Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grappling with Cowardice

I feel relieved. A situation that I had been dreading to face is over. Not really over but I have conquered the first and the most difficult step.

I am the youngest member of a large Hum Aapke Hain Kaun kind of family. I have lots of uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. A 'close family only' affair in our setup usually means a minimum of fifty people. No, we don't sing 'Dhik Tana Dhik Tana in the lawns of palatial houses, or play cricket with dogs as goal-keepers and we bicker more often than not over many small and petty things, yet we still stick together. esp. in times of crisis. Crisis such as illness, misfortune or deaths.

Death. The inevitable. The inescapable. The ultimate truth. It has to happen and happen to each of us. Everything and everyone around us is transient. Yet, coping with death is the most traumatic thing for a human being. I often wonder why nature did not make us immune to death. Why have our genes not evolved so that, the emotional knowledge of death is hard-wired into us. The truth is that emotionally an average human being lives as if death does not exist. Why this delusion? It is because of this head in the sand temperament that every time death happens it causes trauma. If death is as true to existence as breathing, then why has nature not built the mechanism to not get affected by it? Is there some divine design in there?

Ever since I have been a child I have seen that deaths are times when you rally together and show support through continued physical presence. In the earlier days a death in the immediate family meant packing your bags and going and spending as much time possible with the bereaved family. It was through this extended social circle that people coped and healed. A crutch that is unfortunately disappearing in our isolated life-styles in the new world. Through family conditioning, I have learnt that this is normal and expected social behaviour under such circumstances. That is the 'right' thing to do.

However, I am also the youngest. That made me into a socially redundant kind of creature. Every time there was a call for a social duty, my presence was considered superfluous. She's a kid, she does not need to go. Or even if I did go, I was not required to offer any words of condolence. I was just to sit quietly. Rarely ever did I have to go anywhere and offer condolence as an individual. There was always someone else better equipped to do it. Thus, I grew up without having to face and deal with such situations myself.

I don't know if it is the conditioning or my basic nature that makes me into a coward. I have always been scared to face someone who has faced a tragedy. I don't know what to say, how to behave and though I feel a strong degree of continued compassion for a person in trouble, I don't know how to express it or console them. The only thing I know is to give a tight hug. But you cannot do that to everyone. Thus, there is always a conflict within me. My value system says that I need to go out of my way and be there for the person and my cowardice says run away, you are useless anyway, why face a difficult situation.

After growing up and developing a social circle of my own, away from the family I have had times where I need to face such situations. My usual escape is to take the support of common friends. I manage to get by.

But there is another more sticky side to my existence. Since I live away from the family here in the US I have become a representative of the family back in India. I need to be present at places and that too most of the times alone. This is where things get very very difficult for me. The last time a tragedy happened, I shirked and then made an extremely belated appearance. No one ever held it against me, but I still regret it. I should have picked up the courage and gone for the funeral.

This Tuesday, I was faced with the same dreaded situation again. A distant relative living here in the US suddenly passed away. Even though we were not closely related, she was a fine lady. Extremely sweet, helpful and full of life. I rarely made an effort to keep in touch, but she would call me regularly and enquire about my well-being. She carried none of the expectations and baggage that inevitably get added the moment you say 'relative'. I was genuinely fond of her. When her son called me early Tuesday morning to break the news I was shocked and distressed. My initial reaction as usual was emotional. I don't know what I said to him, but I think I said the right things.

However after that my old problems resurfaced. I went into the terrified mode again. I need to go and offer my condolences to the family... as a gesture to my bhabhi who lost her aunt, and as a gesture to the family with whom I had established an independent relationship. The truth is that unless you reach out and express your concern, no one ever knows how strongly you feel for the situation. Yet, that reaching out and expressing is what gives me nightmares. I have always been better at expressing through gestures than words. For a person who talks nineteen to the dozen and writes long articles it sounds strange. But that is true.

I have been putting off making the dreaded call since Wednesday morning. I found many excuses... they need to break the news to the father, they need to be left alone to cope, they need to be left alone to deal with the logistics... when the mind decides to conjure up excuses, it can give PC Sarkar a run for his money. The whole of yesterday I dillied and dallied.

Today morning when I woke up I knew I had to call as soon as possible. There was no way out. But the coward that I am, I put it off till afternoon, giving myself the excuse of a heavy work day. From afternoon I pushed it to early evening. Finally, in the evening something inside pulled me up harshly and said.. NOW!. I must have taken ten gulps of water, clicked on my email's 'send/recieve' button another ten times, hoping an important mail would show up to give me an escape route. But nothing happened. I finally picked up the phone and dialled, my heart thumping against my chest. The phone rang, and rang.. and deep within I hoped it would keep ringing. That would assuage my guilt complex of not having called and also relieve me of doing the talking. And that is exactly what happened. I got the voice mail. I was so relieved. I left a message and hung up.

Then in the evening, he called back.... the son. My heart thumping again I picked up the phone. 'I wanted to know when the funeral is', rushing headlong to the point and fumbling stupidly. 'Oh we did the funeral yesterday', he said simply. 'um.. a.... are you going to be performing some pooja in her memory then? I really want to be there', I know I was sounding extremely fake. 'I don't know', he said, suddenly sounding very vulnerable. 'I have no idea what needs to done, I am just following whatever instructions my aunt gave to me'. My heart went out to him. Here is another person who has suddenly found himself in a situation and he has no idea how to deal with it. Suddenly he has been pushed to a position of responsibility. I felt an instant kinship with him. Death here in the US, for many families is far more difficult to cope with. The therapeutic effect of the houseful of people in India is underestimated. It is a lonely battle here.

