Bookmarking Memory with Songs


Bookmarking Memory with Songs

(Aedho oru paattu en kaadhil ketkum-One song rings in my ears..) was the starting line of a popular song. The same theme was conveyed in the first sentence of Prasad’s article last month ("Songs are bookmarks in our memory…" ), which gave him the idea of remembering those special songs that are bookmarks in his memory. His article was so interesting that I thought I should also delve deep in my memory and come up with my own bookmarks.

My very first memory as a human being was seeing a film on my mother’s lap and listening to the song .I must have been four at that time. Periodically one song becomes the State anthem of Tamil Nadu. Currently it is ‘O podu...’. Last year was ‘male male’. In 1950 or so, it was this song (dadadaa dadadaa dadaa dadaa, un kann unnai aematrinaal en mael kobham undaavadhen- Why get angry with me when your own eyes deceive you). Later my mother confirmed my memory and said that the film was ‘Vazhkai’ and this is the first bookmark for me.

When I was in the third class (I think), Avvaiyar was released and we were taken to the film for picnic. It was the only outing arranged by the school in the entire five years of my elementary school (Correct it as entire 11 years of my schooling). K.B.Sundarambal's singing is a very powerful memory, though I do not remember the lyric. Is it (Gnana pazhathai pizhindhu)?

1961 was a great year for Sivaji fans (which included practically every Tamilian at that time) and for Tamil film music, as four movies with great direction, acting and songs- Pava Mannippu , Pasamalar, Palum Pazhamum and Kappalottiya Thamizhan were released that year. I was in SSLC in that year and could not afford (both financially and academically) to see many films. Still I saw three of these. I remember (kaalangalill avall vasantham -Among seasons, she is the spring) from Pava mannippu for one reason. There was a contest in which all the songs were to be arranged according to the reader’s choice and whichever song received the maximum votes would be No. 1 and so on. This was unique in the advertising world at that time and received a tremendous response. I had chosen ‘kaalangalil aval vasantham’ as the first. It was not the popular choice and I did not win any prize, but the memory remains.

From the same film, the song (silar sirippaar, silar azhuvar- Some laugh, some cry) is embedded in my memory for a different reason. My aunt (Pankajam chithi) was in the same colony where we lived and would often come to our house to talk to her elder sister (my mother). One day, she was bemoaning the problems of making both ends meet on a shoestring budget. Almost at that time, the lines (kaalam oru naall maarum, nam kavalaigall yaavum theerum- Times will change and our worries will be over) from the song ‘silar sirippaar’ came on our radio and my chithi’s spirits were dramatically lifted. Today all her children are well-placed in life and times have certainly changed for the better for her.

My chithappa’s family and our family were very close and I used to spend a lot of time in their house . There used to be a loft at a height of 6 feet and all of us (my cousins- Sridhar, Varadhan, Murali and I) used to constantly jump down from there on to the pillows strategically placed on the ground. When we got tired of jumping, we would start teasing Usha, my cousin who was just 4 or 5 by singing (Purushan veettil vaazha pogum pennae, thangachi kannae, sila buddimathigall solluraen kelu munne- My dear young sister who will go away with your husband, listen to my words of advice before you go). We would keep on singing till we were pulled up by my uncle or aunt. This song was from the film ‘Paanai pidithaval Bhagyasali’. I remember the song wondering why and how have I lost touch with many close relatives.

When I was in school, my father became a member of R.R.Sabha in Mylapore. Sometime in 1962, the Sabha organized a special programme of dramas, concerts etc. As the youngest, I did not have any choice about the programme that I wanted to attend. But I demanded to attend just one programme and was happy when the demand was conceded. It was a music-nite by the famous duo of Visvanathan-Ramamoorthy. My joy increased when TMS announced that one of his favourite songs was from 'Aalaya mani' (ponnai virumbum boomiyilae, ennai virumbum oruyire- In this world that worships gold, you are the one to love me) and started singing it. This song has been one of all-time favourites and so is the memory.I saw the film for the first time on 21st July, 2002 which was the first anniversary of Sivaji's death and DD-Tamil telecast it.

