Ten of my favourite tree songs

Two years ago, in May 2017, my husband, I, and our daughter—then three years old—shifted from Delhi to Noida. We had a lot of teething troubles, and even after we had more or less settled down, I kept missing (I still miss) the trees of Delhi. Not that Noida doesn’t have trees; it does. It’s just that the area we live in lacks the great big giants, many decades old, that are so much a part of Delhi.

But we do have a lovely little park in the middle of our housing society, and one day in June 2017, I took our child along there for a little picnic. We read a couple of books, she had a jam sandwich and some lemonade. We looked up at a stunning cabbage palm above the bench we were sitting on. I took a photo of that palm from our point of view, and later that day, I posted that on Facebook. I tagged it #LookingUpAtTrees. That photo became a landmark photo for me: it made me want to post more photos of looking up at trees. So I did. Over the next two years, I’ve become obsessed with trees (among the various other things I’m obsessed with). I photograph them, I want to know more about them, every time I travel, I keep an eye out for species not seen in and around the NCR. And, every week, I post a #LookingUpAtTrees photo (all of these posts are public, so if you’re on Facebook , you can see them even if you’re not on my friends network – just look for my personal page, Madhulika Liddle).

Yesterday I posted the hundredth photo in the series (of a landmark tree: a sal tree at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun; it was planted in 1956 by the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad). With it, as always, was a brief write-up about the tree.

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Ten of my favourite Rajendra Krishan songs

2019 marks the birth centenary of two major lyricists of Hindi cinema: Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan. While they may have shared the same birth year, Krishan and Azmi appear to have been very different personalities. Unlike the ardently socialistic Azmi, Rajendra Krishan seems to have pretty much embraced the capitalist side of life (interestingly, he is said to have been the ‘richest lyricist in Hindi cinema’—not as a result of his earnings as a song writer, but because he won 46 lakhs at the races).

Also, unlike Azmi, who wrote songs for less than fifty films (up to 1998, when he wrote for Tamanna), Rajendra Krishan was much more prolific. Though he died in 1987, by then he had already written songs for more than a hundred films.

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Ten of my favourite Kaifi Azmi songs

Yes, this post is four months late: Kaifi Azmi’s birth centenary was on January 14th this year. I will not make excuses about why I missed that date. Let me just say that I didn’t know about it until the 14th itself, and by then, it was too late. I cursed myself for having forgotten that 2019 marked the birth centenary year of one of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists. But today is the death anniversary of Azmi Sahib, and in any case, all of this year is his birth centenary, so I thought better late than never.

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Ten of my favourite Shamshad Begum solos

This is an important year when it comes to Hindi film music—because 2019 marks the birth centenary of some of classic Hindi cinema’s greatest in the field of music. Music director Naushad was born a hundred years ago; lyricists Kaifi Azmi and Rajendra Krishan were born a hundred years ago; and two of Hindi cinema’s most popular playback singers—Manna Dey and Shamshad Begum—were also born in 1919, less than a month apart.

Born in Lahore on April 14th, 1919, the day after the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar (which is just about 50 km from Lahore), Shamshad Begum never had any formal training in music. Her prowess as a singer, however, came to the fore very early, and by the time she was 10 years old she was singing in family marriages and religious functions. In the teeth of parental opposition, she was helped by an uncle who got her an audition with Ghulam Haider. In 1937, she began singing with All India Radio Lahore, and this proved a breakthrough—such a breakthrough that Shamshad Begum was offered a role as an actress and even bagged it after a screen test. Thanks to a very conservative father (who had insisted she wear a burqa even to sing!), Shamshad Begum had to finally decline the role and focus on her singing.

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Somewhat Cross-dressed Women ‘Romancing’ Women in Performances: Ten Songs

The title of this post will probably require some explanation before I launch into the list itself.

Several years back, I did a post on female duets. Commenting on that, fellow blogger and blog reader Carla wondered about the rationale or thought behind songs like Reshmi salwar kurta jaali ka, where a dance performance featuring two women dancers has one woman dressed as a man, supposedly romancing the other (who’s dressed as a woman). I had no explanation to offer, and over the years, while I’ve mulled over this plenty of times, I’ve still not figured out why this became popular.

You know the type of song: there’s a fairly conventional love song, often teasing and playful, being sung—and the two people onscreen, while both women, are dressed as man and woman. The woman dressed as a man isn’t (unlike Geeta Bali in Rangeen Raatein), however, actually pretending to be a man: it’s very obvious that she is a woman, and that she’s supposed to be a woman (even the playback singer is a woman).

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Songs in the Snow: Ten of my favourites

Some weeks back, a friend who follows my (occasional) travel writing approached me with a question: where was the place closest to Delhi where one could see snow? Over a weekend? I thought fleetingly of Shimla, of Kasauli, and of Lansdowne—though I’m not certain Lansdowne receives much snow—and eventually had to tell her, regretfully, that it may not be easy to take a weekend trip from Delhi to enjoy the snow.

That brief discussion made me a little nostalgic for the snow. When I was 9 years old, my father (who was in the IPS, and then on deputation to the ITBP) was transferred to Srinagar. We stayed there for the next three years, and in that time, we experienced a lot of snow. Not just during our travels across Ladakh (and through mountain passes like Zoji la, Chang la, and Khardung la, all of them surrounded by snow even in summer), but even while living in Srinagar.

