My Seven Favourite English Books (Non-Fiction)

May 8, 2010

In this post I write about my seven favourite English non-fiction books. You will not find Sartre, Kahleel Gibran, Richard Bach or, horror of horrors, even the likes of Shiv Khera and Robin Sharma. My list is a lot less intellectual, I talk about some basic- but interesting- stuff which I have read over the last 30 years or so. Mine is an eclectic collection of books which I have read and re-read over the last few decades. In subsequent posts I will talk about my top seven English fiction books and then about my top seven Hindi books.

1 How To Be An Alien:

I discovered this slim book, written some 60-70 years ago, regrettably late; only 23 years ago. I have read this book several times and it is one of the most prized books in my collection. George Mikes (pronounced, Mik-kesh), a Central European, does a rip-roaring take on the British. I will love any book which has a chapter headed “Three Small Points” where the first point is: “If you go for a walk with a friend, don’t say a word for hours; if you go out for a walk with your dog, keep chatting to him.” And I will adore any book whose entire chapter consists of the heading “Sex”. Followed by text which goes thus: “Continental people have sex life, the English have hot-water bottles.” That is the entire text in the chapter on “Sex”, mind you!

By the way, there is another book which does an excellent, though longer, take on the Brits, “Notes from a Small Island” by Bill Bryson.

I wish I could write humour in the manner George Mikes did!

2 Surely You Are Joking Mr Feynman

Mr Feynman, or Prof Richard Feynman, was a distinguished professor of physics. He is known to generations of students of physics via his “Feynman’s Lecture Series”. This Nobel laureate was involved with the “Manhattan Project”, the WW II project of the US government to develop the atomic bomb. “Surely You Are Joking Mr Feyman” is his autobiography. This story of his life deals with everything but that atom-bomb venture. It sure does find a mention in passing, but the book largely deals with his experiences in studying ants, learning how to break a combination lock, seducing a girl etc.

I have always admired geniuses who could excel beyond what they are renowned for.  I can think of none better than Richard Feynman.

3 Freakonomics:

This relatively recent book is written by a young economist, an econometrist actually. An econometrist uses mathematics to solve economic conundrums, and Steve Levitt does, with panache. He proves to you that having swimming pool in your house (remember this is an American context) is a lot more dangerous than having a gun in your house. Or that names have a cyclical life. Yesterdays’ names flower again tomorrow. Or that the hallowed teachers and even more hallowed Sumo wrestlers can be cheats. And that famous conclusion in one of the chapters of the book of his regarding the drop in the crime rates of New York city. Something to do with legalization of abortion a few decades prior.

This book has been so inspiring for me ever since I read it. I now think that I can solve all the problems of life only if I had all the data at my hand.

4 City Of Djinns:

If you want to read a good story, read William Dalrymple. What you get is not only a well-written story, you also get tons of authentic, hitherto unknown history as well. I am a huge fan of William D, a Scotsman who spends most of his time in India. He has written many best-sellers- In Xanadu, White Mughals, Nine Lives, and “The Last Mughal ..…”. All of them stories of history, and very well told. But none beats this endearing tale of Delhi, uncovering the layers and layers of its past. This has a unique structure, starting from the present and going back in time to Hastinapur of the Mahabharat, the earliest of the seven incarnations of Delhi. All told in an engaging, personal- and humorous- style.

I have this silly ambition of writing a book sometime. And, if I do, it will be a mix of story-telling, travelogue and history, just like what William Dalrymple has done about Delhi.

5 A Short History of Nearly Everything:

I have mentioned earlier about Bill Bryson. Bill B. is known for his uproariously funny travelogues, I have mentioned the book on England, above, “Notes from a Small Island”. He has written many more on his travels: “ Neither Here nor There” (Europe travel), “The Lost Continent”, “A walk In The Woods”, “Made In America”, “The Life And Times of Thunderbolt Kid” (All on USA) “African Diary” (Africa). But my selection for this list is “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, which is not striclt a travel book. This has oodles of information on matters science, astrology, chemistry, physics, zoology, etc etc. The Solar System, The Big Bang, Genetics, Paleantology are explained in lucid detail.

I love this book as while I am not, classically-speaking, a lay person considering I have a degree in engineering, but I have learnt so much from this book!

