Punjabi

maajhay di: refers to a region in the Punjab that stretches roughly from the city of Lahore in Pakistan to the border of India (and possibly beyond). The Punjabi spoken in this region is maajhay di Punjabi.

BaRe Maamoo: Maamoo is maternal uncle. BaRe is big, or in this context older. In the context of my essays, it is used to refer to my mother’s eldest brother.

Baji: refers to sister. It is used mainly to refer to an older sister or cousin-sister.

Dada: paternal grandfather

ChhoTay Maamoo: ChhoTa is little or small. In the context of my essays, ChhoTay Maamoo is my mother’s youngest brother.

Kya baat hai: baat refers to a conversation, or in this context a matter of concern. Kya baat hai = What is the matter?

BeTa: a word used for a male who is a son, nephew, grandson. My family, and others use this for both sons and daughters, but the feminine would be beTi.

shalwar kameez: shalwar is the cuffed pants, kameez the longish shirt

sherwani: If you’re familiar with the Nehru jacket, the sherwani is the longish version of that.

kula: this is a cap, somewhat dome shaped around which the cloth for the turban is wrapped. You might find an example of this turban in old Persian paintings, or certain members of an army regiment, among others. This turban is not commonly worn.

Happy New Year!

02/01/2010

In my usual halfhearted cynicism,  I told Ma that I was not all that excited about ringing in the new year. What is there to be excited about, really? People are still killing one another. War is not over. I still am not talking to certain people with whom I was close and whom I trusted. It is just another year with more of the same from the previous year and those before that. Redemption? Resolutions? Lovely words aren’t they? Of course I did not use this rant on Ma (there are others!), but all I had to say was what was so exciting about ringing in the new year, and Ma’s response was that we should be thankful to God that we have been given another year to live.

I had forgotten about God – The Force – The Man Up Those Invisible Stairs. Or had I? Another year, another opportunity – to fuck up – or come face to face with destiny.

In moments like this, and there are quite a few, Eric Idle’s voice clears away the cry and hue

Always look at the bright side of life

Always look at the light side of life

Happy bloomin’ New Year, my friends and fellow bloggers. Live long and prosper!

Here’s to the new year. May she be a damn sight better than the last one, and may we all be home before she’s over.

~ Colonel Sherman T. Potter M*A*S*H 4077th, in the episode “A War For All Seasons”.

NOTE: Part of this was written in response to someone on Chowk who posts a considerable number of blogs there, all showcasing the failures of Pakistan and Pakistanis. Whether he/she is Pakistani or Indian is immaterial to me. My response would be the same.  Needless to add this is also posted on my Chowk blog.

This is dedicated to the memory of ChhoTay Maamoo.

This Christmas Eve will mark three years since the death of my mother’s youngest brother, ChhoTay Maamoo. I must admit that due to various factors, as an adult, I was not as close to Maamoo as I wanted to be, but I hope he knows that I never stopped loving him, or being proud of having him for an uncle.

I wish I had seen the other side of Maamoo, how he interacted when his siblings and he were all together. The way he chased my mother around our house when he wanted some of our whiskey and she said no for his sake rather than out of selfishness. The way, as a much older man, he held Ma’s hand as they walked together, out of a sense of overprotectiveness the last time she saw him in Pakistan thirteen years ago.

The Maamoo I saw and heard for the most part is not the one my parents, and aunts and uncles remember growing up. I wish I had known that one.

Wishes will not bring him back but remembering him keeps him alive in our hearts. He was buried in the village where he was raised. It was what he wanted at the end of his difficult life. Not to be buried alongside his wife, but to return home.

He knew where he belonged. He may never have forgotten but it took him the end of his life to get there. He knew where he belonged.

This is something I wrote in my blog last year regarding memories of Christmases in Pakistan

It is already, or very close to being Christmas in Pakistan. I remember some of the Christmases we spent in Lahore, or in Ma’s village. New shalwar kameez suits, spending time with the relatives especially Nanaji and Naniji. Lighting up diyas one Christmas eve on the windowless sills and ledges of walls in Nanaji’s adobe house while watching the boys light them on the roof. Listening to the Salvation Army band play Christmas carols and hymns. I tend to wax nostalgic on holidays like this, only because I am only too aware that something has been lost, or forgotten, or taken away on Christmas day, when the main thing to remember is that a beautiful baby was born who would touch the lives of so many, and who continues to do so.


