To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child , a garden patch, or a redeemed condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, September 03, 2012

Old Hindi movie songs and spirituality?!

Most Indians of Gen-X who understand Hindi (or at least watched Hindi movies, which is a bigger population!) know that many songs in Hindi movies of yore, say upto 1970s, had 'double meanings'.  But double meaning of the gentle kind like 'Aanchal mein kya jee?...' (Kishore Kumar), not the like of 'Choli kay peechhay kya hai...' (Neena Gupta gyrating in 'Khalnayak').  And I mention one from the 1980s because the ones with 'real' double meanings, especially those from movies made in the 'noughties' (the first decade of 21st century, not to be confused with 'naughty'!), hardly leave anything to imagination.  And that applies to the songs with double meanings, not ones in recent times which have single, explicit meanings (just listen to 'Bheege honth tere...')!

Anyway, talking of the old Hindi movie songs, the double meanings in those songs were of two kinds.  There were some which were naughty (in a decent way, in keeping with social mores of the time), alluding 'between lines' to things which they could not in polite conversation (after all, those were the times when a mere touch between screen lovers could ignite sparks!).  And then there were some with perfectly normal lyrics but with a hidden meaning hinting at spirituality.  These were the songs which really touched the chords of one's heart.

Some of these songs, while ostensibly talking of the mundane, eventually made it clear that the allusion had all through been to higher things.  An example of this kind would be 'Laaga chunri mein daag...' - not the recent movie with that title, but the Manna Dey song picturised on Raj Kapoor.  Here, while the initial stanzas of the song seemed to be saying something mundane, the closing lines make it clear that the connotation all through had been to 'this world and hereafter': 'O ri chunariya atma mori, nain hain maya jaal...'.

And then there were songs which did not make any effort to clarify their meaning in any detail, perhaps because no such clarification was needed by the listeners!  Take the supremely soulful 'Mere sajan hain us paar...', sung by the maestro Sachin Dev Burman for 'Bandini', picturised on Nutan and Dharmendra.  I'm told the tune belongs to a musical tradition known in the Eastern part of India as 'Bhatiyali', alluding to songs sung mostly by boatmen and their ilk.  In this song, the first and the third stanzas, 'Mere sajan hain us par...', and 'Mat khel jal jayegi', talk of the longing of a lovelorn for her lover, supposedly living on the 'other side' (maybe of a river?), while the second stanza ('Man ki kitab se tum...') seems to hint at the ephemeral nature of fame or reputation.

What's to be noted is that while the meanings of the first and second stanzas is clear to the listener (one 'other-worldly' and the other promoting 'vairagya'), the meaning of the last stanza is not so clear.  A casual listener may conclude that this stanza ('Mat khel jal jayegi, kehti hai aag mere man ki...') cautions the lovelorn lady not to be consumed by the 'fire' of love, while she protests that she's after all the constant companion of her beloved ('Main bandini piya ki, main sangini hoon sajan ki...').  But just dig a little bit deeper and there's another meaning that shines forth: that the path of devotion to God is like walking on fire, and your only support is a firm conviction that you (the soul) can gain His companionship.  The masterstroke is the final line which subtly hints at His constant call: 'Mera kheenchti hai aanchal, manmeet teri hai pukar...'.

More on such songs later...