Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Leaving Mississippi" & "Reminiscence at Toul" by James Autry

Until yesterday I had never heard of James Autry. On yet another drive criss-crossing suburbia I heard Bill Moyers (the indefatigable liberal conscience of America!) interviewing him on NPR. As is often the case when I find something unexpected on the radio I found myself driving around to listen to the soothing, worn and wise voice of this thoughtful businessman poet. Watch the entire 22 minute segment of Bill interviewing Jim Autry here.

The poems he read were the highlight of the program and introduced a new American voice to me. "Leaving Mississippi" captures the feelings of anyone who has ever moved far away from their childhood home and forever after experiences flashes of the sights and smells of the places left behind.

Leaving Mississippi
Part of me never left
and another part is always leaving,
leaving Mississippi but never gone.
“Jimmy when you gonna come on back
down home,” my people ask,
and I cannot say, “Never,
I’ve found my home somewhere else”
any more than I can say my home
was never in the State of Mississippi
but in the community of it,
in my father’s churches,
in Abel’s store,
in Ashland on the square,
in how the people were together.
Now that home is gone forever from Mississippi–
yet it is with me still,
in the fall smell of wood smoke
from some suburban chimney,
in an Atlanta taxi driver’s turn of phrase,
in the quiet of an old church in Bavaria,
in the call of an Iowa night hawk,
in a fish breaking the surface of a Colorado stream,
in the night peepers everywhere
in a stanza of Amazing Grace,
in the crickets,
in dust.

"Reminiscence at Toul" is a beautiful poem giving us yet another reminder to live in the present: "Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans". John Lennon's immortal words from "Beautiful Boy"  (whose poignancy is particularly heartbreaking in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre) are much remembered in "quotable quotes" but mostly ignored in the hurly burly of life.

Reminiscence at Toul

Thirty years ago
On New Year's eve
drunk on French champagne
we shot bottle rockets
from the windows
of Hank and Willi's
rented chateau overlooking Nancy.

It sounds so worldly
which is how we wanted to think of ourselves,
but Lord, we were just children,
sent by the government to fly airplanes
and to save Western Europe
from World War III.

We thought we had all the important things
still left to do
and were just playing at importance
for the time being.
It never occurred to us,
living in our community of friends,
having first babies,
seeing husbands die,
helping young widows pack to go home,
that we had already started the important things.
What could we have been thinking,
or perhaps it's how could we have known 
that times get no better,
that important things come without background music,
that life is largely a matter of paying attention.

Jim Autry reads "Leaving Mississippi" and "Ronald's Dance":

Jim Autry reads "On Firing a Salesman":

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mirza Ghalib - A Musical Feast

Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (b.1797 - d.1869) was one of Urdu's greatest poets. No other poet (with the possible exception of Faiz in the 20th century) has seeped into the popular imagination of the Urdu-knowing sub-continent quite like Ghalib. His cultural influence in the world of Urdu is almost Shakesperean. Ghalib's ghazal poetry and prose (in the form of his letters to friends) have left a lasting imprint on the language itself. What is remarkable is that this towering reputation is built on a slim volume. "Deevan-e-Ghalib" is less than 200 pages of Urdu poetry.

Featured extensively in art, film and theater, it is music where his poetry has found a permament home for well over a hundred years. It is a rare popular or semi-classical vocalist of the sub-continent who hasn't sung Ghalib's ghazals. This post will celebrate the wonderfully varied presentations of Ghalib's poetry in music. So much of Ghalib's poetry is familiar to audiences that I have chosen a different ghazal for each of my favorite pieces highlighted here. Every one of these ghazals has been sung by different performers in multiple compositions.

Let's kick this off with a couple of cuts from film music:

Bharat Bhushan played Mirza Ghalib in the 1954 Indian film of that name and the lovely Suraiyya played the courtesan ChaudhviN. Here is Suraiyya singing "Aah ko chaahiye ik umr asr hone tak". The composition is by Ghulam Mohammad (whose music for the film "Pakeezah" years later immortalized him).

Gham-e-hasti ka Asad kis se ho juz marg ilaaj
Shama har rang meiN jalti hai sehr hone tak

In the 1961 Pakistani film "Mirza Ghalib", Noor Jehan played the ChaudhviN character and her rendering of "Muddat hui hai yaar ko mehmaN kiye huue" is justly famous. The composer is Tassaduq Hussain.