That broke the barrier. After that we spoke ... easily and naturally. The last time I must have spoken to him must be three years back. I hardly know him. Yet, he spoke. He spoke of his mother's last moments, her intuition about her death, his fathers reaction, how he and his brother handled it. I offered him all the inspirational support I could, straight from the heart and without any guile of 'duniyadari'. When I put the phone down, I felt sad, but I felt good. I had done the right thing.

Just before his call, my neighbour had popped in for five minutes and I was whining about how difficult it is to deal with such situations. How much I am not looking forward to making the drive on the week-end. 'Listen, I have never bought a house before, but I am going through the process of buying it, aren't I? So, even you need to do somethings for the first time'. Strange logic. But it made sense.

So, this week-end I shall make the drive. It is not going to be easy, but winning over my cowardice is making me feel like a better person. Truly, there is no other way to deal with a situation than to face it!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Falling in Love

I have a confession to make. I am in love.

Yes, I know one is not supposed to confess to such things esp. in a public space (bharatiya parampara and all). But then, think of it a blog is not really a public space. It is a personal web log. So in essence it is a private-public space (quite like an arranged-love marriage). It gives you the best of both worlds. Blogs were created so that you could reveal and share your darkest secrets with the invisible world. For the average desi girl that would be of the kinds of ‘How to juggle ten silent admirers at a time, 'My first date over sambhar vada' or hush..even steamier’ or ‘My secret travels on youTube’. The truth is there in bold letters out for all bloggers to see. No one reads your blog unless you give them some juicy tidbits of your life.

My blog puttar is just two months and I as an anxious parent am feeling very human. I want people to admire my baby. So like an artist fallen upon bad days, I have decided to resort to leaking some secrets about my personal life, just to keep in circulation. To justify my move I would like to believe that my secret is not a dark one - It as bright and pure as white light. Then why not share it. So here I am, in conversation with my blog on the love of my life.

[Background Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone]
Mein aur mera blog aksar yeh baaten karte hain

Mera Blog: So what is this I am hearing, you are in love?

Mein: Yes, I am in love.

Mera Blog: Wow! So you have finally condescened. How did it happen?

Mein: To answer that one I need to quote Anjali Kiri, that classmate from the MCA days. ‘Love knows no logic’, she would have said with a flourish of the hand. Anyway, since logic hogs all the space in my professional life, I am prone to letting go of it in my personal life. Let me be a little enigmatic and add... Love knows no age either.

Mera Blog: Oh No! You have fallen in love with Dev Anand again?

Mein: [In a steely voice] Can we move to the next question.

Mera Blog: OK. So who is it then?

Mein: [Enthusiastic again] Not ‘it’. He. Yes, I am glad to inform you that he is not an ‘it’ or ‘her’ but a ‘he’. (Do I hear a sigh of relief from the family?). [Blush] I shall leave that suspense for a bit. You can ask other questions.

Mera Blog: Where did you meet him? Who played cupid.

Mein: It was the kind-hearted greatbong of the Random Thoughts of A Demented Mind fame who did the honours. We know that dementia breeds genius and it took the genius of the greatest of them all bongs to wean me away from all the dead bongs who took up my attention till now.

Mera Blog: Er.. Ok. I think I got that. Are you in love with Gulzar by any chance?

Mein: Eeeshhh! No. Please do not speculate. When time comes, I shall introduce him with a proper video. You continue with other questions.

Mera Blog: Achcha batao... kaisa lag raha hai

Mein: [full blush mode] Ah, what to say, loss of sleep, gain in appetite and an obsessive need to go back for more.

Mera Blog: So the high and mighty have really fallen [snicker snicker]. Do you have anything in common? Is he fond of music like you?

Mein: Ofcourse, you know the importance I attach to serenading in the entire wooing process. He did not have a fighting chance without that. Though another friend thinks it is got to do with the 'Delhi-Delhi' bonding. We dilliwalas stick together. I think it is just pure chemistry. I am absolutely smitten by the way he puts his heart and soul into his singing. Such expressions on the face, such heartfelt sincerity...sigh..I could go on and on.

Mera Blog: So who is it, ab bata bhi do.

Mein: Thandi thandi hawa pooche unke pata, laaj aaye sakhi kaise doon mein bata

Mera Blog: [a little tired now] This is getting too filmy. Are you going to reveal the secret or is this going to remain like a script of a Dev Anand film.. .going nowhere!

Mein: [Steely look again] I told you before. Don't go there.
Mera Blog: Get on with it then.
Mein: OK, the moment has finally arrived. I shall introduce him through a video which is the anthem of our bonding. Ladies and Gentleman, Deviyon aur sajjanon, dil thamke ke baithiye and click on the link below
Tumse Milne Ki Tamanna Hai - The beginning
Roop Tera Mastana - Love at full bloom, please do hear atleast the first stanza

He woos in English too
She leads a lonely life

And you know something, I always admire people who are admired by the world. The adulation in this video makes me glow with pride
Baar baar yeh din aaye

And what else can I say after this except Ooooooo......Mujhe Kisi Se Pyar ho Gaya
Note: Further research on this topic has revealed so many new facets to this topic that I shall be back soon with a second edition dedicated to Dr Chaudhury!
Read Part 2 here : Falling in Love : Gaana Aaye Ya Na Aaye

Monday, July 21, 2008

Apna Kaam Swayam..?

