Several years back, poet, friend and fellow Sahir Ludhianvi fan Karthika Nair and I were discussing Sahir’s poetry. After a while, we arrived at the conclusion that, while everybody acknowledges the brilliance of Sahir’s more revolutionary poetry—of the Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye or Chini-o-Arab hamaara—and some of his more angsty and emotional lyrics (Chalo ek baar phir se, anyone?), many people tend to overlook the fact that Sahir was also one of those poets who could describe nature brilliantly.
When I mentioned having studied Pighla hai sona in school (it was in our school textbook), Karthika remarked that, in that song, “nature became an active agent, not a landscape.” That reminded me of a theme I’d been toying with for a long time, for a song post. Songs that celebrate nature, songs that appreciate the beauty of nature. Nature or an aspect of nature should be an important part of the song; it should not merely be an incidental pretty backdrop for romance (or any backdrop for any other emotion).
Here’s my list, therefore, of ten pre-70s songs that are about nature. As always, these are all from films I’ve seen, and are in no particular order.
1. Pighla hai sona door gagan pe (Jaal, 1952): I thought it appropriate to start with the song that inspired this post in the first place. One of the most beautifully poetic metaphors for a sunset that I’ve come across: gold has melted on the distant skies. Sahir describes the evening amazingly: the birds settling down for the night, the trees with their ‘heads bowed’. With Lata’s voice, which provides the playback for Geeta Bali, there’s a chorus that chants praises to God, exalting the Almighty for creating such a beautiful world. The picturization, sadly, doesn’t do justice to the song (I can imagine it looking spectacular in colour), but the song itself—lyrics, music, rendition—is lovely.
2. Yeh kaun chitrakaar hai (Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti, 1967): This, despite being picturized on someone I am not especially fond of, and being from a film that I didn’t particularly like, is one of my favourite ‘in praise of nature’ songs. Jeetendra’s rather sanctimonious schoolteacher, along with his class of rather stuff and awkward teenaged boys (for whom a women’s chorus should probably not have been singing playback), marvels at the beauty all around. The deodars, standing tall as dhwajas (flags); the valleys, winding serpent-like between the mountains that soar, tall and immovable. Which artist dreamed these up, he says, whose brush has wrought these marvels? A paean not just to nature, but to God, and winding up with a bit of advice: draw inspiration from nature, make yourself as pure and upright as nature is.
3. Parbaton ke pedon par (Shagoon, 1964): Sahir again, and writing about another evening. Unlike the sunset-on-the-sea of Pighla hai sona, this is a sunset in the mountains. Although the two lovers (played by Waheeda Rehman and her future real-life husband, Kamaljeet) finish this song by declaring that their love makes the rest of the world unnecessary for their happiness, the first couple of verses are sublime in their description of the beauty of the evening: Parbaton pe pedon par shaam ka basera hai, surmayi ujala hai champayi andhera hai (The evening dwells on the trees on the mountain; the light is dark as surma, the darkness is as white as the champa)—which may sound paradoxical, but is wonderfully explained in the next line: The two meet, the darkness and the light, the black and the white, in this moment of neither-night-nor-day. As two hearts meet. There is more, too, about the lake, the melodies of the breeze, and the tranquility.
4. Mila hai kisi ka jhumka (Parakh, 1960): Romance is definitely in the air, with the heroine singing of the love that has taken over her life. But the entire scene—the fields in the background, the herd of goats, the village pond, the trees—is of nature in all its beauty. There is the neem tree, under which she has found someone’s jhumka, as she labels it: a little hibiscus flower, looking very much like a bejeweled jhumka indeed. In a film that had some lovely songs—among Salil Choudhary’s best—this one is especially light and frothy, and the metaphor of a jhumka for a flower is charming.
5. Thandi hawa yeh chaandni suhaani (Jhumroo, 1961): This song (which, by the way, is one of my husband’s favourites) is an odd one in some ways. It starts off with a pep and vigour that suggests a visual (as well as a song, in its entirety) along the lines of the title song of Jhumroo. Then it segues into a gentler, sweeter tune that supports lyrics that combine philosophy with a drawing of attention to the beauty of the singer’s natural surroundings.