Jee dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat, keh raat din
Baithe raheN tasawwur-e-jaanaN kiye huue

Gulzar's TV serial Mirza Ghalib on Doordarshan in the late 80's must be credited with introducing Ghalib to a whole new generation of Urdu lovers. Naseeruddin Shah's sublime portrayal of Ghalib was the highlight of that production and ghazal singer Jagjit Singh sang the ghazals in his beautiful, deep voice. Jagjit Singh who passed away last year helped keep ghazal singing alive in India where the new generation seems ever more removed from the old composite culture of the Urdu/Hindi-speaking belt. Jagjit and Chitra Singh's contribution to Indian ghazal singing is undeniable but even though they sang some great compositions their virtuosity falls short of both the masters of the light genre like Lata and Noor Jehan and the semi-classical greats like Mehdi Hassan and Farida Khanum.

Here's a nice version of "Unke dekhe se jo aa jati hai munh par raunaq" by Jagjit from the TV serial.

Hum ko ma'loom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin
Dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib yeh khayal achha hai

Before moving on to the semi-classical parade of immortal melodies lets listen to a singer who was his own genre. There has been no other Kundan Lal Saigal; the voice, the mastery, the soul-stirring performances! The music of K.L. Saigal is a human treasure. Saigal singing "Phir mujhe deeda-e-tar yaad aaya".

Dum liya tha na qayamat ne hunooz
Phir tera waqt-e-safar yaad aaya

Begum Akhtar sang countless Ghalib ghazals in her inimitable style. Here she is singing "Nukta cheeN hai, gham-e-dil uss ko sunaye na bane":

Ishq par zor nahiN hai yeh woh aatish Ghalib
Keh lagaye na lage aur bujhaye na bane

Ustad Amanat Ali Khan (the scion of the Patiala gharana) was a classical singer but with few patrons of classical music in Pakistan he started singing ghazals in a light style and gained a tremendous following. He died almost 40 years ago but his ghazals remain highly popular. "Yeh na thee hamari qismat keh visaal-e-yaar hota":

KahooN kis se meiN keh kya hai shab-e-gham buri bala hai
Mujhe kya bura tha marna agar aik baar hota

Anyone who has ever visited this page knows of my reverence for Mehdi Hassan. I remain in awe of the great man's musical genius. Here's a little gem of a performance of a Ghalib ghazal by the emperor of ghazal singing: "Arz-e-niaz-e-ishq ke qaabil nahiN raha".

Bedaad-e-ishq se nahiN darta, magar Asad
Jis dil pe naaz tha mujhe, woh dil nahiN raha

Malika Pukhraj at her best in this melodious rendering of "TaskeeN ko hum na royeN jo zauq-e-nazar mile":

Saaqi gari kee sharm karo aaj, warna hum
Har shab piya hee karte heiN mae, jis qadar milay

The stentorian voice of Farida Khanum (disciple of another Patiala vocalist Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan) singing "Zikr uss parivash ka aur phir bayaaN apna":

Hum kahaaN ke da'na thhe, kis hunar meiN yakta thhe
Be-sabab hua Ghalib dushman aasmaN apna

Iqbal Bano (disciple of Ustad Chand Khan of Delhi) sings "Dayam para hua teray dar par nahiN hooN meiN" on PTV's program 'Nikhar' in 1974. The mehfil is at the house of the writer Ashfaq Ahmed and you can see several prominent writers and poets (Ahmed Faraz, Ehsaan Daanish etc.) in this video.

Yaa rab zamana mujh ko mitata hai kis liye
Lauh-e-JahaaN pe harf-e-mukarrar nahiN hooN meiN

Abida Parveen, the queen of Sufi music brings her uniquely spiritual style to Ghalib in this wonderful performance of "Ibn-e-Maryam hua kare koyee".

Jab Tawaqqo hee uth gayee Ghalib
KyuN kisi ka gila kare koyee

I will end with a reading by Zia Mohyeddin of his own essay "Ghalib aur MeiN". Zia Mohyeddin's literary readings are performance art themselves and he has done a great service in introducing younger audiences to the pleasures of Urdu literature. His multi-CD readings of Ghalib's letters ("Ghalib ke khatoot") are a masterpiece. Here's a little flavor of Zia Mohyeddin reading Ghalib's letter to Mirza Alauddin Ahmed. They introduce the listener to the cadences of the cultured, informal language of Ghalib's era. This was path-breaking writing at the time as epistolary prose in general tended to be ornate, formal and emotionally stunted.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Poem for this Eid - Faiz's "Dua" or Prayer

The Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr (celebration at the end of the month of Ramazan) is being celebrated in North America on August 19th. In Pakistan, Eid will be celebrated on August 20th. For Muslims, Eid is a joyous occasion and I wish everyone a "Eid Mubarak" but would like to quote a friend who has channeled my feelings this year: "May this Eid usher in more peace, less extremism, and some common sense in the Muslim world".

