Lockdown Lyrics: Songs for Covid-19 Times

What a horrid year this has turned out to be (and we’re barely past the first quarter, even). First we had all that communal violence, and then—just as we were wondering how much worse it could get—we were side-swiped by the coronavirus. Well, at least in India, we were. We’d seen it brewing far away in China and Italy and elsewhere, and we went through a token country-wide ‘janta curfew’ on March 22nd.

And now the entire country is on lockdown for 21 days, starting midnight on the 24th of March.  At first, there was widespread panic since people didn’t know what that entailed. By the next day, more details came filtering through, and we found that essential shops—grocers, vegetable and fruit sellers, pharmacies and so on—would open. Banks, petrol pumps and other similar establishments would open too, though presumably with diminished hours and fewer staff. Of course, considering the impact of the lockdown on supply lines (and the obvious panic buying by many people), the chances that there would be shortages were high.

Suddenly, lots of things changed. Because there were so few people around and negligible traffic, wild animals began to appear on the streets of cities like Noida (where I live; someone hear saw a blue bull or neelgai outside Noida’s largest mall). The air is cleaner, we can hear birds and see stars at night.

That’s the good part. For others, less privileged than us, it’s been nightmarish, and with no likelihood of matters improving in the near future. Thousands of poor migrant labourers, trekking back to their villages, have found themselves stuck at borders, humiliated and thrashed by cops (let alone those who’ve died en route). Thousands of others, stuck in big cities as daily wage earners, struggle to find their next meal. (On this note, if you’d like to help those most vulnerable at this time, please consider contributing to welfare associations and organizations like Our Democracy, India Fights Corona, and others who are working to help the poor).

For those of us who have our homes and our privileges, there are discomforts we’ll have to live with for the time being. We’ll have to stay in our homes. We’ll have to keep away from others. For the pampered middle class of India, we will, in the absence of domestic help, have to do chores on our own. We’ll have to learn to make do with what we can easily obtain: no stepping out for a coffee or a lunch date at a restaurant.

And we’ll have to keep our spirits up. We’ll have to remember that we cannot let this crush us or defeat our spirits. If we can maintain our sanity, if we can pull together and exercise some precautions while doing so, we’ll weather this storm, too.

So, to help: a bunch of upbeat songs that, in some way or the other, relate to this lockdown. Enjoy!

As always, these songs are from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen.

1. Paas nahin aaiye haath na lagaaiye (Saqi, 1952): To start with, the song that inspired me to compile this list in the first place. Shortly after we were urged to practice social distancing, someone posted Paas nahin aaiye haath na lagaaiye on a Facebook group of which I’m a member. And, really: such an appropriate song, because it sums up the key to staying safe from Coronavirus. Stay away, don’t come close, don’t touch. Kijiye nazaara door-door se, kijiye ishaara door-door se (Watch from afar, indicate your feelings from afar). These cautionary lyrics, in the context of the song, are directed at a princess and her (clandestine) commoner lover, but they couldn’t be more apt for the lockdown.

2. Na na na re na na haath na lagaana (Taj Mahal, 1963): Along the same lines as the previous song, though this female is a little more scatter-brained than the one in Paas nahin aaiye. She seems to think that if he touches her, her curses will be enough to ward off any harm done. Huh. If only all of us could simply shower abuses at anyone who comes close enough to lay a hand (and pass on the virus)—well, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

3. Ek do teen (Parivaar, 1956): When non-essential places that could cause the virus to spread began shutting down in India, I found several of my fitness enthusiast friends bemoaning the closure of gyms. Well, this family shows that you don’t need to go to a gym to work out. The eponymous parivaar (family) gathers on their rooftop, two generations of people (along with domestic help) and indulge in a fairly vigorous bit of calisthenics, to an appropriate song which extols the virtues of fitness. Of daily exercise and proper diet (though the diet this recommends seems a little excessive: ½ a ser of milk in the morning and ½ a ser in the evening; the tomato in the morning sounds like a good idea, though).

