lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On first encountering my beloved

A guest post by the Resident Musician

It was a bitterly cold December evening in Delhi in 1978. A Guru and his Chela sat huddled over a Bajaj convector heater warming their fingers and slowly sipping the single malt Scotch whisky the Chela had bought in the duty-free shop in Bangkok.

“So you just want to do a bit of reconnoitering preparing for the year’s field work for your thesis on Thumri?” asked the Guru.

“Yeah, that year hopefully will begin in September ’80 but I’ll need that much time to work on my Urdu so that I don’t have to use interpreters for interviewing tawaiifs”.

“Of course” said the Guru, “interpreters are a drag when you want to have a tete-a-tete with a tawaiif. When and where do you plan to reconnoitre?”

“I’ll start with Old Delhi from tomorrow and maybe in January go to Calcutta and look up the area where Wajed Ali Shah lived his last years. I believe Thumri started there and maybe there are a few old fossils who can tell me interesting stories. Then there is Bombay which I don’t know much about and you don’t either.”

Next evening the two were again huddling over the heater but in a far darker mood. The Chela’s forays in Old Delhi during the day had not yielded a single address where he could possibly find a tawaiif. And the Guru had just come back after a seminar with his mathematician colleagues who had scheduled the departmental New Years’ Eve party at his flat because there would not be a Missus around to take the punchbowl away just as the party started to get interesting.

The Chela was quizzical. “What is wrong with these chaps coming over with booze for a few hours just before midnight,” he asked.

“Look, I listen to mathematical jokes to make a living, but listening to such banter is not my idea of ringing in the New Year,” replied the Guru glumly.

“Oh, I will come over with some dancing houris to enliven things,” assured the Chela. The Guru gave a start and said, “Why don’t you just go and scoot off to Calcutta first thing tomorrow instead of trying to be helpful? These guys are Tamil Brahmins, vegetarians and would have apoplectic fits if they encountered a sarangi or tabla player in my flat whether or not the female was present.”

"That does it," said the Chela, "let me go and have a serious look around and if I find a suitable troupe I’ll book them. Today is the 29th, so we can’t waste much time." Reluctantly the Guru decided to accompany the younger man, knowing full well how dubious the tastes of his sitar student were. At least by accompanying him a veto on the final choice could be exercised.

Having coaxed his Padmini engine to start the Guru and his Chela rode off into the deserted streets. After a meal at one of the Pandara Road eateries, the quest began in earnest.

“Where do we go now?” asked the Guru. “Go past the New Delhi station and then we will turn left and I will guide you after that” said the Chela. Twenty minutes after leaving the New Delhi station behind and many twists and turns, the Chela said, “you may as well stop here. The place I once saw dancing girls five years ago must be somewhere around, we’ll look out for it as we walk around”.

“G. B. Road,” said the Chela in response to the Guru’s query, “what is this place?” They walked along a narrow pavement littered with an assortment of garbage and beggars’ bowls. The Chela stopped at a paan shop and asked where he could find ‘naatchne walee larkiyan’ and the paan shopwallah replied in an exasperated tone that around here there are only ‘pesha karney walee larkiyan.’

This kind of Hindi was Greek to the Chela who could recite a substantial amount of Ghalib and Momin but was wont to respond to a simple query like “Kya haal” with “tasallee baksh!” So the Guru translated, “There are no dancers here, only whores.”

Nothing deterred, the Chela dove into a narrow side street and almost at once the two could hear the sound of ‘ghunghroos’ and tablas. They followed the sound and came to a dark and dank doorway.

Stepping inside they were buffeted by a wall of stench of ammonia which can only be described by the Sanskrit ‘soochee bhedya’ (not pierceable by a needle.) As they climbed a rickety set of stairs, the ‘ghungroos’ got louder and finally on the third floor they came to a well-lit room where a thin fortyish man was pumping away at a beat-up harmonium. A tabla player fondling a duggi and a slightly built woman engaged in bargaining the price of the next number with a couple of dissolute customers.

Upon seeing the Chela’s Anglo-Saxon visage, all conversation ceased. The matron of the place came rushing over driving away the train of beggars who had followed the Guru-Chela duo up the staircase and asked the new visitors to sit on the not so immaculately white sheet, which covered the floor. As soon as they sat down, a young woman came in with two garlands of flowers one of which she put around a beaming Chela’s neck. She tried to do the same with the Guru, but he put up a deprecating hand and muttered “Mein driver hoon.

