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04 February 2023

My Favourites: Women and Chores' Songs

A long time ago, on one of my song posts, long time reader Subodh Agarwal asked if I would ever do a ‘woman singing while doing household chores’ post. Off hand, I couldn’t remember any such song and so, I added it to my list of possible themes and there it stayed. Once in a while, when I looked up the list to do yet another song list, I would think about the theme. And if I found a song that seemed to fit, I would add it to my list. But, like so many of my other themed lists, I never got around to writing this up. For years! I am not even sure if Subodh reads my blog any more, but recently, I realized I had enough songs to make a post. So, Subodh, if you’re reading, this one is for you. Like some of my previous lists – Piano Songs, Roothna-Manana, Qawwalis – these situations does not exist in our films any more. Partly due to the fact that even lives in the village have changed quite drastically (while remaining unchanged in many ways). I must confess that household chores do not make me want to sing while I do them. I’m more likely to be muttering under my breath.

But. Some of these songs are absolutely wonderful, and some of the sequences make absolute sense in the context of the film. So, in no particular order, though my favourite songs cluster to the top of the list…
Jhuk jhuk jhoom ghata chhaii re
Char Diwari (1961)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Salil Chowdhury
Lyrics: Shailendra

This is the first song that I ‘found’ that fit this theme, not long after Subodh had mentioned it to me. The fact that I had heard – and loved – its Malayalam version, immediately endeared it to me. [You can listen to it here.] It is interesting how the same song fits different contexts across languages. Here, it is a young wife, revelling in the first rains, and hurrying to put things away – the clothes hanging on the clothesline, the produce kept to be sun-dried, the charpoy in the courtyard. Then, she sits down to fold the laundry, with this lilting song on her lips. Nanda looks very young and very pretty in this rather regressive film.
Char Diwari was Shashi Kapoor’s first film with Nanda, an actress he has always credited for working with a newcomer like him. It flopped but every subsequent film of theirs (six, to be precise) was a hit.

Jyoti kalash chhalke
Bhabhi ki Chudiyan (1961)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Sudhir Phadke
Lyrics: Pandit Narendra Sharma

Another wife, another household, another set of chores. Newly married Geeta (Meena Kumari) has taken over the reins of her little household, including her husband, Shyam (Balraj Sahni) and his little brother, Mohan (Master Aziz). This song, immediately after her marriage, plays as Geeta goes about her routine, faithfully dogged by her little devar. He brings her a broom to sweep the courtyard, and then manfully lugs a bucket of water for her to wash the steps leading to it. He then watches devotedly as she draws a rangoli, plants and waters the tulsi plant. Whatever she does, wherever she goes, the little boy follows her, watching her every move and emulating her every action.  

I’m cheating a little here, since Meena is not lip-syncing to this song; it plays in the background.

Jaa ri pawaniya
Do Boond Pani (1971)
Singers: Asha Bhosle
Music: Jaidev
Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi
In a village plagued by drought, a wife (a beautiful Simi Garewal) is going about her daily chores. Her husband is away in the nearby city, working at a construction site, so he can send money home – a common enough occurrence in India’s villages even today. As she works, drying clothes, thatching their hut, grinding wheat, trudging miles to bring water, she sings. This is a more melancholy song than the earlier two – here, she’s begging the breezes to go to the land where her husband is working to tell him that just as her eyes thirst for him, the very skies and the earth itself are parched. And her thirst will be quenched only when he returns.
Jaa re pawaniyaa, piya ke des jaa
Itna sandesa mora kahiyo ja
Tan man pyaasa pyaasi najariya
Pyaasi pyaasi gagariya
Ambar pyaasa dharti pyaasi
Pyaasi saari nagariya
Pyaas bujhegi tab jeevan ki
Jab ghar aave saanwariya
Kone rang mungwa kawan rang motiya
Heera Moti (1950)
Singers: Sudha Malhotra, Suman Kalyanpur
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Prem Dhawan

In this rather pedestrian adaptation of Munshi Premchand’s delightful tale of two buffaloes, Do Bailon ki Katha, Razia (Nirupa Roy) and her sister-in-law, Champa (Shubha Khote) ply the chakki while teasing each other. Dhuri (Balraj Sahni) seems to be enjoying the domestic humour.

The chakki was, once upon a time, a ubiquitous sight in rural households. The women would grind grain into flour using the stone grinders – it was not only hard physical work but also time consuming. To keep themselves motivated (and to distract themselves from the tedium), the women often sang. Perhaps the rhythm helped in the repetitive movements.