6 Complications:

There are gifted people, like so many of us. And there are even more gifted people like Dr Atul Gavande. Dr Gavande is a second generation Indian medical practitioner in the US born to a doctor-couple practicing in a small US town. He is an eminent surgeon who has been writing in the Mecca of writers of all kinds, “The New Yorker”, ever since he was a Resident Doctor. His essays on the issues and dilemmas facing surgeons are of interest not only to the physicians but also to the patients and the caregivers as well. He has written two more books after this: “Better” (which was so good that I have gifted copies of it to a couple of hundred doctor friends of mine) and “The Checklist Manifesto” which has just got released in India.

7 Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps

When I first read the book, and I do not even remember who recommended it to me, I was stunned! I kept wondering which among my friends had told the authors (Allan and Barbara Pease) as to what happened in my household. This book is about relationship between men and women; in the Indian context, between husband and wife. The incidents, the observations , the conclusions… and even the solutions are so familiar. Unbelievable! I have recommended this book to so many of my friends, with a condition that it should be read by both of them- him and her. And I am not surprised that nearly all of them have come back and told me: “How is it that the author-duo knew exactly what is happening between the two of us?

If you really want to know, check out the book.

===


My Seven Favorite Hindi Stories: Part 3

August 31, 2008

6. Mare Gaye Gulfam (Phanishwar Nath Renu)

Hiraman, is a bullock-cart driver operating in the northern districts of Bihar, the parts abutting Nepal. He became a widower shortly after marriage. He has remained single ever since. He ekes out a living transporting all kinds of stuff (including, once, a circus tiger). One day he gets a passenger, Hirabai, a young and pretty nautanki performer who is traveling to join her new troupe. An immediate bond gets struck between the two due to the common root of their names (“Hira”). It is a long journey which Hiraman tried to make pleasant by singing village songs to her and also telling her stories about the region. His simplicity and the concern he shows for her through the two day long journey endears him to Hirabai. Hiraman in turn is completely taken in by her beauty, her voice, wafts of perfume emanating from her. Hiraman thoughtfully buys for her the rural repast of chiwda and dahi, and she asks him to have it along with her much to his embarrassment. They arrive at their destination and now is the time for them to part. Hirabai wants him to stay for a few more days and organizes free passes for Hiraman and his friends for the nautanki she is performing in. The nautanki experience is the first time ever for Hiraman. In the initial minutes of the commencement of the nautanki, a villager in the audience makes some vulgar remarks about Hirabai. Hiraman can not bear this and he beats up the guy. The show gets suspended as the mayhem spreads and the police is called in. It is then Hiraman tells the show manager that they are here as guests of Hirabai and hold special passes. Peace is restored. Hiraman watches this show for ten nights continuously enraptured by the aura of Hirabai. He has even decided to tell Hirabai not to work in the nautanki company but find a job elsewhere to avoid people from gossiping about her. The suddenly on the tenth day, he is informed by a friend of his that Hirabai is has summoned him at the railway station. He discovers that she is quitting the town and returning to here old nautanki company. There is an emotional farewell before the train leaves. Hiraman is totally shattered by this development. The story ends with Hiraman setting off to return to his village as he finds no charm in staying back when Hirabai is not around.

This story was written sometime in the late 50’s/ early 60’s by Phanishwar Nath Renu. A warm and at-once a heart-breaking story of a platonic relationship between two unlikely protagonists, a bullock-cart wallah and a nautanki dancing star. The way Renu develops the relationship, tentative initially, and then getting warmer; the bond which develops between the two. There is a lot of respect for each other, and mutual affection. She is more demonstrative of the two, calling him Mita, Ustaad, Guruji etc. She even places her hand on his shoulder to emphasize a point. He is ever respectful, but totally captivated by her. You cannot but help feel the deep anguish of Hiraman when he has to bid the final good-bye to Hirabai at the railway platform. You can nearly feel his eyes misting with the thought that she will not be around. Another beauty of this story is the evocative use of the language of the region. Here is what goes through Hiraman’s mind when he sees Hirabai having chiwda and dahi: “laal hothon par goras ka paras. Pahadi totay (parrot) ko doodh bhaat khatey huey dekha hai?” And his description of Hirabai’s voice: “Bachchon ki  boli jaisee maheen, phenugilaasi boli.” One could go on-and-on.