I walked into a sparkling clean house today. It was the cleaning service Monday. As on all the other Mondays, when I stepped in I felt a pang of guilt. Guilt? Yes, you heard me right. Guilty pleasure.

For this to make sense I need to rewind back and play this from the beginning.

My mother suffers from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). She cannot tolerate untidiness or mess of any kind. Our house is dusted twice a day, all things are neatly in place and it is sparkling clean. It is not only my mom, her sister is afflicted by the same disease. It runs in the family. We refer to it as 'Safai Ka Mania'. Needless to say my mom and my aunt are very house proud. And however much they might rubbish it, I suspect cleaning is the most cherish able part of their existence.

Now, to this genetic composition add some conditioning. My mom was raised in a large, well-to-do family with Gandhian values. Along with many other things they were taught to be self-reliant. That translates to - do your own chores. Keep your room neat, make your own bed, put away the dirty dishes etc. etc. If my grandfather had not passed away before I was born, I would have surely asked him what was the point of having a battalion of servants if each member had to do his own chores. Ah well....

Everything was hunky dory for my mom till her world turned upside down... I came into it(upside down of course). By some quirk of fate, I escaped the oppressive cleanliness gene that ran in the family. I am deliciously dirty and lazy. My desk was always cluttered, my room had things lying all over and my cupboard resembled a laundry bag (mom's words not mine - if you ask me, I think a laundry bag is a very respectable thing). Needless to say, I was the biggest challenge to my mom's value system.
Help came to her in form of a standard three Hindi lesson that comprised of a story called 'Apna Kaam Swayam Karo' (Clean your own Crap). While the details of the story have faded from the memory, the lesson remains as fresh. Mom made sure, that it would not fade away - Do not leave your work onto others. Even though we had help at home I was supposed to do my own chores. The same set of outdated values that she learnt from her folks. So I grew up basically cursing my fate, trying to do my chores and shirking away from them whenever possible, convinced that as soon as I would escape my mother's tyranny I would live like a pig.

However, God has a terrible sense of humour. Growing up, is basically about being a butt of this sense of humour. It was when I first escaped home to live in a hostel that the curse of my conditioning dawned upon me. I made the dreadful discovery that I had not escaped the family affliction. I too hated mess. It was true that I was lazy about cleaning, however I now realised was that while it was fine for me to create a mess, but once there was no one to clean it, the mess got onto my nerves. It was shattering moment when I discovered that to be completely relaxed I needed a clean place! My perfectly normal gene had been rendered ineffective with constant conditioning.
My life has never been the same after that. There has always been that tussle between giving in to my inherent laziness and to keep my environment the way I have been used to having it.... clean.

When I moved to US, the 'Apna kaam swayam karo' motto took on a whole new meaning. Actually, it is a very Gandhian thing... as they say 'Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi' [loosely translates to 'Necessity thy name greatness]. There is no other option. In addition to the personal chores now one had to run a house. In the early days when I shared an apartment with friends everything was great fun. Even cleaning was fun. We would spend every Saturday morning scrubbing away at the bathroom floors, vacuuming the house, cleaning the kitchen and getting everything in order. After that we would venture out to Olive Garden for a good meal and then for a long drive into the countryside. Doesn't that sound too good? Now, even I wonder if we actually did enjoy the cleaning or is my memory coloured by the good food and good drive that followed it.

However, as time passed cleaning was becoming a bigger and bigger and finally a monstrous chore. Busy schedules would leave me too tired to clean and a dirty house sat on my conscience like an overweight chipmunk. Finally a couple of weeks back, while scrubbing the bathroom floor I decided I had had enough. I was not born to clean bathrooms I declared to myself. Time has come for me to relieve myself of my janitor duties and the conditioning of my upbringing... I called the cleaning services.

The first time Cleaning Unlimited came to clean my house it was a disaster. The truth is that the maternal OCD genes were just dormant not dead. When I walked into the house after the cleaning, the first thing I did was lift things off the floor and scrutinize corners to make sure they had been cleaned properly and then threw a fit to find that they hadn't (and later went faint when I realised how much I really am like my mother).

The second time, they promised me a thorough job and truly, when I walked in this time, my house was sparkling clean. And then I felt it....yes, the guilt. The guilt that someone had actually walked in and seen my mess. The mess that I zealously clear away if I am expecting someone in my house. Not only had someone seen my mess they even cleaned it for me. The guilt of having shirked from good old, hallowed hard work. It made me feel less virtuous somehow. The 'Apna Kaam Swayam Karo' motto flashed before my eyes in a manner that is remniscent of the way the weighing scale flashes before your eyes after consuming a large bowl of decadent chocolate sundae topped with whipped cream.
Today was the fourth time that my house was cleaned by someone else. I must confess, the guilt is somewhat ebbing as the benefits of the exercise are showing up. I find much more time for more constructive things. I don't spend the entire week-end doing chores (or feeling guilty about not doing them) and feel far more at ease with my constantly neat and clean living space.

Those annoying words still flash before my eyes. But slowly and steadily they are altering. Let me see what I read now..

