When I was a little girl, my dad decided to go back to college (at my mum’s insistence), in order to gain more qualifications, which would then improve his chances of being promoted at GEC, where he worked. College was probably about 2 evenings a week, but I used to hate it when he went. It didn’t feel the same when he wasn’t in the house. I always felt uneasy and would wait anxiously for him to come home, but would I was always thwarted by own body clock and end up fast asleep in bed, oblivious to the fact that he had returned home.
I was thinking about this feeling last night when I was having dinner with the girls. My husband was working late, and wouldn’t be returning until later, so we have an agreement, on these evenings I eat with the children and get them ready for bed so that their routine could continue undisturbed. As we sat around the dinner table, we were chatting about this and that, when I decided that I would find some old Bollywood music on YouTube, and share it with the girls…just to see what they would make of it.
When I say old Bollywood – I mean songs from the black and white era – a time when Bollywood was truly innocent and magical. I was taking a risk…the girls are merciless critics, and if they don’t like something, their young hearts have not yet learnt the artifice of putting on a poker face…but I reasoned, if they don’t like it, they don’t like it – better to know that, than live in curiosity and eternal doubt.
I chose a song that reminded me of my dad. When I introduced it to them, I explained that it was a very old song, that my dad really liked and that I wanted them to hear it. Immediately, my eldest adopted a stance of solemnity and reverence. Anytime anyone refers to ‘Nana’, she becomes very serious, and very knowing. Having never met him, and only seeing him in old photographs and hearing anecdotes from me, she feels as though she knows him of old. That bond that you have with an ancestor – you know you came from them, their blood runs through your veins, you hear stories about them – this wisdom makes them so real to you, it’s as if you’ve always known them.
My youngest is at a different stage. Curiosity. Where is he? Sometimes she will announce to me – carefully guarding her tone, to test the waters, not wanting to upset me, but trying to get the facts straight in her head – You haven’t got a Dad have you? And I have to explain that I do have a dad – he’s just not here anymore. This response reassures her. But twenty more questions return in their place. Where is he? Is he here? Why isn’t he here? None of my responses really make much sense to her. But that’s ok. It’s just the way it is.
So I was prepared for the onslaught of hesitant and uncertain questions from my youngest, and the wise and statesmen-like dignity and gravitas from my eldest…and then I played the song.
I felt incredibly nervous. Desperate for them to like what I was about to play. I typed in the title of the song, sat back, waited patiently until I could ‘Skip ad’… then waited. The opening bars of the simple melody began. With a childlike simplicity, the first few notes, played on a glockenspiel, (I think), I looked at their faces, and to my relief I saw the expressions on their faces soften and change from uncertainty, to curiosity and enjoyment.
I knew that they would love the voice of the singer – his voice to this day remains one of the most melodious, soothing, hot chocolate-for-the-soul voices that this world has ever produced. Mohammed Rafi. His voice could lift you from the unhappiest moods and make you feel joyous again, he could make you cry with the palpable pain and hurt that you felt he was experiencing, or simply soothe you as if you were a small child again. He sang, always, always – from the soul. Which is why, although I was nervous about the girls listening to the song – I should have had more faith, that the enchanting voice of Mohd Rafi would still be comforting to them, several generations later.
I’ve included a link to the video, which you could choose to watch, or not. Perhaps listening to the song would make a difference, perhaps it’s not necessary – I’ve included it – just because….
My youngest was just mesmerised by the melody of the song – she’s got a good ear for music and is already quite eclectic in her tastes, so I was glad to see her enjoying the song…my eldest was watching the song intently, not understanding Hindi, she was trying to make sense of what the song was about by watching what was happening in the video. Her face was filled with horror when she saw that the lead actor was smoking away in the video. ‘Why is he smoking? That’s not very good is it?’ she announced in a very stern and almost angry tone.
I didn’t dare tell her that that was one of the reasons why the song reminded me of my dad – because he also smoked – knew it was bad for him, but would always refer to his great-uncle, who smoked religiously and lived to a ripe old age with no ill effects whatsoever…
But I skipped that part – that was a story for another day. I decided to explain the relevance of the smoking instead, as it was integral to the lyrics of the song. The lyrics in Hindi are:
Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya,
Har fikar ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya
Which loosely translates to…
I kept moving along with everything that was happening in life,
Every problem I ever had, I blew away with rings of smoke
Those lyrics remind me so much of my dad – both literally and metaphorically. That’s what he did – he faced whatever life gave him, as bravely as he could…and he would smoke, which helped him to blow away any worries that he had. But he was also carefree like that – he would joke about and be light-hearted, even when times were tough – trying to blow away troubles – if he could.
It was lovely yesterday evening, strolling back down Memory Lane, my girls, each holding one of my hands, tightly, accompanying me. They made the journey, that I had made on my own many times, new and exciting; seeing songs with fresh eyes again, listening to lyrics and reliving what they meant. Making someone who is no longer with us, come back again, if only for a few moments…