Besides the fact that they’re working out together at home, think of what a lot of good they’re doing to their immune systems with that exercise. After all, as the second stanza reiterates: 

Aadmi ka chola bhi machine hai ajeeb
Mushkilon se humko hui yeh naseeb
Iske kal-purzon ko saaf rakhna tum
‘Health is wealth’ pyaare yaad rakhna tum

(This robe of man’s is a strange machine
After many difficulties, this is what we’ve got
Keep its nuts and bolts clean
‘Health is wealth’, my dear: remember this)

4. Lipstick lagaanewaale (Shrimatiji, 1952): One of the biggest fallouts of the lockdown for the Indian middle class has been that we’ve all suddenly had to cope with the lack of domestic help. For a (very) few of us, it’s not too difficult, since we already do a good deal of housework. For the majority, coping with daily chores can be a tough ask—especially when, as in a lot of cases, the know-how is missing.

As in the case of these ladies. Hard times have bankrupted Shyama’s character and her friends, and while they can get out of paying rent by hoodwinking the landlord, keeping their flat clean, cooking food, etc is not something they can afford to hire help for. So they do it themselves. I love the gleefully resigned way in which these women accept their fate: those who once set hearts aflame, are busy lighting stoves; those who once shot arrows with their flashing eyes, are busy stirring pots and pans. And those beautifully manicured nails are all frayed from scrubbing.

5. Ek do teen chaar aur paanch (Kaagaz ke Phool, 1959): Guess what happens when a very loving family, otherwise probably coming together only in the latter half of the day, suddenly finds itself within the same four walls, twenty-four hours a day? Strife. Getting on each other’s nerves. With the lockdown, parents and offspring, siblings and spouses have suddenly discovered the true meaning of that old adage about familiarity breeding contempt. As happened in the case of the numbers Waheeda Rehman’s character sings about in this song. Ek do teen chaar aur paanch, chhe aur saat, aath aur nau; ek jagah sab rehte thhe, jhagde thhe par unmein sau (One two three four and five, six and seven, eight and nine; they lived all together, but there were a hundred quarrels between them).

6. Alif zabar aa (Love in Simla, 1960): Waheeda Rehman’s character in Ek do teen chaar aur paanch, and the children she was teaching, probably did not realize just how lucky they were to be able to be in a proper class, no matter if it was outdoors and the children had to sit on the ground. Right now, with schools shut, all our children are at home, and of course having to study at home. Online, offline, with parents helping and tutoring—whichever way. And, given that not all of us are trained teachers, our ways of teaching might fall far short of the recommended. Joy Mukherji’s character in Love in Simla, for instance, decides to teach his sweetheart’s brother Urdu—and makes a song and dance of it. It doesn’t start off too badly, but beyond that initial promise, it dwindles away, pushing the correct sequence of letters in the alphabet to the side and ending with a rapid-fire outburst of the (almost entire) alphabet that leaves teacher, pupil, and eavesdropper gasping.

7. Yeh na thhi hamaari kismet ke visaal-e-yaar hota (Mirza Ghalib, 1954): When we talk about people doing things together (even if it’s quarrelling), we do so with the assumption that they happen to be in the same house. What of those unfortunate souls who were separated by the lockdown and will probably have to resort to Skype or Google Hangouts or whatever to somehow satisfy their longing for each other? Like the many restless and unhappy bichhde yaar (separated lovers) of Hindi cinema—and really, those are too many to even count—they’ll have to wait. Like Suraiya’s Moti Begum, certain she’s probably going to pop off before she gets a chance to finally meet her beloved Mirza Ghalib (Bharat Bhushan).

8. Us paar is deewaar ke jo rehte hain (Saiyyaan, 1951): Even among the separated lovers, though, there might be some who are luckier than their counterparts: the people who happen to have fallen in love with the girl or boy next door. That makes things so much easier, I think. Not only is there the likelihood that you will be able to catch a glimpse of your sweetheart as he/she appears at a convenient balcony or window, if all else fails (including the net connection, as has happened in the case of some people we know, resulting in their being disconnected even from the virtual world)… you can just sing loudly. As Sajjan, acting as Madhubala’s love interest in Saiyyaan, does, totally unfazed by the fact that the lady in question doesn’t reciprocate.