Almost all the films that I saw till I came to college were seen only in three theatres- Kapali, Kamadhenu and Krishna. The first two because they were near the house and the third because my uncle was the manager there. Kapali was notorious for its bugs as well as the rowdy audience. For buying the lowest class tickets, which was 6 annas I think (though naya paisa was introduced in 1957, Annas continued till 1967 or so), one had to pass through a maze-like structure. Dadas would stand on the partition walls of the structure and lift the youngsters up over the heads of those ahead in the queue and place you near the window for a fee of 1 anna. I had seen Pava Mannippu, Padithal mattum podhuma, Vanji kottai vaaliban etc. by paying this 'lift money'.I remember the song ( kaalam seitha komalithanathil- The comedy of time created) from ‘Padithal mattum podhuma‘ for a funny reason. In this song, there is a pause after the lines (kaadhal seidhe komalithanathil -The comedy of love created…) and the song continues that the the comedy of love created the world ( ). But one member of the audience in Kapali theatre shouted in the pause (kaadhal seidhe komalithanathil... kuzhandhai piranthathu--The comedy of love created… a child) There was so much laughter that the film had to be stopped, rewound and rerun.

Prasad had talked of the nostalgic effect of 'arre o Samba' dialogue of Sholay. You ask any Tamilian above 50 to recall a famous dialogue of three words and you would definitely hear 'Sabaash, sariyana potti'(A fitting contest indeed). The USP of 'Vanji kottai vaaliban' was the famous 'potti dance' (dance duel) between Vyjayantimala and Padmini, both accomplished dancers. I can still hear the roar in the theatre when P.S.Veerappa says 'Sabaash, sariyana potti'. So the next song recalled by me is . (kannum, kannum kalandhu...- Eyes meet eyes..) Last year when we were in Ussoor, there was thunder and Hema brought the clothes inside , anticipating rain, which never came. So I recalled the lines(idi idithaal mazhai aagumo, paedhai pennae-- Thunder does not mean rain, ignorant lady!) from this song to her, which made Amritha and Hema laugh.

Kapali temple was a favourite haunt for all of us in our younger days. Every year, there used to be carnatic music concerts in the concourse of the temple. Once T.M.Soundararajan was the artiste and sang one of his own songs. This was on the consort of the presiding deity of that temple. Later this song became very famous. It was (Karpagavalli, nin..) . In the Tamil section of this Newsletter, I have reproduced the complete song. Whenever I hear this song, I am reminded of my schooldays.

The first few days of the first year in any professional college are nerve-racking due to the fear of ragging. So when four of my seniors, which included Venkataraghavan (bowler earlier and umpire now) caught hold of a few of us and took us to Gandhi Mandapam, we were terrified. We were first asked to execute the ‘Dope salute’ ( this was peculiar to Guindy, where the first year students were known as ‘E-5 Dopes’, in which E-5 meant you had five years to go and ‘dope’ was – well that’s what all first year students were). We were supposed to salute all seniors by kneeling on the ground and say the ‘salute’ words, half of which were unparliamentary. After this was over, one of the seniors said he would release all of us if anyone could sing a song. Before any of us could even react, Parthiban of my section started singing (Thannilavu thaeniraikka, thaazhai maram neer thelikka- When the cool moon gives out sweet rays and the tree sprays water) from 'Padithal mattum podhuma'. He sang the full song and sang it so well that we were let off.

I had a classmate in college (alas, I can't remember his name) who had the uncanny ability of singing an appropriate song for any occasion. Once he fell down and boys being boys, there was laughter. Without getting up, he sang (innoruvar vaedhanai, ivargalukku vaedikkai.. idhayamatra manitharukku idhuvellam vaadikkai -- Another man's pain is their pleasure. This is the norm for these heartless men) which was accompanied by appropriate actions. There was happiness all around and he got a treat from all of us.

My college years saw me getting interested in English songs. Madras ‘B’ of All India Radio used to relay ‘Listener’s Choice’ for an hour on Saturday nights. I started liking Abba, Beatles, Cliff Richard and many others. One day, as the song ‘Bachelor boy’ (When I was young, my father said, "Son I have something to say" And what he said, I'll never forget until my dyin' day. He said "Son you are a bachelor boy and that's the way to stay. Son, you be a bachelor boy until your dyin' day ) by Cliff Richard was on air, I was singing the whole song along. My sister was surprised that I knew the whole song and commented that I sang rather well. Looking back, I think it was a tongue-in-cheek comment, as the one thing I definitely cannot do is singing. Still it made me happy at that time and 'Bachelor boy' by Cliff Richard got into my memory.

‘Sound of Music’ was released in India when I was in the final year of college. The songs were a great hit and perhaps for the first time in India, the lyrics of an English film were printed and sold. I also bought the song-book. Though all the songs are good, ‘A few of my favourite things’ was my favourite. The Austrian landscape and the visually-inspiring opening lines--‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens ;Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens’ made it easy to remember. I remember that I wrote a few of my favourite things. Later, when I saw the LP record of the film in a London store, I grabbed it. Though I wanted to, I could not visit the Sound of Music-countryside during my visit to Vienna. Maybe someday I will. But the song is etched in my memory.

