Musical evening – Diaspora version 

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

The programme started with a bhajan from the film Lagaan written by Javed Akhtar and composed by AR Rahman, opening with the words –

Tu Paalanhare nirguna aur nyare
Tumrebin hamra kauno nahin
Humri uljhan suljhao Bhagwan
Tumrebin hamra…
sang as a duet by Karuna and Nalini, the initiators of this musical evening on the occasion of World Music Day, which was celebrated at national level in a multitude of colourful ways by schoolchildren in particular.

The lyrics mean – ‘You my Protector, Divine Essence close to me, I have no one but You, Pray Lord relieve me of my sufferings…’ The original song is in the evergreen voice of Lata Mangeshkar, but the combined voices of Karuna and Nalini made it as soul-stirring as Lataji’s version. A great thanks to them for setting the tone of the evening and building up expectations which were fully met over the ensuing three and a half hours, with Safar and Zeenat as well as a few others joining in as the programme unfolded. The lead vocalist was their seasoned Guruji whose renderings and the skills of the accompanying instrument players enriched the atmosphere of enjoyment that pervaded the entire evening.

On the menu were, in addition to Lata Mangeshkar already mentioned above, Mohamud Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar, Kishore kumar, Pankaj Udhas, Runa Laila, Jagjit Singh amongst others, with songs from films as varied as Shri 420 and Nagin. All present were lovers of old Hindi film songs, but it was a also a pleasure to find some youngsters too in the audience – perhaps they will catch on and learn to be as appreciative of the oldies as of newer compositions, hopefully kuch kuch hojayega… as they grow up and mature.

As happened to me, and I am sure many others too who may, like me, have initially been put off by what we considered to be ‘effeminate’ songs! Such as those from Nagin, of which Mera dil yeh pukare aaja is among the best known. I remember how I used to get irritated when my Didi (elder sister) used to hum or sing this song when it would be playing on our box-like radio set of those days (Murphy? Phillips?), or afterwards as the tune perhaps reverberated in her head. I used to ridicule and sometimes even pick a fight so as to get her to stop, stop, stop!

After all, how could that compare with the upcoming pops we were increasingly being exposed to, carrying exotic names like Cliff Richards, Elvis Presley, Helen Shapiro, Englebert Humperdinck, Dalida, Enrico Macias… and a long list of others.

It did not take me a passage to India to be pricked by the oldies bug – in fact by the time the transformation took place I was still in secondary school, and those soulful songs were yet to become oldies! I think it was the first stirrings of blushful love that triggered the change, though I cannot remember for certain. But never mind, what does it matter now at this stage and age? The important thing is that I discovered that all forms, styles, languages in which music was rendered could coexist happily within me, and depending on mood and company I could enjoy them all. I still almost swoon when I hear Elvis’s It’s now or never, and Edith Piaf can freeze me into instant but alas transient eternity!

Among the classicals a favourite of mine remains Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor which our music teacher Mrs Brooks introduced us to. I still remember the thrill I felt on listening to Handel’s Messiah that she made us listen too, in what appeared then to be the cavernous hall of the Royal College Curepipe. She drew the black curtains, put off the lights, asked us to remain silent and placed the needle on the 33-disc. Celestial sound emanated from that gramophone, and lifted us to the stratosphere. Words will ever fall short of describing the feeling.

On Saturday night then, it was youthful Zeenat who made us travel down the lane to Nagin, and a flood of memories came back. One of them is a Sunday evening, in Kolkata during my medical student days. A few classmates, all girls, turned up at my hostel and almost ordered me: ‘Chalo, what are you doing? Let’s go to Sheila’s place and spend some time.’ And barely out of my afternoon slumber, I quickly freshened up and followed them. After some hot chai followed by gup-shup, we had a singing session. When my turn came I was persuaded to croak my way through, and they were polite enough to clap their hands, but more memorable for me was their interpretations. All of them were amateur singers, but the sound that came out of their throats bore the imprint of their millennial origin: it is as natural for them to sing as it is to breathe, so I felt as I listened to these talented friends. Wherever they are today, bless them!

Those who sang during that musical evening too were not professionals, only dedicated music lovers. As Oudesh, who gave the welcome address, remarked, there will perhaps be shortcomings and we will have to show indulgence, but the whole point of the evening was to sit back or participate, and enjoy in good company and to the sound of music. And that’s exactly as it turned out to be.

But the more original aspect of this meet is revealed when we consider it from the diaspora angle. Here was a group of fourth or fifth generation Indians, many of whom have perhaps never been to India, gathered to sing Hindi songs written, composed and sung by maestros whom they were all inspired by. Most likely none of them spoke Hindi on a daily basis or with great ease when they have to – I apologise in advance if I making a wrong assumption here – and yet they were so familiar with the words and the language, which all understood perfectly. Oudesh’s welcome was in French à la métropole and rounded it off with ‘if music be the food of love…’, the singers introduced their themes in English or French and during the break the conversation was in Creole, French and English.

Welcome in French-cum-English, introductions in English or French, the interlude a mix of Creole, French and English, refreshments included petits fours, and the singing in Hindi! Plus Mauricien que ça tu meurs!

And yet there was an unmistakeable Indianness that infused the gathering, as Indian as one would see in any salon in India. No wonder Mrs Indira Gandhi, if I am not mistaken, said of Mauritius that it is a Little India beyond the seas. And I look forward to yet more such musical evenings, because the repertoire of oldies is almost inexhaustible.

Thanks Karuna and Nalini for organizing, and their fellow-singers for giving us so much to be grateful for. As for those who did not make it this time, be sure you respond to the next invitation…

* Published in print edition on 24 June 2011

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