The hate-monger who posts countless posts per day writes a post about how Christmas in Pakistan this year will be a silent one, to show just how bad things in Pakistan are, and there is no argument from me there. Things are bloody messed up in Pakistan, not just for Christians, but for everyone. Ma asked me this morning, “Where did the Taliban attack today?” I told her I had not read the news today to share that information with her.

I do not mind people who are truly concerned about those in Pakistan who are suffering due to the monster that the Pakistani government in no small part created. But what does get me ever so slightly are those hateful people who do not care whether Pakistan succeeds or fails, and use minority communities such as the one my family and I belong to as the shoulder from which they fire their vitriol. I cannot speak for the entire Christian community, but I think I can do without our community being used for such purposes, thank you.

Yes, Christmas in Pakistan might be filled with less pomp this year. There is reason to fear the soulless that are murdering Pakistanis, burning down churches, bombing mosques. But knowing what I know of Christians in Pakistan, they are not going to let the observed nativity of Christ go by without joyous celebration, without a renewal of faith. Monsignor Lawrence John Saldanha in this article and the writer of the article should focus more on our resilience, our will, and the good will that this holiday is all about. Not couch it in fear.

It is good to cancel outdoor events especially for security reasons. Church services will go on though, feasts will take place in houses, gifts will be exchanged and new outfits will be shown off for the day, and more important, this is the celebration of the nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we as Christians should and God willing will all rejoice in it.

Peace on earth, good will to all! :)

Re-membering

11/12/2009

It is very possible that I may have published this or a version of this here before, but since it’s been a while . . .

—-

The school I attended in Lahore was a private one where children of the “elite” went to school. It was primarily a girls’ school, although when I was there between 1970 and only part of 1978-79, boys were admitted through Class III.  Sons and daughters of rich businessman, old and new moneyed families, army officers, high court justices, theater and film walas and ghazal singers among others. Into this mix entered four children still fresh from having spent six years (four for youngest brother) in America. We, along with the children of the Principal of F.C. College were the only Christian children (that I knew of) in a predominantly Muslim school. This detail, while unimportant to me my first two years there, would differentiate me from the rest of the students for the rest of my time there.

I remember the first few days I was there, some of the children nicknamed me “Charlie Chaplin”. I was not all that familiar with Chaplin at the age of six, unlike them, and was told that I walked like him. As a “langRi”, I was already conscious of how I walked, and how different I already was from my siblings and now a much larger group of people. That day, I did not consider being called the great Charlie Chaplin a compliment, and I was certain it was not offered as one.

Class I was a difficult time for me. I was still having problems with my leg which had been in a plaster when we arrived in Lahore in the summer of 1970. For someone who had learned how to read at the age of three, I was also having trouble in that department. I could not decide whether to write with my left hand or my right hand, until one day I saw that I wrote rather well with the left one – a “choice” that would also bring unwanted attention my way.

Class II was somewhat better at school, if not at the home front. It was where I would meet the girl who became my best friend, the daughter of a cinematographer in the Lahore film industry. We were inseparable as friends until she received a double promotion, and we drifted apart. I still remember that first day in class: I had opened my reader, and the first thing I saw was a page where one had to connect the dots to make the Pakistan flag. I had a thin-tipped black (or red) marker at the time, and as I began connecting the dots, the Bengali girl who would become my best friend glared at me and said, “You cannot draw the flag with that color.”

It made no sense to me, but I put the marker away once I had finished, and asked why I could not. She mumbled some answer about it being a bad color for the flag and left it at that.

Class III was not the best of times at the school. I was exempt from Islamiyat classes which began that year, and if my name was not evidence enough, not having to learn the kalimas made me stand out from the entire class. I was the only girl in my section that did not have to participate during that period. I was fascinated by the Arabic language, but considered myself fortunate that I could get out of something. I recall writing a long note excusing myself from homework for a particular course and the dismissal of that note told me it would have been best to use that wasted energy on my assignments.

It was the year I was punished for two class periods for having flung the book of kalimas and surahs on the floor. It had been in this beautiful purple pouch by whose string I was waving it in the air. I was not listening to the raised voices telling me what was in there, so mesmerized was I by the circular motion of it. Next thing I knew, it was out of my hands and on the floor; other than some gasps and some sharp intakes of breath, the classroom was silent. One of my classmates ran to get our teacher who had been out in the hallway. After receiving quite the lecture for the blasphemous deed I had done, I was made to stand in the corner of our classroom for two class periods.

I had learned my lesson. I believe I was even remorseful with the classmate who owned the pouch. I should have been. It would not be the last time I would offend the faith – unintentionally. The other time would be when I tried to fast for one whole day during Ramzaan, but never having done it before, could not last through the entire day without a glass of water.

