If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet
Don’t go drawing back the blinds, or looking in the street
—Rudyard Kipling in A Smuggler’s Song
The great Bombay-born writer was fascinated by many things on the subcontinent, but what excited him very highly was the grace and strength of the horse, to which he made so many references, like the one above. His travels took him to Lahore, Kabul, Calcutta, Allahabad, Rangoon—and wherever he went, he found his fascination in wait for him!
In those days, horse-carriages were trained as taxis for the solvent, and lots of royalty rode the beast to go fox hunting. Mounted police were a reassuringly happy sight too. Horses were also used in many sports such as Polo, and also to control herd animals from straying. They were hired for wedding processions, to control crowds, recreational use like fun-riding and more. Kipling loved them even to the point of watching re-runs of silent films featuring the animals.
The poet lived in a vastly different world many moons ago, before most of us were born. Even so, horses are very much around, doing most of what they are trained to do, even if they are in somewhat diminished roles for a range of reasons. In films of yesteryear though, what fun, they rode on many a happy melody, their endearing hoof-beat rhythms entertaining generations of music aficionados. Such melodies have clip-clopped into extinction and as if entered the realm of a mythical world like Pegasus, the winged horse.
Let’s recall some songs which employed the charming hoof sounds of a horse trot. And while we are reading about these songs, perhaps you want to guess what fruit was used to create the horse-trot sounds. The answer follows near the end. Incidentally, the sounds are the same, whether it is actors on horses or ghoda-gaadis, also known as tongas or Victorias. Special note: this list mentions only one song per composer, otherwise never trust OP Nayyar in this space, he will take over completely!
- Chalen pawan ki chaal (Pankaj Mullick/Pankaj Mullick/Doctor, 1941)
- Khel naheen gir-gir ke sambhalna (Durrani/Ghulam Mohd./Doli, 1947)
- Oopar gagan vishaal (Manna Dey/SD Burman/Mashaal, 1950)
- Mera dil hai bada nikhattoo (Chitalkar/C. Ramchandra/Nirala, 1950)
- Bachpan ke din bhula na dena (Lata, Shamshad/Naushad/Deedar, 1951)
- Chhoti si ye zindagaani re (Mukesh/Shankar-Jaikishan/Aah, 1953)
- Main hoon Bharat ki naar (Lata/R. Sudarshanam-Dhaniram/Ladki, 1953)
- Piya piya piya mera jiya pukaare (Kishore, Asha/OP Nayyar/Baap Re Baap, 1955)
- Halke-halke chalo saanwariya (Lata, Hemant/Salil Chowdhury/Tangewali, 1955)
- Jab liya haath mein haath (Asha, Rafi/Ravi/Vachan, 1955)
- Jhoome re (Talat/Salil Chowdhury/Ek Gaon Ki Kahaani, 1957)
- Raat ne kya-kya khwaab dikhaaye (Talat/Salil Chowdhury/Ek Gaon Ki Kahaani, 1957)
- Ye sama hai mera dil jawaan (Manna Dey, Lata/Kalyanji Virji Shah/Samrat Chandragupta, 1958)
- Main deewaana mastaana (Mukesh/Babul/40 Days, 1959)
- Main rangeela pyaar ka raahi (Subir Sen, Lata/Shankar-Jaikishan/Chhoti Behen, 1959)
- Tumse door chale (Hemant, Lata/Kanu Ghosh/Pyaar Ki Raahen, 1959)
- Bheega-bheega pyaar ka sama (Rafi, Shamshad/Hansraj Behl/Saawan, 1959)
- Pehla pehla pyaar ka ishaara (Rafi, Lata/Shankar-Jaikishan/College Girl, 1960)
- Phoolon se dosti hai (Rafi/Hemant/Duniya Jhukti Hai, 1960)
- Sach kehta hoon bahut haseen ho (Rafi, Asha/Jaali Note, 1960)
- Rut albeli mast sama (Mukesh/Dattaram/Shreeman Satyawadi, 1960)
- O matwaare saajna (Asha/GS Kohli/Faulaad, 1963)
- Jao ji jao dekhe hain bade (Asha, Rafi/Madan Mohan/Sharabi, 1964)
- Usko naheen dekha humne kabhi (Manna Dey, Mahendra Kapoor/Roshan/Dadi Maa, 1966)
- Chaand ko kya maaloom (Mukesh/Usha Khanna/Laal Bangla, 1966)
- Koi haseena jab rootth jaati hai to (Kishore/RD Burman/Sholey, 1975)
And bringing up the rear is the diehard OP Nayyar fan who remastered his master’s tune:
- Aelo ji sanam hum aa chuke (Vicky Mehta, Behroz Chatterjee/Tushar Bhatia/Andaz Apna Apna, 1994).
This would be Bhatia’s first and last film, in the same year (1994) as his inspiring maestro OP Nayyar was delivering his own last effort, Zid. Nayyar of course didn’t bring the horse rhythm into our cinema; Pankaj Mullick did, in Chale pawan ki chaal seen above. Naushad took the horse to water, and had him sip some (In Deedar, Aan, Udan Khatola, Kohinoor). But Nayyar offered equestrian magical potions in a couple of dozen songs. Then when he went away, he just took with him the spirit of the ghoda-gaadi song. It’s that simple.
About the ‘instrument’ used to replicate hoof-beats, it used to be dried, bald coconut shells. Two halves of coconuts were held, one in each hand, the palms curved to hold the convex surface, and the rim struck on a glossy tile for a sharp, crisp sound, resembling horseshoe metal hitting asphalt.
As for Kipling, if he were alive today, he would discover a mixed bag in how his favourite animal had fared. Horses are raced and romanced at premier races like the Derby, some winning serious money for their owners. Ceremonial processions and military march-pasts still engage the graceful creatures. In places like Lahore, Mumbai, Lucknow and Kolkata, they are around, even if moved to the back-lanes of these cities.
Sadly, Kipling passed away too early to see wonderful ghoda-gaadi songs on the Indian screen. So if the poet reconnected with current Hindi cinema, he wouldn’t know what he missed. Unless of course, he sat down to watch old Hindi films.
Originally published: March 24, 2013