A few weeks ago I was browsing my P2P for some traditional Kashmiri Songs. So I typed the words ‘Kashmiri Song’ into the search field. What I found was truly surprising.
I got a song curiously titled.
Rudolph Valentino - Kashmiri Song 1923 Brunswick
Later, I found another version of the same song by Maggie Teyte - Kashmiri Song 1920 Edison Cylindar.
I was intrigued.
I heard the song and it surely wasn’t traditional Kashmiri music. No Roef, Chhakri, Wanawon etc. What I heard seemed like some person singing in some foreign language. Reminded me of the song "Tues es Partout” from the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’. The song is playing while Corporal Upham translates the lyrics and Private Reiben relates his experiences with Mrs. Troubowtiz ("C'etait Une Histoire D'Amour" is playing while Private Ryan tells Captain Miller about his brothers just before the German attack begins). I couldn’t understand why was some foreign song inaptly named Kashmiri Song. So I did a bit of Google Search and the story unfolded. Seems every song does tell a story. The song introduced me to the music popular around the era of World War 2.
First, I decided to know about the guy- Rudolph Valentino. And, here is what I found:
Rudolph Valentino was the all singing God of the Cinema from 1914 to 1926. Star of movies like The Sheik, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Young Rajah, Blood and Sand and The Eagle (based on a story by Alexander Pushkin). He was quite a Star of his generation. Test of a star is - the product endorsements that he does. So what do we have: "Sheik" brand condoms, introduced onto the market in the 1930's, were named after Valentino's most famous role and for years featured Valentino's silhouette on the packaging.
Hmmm…clearly a Big Star. A Sex symbol.
He was an influential figure even after his death. In fact Valentino has been referenced in many pop songs, including "Right Before My Eyes" by Ian Thomas, "Manic Monday" by The Bangles, "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy" by Queen, "Life Sized Marilyn Monroe" (1993) by Wild Strawberries, "Celluloid Heroes" by The Kinks, and "Better Off Without a Wife" by Tom Waits.
He must have been something to make it to the Pop-Culture of the 70s and 80s.
The new short film "Days Dreams of Rudolph Valentino"( with Russian actor Vladislav Kozlov as Rudolph Valentino) was presented at Hollywood Forever cemetery on August 23, 2006, marking the 80th anniversary of Rudolph Valentino's death.
Clearly, some people are still interested about his life and times.
There are rumors that Warner Brothers plans to film a biopic of Valentino's career, his marriages, and his battles with the press. Called Rudolph, it has been mentioned that several actors like Jude Law,Colin Farrell, and Wilmer Valderramare lobbying for the role.
Now coming to the 'Kashmir song'.
In New York City on May 14, 1923, Valentino made his first and last record, consisting of "Valentino's renditions" of Amy Woodforde-Finden's Kashmiri Song featured in The Sheik and Jose Padilla's "El Relicario" used in Blood and Sand.
Now Who is Amy Woodforde –Finden?
Amy Woodford-Finden (1860 – March 13, 1919) was a composer best known for writing the music to "Kashmiri Song" from The Four Indian Love Lyrics by Laurence Hope. Born in in Valparaiso, Chile, she was the daughter of an Indian army officer and later the wife of a Bengal army officer. This experience with India led to the composition of "Kashmiri Song" in 1902. Originally Woodford-Finden could not interest any publishers in the cycle, so she published the songs herself. They were performed widely by Hamilton Earle who was able to use his influence so that in 1903 they were published by Boosey & Co.
She died in London and was buried in Hampsthwaite churchyard, North Yorkshire.
So we have a composer best known for writing the music to "Kashmiri Song" from The Four Indian Love Lyrics by Laurence Hope. She was the daughter of an Indian army officer and later married a Bengal army officer.
Finally, I can see the picture emerge with a clear Indian connection. Hmm…things are getting interesting .
Now, who is Laurence Hope?
Adela Florence Nicolson (née Cory) (9 April 1865-4 October 1904) was an English poet who wrote under the pseudonym Laurence Hope. She was born at Stoke Bishop, Gloucestershire, the second of three daughters to Colonel Arthur Cory and Fanny Elizabeth Griffin. Her father was employed in the British army at Lahore, and thus she was raised by her relatives back in England. She left for India in 1881 to join her father. Her father was editor of the Lahore arm of The Civil and Military Gazette, and it was he who in all probability gave Rudyard Kipling (a contemporary of his daughter) his first employment as a journalist.
Adela married Colonel Malcolm Hassels Nicolson, who was then twice her age and commandant of the 3rd Baluchi Regiment in April 1889. A talented linguist, he introduced her to his love of India and native customs and food, which she began to share. This widely gave the couple a reputation for being eccentric. After he died in a prostate operation, Adela, who had been prone to depression since childhood, committed suicide by poisoning herself and died at the age of 39 on 4 October 1904 in Madras. Her son Malcolm published her Selected Poems posthumously in 1922.
In 1901, she published Garden of Kama, which was published a year later in America under the title India's Love Lyrics. She attempted to pass these off as translations of various poets, but this claim soon fell under suspicion. Somerset Maugham published a story called The Colonel's Lady loosely based on the ensuing scandal. Her poems often used imagery and symbols from the poets of the North-West Frontier of India and the Sufi poets of Persia. She was among the most popular romantic poets of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her poems are typically about unrequited love and loss and often, the death that followed such an unhappy state of affairs. Many of them have an air of autobiography or confession. Her poetry was extremely popular during the Edwardian period, being hailed by such men as Thomas Hardy, and having two films as well as some musical adaptations of her poetry made, but since then her reputation has faded into near-obscurity. British composer Amy Woodforde-Finden set four of her lyrics from The Garden of Kama to music, the most popular of which was Kashmiri Song; and after these proved a critical success, set four more lyrics from Stars of the Desert (published in 1903) to music as well.
In the year 1902, when Amy Woodforde-Finden set to music Four Indian Love Lyrics, "Kashmiri Song" emerged as the most popular, quickly becoming a drawing room standard and remaining popular until the Second World War.
So the trail is now complete. The song is based on a poem that first appeared in The Garden of Kama also known as India's Love Lyrics.
Nevertheless, why name it Kashmiri song?
The poem may have the answer. So, I checked the poem .
Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell?
Whom do you lead on Rapture's roadway, far,
Before you agonise them in farewell?
Oh, pale dispensers of my Joys and Pains,
Holding the doors of Heaven and of Hell,
How the hot blood rushed wildly through the veins
Beneath your touch, until you waved farewell.
Pale hands, pink tipped, like Lotus buds that float
On those cool waters where we used to dwell,
I would have rather felt you round my throat,
Crushing out life, than waving me farewell!
So that’s the answer. The phrase "beside the Shalimar"...That’s the reason.
But, still there is some controversy about the Shalimar.
The phrase "beside the Shalimar" presumably refers to one of two Shalimar Gardens, the Shalimar Gardens Kashmir or the Shalimar Gardens (Lahore). Although the former seems the likelier identification, given the song's title, Nicolson lived in Lahore, giving some weight to the latter.
The poem/song is often associated with themes of forbidden love, sadomasochism and miscegenation.
Well, it doesn’t matter...I think, I do have the answer to the question - Why Kashmiri Song?
All because of the word Shalimar. Now I know.
Photograph of Shalimar Garden, Srinagar taken by me in June 2008