Ambassadors of Charm

In Hindustani music, sargam is the way of assigning syllables to names of the notes of the musical scale. The word sargam is just an abbreviation of the first four of the seven music notes, Sa re ga ma pa dha ni, which in full form are as follows: Shadja, Rishabh, Gaandhaar, Madhyam, Pancham, Dhaivat, and Nishaad. These seven notes correspond with solfa, the western method of notations which go Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti.

Assigning such syllables to notes is an excellent way to teach music. That is why when Julie Andrews was teaching the kids to sing in The Sound of Music (1966), she went

“Let’s start at the very beginning,
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with ABC
When you sing you begin with Do Re Mi
Do Re Mi, Do Re Mi…

“Doe, a deer, a female deer
Ray, a drop of golden sun
Me, a name I call myself
Far, a long-long way to run
Sew, a needle-pulling thread
La, a note to follow sew
Tea, a drink with jam and bread!”

This educational method yielded exceptional results, since the kids went on to sing beautifully in the film after this foundation was laid. We Indians attempted a similar approach too, with fair results. In Parichay (1972), it was Jeetendra who was teaching the kids (including Jaya Bhaduri) to sing, with dollops of help from the sargam:

“Saare ke sa re, ga ma ko le kar, gaate chale
Papa naheen hain, dhaani si didi
Didi ke saath hain saare…

“Sa se nikle roz savera
Door kare andhiyaara
Re se reshmi kirnon ne khoob kiya ujiyaara”

But it’s not just children who can be taught music this way. Adults are welcome. In Munimji (1955), sweethearts Dev Anand and Nalini Jaywant are out at a picnic with Pran, who is besotted with the lady herself, and is fingers-crossed she finds merit in him instead. So Dev and Nalini sing Dil ki umangen hain jawaan, with the lady pretending to help Pran sing, while it’s really an attempt to pull his leg in that quite exceptional song. This is how she gets the reluctant fellow to sing, encouraging him by walking him through the notes. “Aap bhi gaiye na…(in tune now) Dil ki umangen hain jawaan” she tells the hopeful candidate. “Gaiye na, kya mushkil hai? Sargam bataoon? (in tune again) Pa ma pa dha pa ga sa pa…Dil ki umangen hain jawaan…gaiye!” His attempts to sing can better be heard than described!

Sargam’s merits don’t just end with teaching music. Say a composer has to tell a musician in his team how to play the song Poochho na kaise maine rain bitaayi (Meri Surat Teri Aankhen, 1963). If they are sitting face to face, the composer can play the notes on an instrument, sing the tune aloud, ‘la la la’ it, hum it, or perhaps whistle it too. But what happens if they are unable to speak to each other? Even more, what happens when that tune is to be given to 50 musicians, and perhaps to the singer too? Then he can write it in sargam notes. “Sa sa dha dha dha ni dha pa ma ma ga ma re sa” he would go, with everyone understanding what he meant.

But such communication apart, many songs, especially those that are classical or semi-classical—in and out of films—sometimes take the help of such syllables, gracing the essential tune with awesome appeal. Unfailingly do such additions become ambassadors of musical charm.

Think of these, with some elements of sargam in them:

