Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

Saree Falls

and Manju Falls.
Picked it off from the street.

Choli pay nazariya jaye

The courtier is perturbed by what he hears. What type of a song is this. Vulgar. He asks the girl singing the song to explain.

It a good kind of song. It's a love song of Radha-Krishan. Listen. Radha says to her friend:

More angana mein aye aali, main chaal chalun matwali
angana mein aye aali
Jab aanchal hamra pakday, Hum has has unsay Jhagday
Choli pay nazariya jaye, mori chunari lipat mosay

' Bas! Bas! You will destroy the truth of daughter-in-laws and daughters of Mithila. Choli pay...uff!'

Courtier walks away fuming. Mocking him, the girl continues singing. Courtier listens some more.

Woh aur Bhay, morey paihya paray, Kahay mano baat hamari
Woh aur Bhay, morey paihya paray, Kahay mano baat hamari
Main aah baro mukh pher kahu, Main aah baro mukh pher kahu
Nahi manugi baat tihari, Nahi manugi baat tihari
Nahi manugi baat tihari
Nahi manugi baat tihari

Courtier walks out saying, 'Now I know. Now I know. Now I know why our women sing this song '

The song-scene, sung and enacted by Kanan Devi [watch it here], is from year 1937 film Vidyapati by Debaki Bose.

The film is based on the life of poet Vidyapati (1360-1440AD) and was written by famous Bengali poet Nazrul Islam who for a brief period was also associated with the medium of cinema. [Vidyapati had a special appeal among Bengalis. Read about it Here]

This particular song was based on a work by Vidyapati and according to someone involved with the making of the film, the wordings of the song had to be changed a bit (on his suggestion) because the real line was an even more of a shocker. Cinema man, Kidar Sharma (1910 - 1999), in his autobiography 'The one and lonely Kidar Sharma' (2002) writes that instead of the suggestive bit about choli, the actual line was: "Kachuwa dharat jub piyara" (when my lover hold my breast). Too much ji even for the present day cinema. So the line was covered with a bodice.

This old 'naughty' song was referenced by film critic Iqbal Masud in his memoir 'Dream Merchants, Politicians & Partition: Memoirs of an Indian Muslim' (1997) in context of (in what must have been an otherwise mundane) TV debates triggered by controversy surrounding the song 'Choli ke peeche kya hai' (What is there behind the bodice) from film Khalnayak (1993). He remembered watching the film in Mangalore as a teenage boy in 1937, gasping in the theater just like most of the audience at the use of line 'Choli pay nazariya Jaye'. The film fascinated him and introduced him to the 'Hindu culture' which till then, he admits, was an alien entity. He also recalls mentioning the film, years later, to Satyajit Ray. Ray's reaction was characteristic - 'A rotten film'. Masud explained his reaction as, 'For him as a philosophical Hindu in the broadest sense, the 'Hinduism' of Vidyapati was crude alphabet.'


Gandhi‎ by Taya Zinkin , 1965

"Gandhi landed in Bombay just in time for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. He was extremely loyal to Britain. British rule in India was not perfect but it did India much good. He took part in the celebrations, proudly singing ""God Save the Queen", and waving the Union Jack."

- opening lines of Chapter 8 titled 'To India and Back'. Gandhi was visiting India after his first trip to South Africa where he had already started defending the 'Coolies'. After a short stay he sailed back to South Africa, this time with family. On reaching Durban, after not being allowed to get off the ship for days and with whites demanding that he be deported back, bravely walks out with an English friend but gets mobbed, passes out and is saved by the wife of a white Inspector of Police who takes him to her house. The crowd soon descends on the house asking that Gandhi be handed over to them. Realizing that the situation can get riotous, Gandhi put on the uniform of a policeman and walked out of the back door while the owner of the house, the Police Inspector - certain Mr. Alexander, to distract the crowd sang a little song of his own invention:

"Hang old Gandhi
on the sour apple tree."

Young Manorama, 1945

Manorama in Mujhe Jeene Do (1963). Probably the most famous eyebrows in Indian Cinema. Her arched eyebrows and puffed, caked cheeks from 'Seeta aur Geeta' are things of legend.

Manorama was half-Irish and her real name was Erin Isaac Daniel. She started working in films in 1920s and appeared on screen regularly right till 1980s. In the 90s she did a cameo in Mahesh Bhaty's Junoon (1992) and in 2005 she had a small role in Deepa Mehta’s Water. Thus she had a release in every decade starting  1920s and ending with 2010. A no small feat. Manorama passed away on 15 February 2008.

