Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Daddy and Mr. Saigal

My father loved several kinds of music. Our Telefunken spool tape recorder and our Pye radio gave us a wonderful variety of music to listen to, from Handel's Water Music, to the theme from Shakespearewallah, to Yehudi Menuhin and Pandit Ravi Shankar performing together, children's songs, comedy radio programmes, my brother's collection of pop and rock, and, of course, old Hindi film songs: Talat Mehmood, Jagmohan, Pankaj Mallik, Hemant Kumar, Geeta Dutt, etc. They were singers whose song were enjoyed and appreciated. My father's love for K.L. Saigal's songs, however, was a class apart. I have a strong suspicion that he worshipped him. In my teetotal family, even the fact of Saigal's premature death due to alcoholism was glossed over, without even the teeniest disapproval being manifest! Sorrow, yes, that his illustrious career was cut short, but never disapproval. At least that's what I remember from my early years.
Since Mr. Saigal was Daddy's all time favourite, there seemed to be a preponderance of his music in our home. My sister and I would protest sometimes, but Daddy's obvious joy in Saigal songs often overrode our petulant grumbling. He would hum Radhe Rani De Daaro Na, and even sing it at parties. All of Saigal's repertoire was cherished: my introduction to the ghazals of Ghalib and Seemaab Akbarabadi was in Saigal's voice. His  bhajans have found a place in my deepest core: the simple philosophy of Andhe ki laathi tu hi hai is a great comfort in difficult times. Suno suno he Krishna Kala is utterly poignant. But the ultimate Saigal song for my father, the creme de la creme of his fabulous repertoire, was a song that the maestro had written himself: Main Baithi Thhi. It is the song of a seeker, full of longing and deep spirituality: bhakti in its truest meaning.

Today, on your ninety-fifth birthday, Daddy, I want to thank you for making Saigal a part of my life. I wonder if he holds musical soirees in the afterlife. If he does, I'm sure that you have a front row seat! Happy listening, Daddy.

Monday, December 25, 2017

In the name of vanity!

Sushil and Tina Mohan were friends of friends, whom we met occasionally at parties and weddings. We had moved out of their town some years ago, so it was a pleasant surprise to bump into them at the breakfast buffet at a holiday resort. Rather, I bumped into Tina and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast together, as the men were both out for an early round of golf. We spoke about our mutual friends, when we had last met them, our children, my grandchildren, and our lives in general. Tina looked at my few strands of white hair and laughed, "You are so lucky to not have to dye your hair."
I gave due credit to my mother's wonderful genes, and admired Tina's long and lustrous mane and youthful looks "You look very young, Tina. And in any case you are much younger than I am."

Tina sighed. "I've been dyeing my hair for years now, which is part of the problem. I look young, so Sushil insists on dyeing his hair and moustache."

"Is that a problem?" I asked, bemused.

"Yes, he's had a terrible rash for the past few months, which the dermatologist says is caused by a reaction to chemicals in the dye. And the doctor says this could lead to skin cancer, but he still insists on dyeing his hair and moustache. He just doesn't listen to any one."

I was shocked. Was looking young so important? I knew that nicotine and alcohol were physiological addictions, but a psychological compulsion such as this was really strange.

"I doubt if he would listen to me, but I will try and talk to him about this," I said, before we went our separate ways. To dye or not to dye is a very personal decision. The spouse now has plenty of salt among the pepper, but has never been bothered by it. We both seem to believe in comfort/laziness before vanity, but, as I said, I have nothing against hair dyeing in general.

The spouse and I had a relaxed weekend. He played golf. I swam in the pool, enjoyed the sauna, and read to my heart's content. We'd bump into the Mohans at the restaurant, and exchange pleasantries, but I didn't find the opportunity to have a little tete-a-tete with Sushil.

The afternoon before our departure I went to the local market to pick up a few souvenirs. The spouse was golfing. Tina had gone for a session at the spa. A very neatly groomed Sushil appeared, fresh from the ministrations of the local barber. He was in his mid-fifties, dapper, balding, with jet black, obviously dyed hair, which, to my eyes at least, didn't make him look particularly young. He gallantly offered to carry my shopping back to the resort, and I gladly accepted, glad for the opportunity to talk to him in confidence about his 'dyeing' issues! He was an easy conversationalist, and even before I could organize my thoughts, he started telling me about the rash, and the dyeing, and the dermatologist's advice, and the second specialist whom he consulted (who had the same advice as the first: stop dyeing!) and so on.

"But why must you dye your hair? I'm sure you will look fine even if you go grey".

"I'll stop dyeing my hair if Tina stops dyeing hers".

His tone was petulant.

"But she has no problem with hair dyes, so why should she stop? Besides, you are the one with medical issues. It's certainly not worth risking your health for something so trivial."

That seemed logical to me.

"Because she'll look younger than ever. I'll look too old to be with her. People will think I'm her dad or her uncle or something."

His reasoning seemed specious. I was inspired, for once, and countered his idiocy with an idiocy of my own.

" You'll look very very rich. People will assume that you are a rich, distinguished gentleman who can afford to have such a lovely young wife."

My line of reasoning seemed to appeal to him. We had reached the lobby. I thanked Sushil and took my bags from him. We left early the next morning, so I don't know whether he plans to follow my advice or not! However, our mutual friends' son is getting married in a month or so, and we do plan to attend. We will know then whether Sushil Mohan practices vanity before sanity or vice versa.

Photo: the back of the RE's head!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Not riding the camel

Our younger daughter accompanied us on a road trip to Rajasthan last winter. She was also the co-driver, so we spent some good times together in the front seats, while the RE relaxed in the back seat.
The spouse and I fulfilled a long cherished dream of visiting the Dargah of Moinuddin Chishti, the beloved Ajmer waale Khwaja. Our daughter had visited it earlier, so was somewhat familiar with the place. One night in Ajmer, one night in Pushkar, then off to Bikaner. Which is the locale of this post.


The spouse had been studying routes and booking hotels and planning most of the trip. He discovered what seemed like an interesting activity, a camel safari, which was followed by a folk dance performance and dinner in the sand dunes somewhere near Bikaner. 
(I had last sat on a camel in Puri, nearly eight years ago. 
That was some eight years younger. 
That was a mere 20-30 minute ride on a beach). 

This safari was a different kettle of fish entirely.

My camel didn't seem to like me. It also seemed much wider than the only other camel I had ever ridden! Sitting astride the camel seemed to be pulling apart all my thigh and pelvic muscles. It was jerky, kept diving forward ( making me hang on for dear life, clenching all relevant muscles even more), kept trying to sniff the hind quarters of whichever camel happened to be in front of it, and sometimes terrifying me even more by breaking into a trot. The desert was beautiful, the view of the setting sun with another camel safari in silhouette was breathtaking, but the ride seemed endless and my discomfort was intense. Dismounting, after what seemed like hours (but was probably not more than an hour and a half) was an immense relief. We explored the camp, enjoyed some tea, biscuits and namkeen, and chatted with our fellow adventurers. The arrangements were adequate, but the camp dinner got delayed, and I was irritable and exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel. 

However, this camel safari has had its uses. It is my personal benchmark for physical discomfort (quite apart from medical/surgical situations which have entirely different standards of discomfort). 
It can be hours of being stuck in traffic, endless waiting at airports, long flights, very long car rides:
(all highly privileged discomforts, I know) all of which I endure with reasonable fortitude, and thank my stars that at least I'm not riding that camel!