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06 January 2017

My Favourites: Songs of Promises

This time last year, inspired by blog-reader Neeru who provided me with the impetus, I wrote a post on Songs of Hope and Encouragement. At the time, I wrote that we had just come through a year of disaster. Very presciently, or so it seems in hindsight, I also wrote that it seemed things could only get worse. Because those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first turn mad. It appears to have come to pass, and we are teetering on the edge of the apocalypse. In less than three weeks, we will have handed over the reins of the free world to a narcissist who thinks governing one of the largest democracies in the world is something that can be done in 140 characters. If that's not a disaster of epic proportions, I don't know what else can compete. As John F Kennedy once said, ‘The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.’ Or as Simon and Garfunkel so pithily sang (The Boxer):
All lies and jests
Till a man hears
What he wants to hear
And disregards the rest... 

In the meantime, I'm also sickened by almost-daily reports of terror attacks targeting many hundreds of innocent lives all over the globe; the rise in racism, homophobia, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and sexism, all given validation, even normalised here in the US by a man who will soon hold the highest office in the land. Under the circumstances, you will forgive me for the utter despondency that washes over me, the complete absence of hope that anything will be better in the new year.
“And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"*
As always, I turn to the movies for succour, and seek refuge in the embrace of songs, old and new, to ease my pain, or at least make it bearable. My initial phase lay in soaking in songs of hopelessness, and while it proved cathartic, a longer dose of those songs would only have increased my feeling of despondency. Not a good start to the year. Instead, I decided to focus on the promise of a better tomorrow. There has to be one, right?

Here are a collection of songs of hope – in a different way. They are all love songs, songs of promises between lovers. Not ‘aap ki kasam’ (that cost me one of my favourite songs: Karvatein badalte rahe) songs, or the breaking of promises (I’ve had enough of those), but actual promises being asked for, or made. Promises of a future together, of hope that one will have someone with whom to share life’s struggles and happiness, of trust that one’s faith will not be betrayed.

Tum agar saath dene ka 
Humraaz (1968)
Singer: Mahendra Kapoor
Music: Ravi
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Let me begin with a song that asks a companion whether she will promise to be his fellow traveller on the journey through life. If she will, he says, he will write her many verses and sing her many songs. (This sounds better in Hindi, I swear!) In the context of the movie, he doesn’t know what he’s asking her to promise. Having fallen in love with her, though countless beautiful faces have flashed into his ken before, he doesn’t know that she’s been through much – a short-lived marriage and subsequent widowhood, the seeming loss of her baby – it’s all she can do to live. He doesn’t want her to consider him her destiny; to him, she is his fate, and if only she will promise to be his, he vows to make her life one long beautiful Spring. Dare she listen to this man, and promise to be his life companion?
Tum na samjho tumhaara muqaddar hoon main
Main samajhta hoon tum meri taqdeer ho
Tum agar mujhko apna samajhne lago
Main bahaaron ki mehfil sajaata rahoon
Tum agar saath dene ka vaada karo
Main yunhi mast naghme lutaata rahoon…

Ye Raat Phir Na Aayegi (1966)
 Singers: Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: SH Bihari 
A haunting melody, and a plea – promise me you will meet me again, tell me when that will be… she’s been waiting a long time for him, centuries perhaps – if he can believe her story. How can he not, when her beautiful eyes are filled with the tears of separation, when her voice holds such hurt at his non-recognition of her? He, drowning in the emotions she evokes, hopes that those will remain for another day,  Everything is incomplete – their love, their conversation, their shared laughter… will he at least promise to be with her for awhile? But is she really who she says she is?
Dil ki har baat adhoori hai, adhoori hai abhi
Apni ek aur mulaaqaat zaroori hai abhi
Chand lamhon ke liye saath ka vaada kar lo
Hum se ik aur mulaaqaat ka vaada kar lo…   

