Just back from work. Switched on the laptop. Made a drink. Clicked on my 'Favourite' winamp playlist. And now listening to 24 Years Living Next Door to Alice. I must have heard the song more than a hundred times now, including in discos where they play the "Who The Fuck is Alice?!" version. But tonight I noticed something that I had never noticed before: a female chorus in the background! How did I miss that out?
Songs, I guess, are like books. Every re-listening, like every re-reading, brings out something new. Try reading a book that you read five years ago and you are bound to discover more of what it says and what it has left unsaid. So you don't really extract the full value till you have read it again and again. It is the same with songs, I believe, especially Hindi songs, whose real meaning sinks in only after you, over the years, have gone through the joys or pains the lyricist might have experienced while writing that song.
Take Sahir Ludhianvi, for example. I rate him as the most sensitive lyricist Hindi cinema has ever seen. Gulzar is at times celebral, at times cute. Majrooh was certainly a pillar of the industry, but his poetry never stood out on its own. Anand Bakshi was the John Grisham of Bollywood. But Sahir made you agonise. The writer Amrita Pritam was so much in love with him that whenever he would pay her a visit, she, after he had left, would smoke the smoked cigarettes from the ashtray: just to feel him in her lungs.
In the movie Kabhie Kabhie, where Amitabh Bachchan plays a young poet who gives in to pressures of life, Sahir wrote the lyrics. Two of the songs, both sung by Mukesh, were about a poet: Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon and Main har ek pal ka shayar hoon.
The gist of the first song: I am a poet only for a moment or two. That's what I am all about. My youth is only for a moment or two. My existence is only for a moment or two. Tomorrow another poet will come, and you won't waste your time on me.
The gist of the second song: I am an eternal poet. Every moment will bear my story. I will live on for ever. My youth will be for ever.
I first saw Kabhie Kabhie when I was 15 or so, and the first song had made me sad. Life is so cruel, I thought, why does someone have to retire and make way for the new. So when the second song came on at the end of the movie, I was joyous: "Yay! That's the spirit. Never say die!" To me it was one of the happy songs which is replayed in the end after the bad guys have been bashed up and handed over to the police and the hero and the heroine go on to live happily ever after.
About 15 years later, at the age of 30, I heard both the songs again. I understood the lyrics better now. The first one was good, no doubt. After all, nobody is at the peak of greatness for ever: eventually you have to make way for others. But the second song, which had cheered me 15 years ago, now brought tears to my eyes. By the time Mukesh finished Main har ek pal ka shayar hoon, my cheeks were wet. The song actually talked about the inevitable -- and irreversible -- progression of life. It hammered home the truth about your mortality. And how beautifully!
In the movie, Amitabh Bachchan and Rakhee were in love, but they could not marry. Rakhee is married off to Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh marries a widow Waheeda Rahman, who already has a daughter. The daughter grows up to be Neetu Singh, who falls in love with Rishi Kapoor, the son of Shashi and Rakhee. In that context, Sahir's lyrics in the second song, which I was not old or experienced enough to understand then, hit you like a hammer:
Rishton ka roop badalta hai, buniyaaden khatam nahin hoteen
khwaabon aur umango kee miyanden khatam nahi hoteen;
Ek phool mein tera roop basaa, ek phool mein meri jawaani hai
ek chehra teri nishani hai, ek chehra meri nishani hai
Tujhko mujhko jeevan amrit ab in haaton se peena hain,
inki dhadkan mein basna hai, inkey saanson main jeena hai;
Too apni adaayen baksh inhey, main apni wafaayen deta hoon
jo apne liye sochi thhi kabhi, woh saari duaaen deta hoon.
I can try and translate the lines for people who do not understand Hindi or Urdu. But in cases like these, one does more justice to the poet/lyricist by giving the gist of what he has said instead of attempting a translation. And in this song, Sahir says: The face of a relationship might change but its foundation remains intact. Today two younger flowers might have replaced us, but one of them possesses your beauty and the other has the strength of my youth. We have to now drink the nectar of life from their hands; our heartbeats and breaths are now theirs. Give her your style, and I will give him my sense of fidelity. And together, let us wish them what we could not wish for ourselves.
In other words, we pass on everything to the next generation before we die. Sahir is long dead, and Amrita Pritam died recently. Tomorrow, we are going to get old and die too. But is our love strong enough to live through generations? I don't know. I don't know because I am yet to meet the other half who would constitute the "our". At the moment, when the number of drinks has multiplied ever since I started writing this, I just want somebody to hold my hand. Anyone out there?