Indians of certain generations, which ended with mine in the 1960s, have grown up with what I so brilliantly describe as calls to confectionary nationalism.
They are mostly contained in Hindi movie songs from the 1950s and 60s which usually feature gawky and innocent children being introduced to the joys of dreaming lofty on behalf of a nascent nation-state.
I have no hesitation in saying that despite their cheesy sentimentalism some of these songs still open up my lachrymal glands. Or, in short, they make me cry for a reason I have never comprehended. The response for me is instant and begins with a rapidly rising lump in my throat which I have to gulp down before tears flow. Bereft of any sense of nationalism, I am reacting entirely to the melody of these songs. The music gets me every single time as do some of the words.
There are dozens of such songs but the three which have stayed with me all these years are “Insaaf ki dagar pe” from the 1961 iconic movie ‘Ganga Jumna’ composed by the redoubtable Naushad, written by Shaqeel Badayuni and sung by Hemant Kumar, ‘Nanha munna rahi hun’ from the 1962 Mehboob Khan movie ‘Son of India’, sung by Shanti Mathur to the words by Shaqeel (watch the video above) and finally, ‘Sarey jahan se aaccha’ from the 1959 movie ‘Bhai Behen’ written by the great Mohammed Iqbal and composed by N. Dutta.
‘Insaaf ki dagar pe"’
‘Sarey jahan se acchha’
I have a tendency to randomly play some of these songs for my nine-year-old daughter Hayaa who does not understand Hindi at all. Lately, she has often heard me play or sing ‘Nanha munna rahi hun’, a habit which has so utterly familiarized her with it that yesterday as I was pacing up and down in my basement, she tracked it down on our Nook and started playing it to my surprise.
On an unrelated note, I was also thinking about how a confluence of technologies and algorithms has bridged eras separated by over five decades. It was magical that Hayaa got on a tablet (Nook), went to YouTube, and punched in words as she remembered in their sounds in the search box and voilà, the song popped up.
She seems to be drawn as much by the unquestionable appeal of the song as by the child star, Sajid Khan in his surprisingly hip outfit, including a cool beret as well as his German shepherd.
This song, along with the other two, captured the spirit of the era for boys and girls of my generation. I vaguely remember being explained why the line “Manzil se pehle na lunga kahin dum’ (I will not rest before reaching the destination) was so important. Mehboob Khan did a very effective job of taking slices of the Indian life of the day and putting Sajid Khan in various contexts of a nation in the making.
I was quite struck by what the song speaks of at the cue 2.11- 2.30. Shaqeel writes, “Naya hai zamana meri nayi hai dagar, Desh ko banaunga mein machinon ka nagar. Bharat kisi se rahega nahi kum.” (The times are new, so are the paths, I will make the country a hub of machines. Bharat (India) will be second to none). That machines, and hence industrialization, symbolized progress was the pervasive wisdom then as, I suppose, it is now still.
There is no specific point to today’s post other than random reminiscence of an era long past. And nothing contextualizes and situates an era long past in India than Hindi movie songs.