Ae maine kasam li 
Tere Mere Sapne (1971)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Neeraj
This is a happier song than the first two. They are newly married, just settled into their new home. He’s going to be the village doctor, and she’s going to make a home for the two of them. They are in love, full of ideals, and the confidence that together, they can achieve anything. And the couple, so young, so sure of themselves and their happiness, make a solemn promise: they will never be separated, come what may.
Ek tan hai, ek man hai, ek praan apne
Ek rang ek roop tere mere sapne
Nahin honge judaa, nahin honge judaa
Nahin honge judaa hum…. Ae maine kasam li…   

Khaayi hai re humne sanam sang rahne ki 

Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
She makes a solemn promise to be his, forever more. After all, this is not their first meeting; they have been lovers through the ages. In the context of the film, Kumar (Rajendra Kumar) has come to meet Gauri (Sharmila Tagore), a young mountain lass he had met, and fallen in love with, during an earlier journey. She had been counting the days until they could meet again, and confesses that her friends had been teasing her about falling in love with a ‘pardesi’ – a stranger to the region. So what did she tell them, queries Kumar. Gauri answers with shy confidence that she always knew he would return to her; after all, they had promised!
Khaayi hai re humne kasam sang rahne ki
Aayega re udke mera hans pardesi
Kumar is touched by her trust in him. [Unknown to Gauri, Kumar is in a dilemma because he’s met another young woman, Madhu (also la Tagore), in the city, who’s besotted by him.]

I love the way Lata modulates her voice during this song. The song’s picturisation does it no justice at all, even with Sharmila at her coquettish best.

Jo vaada kiya woh nibhaana padega 
Taj Mahal (1964) 
Singer: Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
This is a reminder of a promise once made – now, whether the world puts up barriers, or the gods do, his beloved has to come to him. And she agrees as she hurries towards him, having escaped her guards, his voice calling to her deepest longings.
Chamakte hain jab tak ye chaand aur taare
Na tootenge ab ehd-o-paimaan hamaare
Ek doosra jab de sada hoke deewana humko aana padega
Jo vaada kiya woh nibhaana padega
Together, they vow, the Emperor and his beloved, that their love for each other will remain as constant as the moon and the stars.  

Ae sanam aaj ye kasam khaayein 
Jahan Ara (1964) 
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood 
Music: Madan Mohan
Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan 
It’s a fervent plea, a request that her beloved promise to forget everything except their love, to turn his back on everything but their love. 
Ae sanam aaj ye kasam khaayein 
Mudke ab dekhne ka naam na lein
His response is reassuring, and as fervent: 
Faasle pyaar ka mitaa daalein 
Aur duniya se door ho jaayen

It’s all the more poignant because you know that she, of all people, cannot turn her back on the world. She is the royal princess, Jahan Ara, daughter of Shah Jahan, and Mughal princesses weren’t allowed to marry, much less plight their troth to a commoner. But, she can dream...

Rajhath (1956)
Singers: Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Shankar Jaikishan
Lyrics: Shailendra
A deep-rooted feud, an attempted murder, espionage, honour, revenge – these young lovers have surmounted all this and more to fall in love with each other. So perhaps it’s as well that he asks for a promise with the moon as their witness – that she not forget his love. If he will only take her hand in his, she answers, to give her love a moral support.
Badal jaaye duniya na badlenge hum
Basaaya hai jab apne dil mein tumhe
Nibhaana hi hoga is iqraar ko
Ye vaada karo chaand ke saamne
Bhula toh na dogi mere pyaar ko…
Before the skies fall on their unwary heads, this young crown prince and his beloved, the princess of a neighbouring kingdom, steal a few moments of  undeterred bliss.

Dil Bhi Tera Hum Bhi Tere (1960)
Singers: Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji
Lyrics: Kanhaiyya Lal Pardesi
You never know when love will strike, or where. For Ashok (Dharmendra, in his debut), a cigarette vendor, and Sonu (Kumkum), a maid servant, these are a few precious moments in a life rife with struggle. It makes sense that they cling to each other, plighting their troth to each other, promising to remain faithful to each other, wherever they may be.
Ye vaada kare jahaan bhi rahen
Tum hamaare raho hum tumhaare rahen

Like most Hindi film songs, the lyrics are prescient.