I was caught at the water fountain, faced the circle of the usual judges of my behavior, and was severely scolded for the sin I committed. I was either in Class VI or VII when this happened.

Then there were the other things which were labeled as “gunaah”, the main one being writing with my left hand. One afternoon, one of my “friends” snatched the pen I was using out of my hand, and put it in my right hand and told me to write. I told her that I could barely write with that hand, and what I wrote was not legible. She stood over me and watched as I unsteadily held the pen in my right hand. I was told I had to write with my right hand, because “bayeN haath se likhna gunaah hai.” I told her that I was sorry but that I was not going to stop writing with the one hand with which I wrote well.

This suppressing the writing by left-handed folk is not limited to Islam of course. Not too much later I would learn that Catholic schools strongly encouraged children to write with their right hand as well. Which is unfortunate because what matters more than what hand one writes with is what emanates from the heart. What emanated from quite a few hearts including mine, those years in school, was not a pretty sight.

While in Class III, I also got in trouble for trying to sell some of my things, a long woolen nightcap, my Mark Twain book, among some other things to some of my classmates. This prompted a visit from our Principal informing us that what I did (not naming me of course) was prohibited in school, and any future acts such as mine would be punished. I was not punished for what I had done, but again, I got the message.

Towards the end of that year I would go to school one morning, out of uniform, hair barely combed, long and disheveled, and very late – halfway through the first period. I entered the room tentatively, timidly, and all eyes were on me. Our teacher rushed towards me, and began scolding me not just because of my “huliya”, but my tardiness. Having already listened to an angry voice, and worse, that morning, I could not take it anymore. I broke down and sobbed, my body shaking.

Miss held my arms, unable to fathom what had brought on such a reaction. I could not tell her either. She calmed me down, and helped me to my seat. That day, I was either ignored, or treated with kindness.

Later that day, we would not return to our house. We would not return there for the whole summer and we would have no contact with our father.

Class IV was when various sections of Class III had combined and we had become one large class. There was one girl in particular who did not care for me. There were others of course, but this one stands out because she is the one who used a person’s religion or nationality as if it were a gaali. I recall the way she hissed the word “Isssssai” followed by “kissssai”. I recall how one time when one of our classmates pissed her off, she called her an Afghani – which she was – but it was the way she said it, as if it was something dirty, horrible. There was no way I knew how to be friends with this girl. I could have done chamchagiri perhaps, but my ultimate withdrawal from everyone because of my own mistakes indicated that I was not interested in doing that. This girl’s behavior towards me was sometimes so awful for no reason that one time, one of my cousins told me that if she should malign me again then I should tell her that her “pardaday” cleaned the floors of the British – and more. How else, he said, did her family get to be where they are in Lahore in the present time?

I could not bring myself to say that to her. Not simply out of fear. My cousin-brother-in-law was a hothead. I was a hothead too, but I was also taught that telling people they would burn in hell, or insulting their families was not the way to end a conflict. It was the easy way. It was not the right way.

One day, when one of our teachers was absent, the class monitors watched over the class. They had what was called a “conduct book”. In this book, points were taken from each student who displayed bad conduct (and what was bad was at their discretion) and then this book was given to the homeroom teacher who tallied up the points, and this affected how one’s conduct would be described in the report card, it affected one’s eligibility for being class monitor, etcetera etcetera etcetera.

I asked the monitors politely if I could go have a drink of water. They said no. I asked them why I could not go, as they had let others go before, and both monitors struck a point off for my challenging them. I asked them why they marked off a point, and they took another one. At this point it had become a game, with others, friends, sycophants of the monitors pitching in. This became obvious when all I had done was turn around to take something out of my “hitachi-case” and the girls sitting behind me said, “Take off another point!”

Whether they did or not, I do not know, because at that time I was so fed up, so tired of the daily harangues and digs, that I finally cried out, “Why are you doing this to me?” and buried my face in my arms which were folded on the table, so no one could see me. Through muffled sobs, I said, “What have I ever done to any of you?”

The class fell silent. Someone tried to calm me down. The monitors put the conduct book away. There was no apology. There was the realization by some that certain people including the monitors had gone too far. Some probably hated me for crying, but I had kept the pain inside for far too long.