Apana Kaam Swayam ....... Kyon Karo?
P.S Sorry Gandhiji, I do think you are out of fashion now.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

List : The Definitive Geeta Dutt

The List Series is a category of posts which contain, yes you are right…. a list! The list could comprise of anything – a list of songs, films, books, desserts, travel spots, pet peeves or even my version of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. In a nutshell, anything that catches my fancy.
20th July 2008 marks the 36th Death Anniversary of Geeta Dutt. A small tribute to the memory of this enchanting songstress.
It is difficult, almost unsettling to think of Geeta Dutt as a shriveled septuagenarian(what she would have been if she were alive). Time stopped aging her voice long before she actually passed away in 1972. Even today her voice represents a youthful joie-de-vivre that can lift anyone out of the bluest of blue moods. Her sad songs have an aching vulnerability that makes one want to weep for her and with her. And her richly-layered bhajans are strangely soothing. No other singer could traverse such a complex range of emotions with the ease and spontaneity that Geeta Dutt did. In addition to the richness in expression, her was voice was rich in tonal quality, robust and sweet quite like a juicy Dasheheri mango!

Despite all these qualities, today she is merely an also ran in the history of Indian film music. Slotted early in her career as a 'club song' singer, Geeta unfortunately got stuck in the very mould that she created for herself with such blazing individuality. Couple this with her own battles with the bottle, failing marriage to film-maker Guru Dutt and a lacklustre approach to her career, Geeta Dutt faded away, much before her times.
Yet, her small repertoire is dazzling to say the least. Here is an attempt to hand-pick ten celebrated songs that can define the magic of Geeta Dutt. This list more than amply strengthens the belief that God sends all good things in limited editions.

Note : Click on the link to view the video of the song

1. Tadbeer se Bigdi hui Taqdeer Banale (Film : Baazi(1951); Composer: SD Burman; Lyrics : Sahir Ludhianvi) 
The seductive and persuasive strains of the guitar, SD Burman's path-breaking western treatment of Sahir Ludhianvi's ghazal, Geeta Bali's energetic screen presence and Geeta Dutt's vibrant singing, the dice had no option but to roll in favour of this 'Baazi'.
Baazi is a milestone film in Hindi film history, it was a career defining film for most of the artists associated with it. Burmanda, Geeta's mentor who gave her the big break with 'Mera sundar sapna beet gaya', gave her singing a new facet, by tapping the latent sensuality in her voice for this song. 'Tadbeer se Bigdi' was the greatest attraction of Baazi and the audience went to see the film in repeat mode to witness the magic of the two Geetas.
This moment of glory was ironically, also the beginning of the end for Geeta Dutt. Professionally her super success with the 'club song' genre saw her being typecast into the mould of which she became a prisoner in her later years, so much so that even SD Burman summoned her services for many films (like Nau Do Gyarah) purely for this genre. It was also during the recording of this song that she met Guru Dutt, her future husband and director of the film. It is now the stuff of filmi lore that it was Geeta Dutt's tempestuous marriage that drove her onto the one-way road to self-destruction.

2. Thandi Hawa Kali Ghata (Film : Mr and Mrs 55(1955); Composer: OP Nayyer; Lyrics : Majrooh Sultanpuri) 
Raju Bharatan, the much maligned film music critic, summed up the effect of Geeta Dutt's voice in a rare moment of clarity- "'Geeta Dutt was thandi hawa and kaali ghata rolled into one. The moment she came, you got the refreshing feeling of aa hi gayi jhoom ke. There was a rare swing in her voice. She hit you like a thunderclap"
What more can one say to recommend the joie-de-vivre in this song other than to say that the effect on yours truly is without fail '....naache jiya ghoom ke' .

3. Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Lagalo (Film : Pyaasa(1957); Composer: SD Burman; Lyrics : Sahir Ludhianvi) 
Guru Dutt's innovative idea of using a vaishnav bhajan to depict the purity of the romantic situation in the film, was ably supported by his wife's singing. Geeta brings a very human yearning to her rendition and yet keeps it sublime and other worldly like a true bhajan. Geeta Dutt's interpretation of bhajans was very distinctive. Whether it is 'Tora manwa kyon ghabraaye' or 'Na mein dhan chahun' or our chosen 'Aaj sajan mohe ang lagalo', she blends the sensual with the sublime seamlessly. This is true to the sufi tradition whose texts abound in erotica that couples with spiritual fervour. It can be argued that if Meerabai made a time-travel trip to the 50s and 60s she would have sung in the voice of Geeta Dutt!

4. Ankhiyan Bhool Gayi Hain Sona (Film : Goonj Uthi Shehnai(1959); Composer: Vasant Desai; Lyrics : Bharat Vyas) 
The classic Geeta chutzpah brims over in this duet with Lata Mangeshkar. The coy and docile heroine being teased mercilessly (or praised to the heavens) by a bunch of giggling sahelis is one the staple daal-roti situations done to death in hindi film songs. Yet, Geeta's sweet and wicked take of the situation makes this song a standout. Note the way she sings 'Sona' in the first line. This song also represents the female-female genre of songs of which Geeta has many memorable examples like Bachpan ke din, Jaanu Jaanu Ri, Thandi Thandi Hawa , under her belt.

5. Koi Chupke Se Aake (Film : Anubhav(1971); Composer: Kanu Roy; Lyrics : Kapil Kumar) 
The soft, romantic type of songs flowered in Geeta's melodious and expressive voice. The most compelling example from that genre is undoubtedly the dreamy slow waltz of Mujhko tum jo mile with Hemant Kumar. Hemantda's rich bartitone and Geeta's tinkling bell-like tonal quality complimented each other beautifully and together they spun a web of swooning romance in many songs such as this one, Ghumsum sa yeh jahan etc.. But since we are keeping off the rare song route, here is the song from the 'Golden Collection' kind of fare. The film is Anubhav, Geeta's last film, the composer, her brother and the poet Kapil Kumar (yes, you heard it right, it is not Gulzar). Geeta's singing in Anubhav demonstrates how much she still had to offer even at the fag-end of her life. In the chosen song, she is soft, teasing, whimsical, romantic all at once and the ever so slight tinge of pathos in her voice highlights the enigma that was Geeta Dutt.