Humne jab dil tha diya koi vaada tha kiya 
Chhoomantar (1956) 
Singers: Mohammed Rafi, Shamshad Begum 
Music: OP Nayyar 
Lyrics: Jaan Nissar Akhtar
Sometimes, you need to remind people of their promises, even those who do love you. Here, he (Karan Dewan) is reminding Shyama that when he had given her his heart, she had promised him that she would take care of it. It’s a base accusation, she responds, but he has a litany of complaints against her. However, all is well in the lovers' world, as she reassures him of the state of her heart, and more, besides. A simple song, in simpler, happier, more innocent times.  

Shehnai (1947)
Singers: Chitalkar, Amirbai Karnataki
Music: C Ramchandra
Lyrics: PL Santoshi
A simple romantic number, promising to ‘belong’ to his beloved forever more, and asking for the same in return. There’s more – a promise to sail the turbulent waters of life together, to speak sweetly to each other, to never lessen their love for each other, come what may, whether that be the sun rising in the West, or the moon shedding embers…
Jis dhara mein naiyya hamari bahe
Jis dhara mein duniya ye saari bahe
Us dhara mein gul-milke sang bahe hum
Hamaare rahe tum tumhaare rahe hum…  
Such are promises made... and kept.   

Vaada karo nahi chhodenge tum mera saath 
Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1974)
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Why is this here? Ans: To show you how not to ask a woman to promise everlasting love. While he’s trying – hard – to get her to fall in love with him in the first place, she’s pretty forthright herself: Chhoo-o nahin dekho zara peeche rakho haath...(The polite way of saying, ‘Keep your ---- hands to yourself!’) Of course, being a Hindi film hero of a certain vintage (or certain denizens of the male persuasion in present-day Bangalore), he (Shashi Kapoor) obviously hadn’t been taught the kindergarten rule of keeping one's hands to oneself. So while he’s ostensibly singing of the deep love he holds for the young woman (Sharmila Tagore) he’s stalking/groping, she’s trying to tell him off – politely and directly:
Mere hi peechhe aakhir pade ho tum kyon
Ik main jawaan nahin hoon aur bhi toh hain
Ho mujhe hi ghere aakhir khade ho tum kyon
Main hi yahaan nahin hoon aur bhi toh hain
Ja jaa ke le lo jo bhi de-de tumhen haath
Jahaan sab hain wahaan main bhi hoon
But of course, he doesn’t know how to take ‘no’ for an answer, either. (That remind you of someone else?)

Yet, that's what we do, put one foot ahead of the other, and soldier on, trying to work to make things better for those who will be most affected by the change that is to come. Work in the belief that things can only get better, because not believing means death. As Mahatma Gandhi wrote in My Experiments with Truth, ‘When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always.’ 

In the meantime, I take solace in you, my readers who have swelled in numbers, in the regulars who cheer me and comfort me and inspire me to write some more. Thank you, all of you. By reading my blog, by commenting on it, you have given rise to a community where we can share our love for movies and music and books; you have encouraged me to give voice to my passion, and in doing so, you have made this blog as much yours as it is mine. May the fair winds always be at your back.

For my readers in the US, while I'm more likely to quote Abraham Lincoln: 'Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and under the rule of a just god, cannot long retain it.', I will leave you with some other wise words of the 16th President of the United States of America: 'America will never be destroyed from outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.'

So, to everyone out there – work for the change you want to see. Work for those who do not have the advantages and the privileges that we take for granted. Work towards a world where no one is judged on the basis of their religion or their race or the colour of their skin, their gender or their sexual orientation, their faith or the lack thereof.

With the hope that 2017 will not be as bad as I fear, because hope’s all I’ve got: Have a great year.

*Update: It appears that 2017 has just gotten worse already. Veteran actor Om Puri passed away today, the first celebrity casualty of the year. Rest in peace, Mr Puri. You will be missed. 

* Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; I heard the bells on Christmas Day

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