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05 September 2015

My Favourites: Swing A Song

It was watching Jhoola that brought this to my mind. Every summer, when school closed for the holidays, my parents would make a trip with us in tow – to my grandparents’ home in Kerala. We looked forward to it with eagerness and excitement; we would not be the only children wending our way thence – one cousin already lived there; two others would join us from their home in the same town; other cousins would be coming from different towns and cities. Soon, very soon, my ammamma (maternal grandmother) and ammachan’s (maternal grandfather) house would be filled with shrieks of laughter, as the adults patiently decided where to fit all of us – finally, all the mattresses in the house would be aired out in the sun, and they would be laid end-to-end in the dark, cool ‘thalam’ the inner room of the house that connected the ‘living room’ with the bedrooms. We didn’t have ceiling fans except in the bedrooms, so come night-time, we would scramble to lie as close as possible to the small, portable fan that whirred tiredly in one corner. However, these were but small inconveniences. 

Summer stretched before us -- two months of sheer laziness. Nothing to do except pluck mangoes, wander about the paddy fields behind the house, build (or try to) tree houses, help my grandfather pluck the pods of the jackfruit (which my sister did better than me – I’m not too fond of jackfruit as fruit), swim in the deep well-turned-into-pond at the bottom of our grounds, squabble with our siblings and cousins, and look in awe at the grain that was poured into golden heaps in our courtyard from the paddy fields far away, until the workers cleared them away into the large bins in the granary. It would still be warm from the summer sun when we scrambled into those bins, feeling the grain, still in its husk, crisp beneath our bare feet, until we were chased away by my grandfather. Golden-brown hay was stacked into huge hills in the front yard; we found that irresistible, climbing up one side and sliding down the other like little puppies, until one or the other of the adults would call for us to come and bathe before the twilight lamps were lit. That is when, suddenly, we would realise that haystacks were fun, but they made you itch. 

We would then light the oil lamps and carefully make our way to the ‘outhouse’ – that’s where the kitchen, the dining room, the pantry, the granary, the bathroom, etc. were. The cowshed was on the other side of the kitchen, and there was a large well at the nook between the huge windows of the kitchen and the bathroom. We girls would pile into the huge bathroom together, giggling and talking, one of us filling buckets with the sun-warmed yet still-cold water in the well that looked so green and inviting from above, water spiralling out in circles when the bucket hit the surface. Before we finished our communal bath, there would be stentorian shouts and banging on the door – the boys were awaiting their turn. Then we children would be served our dinner – sometimes on plantain leaves, sometimes in steel plates. Once we were done, we would scurry, for it was now dark and there were plenty of poisonous snakes about, clutching the oil lamp to light our way and giggling nervously at any rustle in the undergrowth nearby, heaving a huge sigh of relief when we reached the well-lit main house.

Summer holidays were also when my ammachan made chakkavaratti – rich, red-gold, jackfruit ‘jam’ (oh, to call it ‘jam’ is a travesty!) laden with ghee and the strong taste of jaggery - and fried mountains of plantains, breadfruit, jackfruit, yam, etc., to make chips to feed the bottomless pits that masqueraded as our stomachs. The pantry was cool, dark and held the key to much goodness. China jars tied with cloth turbans kept various pickles fresh in their roomy depths, bunches of ripe bananas of various kinds were propped up against one wall, mangoes, both raw, and bursting with golden-yellow ripeness, were piled high in cane baskets, coconuts rolled under your feet if you didn't watch where you were going, and here and there, hung up, or in baskets, would be vegetables that my ammachan grew on our land – pumpkin, both red and white, breadfruit, snake gourd, yam, bitter gourd, drumstick, string beans, tapioca... produce still redolent of the damp earth from whence it was taken. 

Ammachan also made sure that a swing was hung before we arrived – two stout coir ropes were strung from the highest branch of a mango tree in the front yard; the ‘seat’ was a plank of wood, looped tightly at both ends. We took turns to see how high we could go, sitting or standing, one at a time, or ‘doubles’. We twisted the ropes as tight as we could sitting down, and then lifted our legs off the ground to see how quickly the ropes would untwist as it turned us round and round until we felt dizzy. We got siblings and cousins to push us higher and higher, exulting in the freedom of what felt closest to flight. 

Ah, it was a wonderful time, our childhood. 