6. Babuji Dheere Chalna (Film : Aar Paar(1954); Composer: OP Nayyer; Lyrics : Majrooh Sultanpuri) 
The slow and sensual club song is Geeta's comfort zone. She could sleep-walk through those kind of songs. Yet, this one stands out for hitting all the right notes at once. The measured sensuality, a hint of vibrancy, a slight edge in the voice and a full throated bass-heavy tone all combine to make this OP Nayyer composition into a classic club song. OP Nayyer composed a slew of such songs for Geeta and later Asha Bhosle. Aayie meherban could be considered the successor to his body of work with Geeta.

7. Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo (Film : Howarah Bridge(1958); Composer: OP Nayyer; Lyrics : Qamar Jalalabadi) 
This irrepressible upper is arguably Geeta's signature song. The swing in her voice can get even the most languid of people out there up and jiving. It is high energy, peppy and brimming with the joie-de-vivre that is the quintessential Geeta Dutt.

8. Nanhi Kali Sone Chali (Film : Sujata(1959); Composer: SD Burman; Lyrics : Majrooh Sultanpuri) From the seductive to the soothing - the transition is as smooth as butter. The synergy of the Majrooh-SD Burman combination and the nurturing vocals of Geeta Dutt make this lullaby from Sujata as one of the most memorable loris created for Hindi films.

9. Waqt Ne Kiya (Film : Kagaz Ke Phool(1959); Composer: SD Burman; Lyrics : Kaifi Azmi)
A brooding film-maker, his honey voiced wife, the beautiful actress and the inextricable mess of their liason - Life was a pre-scripted tragedy for the Dutt couple. Kagaz Ke Phool was Guru Dutt's semi-autobiographical magnum opus that immortalised his personal situation. Kaifi Azmi's lyrics are poignant, SD Burman's tune wistful, but it is Geeta's singing that stirs up the storm of emotions. The song aches with nostalgia. The travesty of time and the indelible stain that it leaves on the soul is universal. Rare is the person who looks back at his life and does not wistfully discover.... 'hum rahe na hum' . Yet the interesting thing is that this song was not concieved to be this way. In reality it was written as an ode to the complete union of two souls. So complete is this union that the signs of their individual personalities have all but vanished. Tum bhi kho gaye, hum bhi kho gaye, ek rah par chal ke do quadam. The song is not about the irony of loss but the irony of a union!

10. Na Jao Saiyan (Film : Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam(1962); Composer: Hemant Kumar; Lyrics : Shakeel Badayuni)
The character of Chhoti Bahu in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is undoubtedly one of the greatest written for mainstream Indian cinema. Meena Kumari immortalised the tragic Chhoti Bahu with a stellar performance. Anguish, devotion, desire, self-disgust, rebellion and a repressed sexuality every little facet that constituted the complex character of Chhoti Bahu comes to life in this song. When Geeta Dutt poignantly mentioned (in her jaimala program) that this song represented her own emotions rather than that of the film's character, Chhoti Bahu, Meena Kumari and she all fused into the same person. This song is a fitting finale to the list.

Footnote: For a music lover who has explored the jungle, climbed up every rare tree and tasted the exotic fruits in a singer's repertoire, it is a difficult and also rewarding exercise to step back, put the trees in soft focus and and view the forest in it's entirety again. The choice of ten celebrated songs that define the range of a singer and also highlight those little nuances that we now know singer is capable of, has been a far more a head scratching exercise than to simply pick a list including rare songs.

See Also
Upperstall Profile : Geeta Dutt
Raaga : Geeta Dutt songs
Geeta Dutt : Biography

Some Pictures (More will be added soon)

Acknowledgements :
Amir Malik -
Note : Since these pictures have been collected over a period of time from different resources, I have lost track of where they came from. If these pictures are on the internet from your personal collection, please do write to me for I would like to acknowledge you/your website.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The God in Small Things

I went for a walk to the waterfront today. Ever since, I moved to New Jersey, the waterfront has been a high-point of my summer life. The delightful discovery of its existence right behind my apartment complex was a moment of serendipity. The waterfront is a cosy little park, hidden behind a giant industrial storage area. The 'water' it faces is a narrow causeway that is used to ferry ships across to the various ports that dot this region of Jersey. It is a quiet place, with a small deck, some recreational facilities and a walking path alongside the reeds that mark the shores of the waterway. An evening walk at the water-front is the best way to get my spirits soaring and my friends..... smirking.

"So, did you visit your nala recently?"
"It's not a nala, it is a waterway"
"Are you considering cross-channel swimming?[smirk, smirk]"

The modest nature of its existence, its limited clientele and my exuberance over something this modest is the main cause of mirth amongst the blimps I consider as friends. My humble waterfront is no Atlantic City boardwalk after all.

Robin Bhai is my dear 'internet' friend and fellow music lover. He and I have spent many delightful keystrokes debating over our musical proclivities. We usually arrive at a somewhat amicable agreement on most points... except one.