PS: This story was made into a movie- “Teesri Kasam”- starring Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman. While it was a failure at the box office, it won the best feature film award in 1967. It had some great songs as well: “Sajan re jhooth mat bolo”, “Chalat musafir moh liya re pinjarey waali muniya”, “Mare gaye gulfam”, “Sajanwa bairi ho gaye hamaar”, “Paan khaye saiyan hamaar”. The first two kasams referred to in the story are: One: Not to ferry contraband goods across the India-Nepal border as he got into some trouble doing this. Two: Not to ferry bamboo as he had got involved in an accident involving a horse-cart which was damaged due to the long bamboos being carried in his cart. And the third kasam he makes: Never again to take a nautanki dancer as a passenger in his bullock-cart.

7. Parda (Yashpal)

Choudhari Peerbakhsh, is the head of a large lower middle-class family. His forefathers were relatively well-to-do though the Choudhari’s immediate family has to survive with his meager salary of Rs 18 as a low-paid clerk in an oil mill. The salary has progressively risen in the past fifteen years from Rs 12 but this rise has not been enough to take care of the ever-growing family of an old mother, the couple and their five offspring. They stay in a rented house in a run-down working class locality with cobblers, washermen and laborers as neighbors. Choudhari is respected in his neighborhood thanks to his white-collared job and the fact that there is a parda (curtain) at the entrance door to his house. The parda is what protects the dignity of the Choudhari household, both literally and figuratively. Over generations the quality of the parda has degenerated, but a parda is a parda, irrespective of the material it is made of. The Choudhari is forever in penury, his salary refuses to keep pace with the growth in his family and the rising cost of living. His employer is loathe to give him advances and loans and consequently he takes recourse to the Pathan money-lender (“kabuli wallah”). The Pathan is easy with the loan but is tough on recovery. When Choudhari misses an installment, the Pathan makes a big ruckus and haunts the Choudhari day and night to recover it. The Choudhari tries to escape the visits of the Pathan till one morning he is accosted for the dues. The Choudhary pleads helplessness which the Pathan does not unbelieve. Thanks to the parda which hangs on the main door, the Pathan believes that the Choudhari is well-to-do and has assets hidden inside the house. Finally, in desperation, the Pathan tugs at the parda which falls off exposing the near naked female members of the household who have only this parda to take care of their modesty. The neighbors, who have been watching the going-on turn their heads away, the Pathan walks away in shame while the Choudhari faints in abject humiliation. When he regains consciousness he has no motivation to reinstall the parda as he now stands totally defeated and realizes that the parda, which concealed the household’s penury has no purpose left to serve anymore.

Yashpal’s easy style of narration accentuates Choudhari’s plight even more. The authors description of the ruses the Choudhari employs to fob off the money-lender may read a bit comical but you cannot but help a deep sense of sympathy for him. Reading this story even now even decades after it was published you can still empathize with the Choudhari. Even today you can still find many Choudharis around you while the credit card companies serve as the Pathans. The middle-class’ attempts to maintain the veneer (parda) of respectability and the lenders attempts to take back their dues.

=============

Here are links to the other two pieces:

Link to part 1:

https://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/my-seven-favorite-hindi-stories/

Link to part 2:

https://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2008/08/02/my-seven-favorite-hindi-stories-part-two/

Those, dear readers, were my seven favorite Hindi stories. As I said earlier, such lists are very personal and you may have a different list of your own. Please share your selection with me. And do comment on how you found my piece. You could either post your comment here on this blog or you could mail me at santoshojha@gmail.com. Nothing like a comment from a reader to encourage a writer!

Here is a link to a site which has 5 of the 7 I have discussed here. Unfortunately, I could not locate Parda and Eidgah on the net, I am sure some diligent Googling would unearth these too.

http://www.abhivyakti-hindi.org/gauravgatha/

Thank you for you patience.


My Seven Favorite Hindi Stories: Part 2

August 2, 2008

3. Waapsi (Usha Priyamvada):

 

A station master at a small location keenly awaits his retirement day. He looks forward to spending time with his wife and now grow-up children who stay in a city for their education and a stable life undisturbed by the transfers the station master himself has faced in the 35 years of his railway career. Sadly for him, his reemergence unsettles the rhythm of the family. He is allotted a temporary place to sleep in, his efforts to have a say in the family matters are met with resistance. His daughter-in-law sulks as she is asked to cook to curtail expenses on domestic help, his daughter sulks as he urges her to study instead of wasting her time gossiping with friends. He feels so marginalized and out-of-place in his own family that he decides to take up a job outside his hometown and leaves.

