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04 July 2016

My Favourites: Songs of Strangers

When I was a teenager, I had the habit of writing down things that I specifically liked – bits of poetry, passages from books, lyrics that I particularly liked, the sort of nonsense rhymes that were particularly meant for autograph books, greetings that appealed to me from the greeting cards that I bought, quotes, inspirational sayings, etc. When one notebook got over, I bought another one. I think I'd amassed quite a few such notebooks by the time I graduated. 

One saying that I particularly remember even now is 'Strangers are friends you're yet to meet.' It seemed very profound to the 16-year-old that I was, and I remember scribbling it down very carefully. I think I also wrote it down in someone's autograph book, preening myself over how worldly-wise I sounded. I wonder what that person thought of it! 

Anyway. :) Today, I probably would gag at the thought of 'inspirational quotes'. However, the quote came to mind yesterday, for some odd reason – probably my brain being over-tired. As I lay there, unable to sleep, I thought of how important a stranger – a pardesi* – is (or was) to Hindi films. They were usually men. (Yup. No females allowed.) Usually from the city. (They were very rarely from the next village.) They would come to the village, and fall in love with the village belle. Then, they would leave. Either forced by circumstances, or to fulfil some important mission. And when they did, they often took the hearts of these poor village belles with them. Ah, these bad, bad strangers. It got to a point where – true story! cross my heart – parents warned their daughters against falling in love with pardesis, on principle. 

As I mentioned earlier, the world seems to have shrunk; no one is a stranger any more. Pardesis don't seem to exist in the world of Hindi cinema these days, and certainly, if they do, village belles don't just fall in love with them and cry over their return either. So, in honour of those long-gone days, when pardesis seemed to make frequent trips to far flung villages and find the love of their lives in those unsullied vales, here are some of my favourite pardesi songs.  

[Pardesi also means 'foreigner'.]

1. Ghar aaya mere pardesi
Awaara (1951)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
This is not part of the trope where a heroine is bemoaning the advent of a pardesi. It is a song where she is welcoming the return of the prodigal. She is not a village girl either. She is an urban, educated, wealthy young woman. He is 'pardesi' because he doesn't come from the same class. She has already lost him once, but she is his hope, his dream of redemption. A part of a 'double-sider' that included Tere bina aag ye chaandni, this song shows both the literal and metaphorical dilemma faced by the main character. It is only with Rita's help that Raj will be able to transcend his past, and move towards a more hopeful future. Rita stands for Raj's redemption – the power of love to change one's future. And she, who loves him dearly, is happy: her lover has returned. And she pleads, Ab todke mat jaana, Rote chhodke mat jaana, Kasam tujhe mere asuvan ki...  

 2. Ik pardesi mera dil le gaya
Phagun (1958)
Singer: Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
Aah. Here is the quintessential pardesi song. A 'stranger' has come to her village, has stolen her heart, and left behind such sweet sorrow. She is the abandoned daughter of a wealthy man, brought up by the gypsies. He is the son of the landlord who is trying to remove the banjaras from his father's property. Only, there's a small fly in the ointment. They fall in love with each other. This, however, is a 'happy' song, presaging another, sadder version. Here, it's a playful accusation – a stranger has stolen my heart! So who is this stranger, he queries, who has left such big tears in her beautiful eyes? What if he is able to bring him back, her pardesiya? 'Usko bula doon, saamne la doon, kya mujhe dogi jo tumse mila doon?' 

3. Aaja re pardesi
Madhumati (1958)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Shailendra
Yet another village maiden, yet another stranger. Only, she's yet to meet him. She's been waiting for him this long awhile, her eyes are tired of gazing upon the path on which he will surely appear... one day... As she skips around the vales, singing of waiting for a man whom she's known for several lifetimes, whom she's loved with a love that transcends death, a young man, a stranger, is pulled to the haunting plaint in her voice. He has a glimpse now and then of this will o' the wisp, this woodland sprite, now here, now not, her voice leading him on and on... and on... Her nights are sorrowful for his absence, and like a lamp that can never be doused nor stay alight, she waits... for what, neither she nor her listener know. Not then. 

4. Bicchde hue pardesi
Barsaat (1940)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri
What happens when the pardesi comes, professes his undying love for the maiden, and then leaves with a promise to return? How is she, so innocent, so na├»ve, to deal with this separation? She couldn't stop him leaving; can she believe his promises? She has to believe them, for if she cannot, she will die. She can only plead with him not to forget his promises, not to forget her... 'Ghairon ka na ho jaana jab apna banaaya tu,' she pleads; 'Paas aake na kho jaana, jab dil mein basaya hai.' For if he does, she will be the laughing stock of the world. Trapped as she is by the social conventions of the world she lives in, she can only hope that he will keep his word. For now, she lives with the hopes that his promises have engendered.  