And, one thing I realized was that while snow may look very pretty (when it’s fresh, that is: old snow, with soot piling up on it, or snow that’s melted, got churned into underlying mud and then refrozen, is not pretty at all), it’s tough to live with. It piles up. On driveways and paths, choking them. On roofs, where it slowly slides down until it hangs, in great piles, along the eaves until it suddenly slides down and falls in one great solid slab that can be potentially fatal, if you happen to be standing under it. It collects on electricity and telephone wires, turning them into fat white cables (and sometimes snapping them, which means you end up without electricity or a telephone line—though I suppose things must be easier now that everybody has cell phones).

Back then, in the early 1980s, we had yet another problem: when it snowed a lot, there was also the added danger of water freezing in the water pipes—and because ice expands, that could make the pipes burst; so the local water department of the Srinagar municipality would shut down the water supply. On more than one occasion, we ended up scooping snow from our lawn and boiling it to obtain water (not a pleasant experience—a lot of snow yields comparatively little water, and it takes ages to melt, especially when the ambient temperature is below 0).

Ah, well. This is a song list, so let’s get down to the songs. Ten songs, from pre-1970s Hindi cinema, which features snow. Very few songs, as far as I could tell, are shot completely in the snow, so I’ve given myself some leeway: the song should feature some amount of snow; it need not necessarily be all against a backdrop of snow. And the snow, even if it’s not real (I recall an interview with Manoj Kumar where he talked of drifting soap flakes getting in his mouth while filming a ‘snow scene’ in Hariyali aur Raasta), should at least not look patently fake.

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Ten of my favourite Bharat Vyas songs

When it comes to Hindi film music, most people—even the committed aficionados—tend to focus on the music directors and the singers. Lyricists are often relegated to the back seat. People can recognize a singer’s voice; they can often remember who composed the song: but who, really, pays a lot of attention to who wrote the song in the first place? Who created the words which make the song what it is?

It has been a while since I did a post on a lyricist (I’ve done song lists for Sahir Ludhianvi and Shailendra on this blog), so before this year ends, one post to honour a lyricist. Bharat Vyas, often credited as Pandit Bharat Vyas, who was born in Churu, Rajasthan, sometime in 1918. Conflicting reports about his birth date appear online: several versions point to December 18th, others cite January 6th. Since I discovered only last month (thanks to fellow blogger Anup, who found out from old Hindi cinema’s walking encyclopedia, Arun Kumar Deshmukh) that the correct date is actually January 6th, this tribute is belated by almost a year. But I figured that at least I got the year right, so while today may not be the birth centenary of Bharat Vyas, 2018 is the year of his birth.

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Songs ‘sung’ by people with disabilities: my favourites

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Since 1992, this day has been promoted by the United Nations in an effort to promote the rights and well-being of people with disabilities, and to increase awareness ‘of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life’.

I must confess that as a child, while I didn’t ever laugh at anybody who was disabled, I rarely felt anything other than pity for them. I wanted to help, but always felt awkward. I wondered what disabled people would do if they didn’t have family members to help them out. I used to think that to be disabled meant that you basically sat about and waited for people to do most things for you.

Thankfully, I’ve grown up and now know better.  I acknowledge that there are different types of disabilities, from the completely crippling to the type that can, at first glance, go unnoticed. I acknowledge that a physical disability can have absolutely nothing to do with the mental or other abilities of a person (think Stephen Hawking). I deeply and truly appreciate Indian corporates like Lemon Tree Hotels, Pantaloons and Costa Coffee, at all of whose stores or properties I have been served by people with disabilities. I wish for a world that is more accepting of the abilities of those with disabilities.

That said, how about a post on Hindi film songs lip-synced by characters with disabilities? Blog reader John suggested this idea way back in February this year, and I was immediately drawn to it. Partly because I did want to observe this particular day on my blog, and partly because Hindi cinema has some superb songs ‘sung’ by people with disabilities. Hindi cinema, especially back in the 50s and 60s, may have used disability—especially blindness—in a convenient way to complicate the lives of already-suffering characters (and restoring their sight/other ability even more conveniently), but at least nearly all of them got a chance to sing. Mournful songs at times, philosophical ones at others, but songs, all right.

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Ten Songs from ‘One-Song-Wonder’ Films

I get requests for song lists from readers all the time. Often, it turns out that the person hasn’t been through my list of lists I’ve done. Occasionally, the suggestion is something that’s either so difficult to do (songs about war, one I’ve promised myself I will someday achieve) or so ludicrously easy (songs about broken hearts) that I don’t even want to begin.

Very occasionally, though, a reader writes in with a suggestion that makes my eyes light up. Sometime back, a reader named TN Subramaniam wrote, asking me if I’d like to do a list of songs that were the one major hit song in a film otherwise characterized by forgettable songs. As an example, Dr Subramaniam suggested a song: Tum jo aao toh pyaar aa jaaye from Sakhi Robin, a lovely song, but one which wasn’t merely from an obscure film, but also from a film that had no other songs that readily come to mind.

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Post-drenchings: Ten Songs

The monsoon has arrived here, in Delhi and around. We’d had a parched and hellish June, the heat seeming to grow more unbearable—and then, suddenly, one morning we woke to an overcast sky. Grey clouds looming, and soon, rain. Except in my childhood (when I remember going out in the rain to play, with the express purpose of getting thoroughly soaked), I’ve never really liked getting wet in the rain. Come the monsoon, I don’t venture out without an umbrella. In our car, we always have an umbrella or two to spare (our latest acquisition in that department is a golf umbrella, large enough to accommodate two adults). If I should by some chance get caught in the rain—a rare chance, indeed, given the precautions I take—I will bolt for the nearest shelter, even if it consists of six inches of overhang.

The last thing that occurs to me is to sing.

Not so in Hindi cinema, where getting wet (almost always in pouring, roaring thunderstorms that come out of a clear blue sky) is invariably a precursor to bursting into song. For various reasons.

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