 

The station master’s plight is deeply moving. His alienation within his family, his family’s non-acceptance of his status, his wife’s tacit agreement with the family’s stance and finally his reluctant reconciliation with his persona non grata status. It seems so cruel that as a father he sacrificed his happiness for the sake of his family and the family ultimately rejects his presence forcing him to return (waapasi) to a life in isolation all over again. Even his wife does not join him. The return is handled with great skill and sensitivity by the author who does not make it maudlin but just a sense of resignation. His feelings at this time is contrasted with the elation in the family who hurriedly make plans to see a movie the same day after his departure. The point is driven home searingly when his wife instructs her son to remove his cot from her room saying that it was cluttering up the place. The cot, of course, is a metaphor for the station master himself.

 

4. Chief ki Daawat (Bhisham Sahni):

 

Shamnath is a middle-level executive eager to ingratiate himself with his boss to climb the corporate ladder. He has invited his American boss and some senior colleagues for dinner at home. He and his wife are busy making preparations for the perfect evening. Shamnath is a fastidious person and wants to make the most perfect arrangement for the party. However, there is a problem. His mother. Shamnath thinks she is backward, inarticulate, clumsy and he is keen to altogether avoid any contact of his mother with the guests. He thinks it would be severe embarrassment for him and a dampener on the party if the guests, specially his American boss chance upon her. Elaborate instructions are given to her on where she could “hide” during specific times during the evening depending on where the guests would be at that time. She is forbidden to go to her room and sleep as her snores would disturb the party. As her misfortune would have it, despite all her efforts she falls asleep and hence does not adhere to the hiding script authored by her son. The chief sees her and engages her in small chat about Punjabi folk traditions, music and handicrafts. He is specially interested in Phulkari, the traditional embroidery from Punjab. Mother feels very guilty at having come in the way and she regrets spoiling the chances of Shamnath’s career with her rustic ways. Shamnath smells an opportunity here to ingratiate himself with his boss makes his mother promise a piece of Phulkari to the boss.

 

This story by Bhisham Sahni (also known for his novel “Tamas” ) was written in the 50’s. Even after 50 years you can still closely identify with the characters, the upwardly mobile executive and the simple (perhaps unlettered) mother. The story is simply told and entirely believable. Amar takes the mother for granted throughout even in the end when he nearly forces her to commit to the phulkari. The mother is clueless on how to handle herself but her overwhelming feeling is that she is worthless and should not come in the way of Amar’s guests, She even contemplates shifting permanently to Haridwar. The mother’s initial shock, then confusion on how to react to the chief in their chance encounter is feelingly narrated. The “how-do-you-do”, the handshake, the request for a song and then the request for a piece of phulkari, you cannot help but feel an outpouring of sympathy for the mother. Shamnath, of course, is back to his usual self when his guests depart when he bamboozles his mother yet again to ensure that the chief’s request is complied with.

 

 

5. Eidgah (Premchand)

 

Hamid, a 5 year old orphan, stays in a village with his grandmother who barely makes ends meet by doing odd jobs in the village. Hamid joins a group of kids going to the city with their parents for Eid prayers. The kids are relatively well-to-do and they indulge in expensive toys at the fair after the prayers are over. They also have various drinks and snacks. Hamid is tempted by the array of toys and the snacks but his grandmother has given him only three paise from the eight paise she has with her. Hamid sees a hardware stall at the fair and thinks of his grandmother making rotis. Her hand gets singed as she bakes the rotis over the flames. Hamid buys a pair of tongs (chimta, in Hindi) for her with the three paise he has. The other kids laugh at Hamid at this ridiculous purchase. Hamid argues that his is the most sensible buy as it would would survive till much after their toys get damaged or destroyed. He convinces them that the tongs is a multi-purpose tool; placed on his shoulder it becomes a gun, handled appropriately it becomes a musical instrument, wielded with skill against the enemy it can be used as a weapon of destruction as well. The kids are now very impressed by Hamid’s arguments and they desperately want to buy one for themselves. But it is too late by then as it is time to return to their village. They are jealous of Hamid’s purchase and they exchange their toys in turn with Hamid to play with his tongs. Hamid returns home and gifts his grandmother the tongs. Her initial anger at this seemingly ridiculous purchase turns to deep love and then she begins crying at the kid’s thoughtfulness.