Manorama in a photograph published in year 1945 in Telugu film journal Roopavani. Found it in the archives of Centre for the Study of Culture and Society

Shat Putra Vati Bhava and may all of them find a Vadhu

Traditional Hindu blessing for women 'Shat Putra Vati Bhava' (May you have hundred sons) also comes in a (lesser used) variation that promises eight sons - 'Ashta- Putravati Bhava' - eight being a 'good' number for Hindus. Not good enough. If we are counting on blessings alone, the old 'blessings' need an upgrade - a beta version, fast.
"A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study in 2007 said even if the sex ratio at birth were to remain at the ‘normal’ level of 950 girls per 1,000 boys until 2030, India is likely to have a female deficit of 25 million by 2030 in the marriageable age group of 20-49. More realistic studies that have factored in a limited and even further decline in the ratio have suggested the deficit could be anywhere between 29 and 34 million."
- from a fine feature article 'The Lost Girls' by Shreyasi Singh for Japan based current-affairs magazine The Diplomat. [Got the link via an email from Jason Miks, editor for the magazine.]


Chacha Nehru (and Chachi)

Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamla Nehru in their wedding dress.

There is something strange going on at Doordarshan. On the occasion of Nehru's birthday, which is celebrated in India as 'Children's Day', they showed Sai Paranjape's Bhago Boot (2001). True to the old time-tested tradition of Doordarshan, that's all well and fine. I used to enjoy these kid movies shown religiously (often repeated) on this particular day . But this year, thanks to the digitalization and restoration of old archives, the film was preceded with a special presentation - an old reel having Chacha Nehru talking to a group of Kids about need for Children's cinema whose 'best judge should be children'. Between the clicks of camera, you could see the old man entertaining the kids with his famous talking skills. Rapt audience, which included his grandchildren - young Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, he told the kids that American films are sometimes good but often they have too much violence, he doesn't like that,  there's already too much of that in his life. And then at the end he cracked a joke about Sanjay's idea of fun - smearing ink on other people.

Iqbal Masud's 'Dream merchants, politicians, and partition'‎

Dream Merchants, Politicians & Partition: Memoirs of an Indian Muslim (1997, Harper Collins, Pages: 152; Rs:95) by Iqbal Masud

Born F G Jilani in late 1920s into a South Indian Muslim family, his father a officer in education department under British government and his mother a burqa wearing Khilafat activist puritan Muslim woman, the contradictions, as he recounts it, were present in his life from the very beginning. The memoir starts in early thirties with an eight year old Iqbal Masud, seated between his burqa clad mother and aunt, in the balcony of a theatre, and him almost managing to catch Sulochana and Dinshaw Billimoria kiss on the screen ( in year 1935 talkie film 'Anarkali'). But the scene, at the last moment, gets censored out as his aunt clamps her hand down upon his eager eyes.   

F G Jilani became critic-writer Iqbal Masud - Iqbal for his favorite poet and Masud his urf , a name 'adopted for various administrative and self-preservatory reason (the Emergency)' after the literary talents of this book reading, cinema watching Income tax officer were mentioned by Anil Dharker, the sub-editor of a popular girlie magazine Debonair (even Atal Behari Vajpayee 'kept it under his pillow'), to Editor Vinod Mehta who wanted the magazine to be a bit more Playboy like and have 'some semblance of respectability'.

Thus was born Iqbal Masud  who, in the (fore)words of Vinod Mehta, could  in a 700-word film review  manage to 'combine Godard, Mrinal Sen, Indira Gandhi and Madhuri Dixit - beginning naturally, with a few lines from Auden.' A feat that could perhaps only be matched by his contemporary T.G. Vaidyanathan. Sample this - his review of a film called Professor Pyarelal (1981), whose opening scene had Dharmendra and Hema Malini  dancing along Thames in London, started with these line by Edund Spenser: 'Sweet Thames, flow swiftly till I end my song'.