I described this scene in a writing class in college, and my teacher wrote at the end of the essay, “Did the students modify their awful behavior?” When I think about it, they did, a little. But some of us would never be great friends. And my behavior was always criticized, because of my long time problem of saying something at inopportune times. Like the time two student groups had formed in our class, and were ultimately found out and banned because I had talked about the groups to a classmate’s younger sister. Once again the circle formed around me. And then the time when I saw a man standing outside who used to collect one of my classmates, and I called out to her letting her know he was there. Again the circle formed around me, and I was scolded because that man was no longer in the employ of her family. Not being her jigRi dost, I was not to know that, but I recall thinking that I did not deserve a verbal lashing for that.

Finally tired of having to watch everything I said, and the circles, I withdrew from most of my classmates. My not socializing with them distanced us even further. Ultimately I was so tired of the atmosphere at school that I quit going altogether.

For a long time I thought that some of their behavior had to do with my religion. As I began writing about this time and remembering, I realized that some of us were just bitchy bullies and some brought in my religion or Y.’s nationality when they had nothing intelligent to say. They displayed their ignorance and intolerance, an intolerance that they did not learn on their own.

As for me, I could have been tougher, but that was not in my nature at the time. One of my friends whom I loved and think of fondly to this day gave me pointers on how to stand up to certain girls, girls who may have been insecure themselves but who managed to gather a following, a circle of bullies. I tried M.’s pointers on someone and it actually worked. This one girl had actually told me to do something or bring something, and I rather boldly told her I did not want to. She reacted exactly the way M. said she would, a little taken aback, but she left me alone, and then treated me more like an equal for a brief time. I could not sustain that for long either.

It was not until years later that I told my parents how miserable I was at school. They told me that if I had mentioned this early on, then they would have taken me out. It was not easy getting admission into other schools in Lahore. Youngest brother lucked out at Cathedral, the place I wanted to go. The thing was that for all the bad times I had there, the education I received at this school was excellent. I was more than amply prepared for the remainder of my freshman year in high school in America. And if something can come out of bad experiences, it is the need for more understanding and empathy for those who are “different”, be they different in faith, physical appearance or ability, among other things. I look upon those years at school in Lahore a lot more kindly than I once did, although if I were asked to go back in time, and return to my old school, I would most likely say, “hell no, I won’t go!”

that John Lennon was murdered.

I still remember that date. When my father and I were watching ABC news, his back was towards me and I hoped he would not turn around to see the tears streaming down his youngest daughter’s cheeks. He would not have understood why I was crying. I do not know that he was a fan of the man or his music.

Even I did not realize how much the news of his death would impact me. I had been in America for a little over a year, and I was finally beginning to collect Beatles’ music, and listen to it. Not that I had not heard it in Lahore, but I did not buy or own what I heard. The Beatles were, and always will be the fabulous ones. There is no doubt of that. Lennon was a very flawed man, but what sound like the simplest of songs say so much. And his songwriting after The Beatles just got better, with “Working Class Hero”, “Imagine”, “Instant Karma”, among others.

Here is what I wrote on my Facebook page:

Next year on this date, the 8th of December will mark thirty years since the murder of John Lennon – a man whose words live on, and are part of some of our discourses. He shines on . . . like the moon and the stars and the sun.

I do not know if I can say any more than that. Sometimes less is better.

Memories of sitting in my Advanced Algebra class. Our teacher was in and out of the classroom, and he let us put on the radio, so some of us moved aside the uncomfortable chairs, stretched ourselves on the floor and worked on whatever chapter we were on while Lennon and The Beatles’ voices floated through the speakers.

He would have approved. He might even have approved if we had made our escape, who knows?!

Sar pe sawaar

07/12/2009

It was not today, but not too long ago I had two songs playing in my head (who needs an Ipod or an MP3 player?!?).  One of them I knew was from a Shashi Kapoor-Sharmila Tagore film, and I now find myself saying that Kaka (Rajesh Khanna) and Sharmila may not have been the best pairing after all.  Those of you who know how much I have loved Kaka might find what I have said shocking, even earth-shattering!!! No, not really.

Shashi Kapoor is so adorable in this particular segment. Then again, when has he not been? Actually, I can think of a few times but we will let that go for now. The other song playing in my head was this:

I used to hear this song on All India Radio, and Mukesh collections that someone in the family had. I may have seen it on Chitrahaar, but not remembered the name of the film (“My Love”) or the fact that Shashi was in this. And so was Sharmila. How cool is it that not only were two awesome songs playing in my head, but that both of them had this lovely pairing? I was rather used to seeing the longish haired Shashi, but truth be told I like this look a lot better.