"Jaidev is far superior to Laxmikant Pyarelal (LP), Robin Bhai""
How? Jaidev has the music for barely 50 films to his credit, LP have 500."
"But the 400 of those films have pedestrian music"
"Yet they have 100 worthwhile ones. That is still more than Jaidev’s entire output""
Where is 'Allah Tero Naam' or 'Bansuriya Man Har le Gayi' in that count?"
"How many times can you admire a single dazzling goldfish in your little pond? The larger lake throbbing with marine life is likely to give more pleasure.
"Not if 90% those fishes are a dull grey in colour"
"One needs to appreciate the sheer effort required to build an edifice of 4000 songs"
"I can acknowledge it but I only appreciate genius"
“But there is a genius in numbers”
Alt-Ctrl-Del [
That was Robin Bhai btw]

My visit to the Valley of Flowers was my first real brush with spiritual India. The Himalayas are home to sadhus and babas of various hues. Little shrines dot the mountains and devoted men of God look after these shrines with an asceticism that seems to flow into anyone who spends time at those heights. I had a pleasant encounter with a twinkly- eyed baba who looks after a small hanuman shrine at the entrance to the valley. He invited us to his tent for a visit. I spent a rewarding hour sitting around the fire, sipping sweet hot tea and listening to fascinating tales of the mysticism of the mountains. As we left, I made a modest offering at his altar and my gesture was met with heartfelt wishes for my well-being. I came away feeling richer.

Two days later I am down in Haridwar, just in time to catch the famous aarti on the banks of the Ganga. Chaos, crowds, confusion. Someone pulls at my hand. "Pooja karni hai madam", another man jostles with him "aap log mere saath aaiye madam". A third man, a fourth, a fifth.... 'Madam!’… ‘Sir!’... 'Hello’... I want to scream.

Jostling with the crowds I find a footing on the banks of the river just as the aarti starts. A spectacular moment unfolds before my eyes. The fire in the lamps held aloft by the priests light up the dark waters of the river in a celestial glow. With the aarti over, I put my sentiments and some money into a little pooja contraption ready to offer it to the river. I reverentially hand it to the pandit who has finally won the battle to our clientele.

'Sirf itne rupaiye madam?". [Is that all mam?]

As I let my contraption with the little diya float down the river, the only thing that throbs in my mind - How will we get out of this chaos?

The aarti on the Ganga at Haridwar is a much sought after experience. The five minutes during which it is performed are undoubtedly magical and uplifting. However, those five minutes of a higher experience come packaged with fifty five minutes of strife, chaos and frustration. The effect is all but diluted. In direct contrast, the little shrine up in the mountains does not provide any spectacle, only quiet reflection. Yet, the serenity and sense of purity surrounding the place strengthens its impact. The experience lingers till long after.

The tussle is between the established and the obscure, the grandiose and the unassuming. The established side of the line packs any well known entity(place, monument, art, idea etc.) that has built a reputation based upon the testimony of a huge section of the population. The ‘obscure’ comprises of little known entities that offer limited but potent enjoyment. The famous, is usually famous because there is some larger than life element associated with it. The reputation of the 'established' is in essence its aura. For e.g visitors to Taj Mahal are of three kinds - first that admire the Taj, second who admire the fact that they visited the Taj and the third who don't care. The famous usually attracts all these kinds of people. And that is what proves counter-productive for them.

The profusion of humanity at the doorstep of such entities dulls their aura. When so many people jostle for a share of the pie, everyone gets only a minuscule nibble. Little known places on the other hand hide only a slice of life, but to the traveler that seeks them, they generously hand over the entire slice. These places offer a sense of exclusivity, ownership and discovery. The experience is unadulterated and satiating.

I often wonder, if the sense of discovery of a modest entity is so rewarding, imagine the exhilaration of the explorer who discovers a grand edifice. How would Hiram Bingham have felt when he discovered the grand Machu Picchu or what was Neil Armstrong's state of mind when he set foot on the moon. (We all do know how Archimedes felt in his moment of Eureka in the bath tub). The first sip of the nectar that the cosmos offers to those who discover its secrets must have nirvanic potency. Yet, this effect starts ebbing with each subsequent sip and for long established wonders; it is nothing but stale wine.

For many who derive pleasure from reading, art, traveling or discussing ideas, evaluation is an enjoyable exercise. Take for instance the Desert Island concept. The process of choosing a set of artists whose work you would like to be marooned with provides an interesting insight into your own proclivities. What will sustain you for longer? A set of ten works all rated 5/10, or only one that is rated 9/10? Which artist do you rate higher? The one who creates a large body of work with more indifferent and some excellent output or the one who creates a smaller body of work mainly with excellent output?. Will you give credit to an artist for being prolific or will you take credit away for indiscriminate prolificacy?

Over the years I have discovered I belong to the tribe that gravitates towards the unassuming. I will gladly choose the one 9/10 work and devour it to it's minutest nuance. The artists I revere are the ones have a smaller but individualistic repertoire. The places I frequent are far from the maddening crowd. At the end of the day, a rose in the garden is magnificent in its preening glory yet it has to be shared with the world , the small wild-flower that pops it’s head from the undergrowth, is all but mine. There is a certain romance in obscurity, the romance of discovery. The world might run after the rose, but the nectar in my life comes from these tiny wild flowers.

My God - he lives in small things.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Aarushi Murder Case : The Truth Locked In

After months of capturing the media headlines, the Aarushi murder case has finally seen some answers. Dr Rajesh Talwar has been released and the three accused arrested. Despite the many versions of truth making its way to the media, the real truth is still at large and the motive still remains hazy, the answers provided merely serve as a launching pad for more questions.