Iqbal Masud was not just a good Income Tax officer, he was also one of India's finest film critics and he was also an Indian Muslim. In his own words this  book is not a chronicle, not an autobiography but just memoirs. But it is a slim book and it only offers glimpses. For a generation that doesn't know his era, these are memorable glimpses indeed. How he discovered brilliance of Indian Cinema with Ashok Kumar in 'Kismet' (1944) and 'Hindu culture', the other culture, through 'Vidyapati' (1937). He writes about relative calm of South India (and Indian Cinema of the time) with regard to Partition. Mentions watching 'Roshoman' (1950), Third Man (1949), 'Sorry, Wrong Number' (1948), 'Awara' (1951), 'Aah' (1953), 'Aag' (1948) in theater with his 'forward' (which meant 'convent educated, non-purdah' ) wife. He writes about the decline of Indian cinema with the death of Guru Dutt. Discovering culture of Middle East  after a stint as United Nations recommended Tax Advisor  to the Noth Yemen Government. Making friends with people like Satyajit Ray and Devika Rani. The promise of Indian New Wave. How he introduced Guru Dutt to French people and how it led India to re-discover the cinema of Guru Dutt.* In between he talks about the dark Emergency years. How he was shocked when he heard a progressive man like Ali Sardar Jafri say, ' Mera naam hai Ali Sardar Jafri. Main hoon shar-i-inquailab/Main kahta hoon emergency Harf-i-Haq hai' (My name is Ali Sardar Jafri/I am the poet of the revolution/I say Emergency is the Word of Truth). He was surprised at the big switch. And at the end he does talk about his own big switch - the switch from liberal Left to a 'fundamentalist'. A switch which surprised many of his friends. Why he played a crucial part in getting Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses' banned in India and how this left leaning man was rattled by the violent Bombay of early nineties. In his own words, 'You could not dream that Hindutva would capture millions in the Nineties. That was the evidence both of our idealism and of our limited vision. We had come from pasts more traditional than that of the 'Kar Sevaks' of today. The leftists of the Forties left behind their pasts by intellectual effort. Today's cultural nationalism is the result of a refusal to make the effort to face up to the twenty-first century.'

    * Started with Iqbal Masud writing an incredible piece on Guru Dutt for Illustrated Weekly of India (dated 27-11-1983) when Pratish Nandy was the editor. You can read it here at Also read some other old articles by Iqbal Masud at

    10th November 2009

    I thought I will get to never lay my hands on this little book again. I first read it a couple of years ago (previously mentioned in a post about Guru Dutt and French fame ) after borrowing it from a cousin brother who (after futilely trying to procure a copy online) bought it second hand from Daryaganj Sunday Market for rupees 10 or 20. It was nothing less than a prized possession. I remember returning the book back even though I didn't want to because he has a knack for  loosing books. Sure enough, a couple of months later he asked me return back the book. I told myself, 'The book is gone.' I reminded him the sequence and the circumstances under which I returned it. He looked for it in his book shelves and boxes , dusting old books all along. Couldn't find it. Again asked me for the book. I told him I have returned it, maybe I shouldn't have. This went on for a couple of years, we would remember Iqbal Masud and the book and how it was lost. Then suddenly last month, out of the blue, he told me, 'I found the book.' It turned out that he had lend the book to friend who had since moved to Poona. So the book was with his friend all this time at Poona. 'Get it back! Get it back! All right!' That was my first response. A couple of weeks later I was back with me. I haven't decided if I will return it back this time.

    Inhi logon ne / These People

    On the last strains of the song, the camera moves up and away from spinning Sahibjaan and pans in on the background - roofs, other spinning girls, tawaifs of other Kothas.


    'le leena dupatta mera'

    I have often wondered about this. Majrooh Sultanpuri used the word 'le leena' while the common usage would have it as ' le liya'. Is this Braj?


    Choreography for the song was by Lachchu Maharaj. Meena Kumari was ill and in a lot of physical pain while shooting this film (and this film was in shooting for the longest time)  but there are only few scenes in which you can tell.

    Making of Pakeezah

    sita sings the barsaat

    Video: Nina Paley's awesome Sita Sings the Blues.
    Audio: 'Patli kamar hai' from Barsaat (1949). Music by Shankar-Jaikishan.

    Last moments of Netaji by P. N. Oak

    "It was a strange sight at Taihoku airport near Taiwan on the morning of August 18, 1945. Hot steam emanated from the body of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Clad in tight woolen riding breeches, tight belt, his body was blistered by hot oil from the plane that had crashed minutes ago. Strewn around Netaji were jewels, ornaments, gold and pearls donated by Indian for the independence struggle, which he was carrying with him on his way to Japan. Netaji struggled throughout the day and finally passed away at 10.30 p.m. on Aug, 18, 1945 and was cremated by the Japanese at Taiwan itself."

    from Hindustan Times, August 17, 1997. One of the rare instances in which P. N. Oak (March 2, 1917 - December 4, 2007) refuted and not propagated a 'crackpot' theory. In this particular case the theory was: 'Netaji is alive. He became a Sadhu, a hermit.'

    Oak created this vivid scene based on an account apparently offered to him by Colonel Habibur Rehman who was with Bose when he died. At that time Oak was working as a director and commentator at Free India Radio which had daily broadcasts from Saigon. Oak also served as the lieutenant ADC and private secretary to General Jagannath Bhosle who was appointed the chief-of-staff by Bose.

