lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lost vivid vistas

I don't believe in love at first sight. What happens is mutual attraction and interest, a sizing up of the person. It is a reflexive assessment of a person of opposite gender as a potential mate. As we judge superficial qualities we also weigh attractiveness against how useful a mate that person might make, since plain people do find partners, after all. This judging is built into us by evolution.

Love is accretion of fondness, affection, dependence, trust and more over initial attraction and lust and urgency to learn all about a person; it develops out of propinquity but hey, it is just my opinion, it is not set in stone. You are free to define love any way you want to.

Even if I don't believe in the 'eyes meeting across a crowded room' variety of love at first sight, I like the idea of it. And in Indian films they make a song and dance about it. Some of these songs of love and longing become classics. For the defining song about love at first sight, there is nothing better than Rafi's 'mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki kasam' and it is a song that crept into my heart like the Arab's camel.

What can you say about a song that you learned to love almost without noticing? Whenever All India Radio aired it, I'd pause and listen. The song had a strangely beguiling and compelling power. The perfect tune, the longing tone of the singer, that very voice, the minimal and elegant instrumental interludes all lodged the song in my mind.

No matter I didn't know what Rafi was bemoaning. I didn't even know it was Rafi who rained beauty via our radio; it was Hindi, so it didn't count. I was totally ignorant about Hindi those days. Even so, those meditative and measured lines, interspersed with the passionate refrain that I instinctively knew was a plea, were haunting. I had no idea what 'khoya hua rangeen nazara' meant, but I could feel the yearning the phrase conveyed.

Then our mother decided we needed to learn Hindi because it was the national language. We should know it before we choose to sneer at it, was her stance. So we had tuition at home and made it up to the third level of tests at Hindi Prachar Sabha. But the lessons didn't make any Hindi film song any clearer to me; they confused me further. The Hindi in the textbooks bore no resemblance to the songs on AIR.

In college years, my buddy who was a fan of old Hindi film songs, introduced many songs to me playing them on his record player, and 'mere mehboob' was a favourite of his. Those were still days of turntables and for such a lengthy song, the plate (yes, they used to be called that, those vinyl records of 78 rpms) had to be reversed in the middle of the song, and that made the listening dissatisfying.

And the meaning still remained elusive. The song was chockfull of lovely sounding but utterly incomprehensible Urdu words that my limited Hindi had no reference to grasp. As my horizons broadened and Hindi films came to Madras in a big way with Aradhana, I slowly began to follow dialogues, and understand the songs. Slowly, I began to appreciate the poetry of these songs.

Later, with the widespread availability of cassette players, I was able to hear the song in its entirety for the first time. And what a marvellous experience that was, too. (Don't ask, since I won't tell) Though I still didn't know what many words meant, the plea was clearer.

Earlier, a brush with Hindustani music, thanks to my husband, informed me that the song was in Jhinjhoti. I used to think the tune was sort of like Yadukula Kambhoji. That 'sort of' came from it being Pahadi Jhinjhoti, my husband said.

A brilliant composer, an accomplished poet, and a wonderful singer combined to create this beautiful song, and I never tire of listening to it.

Each time I listen, I find another nuance; I understand another hitherto incomprehensible Urdu word and my appreciation of the song, and Rafi, keeps growing. The tune is deceptively simple. Lines of musing in the lower half of the octave alternate with the fervent plea climbing to the upper reaches. The flourishes are elegant in their economy, the instrumental interludes pleasingly wistful. But the beauty of the song lies in the poetry and Rafi's voice- pure, passionate and perfect.

'Mere mehboob' is a song that can't happen these days. The tempo, sentiment and tune are too old fashioned. There is a touching innocence in the song, a sense of worship and idolisation rather than desire and passion. I don't think such innocence is possible these days. Besides, who can imagine a song over eight minutes long being picturised on a singer in an auditorium? Two flashbacks of the meeting he is remembering, some shots of the girl he is addressing the song to, some of the audience- the rest of the time the camera stays fixed on the singer. It is unthinkable in these days of Item numbers and raunchy songs.