Though I had heard Rafi and Mukesh in my school and college days, I heard Manna Dey’s ‘Yeh mere pyare vathan’ from Kabuliwala only in 1968 when I was working in Mettur. Though I did not know much of Hindi then, I found the voice hauntingly beautiful. I asked Mani, one of my colleagues and my neighbour about the singer. He turned out to be a great fan of Manna Dey and whenever his song came, he would turn up the volume of the radio for me to hear. Years later in 1996, when I was posted in Tinsukia, we had a very good singer working in the Railways who would sing in all railway functions. Since he knew my liking for Manna Dey, he would always sing a couple of Manna Dey songs for my benefit. I still rank Manna Dey higher than all other singers and the ‘Kabuliwala’ song moves me to tears every time I listen to it.

The year was 1970, the venue Mussoorie Academy and the occasion was an evening of songs from different regions. All of us from Tamil Nadu worked hard and presented two songs- the first was a 'kummi' song for which all of us had dressed in Dhoti and white shirt (the dress which was made famous in Delhi by P.Chidambaram many years later). But the song I remember is the second one from an MGR film (Naanga pudhusaa kattikitta jodidhanunga-- We are a newly married couple..)which was sung by Manivannan of IAS and another person. It was a big hit.

After I got married, I learnt from Amritha that she liked two songs a lot – one was (kanngal irandum..) from ‘Mannadhi Mannan’ and the second was ‘Aajaree, ab mera dil pukhaare…’ from ‘Aah’. This is a very melodious duet by Lata and Mukesh, which I also like. When we bought the record player in Chittaranjan, I tried to buy this record from Calcutta, but couldn’t get it. When we went to Delhi, our cousin Viji got the EP record containing this song and presented it to Amritha. I think it was the only gift he ever made to anybody in the family. We also bought the audio-cassette of Lata-Mukesh songs later, after ensuring that this song was included. With so much to recall, this song gets bookmarked.

There were a few songs which would quieten Harish as a child. But the one which would calm him even in the worst bout of crying was Jesudas’s (inru sorgathin thirappu vizhaa- Today is the inauguration of Heaven) You can imagine the hold of this song on Harish when I tell you that he would stop crying even when I sang this song

The next song, viz. (Chittu kuruvikkenna kattuppaadu.- The sparrow obeys no discipline..) is remembered by me because it was among the first recordings made by us when we bought the tape-recorder in 1980 in Kota. The song was sung by Amritha along with some nursery rhumes by Harish and so this song remains in my mind.I think we still have the cassette.

Prasad remembers (Andhi mazhai pozhigirathu..) from Kamal's Raaja Paarvai because of the theme and the picturization of the movie It is also among my top favourites. Of course I also like the lyrics. But I think I remember it because this song was quoted by A.R.Rahman as his favourite song among those composed by other music directors. When the film was telecast a few years back, I remember to have called Aarthi when this scene came.

'Shankara..' from Shankarabharanam is one of the most beautiful songs of SPB. This film was perhaps the only one that we saw with all the close relatives. We also bought the cassette and have listened to it a number of times. But I think the recall value for this song is high for a different reason. Chooda had said that Ramesh won a prize in their office function by singing this song and everybody realised that Ramesh could sing well. So this song gets associated with Ramesh rather than with SPB.

The last song in the list of my bookmarks is the one at the start of this piece. When we went to Vellore to attend Ramesh's wedding, a few of us went to the night show to see a Tamil film. It was 'Unnidathil Ennai Koduthen' with Karthik and Roja. The song (Aedho oru paattu en kaadhil ketkum-One song rings in my ears..) immediately attracted me as the lyrics described activities like keeping peacock feather in the note-book etc. that many of my generation had done. This song went on to become a hit as everyone above forty could identify with it. Another reason for remembering the film and hence the song was due to the fact that someone in the audience became overemotional during the trailer of a religious movie shown during the interval and scared Shoba out of her wits. A third reason is this was the Tamil song specially sung for me in my farewell function in Solapur when I was leaving Central Railway.

When I started on this exercise, I did not set any limit , but thought that about 10 or 12 songs would be remembered by me. But I have actually picked out 21 songs in this set of bookmarks. The exercise made me realise that though I am not very musical, music seems to have been an essential and enjoyable part of my life. These 21 are perhaps the first pearls that reached my hands from the sea of memory. I do not agree with Prasad that I may pick a whole new set of songs if I try again later, as the ones I have picked are the ones with the strongest recall value. However, I agree that I may pick a few more if I try again. Maybe I should also make a list of my favourite songs, as this list contains only 6 or 7 of my favourite songs.

Thank you, Prasad for inspiring me do this exercise.

August 2002

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