Pakistan's great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote a beautiful poem called "Dua" or "Prayer". This poem is in his collection titled "Sar-e-Waadi-e-Seena" and was written on August 14th, 1967 (the 20th anniversary of Pakistan's independence). I often read this moving poem and listen to poet Zehra Nigah's soul strirring tarannum ("a capella") rendition. (Unfortunately Zehra Nigah's reading of this Faiz gem is not on youtube even though there are postings of several other beautiful verses of Faiz she has sung). For a wonderful sample, here is Faiz's poem "Dareecha" read by Zehra Nigah preceded by a verbal tribute.

On this Eid, Faiz's "Dua" is my prayer. 

From left: Iftikhar Arif, Jameela Dehlavi, Shohrat Bukhari, Gopi Chand Narang, Faiz, Zehra Nigah and Ahmad Faraz at a  BBC Mushaira in London
Poet: Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 - 1984) 

Aaiye hath uthaiyeN hum bhi
Hum jinheN rasm-e-dua yaad nahiN

Hum jinheN soz-e-mohabbat ke siwa
Koyee butt koyee khuda yaad nahiN

Aaiye arz guzaraiN keh nigaar-e-hasti
Zehr-e-imroz meiN sheereeni-e-farda bhar de

Woh jinheN taab-e-garaaN baariye ayyam nahiN
Un kee palkoN peh shab-o-roz ko halka kar de

Jinn kee aankhoN ko rukh-e-subh ka yaara bhi nahiN
Un ki raatoN meiN koi shama munawwar kar de

Jin ke qadmoN ko kisi reh ka sahara bhi nahiN
Un ki nazroN pe koyee raah ujaagar kar de

Jin ka deeN pairawi-e-kizb-o-riya hai un ko
Himmat-e-kufr milay jurrat-e-tehqeeq milay

Jin ke sar muntazir-e-tegh-e-jafa haiN un ko
Dast-e-qatil ko jhatak dainay ki taufeeq milay

Ishq ka sirr-e-nihaN jaan tipa hai jis se
Aaj iqrar kareiN aur tapish mit jaye

Harf-e-haq dil meiN khatakta hai jo kaante ki tarah
Aaj izhaar kareiN aur khalish mit jaye

Here is Iqbal Bano singing "Dua". This is not my favorite version. I don't particularly like this composition and Iqbal Bano is not at her best. However, those who want to see the words in Urdu can read them in this video.

Following is a (modified) English translation of the poem combining the translation from the Faiz Centenary website and a translation by Tariq Akbar who has uploaded, read and translated this poem in a youtube video. I have made modifications where, in my view, the meaning of the original felt distorted. Its a familiar lament but the translation doesn't don't do justice to the beauty and cadences of the original.

Come, let us raise our hands, as well - 
We, the ones who do not remember the ritual of prayer

We, the ones who [do not remember] anything other than the
warmth of love,
do not know of any idol, nor any God. 

Come, let us beseech that the Creator of existence may
fill sweetness in the morrow from the poison of today

Those who cannot bear the burden of passing day,
May their eyelids be unburdened of the day and night

They, whose eyes don't have the strength to see the face of dawn,
May someone light a lamp in their night

They, whose feet have nowhere to go, no path
May someone illuminate a way to their sight

They, whose religion is lies and deceit
May they get the courage to be heretics, and the audacity to question

They, whose heads await the swords of cruelty... to them
The power to ward of the hands that slay

The hidden secret of love is a burning soul... with which
Let's affirm today so the burning is eased

The words of truth.. which rankle the heart like a thorn
Let's proclaim them today to relieve the affliction

Saturday, August 11, 2012

David Rakoff - There Is No Answer As To "Why Me"

David Rakoff, the Canadian-born, American writer and humorist died of cancer in Manhattan on August 9th at age 47. He was the author of three books of essays (Fraud, Don't Get Too Comfortable and Half Empty) and widely known for his contributions to the popular National Public Radio show "This Amercian Life".