    Oak started his career, in 1941, with the British Army working for Ordnance Department of the British Indian Army in Pune for eight months and was then transferred to Singapore. But when in February 1942 the Japanese defeated the British forces in Singapore he joined INA.

    But it was the vocation that P. N. Oak  chose in the later years that made him a famous man, at least in certain circles. He told stories. He had theories. A medium found him.

    With the arrival of internet came the wild theories of an old man named P. N. Oak - the man who, among many other things, wrote: World Vedic Heritage: A History of Histories: Presenting a Unique Unified Field Theory of History that from the Beginning of Time the World Practised Vedic and Spoke Sanskrit ( first published in 1984). Hindus across the wide breadth of this country realized everything (and not just Maths) is Vedic; Taj, Qutub, Italy, Sicily, Vatican, Kaaba, Pope, Mohammed. Maybe even Karim's of Nizamuddin. Maybe even Karim and Nizamuddin. Everything is Hindu.

    They read things, Islam=ishalayam: "temple of God", shared, talked around and it became street knowledge, even children knew it. Kaaba is Shiv Lingam. Oak's parallel Hindu world theories, for a brief moment, led Hindus to gasp in collective pride. Also, if turn of brow and a frown could kill, it would have killed thousands. Look what the world did to us. What they did to us. Look what they took from us.


    Sandhya, 'Umad ghumad kar' in Do Aankhen Barah Haath

    nanhee nanhee boondaniyo ki khanan khanan'khan khang'ree
    bajatee aayee, bajatee aayee dekho bhayee barkha dulhaniya barkha dulhaniya
    chhuk chhuk chhuk chhuk chaiyya, aaja daru toray gal bhainya
    aaj daru toray gal bhainya, chhuk chaiyya
    mai toh nachu tere sang sang sainya, ho sainya, ho sainya
    savan ka sandesa lekar niklee apnay ghar se
    jo koyee iskay pyar ko tarsay vahee navelee barse
    kare kare kare kare badarva kee jhanan jhanan jhan jhanjharee
    bajatee aayee hai dekho bhayee barkha dulhaniya barkha dulhaniya
    - rain song 'Umad ghumad kar' from Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957).

    And then there is saiyan jhoothon ka bada sartaj nikla.

    Her bow runs on single string of a sarangi. My lover turned out to be the king of liars. She  sings. A little toy drum follows her. Tied to her trailing pallu. All her movements are playful exaggerations - nakhra. Thugs, louts watch. She is a toy seller.

    When I was a kid, I actually had that toy fiddle and the drum.

    Dilli Baoli, 1870. Jumping Wells at Delhi. Still.

    Jumping Wells at Delhi, Frontispiece of 'Letters from India and Kashmir' by J. Duguid, 1870. The illustration is by Mr. H.R. Robertson, and engraved by Mr. W.J. Palmer, principally from the writer's Sketches.
    At the Kutub, and near Delhi, there are wells of various sizes, but on an average twenty yards square, surrounded by brick walls sixty feet high, of which forty are above the surface of the water. For a backsheesh men and boys - old men down to young boys - collected on the parapet, leap one after another into the air and descend in all kinds of positions. A moment, however, before they touch the water they quickly bring their feet together and their arms over their heads, pointed upwards, so that they enter the water in a reversed attitude to that of a header. The sensation caused by the sight of these men, with their arms and legs outspread and their features distorted by wild grimaces as they leap from the walls, surpasses any produced by Blondin or Leotard, and could only be equalled by them if they added a tumble to their usual performances. A small backsheesk is sufficient to induce them to perform, but you are afterwards pursued to some distance by askings for more. And this' leads to a word on the wide-spread use of the word " backsheesh." Where its line of demarcation crosses Europe to the north is not clearly ascertained, but in the south it runs eastward by southern Austria to the Italian frontier. In the west you have a medley of " una limosna por el amor de Dios;" " datenii qualchier cosa;" "baiocchi, baiocchi;" "quelque chose pour boire," "pour boire" peremptory; "summut to drink your honour's health;" "remember the waiter, chambermaid, boots ; " in short, endless variations on the well-known theme. But Hungary, Servia, Turkey, Greece, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, and in a broad wave the East, acknowledge one word common to all, amidst their confusion of tongues the mighty "Backsheesh." The sight of an Englishman at once evokes the unquiet spirit of this potentate, which cannot be laid until the Giaour departs. The word, used also by the North American Indians, proves incontestably a common origin between them and their Asiatic brethren.
    Fascination continues.
    Sam Miller in his 'Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity' (2008) recalls meeting a man, his guide at the Agarsen ki Baoli near Jantar Mantar, who, it turned out, was once famously photographed jumping into the well by Raghu Rai.

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