From the day this tragic murder came to limelight it has been a whodunit that would not feel out of place in an Agatha Christie thriller. A young girl murdered in her own bedroom, parents sleep through the murder, man-servant missing only to be found dead two days later on the terrace of the same home and father arrested as a prime suspect. Unfortunately in the three month handling of the case both the Noida police and CBI have more than proved they are no Hercule Poirots. The case has seen one goof-up after the other. And even as the proceedings near a close there is no Poirot style neat tying up of the facts. Only a presentation with many dangling loose ends.

For those who grew up on a staple of Enid Blyton books, Mr Goon of Five Findouters is a memorable character. The bumbling village constable who always is beaten by the children in solving the crime. The buffoonery of Noida police in the recent past has been of Mr Goonesque proportions, only the gravity of their blunders is far from the realm of children's fiction. In their over zealous drive to crack the case, they first jumped the gun by naming Hemraj as the prime suspect, only to shamefacedly admit two days later to the discovery of his corpse on the terrace. Obviously, the terrace is too far placed from the scene of crime to need checking. Soon after they made another breakthrough by arresting Dr Talwar and coming up with a cock and bull story that would put all C-grade Bollywood pot-boilers to shame. Father has affair, daughter does not approve, daughter has affair with servant to spite father, father catches them in an "objectionable but not compromising position" and murders both of them in a fit of passion. While all this drama unfolds, mother sleeps peacefully in her bedroom. In true Bollywood tradition, Noida police's crack at the case begs you to leave your brains behind.

The lack of sensitivity and accountability in our current world is all pervading. The Noida police's pot-boiler script was lapped up instantly by the electronic media and made into a complete tear-jerker film, replete with dialogue-baazi and songs. Anyone who has caught the coverage of the case on TV would have cringed at the cheap manner in which the media 'bollywoodized' this human tragedy.

The serious aspersions that the police cast on the character of the child started another circus. The police comes up with a theory, the media adds their own colourful yarn, the blogosphere intellectualizes it and soon there are reports of Arushi being a nymphomaniac and the parents being a part of a wife-swapping cult. Where is the dignity for the dead? If it takes a procession of school-children (from Aarushi's school) to shake the adult world to its senses, it is indeed a sad situation. Freedom of press is a powerful tool, but when that power crosses the line, it is time to sit back re-consider our liberties.

The CBI, admittedly has handled the case with far more restraint. They have succeeded to a great degree in keeping the media circus at bay, yet their deconstruction of the events leaves a lot of loose ends. Did Krishna and Raj Kumar murder Arushi merely to get back to Dr Talwar for his high-handedness? Is that a motive enough? Do these individuals have a history of violent behaviour? Not all people commit murder merely because they got a dressing down from their boss. There has been no mention of the sexual assault angle before. Did Aarushi's post-mortem reveal any such assault?

The stand vis-a-vis Dr Talwar is even more intriguing. The CBI, to note, does not absolve Dr Talwar of the crime, it is merely letting him off for the lack of evidence. What does that mean? If they do not absolve him of the crime where does he fit into their reconstruction of the event? CBI is mysteriously silent on that one.The position of the parents in this case is truly tragic. To have slept peacfully as their child was murdered in the next room is something that will haunt them for long. Yet, based on what has been made public, there are certain sub-texts that are slightly disconcerting. Going through the details of the case, a small seemingly innocuous fact suddenly pops out.

"The CBI had stated during Rajesh Talwar's bail hearing that Arushi's bedroom was locked every night....Dr Nupur had the keys"

The bed-room was locked every night? Provided that is true, doesn't it seem a little strange? Modern homes are cosy apartments where safety within the house is rarely a concern. Yet in that cosy apartment a girl is murdered as her parents in the other room have no clue. Did the Talwars fear such an eventuality that made them lock their daughter up in her room every night? Did their actions have any other motivation other than (fatefully justified) paranoia for their child's safety? If parents need to lock their children into the bedroom every night, it is a scary reflection on the level of security in our society.

With CBI coming out with the arrests, this case is on it's way out of the public domain. Quite like the earlier Nithari murder cases, the media and the world will soon move on to more exciting things. The victims however, will only get justice when the truth comes out from under the lock and key.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Heat, the Mosquitoes and New York Times