On NPR on August 10th, Terry Gross's interview program Fresh Air played excerpts of two interviews that Terry did with David Rakoff in 2001 and 2010. These excerpts provide a glimpse of Rakoff's personality and wit but it is his equanimity in the face of death that reveals the quality of the man. When asked if he ever asks himself "Why Me" about getting cancer he responds:

"Writer Melissa Bank said it best: 'The only proper answer to 'Why me?' is 'Why not you?' The universe is anarchic and doesn't care about us, and unfortunately, there's no greater rhyme or reason as to why it would be me. And since there is no answer as to why me, it's not a question I feel really entitled to ask.

"And in so many other ways, I'm so far ahead of the game. I have access to great medical care. My general baseline health, aside from the general unpleasantness of the cancer, is great. And it's great because I'm privileged to have great health. And I live in a country where I'm not making sneakers for a living, and I don't live near a toxic waste dump.

"You can't win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say, 'Why am I not winning this contest as well?' It's random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren't me? Absolutely. I still can't make that logistic jump to thinking there's a reason why it shouldn't be me."

In the interview with Terry Gross, David Rakoff beautifully reads Elizabeth Bishop's (1911 - 1979) poem "Letter to NY". After reciting the poem Rakoff wistfully says that "in my life I will never achieve anything this beautiful". (In the interview link above the recitation is from 37:40 - 38:53)

Letter to N.Y.

In your next letter I wish you'd say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you're pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you're in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can't catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

—Wheat, not oats, dear. I'm afraid
if it's wheat it's none of your sowing,
nevertheless I'd like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

More Mehdi Hassan - "Allah Agar Taufeeq Na De"

We are fortunate that Mehdi Hassan has left us thousands of live and studio recordings of his peerless performances. Even for devoted fans it is not unusual to come across a gem that has never been experienced before. That happened to me today as I was browsing iTunes and saw an unfamiliar live album titled "Mehdi Hassan - EP" that was released in India earlier this year. Here I share the beautiful ghazal "Allah Agar Taufeeq Na De" which is the second recording in that album. The poet is unidentified. The piece is long (34 minutes) but the patience of true fans will be amply rewarded. My appreciation goes out to the person who has posted this on youtube so I can share it in this space. The ghazal's Urdu lyrics below the video have been transcribed by me.

Allah agar taufeeq na dey insaan ke bas ka kaam nahiN
Faizan-e-mohabbat aam sahi irfan-e-mohabbat aam nahiN

Ya Rab yeh maqaam-e-ishq hai kya go deeda-o-dil ka kaam nahiN
Taskeen hai aur taskeen nahiN aaram hai aur aaram nahiN

KyuN mast-e-sharaab-e-aish-o-tarab takleef-e-tawajjoh farmaaiN
Awaz-e-shikast-e-dil hi to hai awaz-e-shikast-e-jaam nahiN

Aana hai jo bazm-e-jaanaN meiN pindaar-e-khudi ko tor ke aa
Aye hosh-o-khirad ke deewane yaN hosh-o-khirad ka kaam nahiN

Zahid ne kuch iss andaaz se pee saaqi kee nigaheN parne lageeN
Mai kash yahee ab tak samjhe thhe shaista-e-daur-e-jaam nahiN

Ishq aur gawara khud kar lay bay shart shikast-e-faash apni
Kuch dil kee bhi un kay saazish hai tanha yeh nazar ka kaam nahiN

Update - May 22nd, 2016:

1) It is always gratifying to read comments on anything I write. Often, in addition to appreciation, you learn something new. A reader corrected the third sh'er and informed me that the correct phrase here is "awaz-e-shikast-e-jaam" not "jaan". From the context "jaam" indeed seems to be the correct word.

2) I don't have confirmation of this from any other source but at least 2 commenters have mentioned that the poet is Jigar Muradabadi.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mehdi Hassan: The "Voice of God" is no more

The legendary Pakistani singer Mehdi Hassan, universally acknowledged as "Shahenshah-e-Ghazal" (King of Ghazal), died on June 13th, 2012 after a protracted illness. The outpouring of grief and the subsequent torrent of tributes testify to the influence of Mehdi Hassan on lovers of music and Urdu ghazal all over the world. The world of music has lost an irreplaceable asset. I wrote a blog post in November 2009 on some of my favorite Mehdi Hassan pieces along with a biographical sketch (I am proud that several people have borrowed facts from that original piece for which I worked hard to dig up authentic information on the maestro's life).