The guru whispered to the Chela “Let's get the hell out of this place. I am not having this lot enter my flat!” The Chela addressed the matron "Mein ghazal sun naa chaahtaa hoon.” This request caused consternation, the dancing girl and the tabla player went away and a new girl came in with a new harmonium player.

She knelt in front of the exotic duo who had invaded the seedy brothel. She hummed gently and as the harmonium player trilled off a phrase or two of Jhinjhoti she put one hand over her head in a vaguely danseuse like posture and opened her mouth. And an ear-shattering screechy falsetto voice screamed into the night…

Mere mehboob tujhe meri mohabbat ki kasam…"

When the song ended the Chela wanted to know about the author of the ghazal. “Qalaam kaun?” The Guru translated “Yeh kiska ghazal?” The answer came with a flashing smile: “Mohammed Rafi!” Satisfied, the Chela stuffed a fifty-rupee note into the singer’s décolletage and the duo left.

The Chela remarked as they got into the car, “I must find out who the poet was. The lyrics were pretty decent but I don’t think there is a poet, past or present, called Mohammed Rafi”.



Anonymous Ash said...

Phew! There is only one Rafi and only that song to define infatuation and longing.

Where was Missus, by the way, while these New year revels were being organised? Where did K meet his real beloved?

9:11 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ash- Sheesh! I was nowhere in the picture, I met him in '80. But yeah, that is the song for mooning about love. We shall draw a discreet veil over how we met, okay? And nothing more about GB Road, please.

11:00 pm  
Blogger Priya said...

A rather amusing K-escapade, that! Way to go K...we want more guest posts, please.

11:23 am  
Blogger Rimi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:03 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

Such uplifting hilarity! I suggest K becomes regular guest blogger, please, Lali. At least in these days of rain and the coming days of pretend-winter.

1:05 pm  
Blogger Apoplexy said...

What happened when chela came to Calcutta? Did he find anything?

1:26 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Priya, Rimi- He certainly has a lot of interesting tales, doesn't he? But what is this clamour for more guest posts from K? I am being to feel unloved, I am. :-)

Apoplexy- Hi and welcome. The Chela got plenty of material for his thesis, On Thumari, that's what happened.

3:57 pm  
Blogger Sivaram said...

How to solve this puzzle ?
1) The female enters just when the party gets going and removes the punch-bowl.
2) One searches all over the place for a female so that one can have fun.
3) In fact one cannot have fun without a female in the picture.

What is a man to do ?
Of my three score and ten, quite a few will not come again, so some-one solve this for me please ?

7:11 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

To all- Excuse horrendous typo, that ought to have read *I am beginning to feel unloved*

Sivaram- I gloat at this opportunity to quote back at you.
Female: One who believes if you charge it, it's not spending, and if you add a cherry to it, it's not intoxicating. Jack Pearl

Don't ask me who he is, though. Basically, men and women can't do without each other, so we say things like 'Men!' Or men exclaim 'Women!' and the dance goes on...

9:17 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

* Big hug! *

But you alreddy have celebrity, as they say, Missus Em. We're just suggesting the Mister shares your spot in the sun forrabit :-)

10:04 pm  
Blogger neha vish said...

We demand more posts from RM.

10:20 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Rimi- Hmph! You fail to convince me. :-)

Neha- Sigh, another fan. What is the world coming to?

10:00 am  
Anonymous P.M. said...

Ah, the search for the honey-voiced houri, who would delight Kalyan and me with her dulcet threnodies as we reclined on gold-brocaded cushions, sipping from hubbly-bubblies, tossing the occasional silver coin upon hearing an elegant turn of phrase, the saucy yet artful hint of Pilu introduced in an otherwise venerable Khamaj thumri, while between songs she enthralled us with her genteel and witty conversation, rendered in the most chaste Urdu, her occasionally arched eyebrow like a drawn bow from which sprang arrows of ever-so-slightly seductive glances which pierced our hearts. I knew that Kalyan would be ever grateful to me for introducing him to that charming world, with its latter-day Gauhar Jans. Well, OK, so they turned out to be teenage girls trafficked from Nepal, singing atrocious film songs while shooing off the occasional rodent, to the accompaniment of a wheezy harmonium and the noisy barterings of dalaals and customers from the hallway. All in a day for the intrepid ethnomusicologist and his ustad.

7:32 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

P.M.- There is a Telugu usage, calling a student perfectly suited for the teacher. It could be the reverse with you and K, I suppose.

I never believed him when he said that was the first time he heard the song I grew up listening to. Then he went and wrote it up, and you endorse it. That makes it official, I guess. Sigh, thus are shattered fond hopes he was making it up.

10:33 am  

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