 

Your heart goes out to Hamid, innocent and at once mature, who defends his purchase with his friends. Premchand’s handling of the conversation among the kids when they set out for the eidgah and then as they make their purchases is a joy to read. He seems to have total command over understanding of child psychology. I have read this story several times in the past but it never fails to move me; specially the ending where the author says that the overwhelmed grandmother becomes a kid as she cries over the gift in front of the “grown-up” and mature Hamid.

 

To be continued

Link to Part 1:

https://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/my-seven-favorite-hindi-stories/

Link to Part 3:

https://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2008/08/31/my-seven-favorite-hindi-stories-2/


My Seven Favorite Hindi Stories: Part 1

July 30, 2008

 

Introduction:

 

This article is on my favorite 7 Hindi short stories. I have no illusions of being a literary critic, so you will not find any great critical evaluation of these masterpieces. What you will find is a fan’s tribute to the stories. I have read these stories many years ago, many times over. Each has touched me in its own way, and even after several decades I still remember all of them, including many key phrases and dialogues.

 

When I was thinking of writing this article I wondered why. I have no new literary avenues to explore, nothing to add to. I am sure a considerable body of erudite work exists on these stories. Also, I am writing this article in English! The simple reason why I wrote this is because I wanted to list down the stories I like. Many who read this piece will be conversant with written Hindi, to them I suggest they read each one of them as these to my mind are simply the best stories ever written in Hindi. To those who cannot read Hindi, please do look up translations in whatever language you are comfortable in.

 

Any listing of favorites is a heart-breaking proposition, especially if you set yourself a finite number for the list. You invariably end up leaving out several gems. Also, each individual’s lists will differ. Do let me know if there are some glaring drops from my list.

 

One caveat. My Hindi reading has nearly stopped since the early 80’s so please do excuse me if you spot some misses from recent writings.

 

1. Kafan (Premchand)

 

The father and son duo of Gheesu and Madhav are from the low chamar caste and are extremely poor. Despite their poverty these good-for-nothing fellows shun work and do just enough to get by. Many a time they survive on stolen potatoes and sugarcane from the village fields. The story opens with Madhav’s wife wailing in intense pain caused by pregnancy complications as the two men are sitting outside their hut ignoring her misery and busy eating roasted potatoes which they have stolen. None goes to help her fearing that the other would eat away all the potatoes in his absence from the scene. The morning after Madhav discovers his wife is dead. They now need to arrange for a shroud (kafan) and wood for cremation. They have no money and go around the village begging. They collect Rs 5 and set off to the market place to buy a shroud. In the market place, Gheesu and Madhav meander around looking for a suitable shroud, but not wanting to buy one. They rationalize that since the deceased hardly had any decent clothes to wear during her lifetime, and the shroud would anyway be consigned to the flames it would not be worth buying one. They end up at a liquor shop and blow up all the money they had collected on liquor and eatables. They bless the deceased profusely for giving them an opportunity to have a good drink and a sumptuous meal. The story ends with the duo singing and dancing and then dropping down in drunken stupor.

 

How abject poverty can be inhumanly degrading is the theme of this story. Poverty which is a common theme in many of the author’s over 300 stories and 14 novels has never been seen through this angle by the author. The two protagonists have assumed that poverty is their lot and they do not struggle to make ends meet and are focused on survival of the self and self-gratification. Poverty has bred utter callousness and insensitivity to their surroundings. Even a dead woman lying in the house awaiting cremation can wait as they make good the opportunity which has presented itself and gorge on food and drinks ignoring the task at hand. Rather than hating the two, you feel a deep sorrow for their abject degradation.

 

This last story of the greatest of Hindi writers, Premchand, was written in 1936. It is considered by many to be his finest story and is perhaps the best Hindi stories ever.

 

2. Usne Kaha Tha  (Chandradhar Sharma Guleri)

 

 

Two pre-teen kids, a boy and a girl meet occasionally at a market place in Amritsar circa 1890’s. Each visit the boy asks the girl whether she is married, she replies in the negative each time till one day she says that she is indeed married. The boy walks home deeply dejected.