Kishore (who composed the song) lifted the tune pretty blatantly from Domani, but Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics always take my breath away: Saare haseen nazaare sapnon mein kho gaye/Sar rakhke aasmaan pe parbat bhi so gaye (“All the lovely sceneries are lost in dreams/The mountains have laid their heads on the [pillow of the] sky and gone to sleep”) and Aise main chal raha hoon pedon ki chhaaon mein/Jaise koi sitaara baadal ke gaon mein (“I am walking under the shadow of trees/Like a star in a village of clouds”). Sublime. The refrain, of a destination that is unknown and a path that is long, always seems to me just an afterthought; this is really an ode to nature.
6. Suhaana safar aur yeh mausam haseen (Madhumati, 1958): When I thought of Thandi hawa yeh chaandni suhaani, the other song that automatically came to mind was this one. Dilip Kumar’s character, like Kishore’s in Jhumroo, is walking through the mountains, and cannot restrain himself from singing of the beauty around him. And in this case, barring a brief reference at the end to a hoped-for happiness, the song is all about nature. Birdsong, wildflowers in bloom, the frothing of fast-flowing rivers, the meeting of sky and earth… each verse conjures up an image of natural beauty. It’s also interesting to see Dilip Kumar’s expressions: there’s a sense of exhilaration and of wonderment in his face as he gazes all around.
7. Hawaaon pe likh do hawaaon ke naam (Do Dooni Chaar, 1968): Gulzar’s lyrics and Hemant’s music: you would expect a film with credentials like that to have one hit song after another (Khamoshi, released the following year, had the same combination and boasted of one unforgettable song after another). But Do Dooni Chaar, while an entertaining film, fell rather flat when it came to songs—except for this wonderful little song, sung by Kishore Kumar’s character as he walks through a forest, enticed by a charming little girl (Neetu Singh, as a child artiste; her character is supposedly the ban devi, the forest goddess). Gulzar’s lyrics are lovely and so evocative: the sunshine, reaching out to touch the hand of a branch; the bird, singing a message to only it knows whom; the evening playing with the morning… beautiful, and such a vivid picture of nature’s child-like innocence (which is so in keeping with the presence of the little ban devi prancing along ahead).
8. Hariyala saawan dhol bajaata aaya (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953): In a country where the monsoon is so eagerly awaited an annual phenomenon—so crucial to the very life of the land—it’s not surprising that at least a few of the best ‘nature songs’ are those in praise of the monsoon. In this beautiful song from Do Bigha Zameen, the word-pictures (conjured up by Shailendra) are very appropriate for a sense of celebration and of happiness: the thunder of clouds is likened to the joyful beating of drums, the land cloaked in new green is a bride, her head draped in a green chunariya, blushing and beautiful.
9. Sharaabi-sharaabi yeh saawan ka mausam (Noor Jehan, 1967): Another monsoon song, and one that’s very different from Hariyala saawan dhol bajaata aaya. Instead of the rustic, unfettered joy of the villages, this is the sedate and sophisticated ambience of the imperial court. The Mughal ladies party in an exquisitely laid-out garden, with flowers, fountains and flowing water all around—and a song is sung. Interestingly enough, while Meena Kumari’s Noor Jehan (lip-syncing to Suman Kalyanpur’s voice) says that the beauty of the monsoon would be much diminished if it were not for love, her song actually is more about describing the monsoon as it is, love or no love. The call of the koel, the clouds dripping intoxication; the blushing ‘faces’ of the flowers, the fragrant breezes: it’s all about the saawan.
10. Chham-chham naachat aayi bahaar (Chhaaya, 1961): And, to end, a paean to another season: spring. Like the monsoon, the spring is a season that’s much celebrated in Hindi film music. And, like the monsoon too, usually in the context of its setting for a bit of romance. In Chham-chham naachat aayi bahaar, Asha Parekh’s character does make a fleeting reference to the effect of all this natural beauty on her heart, but the primary focus of the song is on nature itself: each leaf has stretched and unfurled, each branch is dancing. The gardens are fragrant, each flower and each bud has decked itself out. Spring in all its glory is here.
Which are your favourite songs of nature? Please share!