Then, slowly, the kitchen moved from the outhouse to what was originally the open verandah of the big house, now enclosed to form a kitchen, a pantry and a dining room. The granary was shut down because the fields were sold. There was no longer any need for oil lamps, or the slightly-scared-slightly-thrilled walk to and from the dining room. The well fell into disuse, and the water that flowed from the taps, though convenient, did not have the sun-kissed smell of well-water. Or its taste. The pond became so overgrown with weeds because there was no one to use it regularly, and the steps fell into a state of disrepair. The only ones that were happy with it were the fish, the turtles and the water snakes, who could now live free of the threat of strange beings who screamed and jumped and thrashed around in their neighbourhood.

The death knell, of course, was the cutting down of the mango tree – gone was the tree and with it, our swing. Progress wasn’t all that it was cut out to be – at least, not from a child’s perspective. 

So, with the memory of my childhood, and more innocent pastimes in mind, here are ten songs, in no particular order, that are all picturised on a variety of swings. My only criteria for myself was that the singer must be on the swing for at least 3/4th of the song. (That ruled out one of my favourite songs - Machalti aarzoo from Usne Kaha Tha.) So here are my picks, in chronological order.

1. Jhoole ke sang jhoolo 
Jhoola (1941)
Singer: Leela Chitnis
Music: Saraswati Devi
Lyrics: Kavi Pradeep 

It is obvious that in a film named 'jhoola' (swing), there will be songs picturised on swings. Well, there are three that I know of. Alright, quick, who is this actress? If you look at the vintage, and the singer's name, you would be making an educated guess, and you will be right - it is Leela Chitnis who, about two years ago, was crowned the 'suffering maa' on this blog. Would it surprise you to learn that she was not only very, very beautiful, but also the first Indian heroine to endorse Lux soap? In an interview given much later, Ashok Kumar reminisced about picking up tips on acting, especially how to use his eyes effectively, from his beautiful, talented heroine who was a stage-trained actress before she came into movies. (S Mukerji produced three Ashok Kumar- Leela Chitnis silver jubilee starrers for Bombay Talkies - Kangan, Bandhan and Jhoola.) Unusually for those times, she was also a graduate, making her one of the few educated (and married) actresses from a middle-class background to make their mark in films.

2. Aaya aaya re saawan aaya re
Saawan Aaya Re (1949)
Singer: Lalita Deolkar
Music: Khemchand Prakash
Lyrics: Ram Murti Chaturvedi
There is a close connection between the rains and swings in many of the Indian sub-cultures. Like Teej, for instance, which is primarily a women's festival, and is dedicated to the celebration of the union between Shiva and his reincarnated consort, Parvati. It also celebrates the coming of the monsoons after the hot, scorching days of summer. In places like Rajasthan, and many other agrarian economies, the rains are very important to their continued survival. (I was told that Teej is also known as the 'festival of swings'.) In this song too, the village women are celebrating the onset of the monsoons. A group of young men and women from the city have come to ruralise on a picnic, and when she sees the swings, one of them breaks away from her group and joins in the fun, and the singing.   

3. Pad gaye jhoole
Bahu Begum (1967)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle 
Music: Sahir Ludhianvi
Lyrics: Roshan 
In Kerala, while the swings are also hung for Onam, our harvest festival, they are the most closely related to another women's festival, Thiruvathira, which celebrates the birthday (on the lunar calendar) of Lord Shiva. Thiruvathira also celebrates the union of Shiva and Parvati, but unlike Teej, which takes place in July/August, August/September (depending on which part of the country it is being celebrated), Thiruvathira is celebrated in the month of Dhanu (December-January). Like the previous song, Pad gaye jhoole is also celebrating the arrival of the rains. Here, as she revels in the rains (which come halfway through the song), she also dreams of someone beloved who will come to push her on the swings, and who, once having taken hold of her hands, will not let go. The song is picturised on Meena Kumari and Zeb Rehman.