Ever since I started working in New York City, my disposition with regards to this aspect of my life, has been grumpy at best. Take a passionate crusader for the country-living-high-thinking kind of life-style and thrust her into the rat race of the finance captial of the world, the end result is grouchy frump. Playing daily dodge-me with a teeming mass of people, chasing 'walk' signs at pedestrian crossings, running up stalled escalators and spending an hour every morning admiring the environs of New Jersey turnpike(NJTP). That is working in NYC for you. Contrast this to the daily delights of beautiful vistas, spring flowers, fall colours and rolling fields, the staple of suburban Pennsylvania, my last residence. The Big Apple has a remote chance of tempting me to bite.
Yet, the City(New York) is devious. It has a slimy way of creeping up from behind, trying to lure the unyielding outsider in its web. Take for example, the New York subway - a subterranean ant colony of humanity. However, within its folds, half-concealed, sits the wayside musician. Playing his own thing and completely oblivious to the indifferent pattering of feet crossing him every second. Once in a while he will play the most compelling piece you ever heard. Then there is that 'perfectest' linger-in-your-mouth Tiramisu that you discover in an innocuous hole-in-the-wall shop. Serendipity at it's benign best. There are also the occasional newsworthy scares like a fire outside Grand Central Station and the ensuing excitement (and lots of stories to tell people later. The I-was-there-on-that-day kind of stories). That is fun, I admit. The only exciting thing that ever happened in PA was a convention of Jehovah's witnesses.
So as you see, the City's guiles are numerous. The indifference, pace and godlessness of the teeming metropolis throws up a surprising counter-balance of culture, humanity, passion and a wanton display of human quirks and courage.
It was at Times Square a couple of days back. I was footing my way from work towards the Port Authority bus terminal. Times Square was jam-packed, a little more than usual. "These tourists", I muttered grumpily to myself. "I should have taken the subway". With the recent devaluation of the dollar, tourists have descended upon the city like a swarm of locusts. They are everywhere. It was only the other day that I had a run-in with an extremely endearing Japanese variety in the subway. She was taking a video film balanced on the narrow escalator that leads down to the platform. I am proud to have provided her with a wonderful panorama of expressions for her film. Starting with amazement (WTF, a film here!), to urgency (my train.. it's here), frustration and impatience (get out of the way, I need to get to it) and finally... resignation (the train has left). I could not disappoint her, after all I still retain all my Indian 'Mehmaan bhagwaan hai' values.
Back to Times Sqaure, inching forward towards the next block, I realized 8th Avenue was closed to traffic. As I neared the crossing I noticed something strange. Everyone was looking heaven-wards. I looked upwards too duly expecting a fireball. I was relieved .The sky was clear. No signs of airplanes. (Note: however, important you might feel narrating first-hand tales of disasters in comfy family rooms, it is never as exciting to be there at the time of action). I steered my vision in the direction the crowd was pointing. It was the fifty two floors tall New York Times building. My eyes darted around for a bit and then settled in on a figure..... a man. Yes, a man hanging on to the building some half-way up. He seemed to be stuck. Who was he? A window cleaner who got a unlucky? Someone escaping some problem in the building? Who? A little asking around brought to light this interesting story of two men.
The first, Alain Robert, a stuntman with a fetish for climbing buildings. A Frenchman to the core, he thinks buildings are like mountains, only difference between the two is that new buildings get constructed regularly (how perspicuously French!). For a while he has been in the realization that the heat in the South of France is getting unbearable. And no, it's not because Bollywood with all the B(ee)s(and fly Amar Singh) have descended en masse in Cannes. Even the Ms Non-Recyclable Plastic Rai and her Ms World contestants know the green-house gases are the culprit. 'Global Warming' has long replaced 'World Peace' as the mantra for the crown bearing activists. The US, undoubtedly takes the blame for all ills ailing mankind, esp. from the French point of view. Think of it, not only did they pick the most un-evolved item of the French cuisine, the pomme frites, and brand them as France's most identifiable contribution to the world cuisine, they now are adding 'gas' to the fire through green-houses gases. How long would the self-respecting Frenchman tolerate all this?
Alain decided it was time to something. The only 'something' that he is equipped to do is scale buildings. So a building it was. His zeroed in on the NYT building in Manhattan. (A clever choice, I would add. It is fun climbing over the media's head). One fine morning he started his ascent. Being an old hand at it, in a couple of hours his act was performed. As per routine, he was discovered, the police called and a welcoming committee was waiting for him at the top of the building. Point made, Alain happily made his way to cool his heels in jail thereafter.
But the story does not end here.
Another man. Renaldo Clarke a denizen of the City . He had spent a particularly restless night punching mosquitoes in his Brooklyn quarters. The natural side-effect of heat is mosquitoes and mosquitoes carry Malaria. So Mr Clarke had dreamt a dream, he wanted to do something about Malaria. What better to do than climb a building?. But then Clarke watched the afternoon news. He saw Alain Robert waving into the screen. The march was obviously stolen. "Damn these French! Even after we declared 'Freedom' from their fries and threatened to return the Statue of Liberty, they continue to be a nuisance." Clarke knew it was time for action - Now or never. At 6:00 PM he started his ascent.
When I looked up from my vantage point at around 7:00 PM, he had made his way up to the 30th floor. But now he seemed stationary. Probably tired. Clarke, unlike Roberts was not a professional. He had never climbed a building before. He had no technique or training, just guts and gumption. His fate was hanging precariously from that NYT building. My country genes held me there for a while, wide-eyed and mesmerized, silently rooting for him. But then suddenly something within lulled me back to reality. The 7:00 PM bus missed, the 7:20 bus about to leave, the charming NJTP awaiting my passage, I had to leave.
And so, I disengaged, turned around and walked away…. just like a New Yorker would do.
As the bus emerged from the bowels of Port Authority, the NY Times building loomed up in front. And there he was, that small figure, hanging on for his dear life. He hadn't moved an inch since I had left. The bus wound out of the city into Lincoln Tunnel and I wondered what his fate would be. I was slightly perturbed with the indifference that seemed to have surreptitiously taken root within me, but alongside I started perceiving a new sensation, a knotty warm feeling in the gut that told me he would get there. That seemed to be the only possible ending to his act. NYC was the stage where his drama decided to unfold. A little heat, a few mosquitoes, an idea and tenacity (in tons)...... That's all it takes to scale a height here.
The Big spins its web, I sense the shadow of a silvery yarn over my being, Am I getting entangled?
Post Script :Mr Clarke did make it to the top, totally exhausted, but victorious. After his moment of fame in front of the cameras, where he revealed his concern for Malaria, he too went to join his French friend to cool down in jail. They were both freed a couple of days later.