Manna from heaven

I know it’s a clichéd headline, but what else can you say for the owner of a made-in-heaven voice? For me, the essence of Manna Dey is captured in his two songs that are linguistically, musically and emotionally poles apart but cover two ends of the melody spectrum he ruled for nearly 50 years.

Manna-deyThe songs are Laga chunri mein daag and Coffee House er adda. The first is a masterly rendition of a classical-based playful number pulsating with energy that makes me go in a trance. The beautiful words penned by Sahir Ludhianvi is layered — naughty and philosophical at the same time.

At one level it is about a woman afraid of returning home with a stained chunri after a rendezvous with her lover. But at another level it says — “wo duniya mere babul ka ghar, ye duniya sasural” — and hence the stain on her chunri can also be compared to the worldly sins that stain one’s soul.

Sorry couldn’t help digressing there! But you only have to close your eyes and hear Manna unleash this torrential number now going berserk with the sargam and suddenly restraining with a tonal inflection bringing to life every poetic nuance of Sahir’s masterly woven lyrics.

And on the other end of Manna’s spectrum is the melancholic, pining-for-the-past melody Coffee House er adda. The song penned by Gauriprasanna Majumdar recounts the Coffee House days of seven friends, who sat over endless cups and cheap charminar cigarettes burning between their lips with dreams to make it big.

But life has taken a toll on them, DSouza is now dead, Amal is dying of cancer, Rama is in an insane asylum betrayed by his lover, Sujata is married to a rich man, Nikhilesh is in Paris and Moidul has gone back to Dhaka. The seventh friend is the unnamed narrator pining for the old carefree days of Coffee House.

There is not a time when I don’t get a lump in my throat listening to this song. The pain in his voice makes you die with DSouza, the guitarist of Grand Hotel, it makes you suffer as Amal, the failed poet, it makes you stare at nothingness like the insane Rama, the love less, failed actor.

I can imagine a concert tonight in heaven where Manna will join the already departed trio that made the famous quintet of Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore and Manna.

Manna in heaven, sing in peace.

PS: Uploading the two songs. Enjoy!

Murder he thought

It wasn’t just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat. “Shoooh!” he cried, but the cat simply ignored his threat and continued to stare at the bloodied mess on the floor, then looked at him and purred as if to ask, “What do you propose to do now?”

“Well, you have any ideas?” he asked the cat, who didn’t seem to have any good ideas either and, instead, chose to turn away, walking thoughtfully to a corner and take a place next to a shattered vase.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he thought, “Not on my off day, I get only one day in a week for God’s sake.” The cat seemed to agree and made that stupid noise that cat’s make when they have nothing better to do, which irritated him more.

He cursed the cat again but this time it didn’t completely ignore him, just stretched its neck and cocked its head a bit, as if to say “Come again?” And when he didn’t, the majestic feline decided to go back to ignoring him once again. A decidedly wisely look came over its furry face, as if it was chewing over the predicament slumped in disarray on the floor.

The mess, any mess, can be cleaned up, provided you wanted it cleaned up. He remembered reading something to that effect somewhere back in the days when he used to read to take his mind off pressing matters instead of smoking up.

Meanwhile, the blood-soaked problem on the floor was silently crying out for his attention and increasingly he was finding it difficult to ignore it anymore.

Even the cat was restless now and it got up to take a closer look at the crisis at hand and slowly lowered itself next to it, its whiskers quivering with what seemed to be anticipation.

The bright noon sun peeping through the curtains, almost blinding him,  shook him our of his reverie. He really needed to do something. With no idea as to what, he just went looking for a beer in the fridge.

Suddenly, his mind cleared. Maybe the long swig on an empty stomach jolted him, and he decided to act, finally. But he was still holding the beer bottle and had to finish that first. Besides, he needed to think some more. “I can’t think, drink beer and clean up this mess at the same time,” he thought in his defence and stared at the floor half expecting to see only the empty beer bottles, newspapers and cigarette butts lying about as usual.

“All I wanted was to win the game. And this is the price I pay for wanting to win a piddly game of chess? He could have just let me win, stupid bugger,” he muttered angrily to no one in particular, but the cat nodded all the same.