4. Ae kaale badal bol 
Dahej  (1950)
Singer: Shamshad Begum
Music: Vasant Desai 
Lyrics: Shams Lucknawi
Dahej, like most Shantaram movies, dealth with social issues; here, it is dowry. I loved the picturisation of this song. The many swings hung in patterns in an open courtyard, swinging in geometric precision up and down and across the yard, criss-crossing each other as they pass. Unlike the other songs, this is not just a song that awaits the arrival of the rains; while the heroine (Jayashree) is sadly filling her pot with water, having been sent back due to the lack of dowry, the lead singer (I wonder who she is) is also awaiting news from her beloved. Have the rain-bearing clouds brought any message for her? Why are they tormenting her so much? (It is from this song that the screenshot at the top of the page has been taken.)

5. Sawan ki aayi hai bahaar 
Anjaan (1956)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Hemant Kumar
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Yet another song that links the swings with the advent of the rains. It also appears that the coming of the rains and the coming of someone to love is linked in popular imagination. Here, the singer sings of how it would be to swing in the company of her beloved. How her eyes twinkle at the thought. She wishes he would come - she would make a swing of her arms, her eyes will be the ropes that will swing him to and fro...  (a rather uncomfortable description, I must add, though it does sound better in Hindi than in English.)

6. Tu na bata humein sab hai pata 
Baap re Baap (1955)
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Jaan Nisaar Akhtar

Now for a song with a difference. This has nothing to do with the coming of the rains, or even of a beloved. There are no rains (or rain clouds) anywhere, and the beloved is right there with her, doing his patent moves, rather gracefully, I must add. She sings that he doesn't have to tell her his secrets, she knows everything he's thinking of - how exciting! (And how creepy that even your thoughts are not your own.) The OP Nayyar-Asha Bhosle combination weave their magic in this light romantic number, which sees Kishore Kumar take his turn on the swings in the last antara. After all, who said swings were only meant for women?  

7. Jawani jhoolti hai aashiqui 
Naata (1955)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: S Mohinder
Lyrics: Tanvir Naqvi
I love this song for two reasons, one of which is of course that it is picturised on Madhubala, and her middle sister, Chanchal. More importantly however, I love the lyrics because it is so fitting to the situation. They describe the feeling of being on a swing - pushing your feet against the ground and soaring up to the stars - so well: Zameen se aasmaan tak, jawani aati jaati hai, kadam phoolon pe padta hai, nazar taaron pe jaati hai. The rest of the lyrics also talk about the joys of just swinging, the sheer happiness of being young, of being alive. Here too, is the link between youth and love as well as the dreams of a love that might, just might be around the corner, though she doesn't know what the future will bring.

8. Rut aayi suhaani hai 
Gaon ki Gori / Village Girl (1945)
Singer: Noor Jehan, GM Durrani
Music: Shyam Sunder
Lyrics: Waali Saaheb
This is an interesting picturisation; like Tu na bata mujhe sab hai pata, this too is neither singing of the rains, nor awaiting a beloved, known or unknown. Instead, the beloved is right there, on the swing with her. They have just got married (in the preceding scene), and this is when they are getting to know each other. There is the shy awkwardness in being close to someone whom one hasn't met until the previous day, but is now the most important part of your life. There is happiness too, and excitement: a new life lies before them, with this new companion to share it. There is hope that this new relationship will last until one of them dies, and that they will be as happy as they are right now. The song is picturised on Noor Jehan and ? (No, it's not M. Nazir.) 

9. Jhoole mere lalna 
Pyar ki Pyas (1961)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle
Music: Vasant Desai
Lyrics: Bharat Vyas
Finally, a song that does not fit the prevailing theme of the swings being associated with the rains, or with romance. This song is a celebration of a new life. So you have the new mother (Dulari) sitting on a swing (of a different kind) with her little child on her lap, as her friends and neighbours sing to her and the baby. Looking on in distress is a little orphan (Honey Irani) who has run away from her adoptive parents who neglect her once their biological child comes along. The yearning of a child for her mother is very strong.

10) Sun jaa ae thandi hawa  
Haathi mere saathi (1971)
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Once again, not a typical swing, just hammocks, but they are swaying in the gentle breeze alright. The couple (Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja; the elephant is nowhere in sight) invite the cool winds and the dark clouds to listen to their romantic conversation. They sound a word of caution, however. While he asks that they not make a noise, she asks that they not wake her when she falls asleep in her lover's arms. Oh, yes, and could the winds and the clouds keep what they overhear in confidence? Hmm... one wonders why they should want anyone to listen in, in the first place.

Do you know of any songs picturised on a swing?

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