Chariots of Verse

You hear poorly made songs with dismal regularity these days. Everywhere you go, the vast majority of people tell you this new music isn’t fun, that they find it hard to be optimistically engaged with the new crop of musicians. Such thoughts belong to all manner of people, up and down the social ladder, from captains of industry to cab drivers, from cultured housewives to their domestic maids, mostly to the elderly but also to a sizeable number of the young. You wonder about these people who have lowered the bar to give us so much forgettable music. You wonder why there is so much disconnect between what we want to hear and what is being dished out.

In recent years, on the singing front, they have started bringing a strange foreign element into our songs. It’s called Vocal Fry, a guttural croak produced at the back of the throat, which I am saving for a story for another day. Meanwhile the sounds of instruments have been ending up predictably similar and uniformly ersatz, driven by rhythms instead of by melody. As for lyrical poetry, don’t even get there. Barring a handful of lyricists, none would know, for instance, the original meaning of the word sanam, used so much even these days. Of course it is Arabic for a statue, and it predates Islam.

Amateur Hour

The Urban Dictionary defines Amateur Hour as a sloppy performance. You wonder if a large number of music-lovers seriously doubt we are experiencing Amateur Hour for Hindi cinema’s music, especially its poetry. There is now a near-absence of imagery in a field which should have loads of it. Jaanam, sanam, Rabba and a hundred common pools of words are what our lyricists are routinely dipping into as words of final significance, rather than as props to convey an aesthetic idea. This does stand out in sharp contrast with the Axial Age of our cinema, mainly the middle 1940s to the late 1960s, when cinema and music reached heights of excellence that seem unachievable today. That age was exemplified not just by a wide range of words used, but by the high use of imagery too.

Let’s take one element of the songwriters’ art as an example. Sometimes, songwriters of that time used different words or sentence structures to express essentially the same idea. It was as if invisible chariots of a thought were being driven by more than one horse, the horse meaning the poem itself. In an earlier column a few weeks back, we looked at many examples of songs that expressed the same idea advanced in two different ways. Consider these recalls: In praising someone’s eyes: the lyrics-writer Anjaan said Teri aankh mein wo kamaal hai (Rafi/Mr India, 1961), and Majrooh wrote Teri aankhon ke siwa duniya mein rakkha kya hai (Rafi or Lata/Chirag, 1969). This was Shailendra advising us to live for others: Kisi ki muskuraahaton pe ho nisaar (Mukesh/Anari, 1959) and a somewhat similar thought was advanced by Javed-Anwar in Apne liye jiye to kya jiye (Manna Dey/Baadal, 1966).

As if that isn’t rivetting enough, there are many thoughts—more or less of the same kind—that have been offered differently in 3 or more songs, even if it’s sometimes the same poet in two songs. Let’s engage with such poetic chariots today, 3 poems with similar attributes:

Everyone is a thief

Rajinder Krishan: Is duniya mein sab chor chor (Lata/Bhai Bhai, 1956)

Majrooh: Humko haste dekh zamaana jalta hai…chor saari duniya hai humhi ko mat gher zara (Rafi, Durrani/Hum Sab Chor Hain, 1956)

Prem Dhawan: Aenwe duniya deve duhaayi…apne dil ton puchh ke vekho kaun naheen hai chor (Rafi, Balbir/Jagte Raho, 1956)

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

Shakeel: Maan mera ehsaan…meri nazar ki dhoop na bharti roop to hota husn tera bekaar (Rafi/Aan, 1952)

Shakeel: Sharma ke kyoon sab parda nasheen…nazren jo na hoti to nazaara bhi na hota (Shamshad, Asha/Chaudhvin Ka Chand, 1960)

Shewan Rizvi:  Meri nazren haseen hain ke tum ho haseen…jisko dil chaahe duniya mein hai wo haseen (Asha/Ek Musafir Ek Haseena, 1962)

What an entry!

Sahir: Ye kaun aaya ke mere dil ki duniya mein bahaar aayi (Geeta/Baazi, 1951)

Majrooh: Ye kaun aaya roshan ho gayi mehfil kiske naam se (Lata/Saathi, 1968)

Sahir: Kaun aaya ki nigaahon mein chamak jaag utthi (Asha/Waqt, 1965)

The faithful woman

Rajinder Krishan: Ye jee chaahta hai kisi din main teri nigaahon ki saari udaasi chura loon (Asha/Amar Deep 1958)

Sahir: Jahaan mein aisa kaun hai ke jisko gham mila naheen…tumse main juda naheen, mujhse tum juda naheen (Asha/Hum Dono, 1961)

Sahir:  Tum apna ranj-o-gham apni pareshaani mujhe de do (Jagjit Kaur/Shagun, 1964)

A baby is coming

Rajinder Krishan: Chanda se hoga wo pyaara (Lata, PB Srinivasan/Main Bhi Ladki Hoon, 1964)

Rajinder Krishan: Koi aane waala hai (Lata, Mahendra/Mera Qasoor Kya Hai, 1964)

Indeevar: Saara pyaar tumhaara maine baandh liya hai aanchal mein (Asha, Kishore/Anand Ashram, 1977)

He has changed so much!