Zaalim rog lagaa kar jaayega
Ek Gaon ki Kahani (1957)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Shailendra

A sleepy little village is awaiting the newly appointed doctor at the government dispensary.  Gokul (IS Johar), the resident homeopath, has asked his daughter, Jaya (Mala Sinha) to get the upstairs room ready for him. As always, the doctor will stay there and have his meals with them. Jaya, who has had enough the previous occupant running her ragged, is venting to herself as she goes about obeying her father’s diktat. And now this new chap is coming to make her life miserable.

Saara din jhaadoo lagwaa ke naak mein dam karta tha
Ek se piichha chhuuta hai ab duuja naach nachyega
And as she huffily dusts and sweeps (raising more dust than she’s cleaning), she imagines what this new doctor will be like – old, short of sight, hard of hearing, limping, with a face like that of a monkey…

Aadmi woh hai museebat se pareshaan na ho
Sheesh Mahal (1950)
Singer: Pushpa Hans
Music: Vasant Desai
Lyrics: Shams Lucknowi

Thakur Jaspal Singh's obduracy having led to the auction of their ancestral haveli, the family, consisting of the Thakur, his son and his two daughters (Naseem Bano and Pushpa Hans), has moved into a little hut nearby. Refreshingly, the children, who are more practical than their father, are not prone to sitting around, moping. Here the daughters are, winnowing grain and pounding it, while singing:

Ye hamesha se hai taqdeer ki gardish ka chalan 
Chand suraj ko bhi lag jaata hai ik baar grahan
In other words, Life has its ups and downs; even the sun and the moon are eclipsed once in a while. A lovely song from a very understated film.

Tum kaun ho bataao
Aasra (1966)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

Shobha (Mala Sinha) is an orphan who is kindly being housed by her father’s old friend, Bishambarnath (David). His harried wife (Pravin Paul) is not much in favour (can’t blame her; the poor woman already has six kids!) but is not actively cruel to the newcomer. Shobha willingly and voluntarily takes on chores to help her ‘aunt’. On one such occasion, alone at home, she’s dusting (as desultorily as she did in Ek Gaaon ki Kahaani – what’s with Mala and dusting, anyway?) and singing as she does so.

Aasra was a decent entertainer, and less weepy/melodramatic than one may imagine with such a scenario.  
Tera mera saath rahe
Saudagar (1973)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Ravindra Jain
Lyrics: Ravindra Jain

When widowed Mahjubi (Nutan) is wooed by Moti (Amitabh Bachchan), several years younger than her, she’s furious. Couldn’t he find someone else to ridicule? But when he persists, she thaws, and coming to his home as a bride, takes up its reins as efficiently as she makes gur. Months pass, and their hard work is reaping rich dividends. Moti is able to lease another 500 date palms to keep his industrious wife busy. Mahjubi is happy too – happier than she ever thought possible. All she wants is her husband by her side. And as she happily collects their washed clothes and folds them, she sings:

Koi vaada na kare kabhi khaaye na qasam
Jab kahen bas ye kahen
Milke bichdenge na hum…
Little does she know that her husband has just contracted another marriage, and that theirs was but a business transaction on his part.
Aanke chali baanke chali
Namkeen (1983)
Singers: Asha Bhosle
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Gulzar

is the beautiful if melancholy tale of a widowed mother Jugni (Waheeda Rehman) with three daughters, Nimki (Sharmila Tagore), Mithoo (Shabana Azmi) and Chinki (Kiran Vairale) who, despite living in straitened circumstances, can find happiness in little things. Every day, the young women pound masala, and on one such occasion, they sing this playful song, complete with Gulzar’s inimitable nonsense verse.

Famous for incorporating ambient sounds into his compositions, here, RD Burman incorporates the sound of the okhli (pestle) into the song. When I first heard this song, I assumed it was a female duet, if not a trio. I was very surprised when I realised that it was an Asha Bhosle solo – she sings for all three actresses. I found it interesting that both inflection and tone changes as she sings for each one.

Rhim jhim barse pani
Pardesi (1957)
Singer: Meena Kapoor
Music: Anil Biswas
Lyrics: Prem Dhawan

I close with yet another song that celebrates the rains – here, especially, because the incessant rains mean that Nikitin (Oleg Trizhinov) will not leave soon. Or so Champa (Nargis) hopes. This song shows her walking in the rain to the village well where she draws water, tidying her pots when she gets home and churning dahi as the village women take turns pounding grain.

Pardesi (Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray in Russian), the first Indo-Soviet co-production was jointly directed by KA Abbas and Vasily Pronin, was based on Afnasi Nikitin’s travelogue – Khozdeni Za Tri Moray (The Journey Beyond Three Seas).
Which songs would you add to this list?

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