With Mehdi Hassan's passing, most of the formative influences on my musical tastes since childhood have now passed into history with the notable exception of Lata Mangeshkar and Farida Khanum (may they both live long and prosper!). I can never be thankful enough to have been born in a family whose primary mode of interaction to this day are conversation, debate and argument about politics and history and discussion and enjoyment of literature, film, sports and music. This cultural environment and the economic struggles of a "sufaid-posh" middle class family are my dominant memories of growing up. Mehdi Hassan is the quintessential voice of that upbringing. His imbeccable diction, mellifluous voice and sureela-pan will always live in the hearts of those who love semi-classical Ghazal (a genre of which he is a virtual creator).

Here are a few of the obituaries and articles on Mehdi Hassan published since his death. RIP Maestro!! Your music will live forever!

The Guardian - Obituary
Ali Sethi in The Guardian
The New York Times - Obituary
BBC - Obituary
Hindustan Times - Reactions
Express Tribune - News and Initial Reactions
Public Radio International - Tribute

Let's conclude a tribute to the King in the most fitting manner with his immortal music. For the ghazal selection, here is a slightly lesser known beauty. Close your eyes, listen to the words of Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali and the masterful rendition by Khan Sahib. This is an out of the world experience.

Aage barhe na Qissa-e-Ishq-e-ButaaN se hum
Sab kuchh kaha magar na khule raazdaaN se hum

Here's a gem of a film song from the Pakistani movie "Pehchhan". Nisar Bazmi composed the music. My eight year old growing up in a very different time and place loves this song and often requests it in the car. Here is hoping that Mehdi Hassan's music will be discovered and loved by many generations yet to come.

P.S. I will mention it here to remind myself but will write some other time about my passing encounter with Mehdi Hassan when I was a young boy and he stopped his car at seeing my father and I standing by the side of the road near our VW beetle that had just broken down on us!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day, Alta Mesa Cemetery & Billy Collins

Alta Mesa Cemetery, very close to my home, is one of my favorite haunts (pun intended). I often walk or ride my bike through the leafy lanes lined with headstones, every now and then, stopping to read the engraved names, dates, inscriptions and images that represent the few lasting historical clues to the lives of the departed.

Life is represented in all its colors here: the joyous inscriptions of lives fully lived "Joanne Smith (1941 - 2004): she made every day feel like Saturday" and the somber laments on children's graves "Jose Antonio (1972): of such is the kingdom of God". All are equal in this final resting place. Steve Jobs and David and Lucille Packard are buried here but their burial sites (which I have not come across yet) are no different than anyone else's. Headstones have Stars of David, Crosses and Crescents, inscriptions in English, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Farsi but all rest peacefully next to each other in the shadow of oak trees. They all understand each other.

Memorial Day is a good day to remember the dead. Today Alta Mesa is full of potted plants, freshly cut flowers, floral wreaths, rainbow pinwheels and little American flags.

Here are some photographs I have taken in Alta Mesa Memorial Park during my visits.

The former American Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a wonderful poem called "Cemetery Ride" in his collection "Horoscopes for the Dead". It is hard to better Collins's evocation of a ride through a similar cemetery.

Cemetery Ride

My new copper-colored bicycle
is looking pretty fine under a blue sky
as I pedal along one of the sandy paths
in the Palm Cemetery here in Florida,

wheeling past the headstones of the Lyons,
the Campbells, the Dunlaps, and the Davenports,
Arthur and Ethel who outlived him by 11 years
I slow down even more to notice,

but not so much as to fall sideways on the ground.
And here's a guy named Happy Grant
next to his wife in their endless bed.
Annie Sue Simms is right there and sounds

a lot more fun than Theodosia S. Hawley.
And good afternoon, Emily Polasek
and to you too, George and Jane Cooper,
facing each other in profile, two sides of a coin.

I wish I could take you all for a ride
in my wire basket on this glorious April day,
not a thing as simple as your name, Bill Smith,
even trickier than Clarence Augustus Coddington.

Then how about just you Enid Parker?
Would you like to gather up your voluminous skirts
and ride sidesaddle on the crossbar
and tell me what happened between 1863 and 1931?