After decades of listening to and loving the song, I tried to render the lyric into English. My Hindi is poor and Urdu non-existent, so I really had to work at this. But this is what the song says to me:

Beloved, in the name of my love
Grant me succour of those lovely eyes again
Return those lost vivid vistas of mine

O definition of my dreams, soul of my poesy
My life is spent remembering you
Night and day I am beset by your image
My heartbeats call out to you all the while

Give me solace of your voice responding
Return those lost vivid vistas of mine
Beloved, in the name of my love

My eyes cannot forget that pleasant tableau
When your beauty collided with my adoration
And strewn on the path were many thousand melodies
I had bestowed those melodies to your voice

Give my heartstrings aid of those very songs
Return those lost vivid vistas of mine
Beloved, in the name of my love

I remember well that first instant my life began
When I drank some potion gazing into your eyes
Some lightning coursed through every pore of my being
When I touched your marble-fair hands

Grant me comfort of those hands again
Return those lost vivid vistas of mine
Beloved, in the name of my love

I saw you but for a brief moment
I yearn only to behold you once again
Deeming your shadow the beauteous Taj Mahal
On moonlit nights I will adore you with my eyes

Grant me solace of your fragrant tresses
Return those lost vivid vistas of mine
Beloved, in the name of my love

I seek you on every path, at each gathering
My helpless yearning treads weary now
This day is for my hope the final day
Morrow knows not where I will be or you, Beloved

Give me for a while the haven of your gaze
Return those lost vivid vistas of mine
Beloved, in the name of my love

Stand before me and lift your veil in mercy
'Tis the sole remedy for the grief of my solitude
Being apart from you has tormented me
Come and meet me now or surely I die

Succour my heart with forgotten memories
Return those lost vivid vistas of mine
Beloved, in the name of my love



Anonymous Ash said...

Tableau for manzar seems a strange choice of word. Patchy translation, Lali, but you did say your Hindi is poor. A nice post about the song though.

7:48 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ash- Scene, spectacle, stage, setting whatever. But it is memory speaking, so it has got to be a tableau, a series of mental snapshots of the event- occurrence, happening, instance... You get my drift?

I admit my Hindi is poor, yeah. So sue me for loving Rafi, voice poetry execution passion or exquisite rendering of poignant lyrics in forms of beauty. That man knew all about tugging heartstrings, that's all I am saying.

8:24 pm  
Blogger Shirsha said...

Well said abt the love at first sight bit. You remind me of a frnd who'd write down romantic tamil songs, and work them out like puzzles and feel such bliss, such content at having figured it out through and through... Obviously they were the old songs, the rest are too superficial, too obvious, too not artistic for a satisfying working out...

12:43 am  
Blogger Apoplexy said...

The first part - bang on.You will be surprised how this "old-fashioned" sense is still so extant in songs.
Now.And even if you think the quasi-worshipping pathos is gone too,
listen to this

1:20 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Shirsha- Exactly! This is just another way to enjoy the song. And it's usually old songs, because I don't listen to film songs these days and there's not much poetry there anyway.

Apoplexy- Like I was saying to Shirsha, I listen to oldies, and what I hear the cabbies play on the FM radios doesn't suggest much worshipping adoration. But point taken, it was a generalisation. Thanks for the link.

6:33 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

So thats what all that gimme wailing was about. Nice post, Auntie Lali. You are bang on about love at first sight too. Lust at first sight, yes, but love is a different thing.

8:53 pm  
Blogger netizen said...

present, ma'm

4:38 pm  
Blogger dipali said...

Lali, horror of horrors, I don't know all the words of the original song.(Curls up in a corner in embarrassment).I have enjoyed it when I've heard it, obviously not with the passion you bring to your listening.
Given all that, I really loved your translation:)

11:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a literal translation, but executed with great feeling, one of your better efforts. And I notice you haven't done a clever 'now' or 'beseech you', either. Good.

11:43 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Rajesh- Yeah, that is what all that 'gimme' was about. :-)

Netizen- Attendance noted, sir.

Dipali- Thanks, I tend to be obsessive, I am afraid. Hence... you know what I mean.

Johnnie- Sigh, you really want to use this name? The beseeching is all through the song, no need to state the obvious. So you do like an occasional post of mine, it is good to know.

7:47 am  

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