• Aeri aali piya bin (Lata/Raag Rang, 1952)
• Baat chalat nayi chunri rang daari (Geeta/Ladki, 1953)
• Piye ja piye ja (Khan Mastana, Balbir/Savdhaan, 1954)
• Dil ki umangen hain jawaan (Hemant, Geeta, Thakur/Munimji, 1955)
• Gaana na aaya, bajaana na aaya (Kishore/Miss Mary, 1957)
• Sakhi ri sun bole papiha us paar (Lata, Asha/Miss Mary, 1957)
• Aayi pari rang bhari (Asha/Do Phool, 1958)
• Kuhu kuhu bole koyaliya (Lata, Rafi/Suvarna Sundari, 1958)
• Nazren uttha ke zara dekh le (Asha/Chacha Zindabad, 1959)
• Kaase kahoon man ki baat (Sudha/Dhool Ka Phool, 1959)
• Baat chalat nayi chunri rang daari (Krishna Rao Chonkar, Rafi/Rani Rupmati, 1959)
• Deewaana mastaana hua dil (Asha, Rafi/Bambai Ka Babu, 1960)
• Tu hai mera prem devta (Rafi, Manna Dey/Kalpana, 1960)
• Madhuban mein Radhika naache re (Rafi/Kohinoor, 1960)
• Tu ne le liya hai dil (Geeta, Rafi/Miyaan Bibi Raazi, 1960)
• Akhiyan sang akhiyaan (Rafi/Bada Aadmi, 1961)
• Kaanha ja teri murli ki dhun (Manna Dey, Lata/Tel Maalish Boot Polish, 1961)
• Pawan deewaani (Lata/Dr. Vidya, 1962)
• Ja re beimaan tujhe jaan liya (Manna Dey/Private Secretary, 1962)
• Meha aao re (Lata, Asha, Manna Dey/Sangeet Samrat Tansen, 1962)
• Nigaahen milaane ko jee chaahta hai (Asha/Dil Hi To Hai, 1963)
• Humen dum daike sautan ghar jaana (Mubarak, Asha/Ye Dil Kisko Doon, 1963)
• Mose chhal kiye jaaye (Lata/Guide, 1965)
• Tum naacho ras barse (Mahendra/Sati Nari, 1966)
• Sa re ga ma pa (Lata, Kishore/Abhinetri, 1970)
• Saare ke saare, ga ma ko le kar (Kishore, Asha/Parichay, 1972)
• Sa re ga ma (Rafi, Kishore/Chupke Chupke, 1975)
• Jab deep jale aana (Yesudas/Chit Chor, 1976)
• Ni sa ga ma pa ni (Yesudas/Anand Mahal, 1977)
• Piya baanwari (Asha, Ashok Kumar/Khubsurat, 1980)
• Roz roz daali daali (Asha/Angoor, 1982)
• Nindiya se jaagi bahaar (Lata/Hero, 1983)

The idea of singing a sargam in Hindi film music was started, unsurprisingly, in Tansen (1943), in the song Sapt suran teen graam, gaavo sab gunijana (invoking experts to sing in seven notes across three octaves). The song went on to explain the significance of each of the seven notes. Music lovers of the Saigal era just cannot have enough of this mindblower.

Sorrow’s unlikely connections

All that is very well, but the mind also travels to a Lata Mangeshkar-Saraswati Rane duet in Sargam (1950), with its famous song, Jab dil ko sataave gham, tu chhed sakhi sargam. Wonder why they think a sargam will blow your blues away. Maybe they just mean singing will, but instead say sargam, only because sargam rhymes with gham. The sargam is not the song itself of course, it’s just the notations musicians use, so the connection is too narrow. Even the connection between feeling sad and whistling is shaky at best, but we found Mukesh saying this for Raj Kapoor in Mera Naam Joker (1970): Gham jab sataaye seeti bajaana. Perhaps the idea is, when feeling low, just go and do what is associated with happiness.

The other cultural oddity is the connection between gham and the colour blue. In a Blue Mood is a Long-Play album by Talat Mahmood, and we know he’s singing Shaam-e-gham ki qasam, as also Aye gham-e-dil kya karoon and more songs drenched in sadness. Abroad too, people sing away their blues. Here’s Doris Day:

“My sweet man’s left me
And I’ve got a torch I must lose
I may have to die some
And surely I’ll cry some
But I’ve gotta sing away these blues”

Wonder why the colour blue has a transnational reputation for sadness. Black, associated with nights and sadness, is more like it. But black can be fun too. Listen to Kaali ghodi dwaar khadi (Yesudas, Hemanti Shukla/Chashm-e-Baddoor, 1981), with its charming sargam inclusions.

Originally published: 26th March, 2017

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