 

Fast forward 25 years to 1910’s to a battleground during World War 1 in the numbingly cold war theater of France/ Belgium. The boy has now grown up to be Lehna Singh, a jamadaar in 77 Sikh Rifles of the British Army. His platoon has been on bunker duty for 4 days, another 3 to go before they are relieved. One of their fellow soldiers, a young lad Bodha Singh is ill and Lahna Singh is taking care of him. He not only gives the soldier his woolens but also does additional guard duty for him. Enter an enemy soldier in disguise who tricks the subedar, Hazaara Singh, into leading a bulk of the men into an ambush leaving only a skeletal group behind. Lahna Singh, one of those who is left behind, sees through the ploy and sends a fellow soldier to alert the subedar. In the meanwhile the enemy soldiers attack the bunker. Lahna Singh holds on valiantly till subedar and his group return. The Germans are annihilated, bulk of the Indians survive, but Lehna Singh is grievously injured.

 

Lehna Singh is dying and his mind goes to the time when he is about to leave his village for the front. He has gone to meet up with his subedar who is to join him on the trip. The subedar’s wife turns out to be girl who left Lahna Singh broken-hearted 25 years ago. Subedar’s son, Bodha Singh, is also part of the same regiment. The wife beseeches Lehna Singh to take care of her husband and her only son in the war. Lahna dies in the effort to save the lives of his childhood sweetheart’s husband and son.

 

Chandradhar Sharma Guleri wrote this story in 1916, more than 90 years ago. Hindi as a language for creative writing was just about taking roots then. Remember, Devakinandan Khatri’s “Chandrakanta” was hardly 15-20 years old when this was written. “Chandrakanta”, the story for which people were motivated to study Hindi to read the book. The story is full of romance, magic, Raja and Rani stories etc. The readers of this book would remember tilism and aiyyars. Hindi story-writing was in its infancy, with only a handful of stories being written. In this background, Guleri ji wrote this story with a powerful plot and with great style. Reading the story you feel that Guleri ji had in mind the screenplay as well. The vignettes from Amritsar bazaars, the battle field, the interactions of Lahna and Bodha, flashback to the fields of Punjab, the encounter with the Germans. And then the poignant ending with the death of Lehna.

 

A story of love, valour, sacrifice and of unspeakable sadness.  Written with tremendous skill and understanding of readers’ emotions. The repetition of the phrase “Usne kaha tha” though a bit melodramatic touches my heart deeply whenever I read the story. The greatest love story ever told.

 

Guleri ji wrote just 3 stories in his lifetime, “Sukhmay Jeevan”, “Buddhu ka Kanta”, and “Usne Kaha Tha”. But this one story, “Usne Kaha Tha”, is enough to keep him in the galaxy of best all time story writers.

 

 To be continued

Link to Part 2:

https://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2008/08/02/my-seven-favorite-hindi-stories-part-two/

Link to Part 3:

https://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2008/08/31/my-seven-favorite-hindi-stories-2/

 

 

 


My Seven Favorite Ogden Nash Poems

July 23, 2008

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was an American poet known for his humorous poems. Many poems are short, many long, but common to all is Nash’ quirky humour, keen observations on life, misspelt rhyming words which are sure to draw chuckles and laughs. Ogden Nash of the “Candy is Dandy but liquor is quicker” fame.

 

A critic, Morris Bishop, said the following on Ogden Nash style:

 

Free from flashiness, free from trashiness

Is the essence of ogdenashiness.

Rich, original, rash and rational

Stands the monument ogdenational!

 

Many an evening I have spent reading and rereading poems of Ogden Nash. They have never failed to make me laugh.

 

Selecting the favorite 7 of Ogden Nash is a rather foolish task I set myself, a number like 70 would have been preferable. Anyway, here is my list. The source is my treasured copy of “Candy is Dandy” The Best of Ogden Nash (Mandarin Paperbacks, 1993). This has a most delightful introduction by Anthony Burgess and has been edited by Linell Smith and Isabel Eberstadt.

 

1. Reflection on Babies 

A bit of talcum
Is always walcum. 

2. The Cow 

The cow is of bovine ilk; 
One end is moo, the other is milk. 