He felt sad though. They were friends for a long time and he was a constant companion where ever he went. Even in office. In fact, he was his only friend. “And now he is dead. You could have just let me win you fool just this once?,” he thought again regretting his friend’s stupidity.

At the back of his mind he always knew that his friend was better than him in everything and secretly hated him for it. “He always got the girl even when I spoke to her first. I did all the hard work didn’t I?. Even in office the few times the editor praised my copies he pushed me aside to claim the credit. And when something went wrong the boss never believed he fiddled with my copy and introduced the errors. Good riddance. I don’t even want to talk about the other times when he made me look stupid.”

The man felt dumb whining about his friend’s meanness to the cat, who seemed to be giving a sympathetic hearing by occasionally twitching his whiskers in agreement.

Suddenly, it occurred to him that this cat, which is not even his cat, could be the reason behind the day going so bad for him and shot a menacing look at the animal. This time the feline didn’t ignore the threat and moved just as the empty beer bottle crashed at the place he was perched till a moment ago. The cat was giving him a wary look now, ready to leap again, just in case.

“Damn! More mess. I should just burn this place down,” he thought. “Yeah!” The idea appealed to him and his eyes lit up.


The man woke up to a stench of burnt flesh, feeling very thirsty. He tried to look around and felt a stab of pain all over his body as he tried to move. “Where am I?” he thought as his eyes took in the sight of what looked like a hospital ward.

The attending nurse came rushing seeing the John Doe move for the first time in two days. “Can’t you hear? Give me some water,” he cried at the top of his voice. But the nurse seemed not to hear and kept leaning closer.

It was then that horror struck. Through the corner of his eyes he saw his friend standing and smiling mysteriously petting a cat. “He should be dead, why’s he here, and that cat, that cat…” A weary calm descended on him as the room grew darker. He closed his eyes and wondered if he was dying.

PS: The opening line courtesy Neil Gaiman.

Bollywood’s Gentleman Villain takes his final bow

It was the stylish way in which he was spotted putting a pan in his mouth and chewing it with relish that got him his first role as a villain in his debut 1940 film Yamla Jat. From that moment onwards Pran Krishan Sikand aka Pran never looked back.

This anecdote comes from film journalist Bunny Reuben’s biography of the legendary actor with a quirky title — ‘…and Pran’. An apt title for the life story of a man who, despite never playing the hero in hero-centric Bollywood films, ruled the roost, to use a cliche, so much so that the film credits actually read …and Pran. 

Rest in peace.

Innocence of Muslims

What is wrong with the world? Some madcap, two-bit porn filmmaker makes a worthless movie which no one had heard of till another loony posts it on YouTube and the whole Islamic world explodes.

From Libya to Bangladesh in nearly every Muslim country people just go on the rampage burning public property in protest against the insult to the Prophet. Insult it is for sure but by whom? A lunatic? Can a god be insulted by any random guy?

And what is America’s role in it? Just because that deranged Egypt-born dimwit holds an American passport?

Besides, isn’t it ironical that this whole episode should begin in a Libyan town that was saved by American fighter jets from the wrath of Gaddafi’s troops who were marching on Benghazi because they dared to revolt?

I can understand and empathise with the Muslim world’s decades-old justifiable anger against the Americans, but in this case I can’t imagine how the US is responsible for the act of one unhinged individual.

And this is not the first time. A cartoonist in faraway Denmark draws a caricature of the Prophet, in bad taste I may add, and you have enraged masses burning public property in a remote town in West Bengal where those rampaging are unlikely to even know where Denmark is.

Yet these poor folks are willing (most likely incited) to forego their daily wage, risk being beaten up by the police, even their life and for what?

Why is it that a community that largely lacks in nearly every parameter of social development fails to rally itself to demand what it lacks but is readily mobilised to “avenge” a religious insult in some remote corner of the world.

And this appears to hold true for nearly every religion. Is religion the only worthy cause for standing up?

PS: I assure you I am not a Hindu fundamentalist or a self-appointed apologist for the Americans.