9. Gore haathon par na zulm karo (Pyaar Kiye Jaa, 1966): In these times, though, I think I speak for the bulk of most women when I say that the last thing we’d want is a lover who coos sweet nothings into our ears or sings us romantic serenades. Nope. When you’re neck-deep in housework (and continuing to do your regular work too—working from home doesn’t mean work stops), the dream lover is one who sings this to you. When you’re sweeping or chopping or scrubbing or doing any one of the million other tasks housework consists of, a man who comes along and says, ‘Hum kaam karein tum raaj karo’ (I will work, and you will rule)—well, that’s my idea of a man. He needn’t look like Shashi Kapoor—that’s a little too much to ask—but his philosophy must be the one that’s the focus of this song.

10. Ek roz hamaari bhi daal galegi (Bandi, 1957): Phoonk-phoonkkar choolha ahkhiyaan ka bhayo satyanaash (My eyes have been ruined by my stoking of the fire). I can pretty much hear that being echoed by dozens of friends who’ve been suddenly shoved into the deep end and are now obliged to cook for themselves with little or no expertise in the art and science of cooking. The rookhi-sookhi roti aur nimbu ka achaar (dry roti and lime pickle) would probably be replaced in today’s India by instant noodles and other similar stuff, but the sentiment will be the same: this is something we’re no good at, and we can hardly wait for better days to come.

And, on that note: a wish that the day when Covid-19 is a thing of the past, will dawn soon. That governments, private organizations and individuals will be able to work together to make the journey to that day an easier one for all concerned, not just the wealthy who can weather the storm.

Stay safe, stay at home.

48 thoughts on “Lockdown Lyrics: Songs for Covid-19 Times

  1. “wish that the day when Covid-19 is a thing of the past, will dawn soon”

    Exactly my wish too.
    Though as a doctor, we are continuing our duties, the basic fear of getting contracted with corona remains there. But that makes the full day, full of stress and mental exhaustion.
    Anyway,
    I enjoyed the songs, they fit the bill, they spread social awareness, they are funny.
    Really a relief from tension.
    Thanks a lot for that. It was really needed.
    Yesterday I read a funny post on Anuji’s blog and now you also came up with a funny, but insightful post.
    It does talk about the way we all should be in the lock down period.
    I’m afraid, initially people were not serious about the whole thing, but fortunately the scenario is changing in majority of the places.
    I’m sure, we all Indians will come out of it victorious.
    Hats off to you for thinking of such a theme, Madhuji.
    Let me take this opportunity to say,

    Stay at home and Stay safe. Spend time with your family. Know how your wife manages all household work and the children and their studies. Respect the housewife. She’s the backbone of our homes. Know your children, play with them.

    These days will be over. If we act wisely it will happen sooner.

    Thanks Madhuji for the post, and sorry. My comment was too long.

    :-)

    • You’re welcome, Anupji. And thank you to all the doctors and nurses and other medical service providers who brave the coronavirus every day and every minute. Hats off to all of you, really.

      Agree to what you say, but I would like to add to that bit about Know how your wife manages all household work and the children and their studies…. I wish that would change. The man of the 21st century should be taking a very active part in the house and the children and their studies. The days when men would leave all of that to their wives should be put behind us. Simply respecting your wife isn’t enough; helping her makes a difference. Simply playing with your children isn’t enough; looking after them, helping with their studies – that is as important as playing with them.

  2. I was waiting for your song list. Playing “Ek roz hamaari bhi daal galegi” on loop. My score was 3/10 (meaning 3 songs I had heard before)

    Thank You for listing out and hope you will come up with something new for next couple of days.

    • I have a film review lined up next, no more songs. :-) Glad you liked this, even if you hadn’t heard most of them before. I do like Ek roz hamaari bhi daal galegi; that song is so much fun!

  3. Take a bow, Madhu! What a perfect, perfect idea for a post – and what songs! :)

    What about this?
    Raj Kapoor certainly knew just what to do in times like these – not just in one song, but two:
    Baahar se koi andar na aa sake, andar se koi baahar na ja sake from Bobby

    and Ye galiyaan ye chaubara from Prem Rog

    Jaya has the right idea in this song from Jawani Diwani

    Deepika is bemoaning the plight of many, many lovers when she sings
    Agar tum saath ho – my favourite from this film.