 

3. The Ant 

The ant has made himself illustrious 
Through constant industry industrious. 
So what? 
Would you be calm and placid, 
If you were full of formic acid? 

 

4. Biological Reflection 

A girl whose cheeks are covered with paint
Has an advantage with me over one whose ain’t. 

 

 

5. The Perfect Husband  

He tells you when you’ve got on 
too much lipstick 
And helps you with your girdle 
when your hips stick. 

 

6. The Lama

The one-l lama.

He’s a priest.

The two-l llama.

He’s a beast

And I will bet

A silk pajama

There isn’t any

Three-l llama.

 

7. The Cobra

This creature fills its mouth with venum

And walks upon its duodenum.

He who attempts to tease the cobra

Is soon a sadder he, and sobra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


My Seven Favorite Bhojpuri Songs

June 13, 2008

 

A wife in these modern days has to be appeased. In fact a wife in any era or geography always had to be appeased, whether she is from Venus, Earth, Patna or Dehri-on-Sone. And what better way to appease her than sing her a song or two. And my chosen number for my wife is the Manoj Tiwari song, “Ai champa chameli, badi albeli.” The moment I feel some corrective actions are required to restore matrimonial harmony I break into this song. And, lo and behold, normalcy is restored promptly. It is only rare that I have to use the brahmastra: ” Ham hain Bihari, hamni ke baat nirala.” In this eventuality I just take care  to skip the killer lines from Tiwariji towards the end of the song, “Jaao, maaf kiya, but never again!” Too much of a risk in the context of an angry wife!

 

But this piece of mine is not about Manoj Tiwari songs but the seven Bhojpuri songs which are my personal all time favourites. I am sure we all have our favourite lists of songs and I will be glad to know the ones you like. Also remember that all such songs lists are personal and contextual. What I like may be similar to what you like, but for an entirely different reason! Or, we may have pretty similar tastes in life, but our lists of favourite songs may be entirely different!

 

These seven songs are listed in no particular order. And they are from a fairly eclectic mix of genres. I hope my selection sparks off a discussion and gets you to make your own list. I would love to read about your favourite songs.

 

One

My song number one will probably feature in most of your lists. The yearning for the beloved has never been as well expressed as well as in this song from early 1960’s. Hey Ganga Maiyya tohe piyari chadhaibo, (हे गंगा मैय्या तोहे पियरी चढैबो) from the eponymous film. This duet by Lata and Usha Mangeshkar has been an all time favourite of all Bhojpuri language lovers. And only someone from the Bhojpuri area would be able to understand the intensity of the simple words. How does one really translate the emotional surcharge around the word piyari? ” A yellow-dyed cloth?” No way! Piyari has a far greater meaning than this prosaic translation! This movie with lyrics by Shailendra and music by Chitragupt has another gem of a song by Md Rafi: “Sonawaa key peenjaraa mein band bhailey hai raam, chiranyee key jeeyara udaas…“. Amazing expression of loneliness in this song!

 

Two

Perhaps you would expect me to list Manna Dey’s “Ara hiley, Chhapra hiley” as my song number two. This of course was a big hit from the movie Dangal released in the 70’s  . But my choice is another song which perhaps is not as popular but this sizzles with sensuality as no other Bhojpuri song does. This is from a movie released perhaps in the 80’s. Anguri mein dansley biya naginiya  (  अंगुरी में डंसले बिया नगिनिया  )is my choice. Asha Bhonsle’s sedutive voice urges her friends to summon her beloved (“Piya key bulai dey“) as the painful intensity of seperation from “him” is nothing less than the sting of the nagin! Can you beat this for a metaphor! And for someone like me who was in his late teens, raging hormones and all, when this song was gaining popularity, this was a killer! Perhaps the difference was made by Asha Bhonsle’s voice. I have been searching for this song for a while now but I have not succeeded. Would appreciate if any of you sends me the song.

 

Three

Kabir has written many masterpieces. Actually Kabir has written only  masterpieces. I studied some in my school days and I thought that was the end of Kabir (and Tulsidas, Meerabai and Surdas for that matter). I had not factored a whole new world of Kabir when I grew up. There are so many of these which you undersatnd only when you grow up. Consider, for example, my favourite “Naiharwaa, hamkaa na bhavey”  (नैहरावा हमका ना भावे) (sung  by Kumar Gandharvji). It takes a while to appreciate the philosophical heights Kabir Das reaches when he says, “Saain ki nagari, param ati sundar, param ati sundara…. yahaan koi aaye na jaaye“. The desire to unite with God has never been expressed so intensely. There are those days when I play this song on my music system, close my eyes, and float away with the words of this piece… “Chand, suraj, pawan, na, pani….” All my worries seem to be far, far, away! If you like Kabir then I would even recommend the book “Kabir” by Pandit Hazariprasad Dwivediji. What erudition!