5. Maane na maane na haay balam pardesiya
Jagir (1959)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
The dark night troubles her, and worse, the man she loves will listen to a word of appeasement. How is she to coax him out of his sulks when he's bent on remaining angry? 
Ek to kaali rain sataaye
Dooje balam mora bas me na aaye
Main jo manaaoon bairi rootha rootha jaaye
... Could someone go to the stranger she has given her heart to, and ask him to come to her, if only in her dreams, and make her his? It is a sad turn of affairs, because while she pleads with anyone who will listen to her, her pardesi is imprisoned, beaten within an inch of his life. Who will tell her that? 

6. Mohe apna bana ke gaya bhool re pardesi balam
Laxmi (1957)
Singer: ?
Music: Avinash Vyas
Lyrics: Qamar Jalalabadi
In another pardesi tale, here is a young woman singing about a stranger who has gone away after making her fall in love with him. To whom can she confide the state of her heart? She, who had been such an innocent, had been taken in by his smooth-talking ways; until one day, the bird had flown the coop. Now where is she to go? Mohe udna sikhaake gaya bhool re pardesi baalam, kisko sunaaoon dil ki dastaan... Her wings are clipped just when she's learnt to fly. The man she's given her heart to has forgotten all about her. How can she tell anyone of her deepest feelings, of her blighted hopes? What can she do but sing her despair out as she goes about her chores? This is the fate of anyone who falls in love... 

7. O pardesiya pyar ki bahaar leke 
Bahaar (1951)
Singer: Shamshad Begum
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan
Here, while the emotions are that of a village girl who has fallen in love with a pardesi, it is only a staged depiction of the same. So even though the heroine is a wealthy, educated young woman, she gets to experience the emotions of falling in love with someone who will eventually leave her. The song is addressed to the pardesi with whom she has fallen in love, and wonders what her fault is that he will not return to her. She begs him to return with the advent of the Spring, bringing with him a garland of dreams, and the light of love in his eyes. She reminds him of the promises he made, and begs him to return... yaad karo baalma vaade woh pyaar ke, gul-o-gulzaar leke baagh-o-bahaar leke, aaja re aaja pardesiya...   

9. Sajan pardesi balam pardesi
Gaon ki Gori (1945) (aka Village Girl)
Singer: Noor Jehan
Music: Shyam Sundar
Lyrics: Wali Saheb
One of Noor Jehan's earliest films after she debuted as lead heroine in Khandaan, Gaon ki Gori had her starring opposite Nazir as the titular village girl. As is usual, barring certain examples to the contrary above, she is bemoaning his absence, and castigating him for forgetting his promises. (Who are these men who appear and disappear at will, seemingly making promises of eternal love only to dash them to smithereens later on?) This particular pardesi seems to have vanished without even a word to her. 'Jee bhar ke na unse kheli, chhod gaye ae, chhod gaye woh mujhe akeli; keh na gaye kuchh haaye chain na aaye, sataaye, jalan na jaanoon raam... she knows no peace of mind without him. All she can do is weep.   

10. Pardesiyon se na akhiyaan milaana
Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965)
Singer: Mohammed Rafi
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
The sole male song in this list. As I said in my introduction, it is very, very unusual for the pardesi to be a woman. This appears to be the exception. Like all pardesis, she is urban (read 'westernised'), educated, wealthy. What's seen as attractive attributes in a male pardesi become extremely negative when the same attributes belong to a woman. That, you see, is a sign of decadence. Indian = good, Western = bad. However, the pardesi hasn't put in an appearance yet. Or more accurately, the man singing this song hasn't fallen in love with her yet. Right now, he's only singing a song of warning, a warning that all nine women in my list should have heeded. Don't meet a stranger's eyes, he warns, a stranger will perforce leave one day. They are birds who will rest for awhile at night and fly away in the morning, leaving only regrets behind. 'Baaghon mein jab jab phool khilenge tab tab ye harjaayi milenge, guzrega kaise patjhad ka zamaana...' This is a warning he would have done well to heed, himself. For his love for a 'pardesi' woman leads him far away from hearth and home to an alien world where neither he nor his love is enough to sustain a relationship. 

Have you ever fallen in love with a stranger? What lessons have you learnt? Share them with us in the comments.

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