    What about Teri galiyon mein na rakhenge kadam from Hawas?

    Or this song that’s now going viral because a policeman in Pune has been singing it to people who defy the lockdown?

    Zindagi maut na ban jaaye sambhaalo yaaron from Sarfarosh

  4. Thanks for injecting a bit of fun in these strange times, Madhu. Was tickled to see “lipstick laganewaale” in the list. Shrimatiji was such a fun movie and I loved the cheerful female camaraderie that runs throughout the film (or at least until Shyama falls in love).

    I myself have rediscovered and been listening to this lovely Lata-Rafi duet from Ek Thi Larki in recent days. The wry bemusement of the lyrics never fails to make me smile and helps me put the current situation in perspective.

    “Hoga kahan khatam yeh safar, kuch na puchiye.” Indeed.

    Ab haal-e-dil ya haal-e-jigar – Ek Thi Larki/Lata Mangeshkar – Mohammed Rafi/Vinod

    • It’s so surreal, isn’t it, Shalini? I don’t know how things are for you in the US (though of course we’ve been getting some of the news), but here, it’s almost unreal – an elephant rambling through the streets of Dehradun, the Yamuna running clean in Delhi, the skies so blue, the roads deserted and with leaves piled up, as if all of humanity were dead.

      Oh, I like Ab haal-e-dil! It’s been a long time since I heard this song, and had forgotten it. Thanks for that, it fits so well.

  5. 1) With even the Trump administration — “Announcing Guidelines Encouraging Americans to Wear Face Coverings”; I am surprised and shocked that this Dev song did not make your list :)

    Perhaps this can be the siren song, what with phrases like:
    “Ghunghat to jara odho”.
    “Koi jo mujhko haath lagayega haath na uske aauingi”
    Wonder if “malmal” is a good protective covering against CV.

    2) Dev seems happy with his solitary status, and his bicycling in a crowd appears to respect “Social Distan Singh” :)

    3) Shammi, on the other hand; is an example of “What Not To Do”

    Sharmila Tagore, in addition to some good looks; has to be commended for wearing a red scarf and trying to maintain the requisite distance. However, she should also listen to Dev’s recommendation in song #1.

    4) Nutan needs to refresh her pandemic avoidance best practices; both songs filmed on her in Bandini are not keeping with current times :)

    Great post; loved it a lot !!!

    • So happy to ‘see’ you here, Samir! :-)

      I did toy briefly with putting Akela hoon main is duniya mein on the list, but dropped it – regretfully, I must add. Thank you for adding that. I had totally forgotten Arre yaar meri tum bhi ho gazab – that was, I agree, an unpardonable lapse.

      Talking of Akele-akele kahaan jaa rahe ho, I came across something interesting the other day while watching the Bharat Bhushan-Nimmi film Sohni Mahiwal. Check out how the song Tumhaare sang main bhi chaloongi piya begins:

      Jaanewaale ho sake toh lautke aana and Mere saajan hain us paar are probably both the heartwrenching cries of a soul distressed at having the loved one caught in the lockdown. I know of a young woman, recently married and living in Delhi, who was visiting her parents in Noida when the countrywide lockdown was announced. She and her husband must be singing these songs to each other on the phone. :-)

      • Thank you Simrita :)
        I must bring up the fact that I just am an occasional commentator, and the real credit belongs to the people who create these blogs. In addition to being extremely talented in writing, they are also very knowledgeable in the field of Hindi Films & Music. They have been working hard for years, and have been investing their time & resources & effort (& to the best of my knowledge no actual remuneration in return) to entertain & educate us.
        Hence, in these times of “lockdown”, a big appreciation to:
        Dustedoff, Anu Warrior, & “Songs of Yore” (AK).