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When I wrote this piece two years ago, Mehdi was already ill and bed-ridden. Writing it I dreaded the day when the Emperor of Ghazals will sing no more. Today is that day. It’s a shame that I am recycling this tribute instead of writing a new one. Those who know me know what his ghazals mean to me and they would expect me to write something new. My apologies to them. But the only way I can explain the reason for re-blogging this is a couplet by Faiz which he wrote in another context: “Duniya ne teri yaad se begana kar diya, tujhse bhi dil fareb hain ghum rozghar ke…”

Coalemus's Column

Mehdi Hassan first revealed himself to me through one of my friends in college. I may have heard him before as a kid at home but my fascination with the Emperor of Ghazals began one lazy late afternoon in my first year in college.

We were through with our daily dose of chai, samosas, cigarettes, girls, sex and politics it seemed. There was a sudden hush at our table in the canteen.

Abhishek believed that the best way to fill such a silence was through songs, especially ghazals. So he began humming a Jagjit Singh number. Soon it turned into a mehfil and slowly those who thought ghazals were boring left leaving only a few of us at the table.

It was then that Abhishek began singing “Ranjish he sahi” — one of Mehdi’s most popular ghazals that even those with passing acquaintance with his ghazals would know.

But lightning…

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Tales from the Baltic

Stranger in the town

Judging by the curious looks I was getting, I had this nagging suspicion that this 13th-century Baltic sea town doesn’t get too many foreign visitors.

Walking around in this medieval town of Stralsund, I failed to spot a single face that looked like an outsider apart from my own that occasionally bounced off the mirrored shop fronts.

If there were tourists from outside of Germany from the rest of Europe I couldn’t tell, but your’s truly did stand out in the crowds as an odd man out.

Walking up to the Old Town Square in Stralsund. See Panaroma (right) for more pictures.

Feeling rather strange from all the curious looks I was getting — more so because I was walking around with two distinctly German-looking Germans — I decided to share my views with my friends.

“I seem to be the only non-German around here,” I told my friend Andrea. She smiled and said, “Could be. This is a very German holiday destination. Not too many foreigners come here.” Her boyfriend Wilko smiled in agreement.

My suspicions were confirmed when we walked into a shop . The cheerful elderly lady at the counter asked Andrea something and I could make out from her reply that she was introducing me as a friend from India. “She doesn’t get to see too many Indians around,” Andrea said and I thought that was an understatement!

So once my unique presence was established and I came to terms with it, I could now focus on sight seeing in this picture-perfect town that appeared caught in a time warp with occasional modern intrusions.

We were now in the heart of the old town or the Old Market Square (Alter Markt) with the Gothic town hall and the imposing St Nicholas’ church standing guard. My mind wandered off to a different world trying to imagine this market place abuzz with merchants, sailors and fisherfolk milling about.

My reverie was broken by the church bells that rang as a newlywed couple walked out hand in hand and posed for their wedding photographer. On that bright sunny day this medieval town square looked straight out of a children’s story book.

I clicked away furiously with my camera  not quite getting enough of the sight.

After a while, having checked out the imposing cathedral and the town hall, we decided to take a stroll down one of the streets leading to the sea front.

There lay the Baltic sea in all its azure glory. The Ozeaneum — a marine life museum — stands on the sea front shaped  like a concrete-and-glass ship while a real vintage German navy ship from the first world war floats anchored on the harbour.

Soaking in the sight we posed for very touristy photo ops and I tried to capture in vain the deep blue sea in the backdrop of the anchored white ship with my rather unprofessional camera.

Wilko and Andrea in front of the Town Hall.

The sun was quite up by now and we were feeling a bit peckish and beerish as well. And along came wafting on the salty sea breeze a mix of meaty and fishy aromas. My tickled nostrils fought with the smell of fish fries to pick up the meaty aroma trail as we walked to the nearest takeaway joint floating on channel.

My friends settled for fish fries and I chose a schnitzel (cutlet sort of) and we clinked the beer bottles. Refreshed, we walked back into the town.

Soon it was time to say good bye to beautiful Stralsund and move on to our original destination —  the Ruegen island across the bay — for a day of camping in the forest.

Coming up soon: An encounter with Raging Roland!