Shakeel: Badle-badle mere sarkaar nazar aate hain (Lata/Chaudhvin Ka Chand, 1960)

Majrooh: Wo jo milte the kabhi humse deewaanon ki tarah (Lata/Akeli Mat Jaiyo, 1963)

Majrooh: Rehte the kabhi jinke dil mein (Lata/Mamta, 1966)

There are several more of such Troikas. But there are even chariots of four poems.

These are the four kind:

Love at first sight

Jalal Malihabadi: Mujhe kisi se pyaar ho gaya (Lata/Barsaat, 1949)

Shailendra: Unse pyaar ho gaya (Lata/Baadal, 1951)

Zafar Raahi or Naza Sholapuri: Jabse dekha tumhen dil hai bechain sa (Asha, Mahendra/Rustom-e-Rome, 1964)


Hasrat: Unse mili nazar to mere hosh ud gaye (Lata/Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan, 1968)

Consider these, all having to do with a girl coming of age

Aah Sitapuri: Jeeya lehraaye aayi jawaani (Nalini Jaywant/Behen, 1941)

Rajinder Krishan: Rama kaahe main itni jawaan ho gayi (Asha, Usha/Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, 1970)

Anand Bakshi: Aaj main jawaan ho gayi hoon (Lata/Main Sundar Hoon, 1971)


Dev Kohli: Chocolate lime juice ice cream toffeeyaan, pehle jaise ab mere shauq hain kahaan…ye kaunsa mod hai umr ka (Lata/Hum Aapke Hain Koun, 1994)

But it is the idea of living for today that has so many poems. Check these out: Aage bhi jaane na tu…jo bhi hai bus yehi ik pal hai (Asha/Sahir/Waqt, 1965), Aaj ki raat mere dil ki salaami le le…kal teri bazm se deewaana chala jaayega (Rafi/Shakeel/Ram Aur Shyam, 1967), Aye meri zindagi aaj raat jhoom le…kisko pata hai kal aaye ke na aaye (Lata/Sahir/Taxi Driver, 1954), Guma ruma gelo…kal ki baaten kal pe chhodo aaj hi maza le lo (Rafi, Suman/Sahir/Light House, 1958), Jeene waale jhoom ke mastaana ho ke jee, aane waali subah se begaana hoke jee (Lata/Sahir/Vaasna, 1968), Har ghadi badal rahi hai dhoop zindagi…kal ho na ho (Sonu Nigam/Javed Akhtar/Kal Ho Na Ho, 2003), Kis ke liye ruka hai…karna hai jo bhi kar le, ye waqt ja raha hai (Rafi/Prem Dhawan/Ek Saal, 1956), Man more ga jhoom ke…aaj raat jhoom le…kisko pata hai kal aaye ke na aaye (Asha/Majrooh/Mangu, 1954), Ye raat ye fizaayen phir aayen ya na aayen (Rafi, Asha/Majrooh/Batwara, 1961), and Ye sama phir kahaan aa bhi ja (Asha/Jan Nissar Akhtar/Ustad, 1957).

In Berlin, Germany, there is a spectacular sight for tourists called Brandenburg Gate, which is a key entry point to the city. The magnificent gate is crowned by the goddess of victory driving a chariot of four horses. Today it’s a part of history, not too different from Hindi cinema’s chariots of verse.


Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 16 December 2018, page 13

Featured image: from Ye kaun aaya roshan ho gayi



5 Replies to “Chariots of Verse”

  1. Beautiful essay, Manek..

    It is amazing to see the collection of songs making it into the chariots of verse. Somehow, the songs all turned out to be so popular in their time. the underlying themes represented so wonderfully. The 3 or 4 horse chariots must have been challenging for sure. But then, Krishna drove his chariot of 5 horses!

  2. in a age where we have 2G scams, commonwealth scams, and our sense of values have now dived, this is bound to reflect in our art literature and music
    So the kind of films and music being produced today are the outcome of that influence. Consider instead the 1950’s and 60’s when the best films and songs were produced, those were the times when culture decency and idealism prevailed.awaharlal nehru when he returned from china in the 60’s was giving a speech in allahabad, after accepting a garland or two from his admirers he began his speech ” Ihave come from china, he began and heard there a story of a great king who had two sons. One was wise and the other stupid. When the boys reached adulthood the king told the stupid one that he could have his throne for he was fit to be only a ruler. But the wise one, he said was destined to be a poet. With these words he took the garland off his head and flung it as an offering at hindi poet Nirala’s feet who was sitting in the front row hearing the speech

    1. That’s a remarkable comment Ajay, I didn’t know that about Nehru…he was a giant. Wonder where such greatness disappeared? I meant how…

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