        • Hai na? I love hindi movies so much! When I was growing up I went to an uptighty school in Delhi (South Delhi!) for a few years, where admitting love for the Hindi movie genre was social harakiri. I finally met people in college who were as mad as me about movies, and till today, our conversations are interspersed with corny hindi movie dialogues.
          And so when a few years ago I came across this blog, and via this the others you mentioned (I am a little biased to Madhu’s blog because of a certain Muzaffar Jung connection), I was thrilled to bits. Because in addition to be knowledgeable, as you say, they make it so accessible, both with their writing and by looking at these movies in ways that I can understand! :-)
          Madhu, your blog and writing are like those comforting things that one turns to when life seems too much, like an old friend!

          • Simrita, you have made my day. Thank you so much!

            You reminded me of my school days. :-) I was in Kendriya Vidyalaya, and while most of my classmates thought I was nuts to love old films instead of new ones, my closest friends were the kind who adored Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor, could sing all my favourite old songs, and didn’t think it odd to spend the entire lunch break walking about singing songs. The rest of the school probably called us lunatics, but we didn’t care. Chaahe koi khush ho chaahe gaaliyaan hazaar de. ;-)

  6. Madhu,
    A very timely post. And nice selection of songs. Anu has added some very apt songs. Samir is always brilliant. While we enjoy this post, let us pray we are able to overcome this. Right now our figures are not too scary compared to what is happening in the US and Europe. But we don’t know where we are on the ‘curve’, and when and how we will come back to normalcy. Besides the entities you mentioned for making donations, two must be mentioned at the top: PM-CARES Fund, and respective state CM Relief Fund if one feels more inclined to support his home state’s effort.

    Sahir Ludhiyanavi wrote it in a different context, but ‘Chalo ek baar phir se ajanabi ban jaayein hum dono’ fits perfectly.
    AK

  7. What about this… on these particularly long evenings and nights…when time sometimes hangs on our hands….Jaane Kya Soch Kar Nahin Guzra …from Kinara
    And also that ‘apni tanhai ka na auron se shikwa karna, tum akele nahin ho sabhi akele hain’…

  8. Two songs from Bandini are already posted. Here is one more…now that the birds are all having a run of the sky (thankfully) and we are caged :). Have been saying so many different types of birds that this song sprang to my mind…’main khidki se chup chup dekhoon, ritu basant ki aayi…’
    O panchi pyaare …

  9. And on a slightly humorous note …this might also be a lockdown situation and song :)

    Aaiye aapko main apne bangle ki sair karaaoon..from Joru Ka Gulaam

  10. Anu’s list of songs reminded me few more.

    Everyone is caught unawares in this never seen before situation and trying to make sense of it. Really “Ajit dastan hai yeh”.

    Some catch up fast and tell others “Chhod aye hum woh galiya”.

    Jagjitsingh earnestly endorsing social distancing when he is saying holding hands is not required for meaningful relationship as in “Haath chhute bhi rishte nahi chhoda karte” from ‘’Pinjar’.

    Aasha Parekh is educating about dangers of not wearing masks/veils in “parde mein rehne do parda na hatao”

    Although some people are irritated with these restrictions and voicing their displeasure in “Chehra chhupa Iiya hai kisine hijab mein”

    The stillness in busy metros and towns due to the lockdown is very well explained in
    “So Gaya yeh Jahan, so Gaya aasman” from ‘Tezab’

    However this stillness is bringing us closer even if it is virtually. People are trying to catch up with long lost friends and relatives to check on them a la “Haal Kaisa hai Janab Ka”

    But some of us are not blessed with worldly means and praying for help. Hence it is us who are better equipped must help those in need. Saathi haath badhaana.

    Some of us are tirelessly working for countrymen, keeping us safe. Let’s support them. Hum apke kandhese Kandhe mila ke chalenge.

    It is very easy to get depressed in such situations but do not worry. Kyon ki “Kaanto pe chal ke milenge says baharke”

    We will win this together. Hum honge kaamyaab.

    • Super! Parde mein rehne do and Saathi haath badhaana were on my short list too, so especially happy to see them here. :-) And the others, too – most of these are so very apt for the situation.

  11. Our Alumni have made this video. Thought perhaps all of you might enjoy this… A remake of lipstick lagaane wale :)

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