 

Four

Chhannulal Mishraji is a renowned classical singer from Banaras. He sings in the “purabiya ang” and has many albums to his credit. I would personally recommend his selection from Ramcharitmanas (A two-CD set produced by Music Today) where he dons the role of a katha-vachak as well. He sings and parallely explains some selected pieces from Ramcharitmanas. His rendition of Kewat Samvad brings a lump to my throat, even though I have heard it a number of times. But I select here a “sohar” sung by Pandit Mishra ji. Sohar, as you all may be aware, is sung by women on the birth of a son in the household. Pandit Mishraji has sung a sohar in the album called “Krishna” produced by Ninad music. “Morey pichhawarwa chandan gaachh, avaro sey chandan ho” ( मोरे पीछावरवा चंदन गाछ ).I often wonder why my eyes mist when I hear this song. And then I realize, I am visualizing my mother singing the sohar. Mai has a great sonorous voice, even in her late seventies, and she is a sought after singer on such occasions. And then the climactic words of the sohar, ” Chupa rahu Jasumati, chupa rahu, dusman jani suney ho. Jasumati, eehey ta Kans key marihein, arrey Gokula basaihein ho“. This Krishna album also has another great song: “Nand ghar baajey, baajey badhaiya“.

 

Five

This song from Mauritius would not have been heard by most of you. It goes thus, “Saanjh key bakhat nana aawein, khana mangey naani sey.”  ( सांझ के बखत नाना आवें ) The song is about a chat between nana and naani when nana returns from his labours in the field. Remember, this is Mauritius; some of our forefathers went their as girmitiya labourers. They worked for their colonial masters and over a period of time bought land and became prosperous. But they still remained hard working people. This little song narrates the endearing chat between nana and naani after the former returns from the fields and asks for dinner. Naani lists what all she has cooked and playfuly asks him what he would like to eat; “Kaa khaiba ho..?“. Nana says he will eat whatever she serves him. After the meal is done, she asks him what he would like to have as a drink. Those were colonial times when drinks were had after the meal. Nana says he will drink whatever she serves him! This banter between the 60 plus couple is so playful and interesting that no listener can withhold a smile from his or her face. A lovely song by this band from Mauritius, Baja Baje Boys. Another great song in this CD: “Bhauji hamaar, okar sang shaadi ham na karbo”.

 

Six

I have written about the festival Chhatth earlier. And I have mentioned this song, “ Kaanchahin baansa key bahangiya, bahangi lachakata jai.….” (  कान्चाहीं बांसा के बहन्गिया  ) It is not only the meaning of these words but the entire context of chhatth puja, kids’ participation and the associated memories . Never fails to emotionally rewind myself back to childhood participating in the chhatth procession in the evening and in the very early morning. Then the burst of crackers at dawn while mai is doing her morning arghya. The wait for the prasad. Mai‘s full throated rendition of this song and many other songs like, “Khetwa ke aari aari“. I have not witnessed or particpated in this festival for decades now but the opening words of the song are enough to bring a lump to my throat!

 

Seven

We all must have been patted, caressed, cajoled, nursed to sleep under the loving and benign watch of our ubiquitous relative- chanda mama. In the open courtyard (aangan), in our mother’s lap with chanda mama overhead casting a benevolent eye on his “sister” and the “nephew”! And the lilt of the lori sung by mother, “Ai chanda mama, arey aawa, baarey aawa, nadiya kinaarey aawa.” (  चन्दा मामा आरे आवा, बारे आवा, नदिया किनारे आवा)  Many an infant was coaxed into her/his dinner motivated by this lori. Mother’s love kneaded into a silky dough with honey, malai and silky strands of cool moonlight! Can we ever forget Lata Mangeshkar’s mellifluous voice? Can we ever forget our own early parental days when we sang this song to our children? Can we ever forget the magic of these words?