The other day, listening to old Hindi film songs while I went about my housework, I realised something: a lot of my favourite songs are songs the character onscreen sings to himself/herself. Not quietly hummed to oneself, not songs merely sung when no-one else is around: but songs whose lyrics are specifically addressed to the self.
To an aching heart, for instance, either offering it comfort or encouragement—or telling it to resign itself to the sorrow that looms. Or (and these are fewer), songs of joy, doubling one’s own happiness by exulting over it in the company of oneself.
So, here goes. Ten of my favourite ‘songs to myself’. These are all from pre-1970s films that I’ve seen, and are in no particular order. The one major rule I’ve imposed on myself is that each song is explicitly addressed to oneself. (Which is why songs like Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi, which in essence is a song offering solace to one’s own despairing heart, doesn’t find a mention here because it doesn’t contain the all-important address).
1. Ae dil kahaan teri manzil (Maya, 1961): Some of the most poignant songs to oneself seem to be the ones that talk of being lost, of searching for a ‘home’, a safe haven, a soul mate. This song is a beautiful example of that type: it’s night-time, there are people around, and yet the singer weeps in despair, crying over the absence of not just a lamp to light the gloom, but even the absence of the stars themselves. There are two versions of Ae dil kahaan teri manzil, one sung by Lata and the other by Dwijen Mukherjee (the latter a faster-paced version, with choral interludes). They have the same lyrics and are equally lovely—but in different ways.
2. Ae dil ab kahin le jaa (Bluffmaster, 1963): Just as Dwijen Mukherjee was an odd choice as a playback singer for Dev Anand, Hemant is an unusual choice to sing for Shammi Kapoor—and yet I like this song, because Hemant’s soft and faintly nasal voice is very effective in conveying the bitterness of the lyrics. This is a man whose own actions—his ‘bluffing’ his way through life—have brought him to this pass, where everybody’s washed their hands of him. He’s had to leave his home, his friends, the people who once regarded him as family—and yet he keeps looking back, hoping against hope. And telling his heart not to look back.
3. Ae dil mujhe bata de (Bhai-Bhai, 1956): In a refreshing change from the more common sad songs addressed to the singer’s heart (or soul, mind, whatever), this one is a happy, peppy song.
Ae dil mujhe bata de is typical of the song that would be, in other circumstances, addressed to a beloved saheli, telling her all about the blossoming of love in the singer’s heart. Here, since Shyama’s character has no girl friend to confide in, she ‘chats’ with her heart, asking herself a rhetorical question: who is the man whom her heart has fallen for?
4. Mere mann ke diye (Parakh, 1960): While songs addressed to the heart (that “Ae dil…” which has ruled this list so far) are a dime a dozen, songs to the mind are fewer—though in this case, while it is the mann (the mind) which is addressed, the sorrow and despair that are referred to are feelings that should probably be assigned to the heart.
Whatever; this is a sad, sweet little song that always brings tears to my eyes with the way it tries to resign itself to the unhappiness that is its lot. “Yoon hi ghut-ghut ke jal tu, mere laadle” (“Burn on, suffocating as you do so, my little one”…).
5. Mann re tu kaahe na dheer dhare (Chitralekha, 1964): Another song that addresses itself ostensibly to the mind, but is really about the heart. It’s an attempt to convey to the heart a seemingly simple philosophy: be patient, reconcile yourself to your fate—even if it means going through life unloved by the one you love. Stoicism seems to rule here, but there is pain, both in Rafi’s voice, and in Sahir’s words. You may tell your heart to resign itself, but will it?
6. Ae mere dil kahin aur chal (Daag, 1952): This was the first song that came to my mind when I began thinking of this post. And, though there are three versions of Ae mere dil kahin aur chal (a slow, sad rendition by Lata; a slow ‘intoxicated’ version by Talat; and a fast one by Talat again), this is my favourite, largely because the upbeat, enthusiastic tune imparts a completely different meaning to the relatively melancholy words.
A drunk decides to turn over (finally) a new leaf, and resolves to leaves behind the distress and unhappiness caused by his alcoholism—a happy song, really, even if the words, when sung slowly, are depressing. Here, “Dekhti reh gayi yeh zameen, chup raha bereham aasmaan” (“This Earth kept watching; the merciless sky remained silent”) is sung with a vigour that makes one feel that the singer doesn’t care even if he is all alone—he’ll still forge on, in search of a happier world.
7. Awara ae mere dil (Raat aur Din, 1967): Is it a coincidence that this is the third song in this list that has more than one version? Like Ae dil kahaan teri manzil and Ae mere dil kahin aur chal, the two versions of Awara ae mere dil have the same words, but differ in mood and tempo. The slow version is sung by the mentally disturbed Baruna (Nargis), a woman who doesn’t remember where she is or who she is. She’s lonely, a wanderer—and yet, because her mind is unstable, she isn’t able to realise the seriousness of her situation.
On the other hand, the fast version—one of my favourite songs, ever—is an expression of sheer joie de vivre. Sung by Peggy (the inimitable Laxmi Chhaya), this one’s all about living life to the full. Peggy doesn’t know where her life’s headed, either—but she intends to enjoy every moment of the ride.
8. Ae mere dil-e-naadaan (Tower House, 1962): For a change, a sad song where the singer isn’t trying to merely use her heart as a shoulder to cry on—instead (in the absence of any other friend), she’s offering comfort to her heart. And, of course, by extension, to herself. This is a sorrowful, cynical song (“Apna bhi ghadi-bhar mein ban jaata hai begaana”—“even one’s nearest and dearest become strangers in a moment”—how sadly true!), but there’s the consolation that perhaps someday, the world will understand.
9. Dil-e-naadaan tujhe hua kya hai (Mirza Ghalib, 1954): One of my absolute favourites, a ghazal written by the matchless Mirza Ghalib himself. Sung by Suraiya and Talat, this is a lovely song of two people deeply in love with each other, yet kept apart by circumstances beyond their control—and taking refuge in expressing their sorrows to their respective hearts. The question—literally, what has happened to you, foolish heart?—is superfluous, but the singer(s) know that their hearts too are lost—and, God forbid, that love is unrequited.
10. Ae dil hai mushqil jeena yahaan (CID, 1956): And, to finish, an iconic song. On the surface, it’s fun—it features, after all, Johnny Walker, in my opinion the greatest comedian Hindi cinema’s ever had. Listen more carefully to the song, though, and you’ll see the thread of cynicism running through it: the singer’s telling his heart to beware of the harsh, heartless world of Bombay, the big, bad city. The last verse—by a true friend of the singer’s (and therefore of his heart’s)—offers courage, though. Yes, the city may be intimidating, but one has to stand up to it.
A great song, one of Rafi’s (and Johnny Walker’s) best.
Which are your favourite ‘songs to oneself’?