lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ode to an unknown singer

It wasn't a ride. It was a crawl. From SP Mukherjee Road it just got worse. Stop and start, stop and start. An overcast sky with no promise of imminent rain was no help either. I just sweated in the cab.

After many pauses and arbitrary stops because citizens of Calcutta cross streets where they want, we achieved Hazra Crossing; waited what seemed like an eternity. Negotiated the crossing and were stalled in yet another instance of pedestrians taking to the road. We reached Elgin Road crossing, to wait some three minutes. Lower Circular Road Flyover? Sigh. Get chased off the lane by buses coming in from the Minto Park connector turning into Chowringhee and worse.

The driver was adept, unlike some I have come across. He had good anticipation and knew the streets well. It is fascinating to hear cars starting up in preparation for the signal change, from right at the junction to further back. The sound ripples back in a wave as all drivers turn ignition switches on. The driver was right on cue, whether switching off to wait the signal out or turning the ignition on.

Flyovers are nothing but traffic bottlenecks in waiting. We descended the fly-over to find ourselves in another wait. The road ahead seemed filled with all the buses in Calcutta. Cabs too, and people getting on and off buses in the middle of this chaos, trusting to providence. I can't really call it a traffic jam; it was only Calcutta traffic on a normal day.

I boasted once before that I don't get bored; not even in traffic, waiting for signals to change or endless streams of demonstrators to pass. There is always something to observe, there are billboards to look at and people to watch. So I wasn't exactly bored when I heard the call.


For a moment I wondered if Rafi reincarnated into a bass voice. I must be hallucinating, I decided.

Mere yaar

I located the source. A stocky man of middle years, weaving among the waiting cars and buses, with a toy microphone of garishly coloured recycled plastic in one hand. On the other arm hung a bag, full of more of them, I supposed.

It was a marvellous voice. That mitwa was perfect Rafi, getting the fervour and plaintive tone accurately even if pitched lower than Rafi ever sang. This voice was ideal for street vending. And when he executed that mere yaar, the timbre was perfect, the descants exact.

The taxi moved forward, and the traffic surged ahead.

Tujhko baar baar

His voice floated from behind. I smiled. It was still a long way to go, we had barely entered Central Avenue, but suddenly I was buoyed. Awaaz main na doonga, I sang in my head, following the tune. All the way to Sovabazar and back home, Rafi and the song kept me in good humour.

On the way back, I kept a look out for him. I wanted to buy one of those toy mikes; not to playact singing into, my voice has a range of about half an octave after all, I just wanted to show my appreciation for his vending method. The traffic was smoother, and we whizzed past where I heard him.

I wanted to thank him for that gift of gladness, so sudden and unexpected.



Blogger dipali said...

What unexpected, wonderful gifts are suddenly bestowed upon us, and in the most unexpected of places!
Hope I get to hear 'your' singer:) someday, somewhere....

9:01 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

Still larking it seems. But he must have had a wonderful voice for you to talk about it. I hope you hear him again, singing another song.

11:03 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Dipali- I hope so too. He had a truly lovely voice.

Ash- Refer to the above comment. I really wish I can hear him again.

10:21 am  
Blogger Shirsha said...

Aww, a beautiful post Lali!
Btw, where you have those musical time-passes at traffic signals in good ol' Cal, here in Blr we have this bunch of gymnasts in tatters at every signal, they cartwheel to grab your attention, then do the 'digbaajee' somersault all over, then get entwined and unentwined with a iron loop, so on and so forth. At some signals they have trapeze artistes too...
But it isn't nice to watch, it marks poverty and one surely doesnot feel like giving money to these child beggars despite their acrobatics. They ought to be studying... no?

7:44 pm  
Anonymous Hehhhh said...

One of the songs I love to stretch the lung power over, to despair of all in range : )

But the lyrics, and the memory of Rafi. BTW, those in Mumbai will recognise it as the favourite of two-flat-stones-clapping bawling artistes in the locals.

9:59 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Shirsha- Too right they should be in school, but what do we know, us passersby of their lives, to pass that judgment? I'd rather tip them that wiped the windshield than those that bleat at me that my coming generations will all be well, I tell you. I know my circumstances, after all. :-)

hehhhh- Ooh, look who comments. That chap was absolutely mahvellous, I tell you. Since I have no first-hand knowledge of Bombay trains I will take your word for it that it is a favoured song.

I love Rafi.

10:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a brilliant offhand way of thinking back to that magical voice. Rafi rules! It seems though, that you are not all well and all. Why did you have to go to Sovabazar, eh? RA again?
Secret admirer
(no name rank or serial number)

11:00 pm  
Blogger Sivaram said...

There was a song from Monty Python somewhere - "I like Traffic Lights" .....

Singing ( Vocal ) is a gift which can be appreciated almost with no reference to the physical attributes of the singer. When people sing on TV, the camera keeps zooming in and out, and somehow the good impression of the music is spoiled.
And again, it is evident when some one is enjoying his singing, and that puts you into a better mood.

A pity that now we mostly drive with windows closed and AC on, but the pollution ......

3:58 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- You are right about TV singers. As to people enjoying their singing, the pleasure is contagious. I really felt chuffed hearing that bass voice bellow the song out.

Travelling by taxis precludes the AC option, thank goodness.

5:56 pm  
Blogger Sue said...

Calcutta is a grand city. After all these years I keep seeing her as an outsider. All these little surprises, these awesome quirks.

Rafi indeed!

See you soon Lali.


2:22 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sue- Yeah, it's awful in some ways, but Calcutta is a city full of surprises.

4:51 pm  
Blogger Sri said...

Rafi is undisputedly the golden Voice of Indian Cinema. Rafi rocks!


6:10 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sri- Hi and welcome. You are absolutely right, Rafi rocks. :-)

7:41 am  

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