I really should have paid more attention to Shashi in my adolescence than Kaka, but Kaka haters, do not rejoice. I still love this:

And here’s a film where Shashi gets the girl Kaka dumps, and Shashi wins here in so many other ways, especially when it comes to hair. Then again, Kaka has consistently lost in the hair category ever since . . . well let us just say 1970 and be done with it.

Mumtaz wins as well, in this war of words if you ask me. Both men appear to be clueless here.

Love means always being able to be critical. :D

I know I have told this story before, but I never know who reads this crazy blog, so here I go again:

A few years ago I briefly attended San Jose State University, and tutored in the Language Learning Center. There were quite a few young desi tutors as well. One day we were having a conversation about film, and as I began to talk about what to some would now be ancient films like Pyaasa, and what a great director Guru Dutt was, the young’uns smiled and said something to the effect that those were films their parents watched. They were not into them.

I was slightly disappointed by this, as I am by anyone who says ANYTHING negative about Pyaasa as a film. Especially since one of them was interested in being a filmmaker. But to each his or her own, you know? There are some young folks who love the films of the mid-twentieth century, and some who do not. We are like this only.

Pyaasa was released ten years after the British “granted” independence to India (and gave in to the creation of Pakistan) and among the themes in the film is the social one, grappling with issues of poverty and corruption, with the song, “Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahaaN haiN”. Vijay is a poet who lives in a material world, but wants nothing to do with it. He loses the girl he loves because she is a material girl. As he is rejected by publishers and his family, he wanders from place to place, and meets a prostitute named Gulabo who loves his poetry, and falls in love with him as well.

Vijay runs into his ex-girlfriend Meena, who is now married to a publisher named Ghosh. For reasons mainly attributed to jealousy and pride, Ghosh hires Vijay as a “naukar” as this will help him keep watch to see if anything happens between Meena and him. One day a beggar to whom Vijay gives his coat, dies before Vijay can save him from a moving train.  The dead beggar is mistaken for Vijay. Believing that Vijay is dead, Gulabo goes to Ghosh to have his poems published. He publishes them for his own profit, and exploits Vijay’s “death” for his own profit as well. And he is not the only one. Vijay’s friend and family aids him in this exploitation. But then the poet returns and reveals himself. He rejects the material blood-sucking world of which those around him have been a part.  And since I’ve practically given the entire film away, for those of you who have not seen this yet, you can guess who he ends up with in the end (or go to Wikipedia)!

This is said to be Waheeda Rehman’s first major role in a Hindi film, although this was not her first Hindi film. I have always thought that especially in Guru Dutt’s films, the cameras were very good to Waheeda, especially in close-ups. There is greater evidence of this in Kaagaz ke Phool, I believe, than in Pyaasa. But the camera work in the latter is excellent throughout the film, the juxtaposition of shadows and light, that great pose of Guru Dutt’s in the doorway of the hall during the song “Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye”, a pose that still amazes me every time I see it.  Here is a man supposedly dead, who has returned, and the way he stands in the doorway, with arms spread out, and legs together, is a rather symbolic pose. Meena’s face, half light, half shadow towards the end of the song. Gulabo’s face out of the darkness, into the light and bright in her love for him.

“Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye” is my favorite song of the film. I guess I have been thinking of this film and this song a lot in the wake of certain decisions and events that have affected many lives. And there are those who might disagree with me, but while the poet sings of awful things and the reasons why he does not care if he gains this world, I do not see this as being a pessimistic song for the poet himself. Vijay chooses to live in a world where people care about one another, where people are less concerned about greed and material wealth, where the poor are not exploited. I wish there were even more Vijays in the world today. I try to be that way myself. I am happiest when I am successful at that, which unfortunately, is not often enough.

The poet, through the wonderful lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi, exemplifies Shelley’s dictum: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. Curious that I never thought of Shelley in connection to Pyaasa until today. And this being the last collaboration of Ludhianvi and S.D. Burman, their gems are still remembered and sung by many of my parents’ generation as well as mine – and hopefully the next ones as well.

I had not forgotten Johnny Walker as the loyal friend to Vijay. He too was one of a kind. And this song brings some comic relief into the film.

If only Guru Dutt had lived to see the honors his film continues to receive. He made a different choice, and who knows what his films would have continued to challenge. The one thing that bothers me is this being referred to as a Bollywood film. Perhaps I am overreacting, but I do not see this, or Bimal Roy’s films, or Dev Anand’s earlier films, or those of Hrishikesh Mukherjee as “Bollywood” films. Then again, that too is a matter of opinion.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.