I'll even let you ring the silver bell.
But if you are not ready, I can always ask
Mary Brennan to rise from her long sleep
beneath the swaying gray beards of Spanish moss

and ride with me along these halls of the dead
so I can listen to her strange laughter
as some crows flap in the blue overhead
and the spokes of my wheels catch the dazzling sun.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Henry David Thoreau & The "Facebook Effect"

You simply couldn't dodge facebook chatter in the Bay Area over the last couple of months. It has been everywhere: the mural painter who is worth hundreds of millions, the anticipated boom in angel investing, the frantic wealth managers chasing the pimpled millionaires and billionaires, And then there is supposedly the 'facebook effect' on the local real estate. Home owners in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Los Altos and towns surrounding Facebook's new Menlo Park headquarters are salivating in anticipation of rising property values illustrated in this "only in the Bay Area" photograph:

I would happily take some of this wealth if I knew how but instead it made me think of Thoreau and his house on Walden Pond. I picked up my copy of "Walden" (purchased eleven years ago at the Walden Pond Bookstore in Concord) to re-read Thoreau's wonderful account of his time in that modest house and how he came to build and live in it. Let's have Thoreau speak for himself as who else could do a better job:

"Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.---Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less?"

"I have thus a tight shingled and plastered house, ten feet wide by fifteen long, and eight-feet posts, with a garret and closet, a large window on each side, two trap doors, one door at the end, and a brick fireplace opposite. The exact cost of my house, paying the usual price for such materials as I used, but not counting the work, all of which was done by myself, was as follows; and I give the details because very few are able to tell exactly what their houses cost, and fewer still, if any, the separate cost of the various materials which compose them:

Boards                                          $8.03&1/2 (mostly shanty boards)
Refuse shingles for roof and sides   $4.00
Laths                                             $1.25
Two second-hand windows
with glass                                      $2.43
One thousand old brick                 $4.00
Two casks of lime                         $2.40 (that was high, More than I needed)
Hair                                              $0.31
Mantle-tree iron                            $0.15
Nails                                             $3.90
Hinges and screws                        $0.14
Latch                                            $0.10
Chalk                                           $0.01
Transportation                              $1.40 (I carried a good part on my back)
                In all                             $28.12&1/2

These are all the materials excepting the timber, stones and sand, which I claimed by squatter's right. I have also a small wood-shed adjoining, made chiefly of the stuff which was left after building the house.

I intend to build me a house which will surpass any on main street in Concord in grandeur and luxury, as soon as it pleases me as much and will cost me no more than my present one."  

Replica of Thoreau's cottage at Walden Pond
In the chapter "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For" Thoreau writes:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and to reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by exprience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."

Modern life is infinitely distracting but "living deliberately, fronting the essential facts of life" is still all that ultimately matters whether done from lofty mansions in the most desirable zip codes or from a wooden cottage on the banks of a pond.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Ja MeiN Tose Naahin BoluN - Lata & Noor Jehan

Lata Mangeshkar is a goddess of music. She has sung a staggeringly large number of genuinely great, not just excellent, songs. One of my favorites in a long list is "Ja Tose NahiN BoluN Kanhaiyya". This beautiful duet (with Manna Dey) was composed by the great Bengali music director Salil Chowdhry for the 1956 film "Parivaar". The song (I am told) is in Raga Hamsadhwani. Lata's effortless brilliance in this number makes Manna Dey look like a rank amateur.

Noor Jehan is the only other female playback singer for whom I have the same reverence as Lata. She is the quintessential Pakistani cultural symbol. Even though she had already achieved fame by 1947, Noor Jehan was the only true mega star of the film industry to settle on the Pakistani side of the border. Enchanting romantic songs from films  "Intezaar", "Dupatta", "Haveli", "Koel" and "LaakohN meiN Aik", patriotic 'naghmas' such as "Aye Puttar HattaN Te NahiN Wikde" and lively Punjabi film numbers from "Heer Ranjha" and "Paatay Khan" all evoke cultural milestones in the country's history.  In the 50's, 60's and 70's, when she was still fortunate enough to be working with great composers like Khawaja Khurshid Anwar, Master Inayat Hussain and Rasheed Atre, Noor Jehan sang every bit as brilliantly as Lata at her peak. To experience her at her sublime best, lets listen to Noor Jehan sing very similar lyrics to Lata and Manna Dey above and enjoy her mastery of the sur. This is from the film "Mauseeqar" (1962) with music by Rasheed Atre in Raga Jaijaivanti. I have had this on repeat for the last 2 days.