Have you noticed we are often different people in different settings? When alone, we are completely ourselves, scratching wherever for instance, since no one is watching. On a one-to-one basis, we are different with our spouses, our best friends, our siblings, acquaintances and colleagues. That’s ok, we’re not being a fake. It is in fact a part of being human to have so many facets to us, each making a stronger pitch to make things work for us in specific settings. In fact, when we are in a crowd mixed from the relationships mentioned above, group dynamics take over; we transform into a clinically-sanitized composite of our own persona, offering something like a common-minimum program to make the multiple interactions work. Thus, when someone says, “My life is an open book”, it usually means their sanitized behaviour is on display, the scratching wherever downplayed. In other words, except in very rare cases, there’s no such thing as being an open book. Neither should the statement be taken seriously. Social scientists are only too aware of that.
In India more than in the western world, such a transformation is quite noticeable when we are in a restaurant that has live musicians playing, especially the kinds who do the rounds of every table, stopping to sing a couple of songs and take requests too. You may be the sort who loves the Beatles go Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, or Manna Dey’s Aye meri zohra jabeen, but chances are, when the singer comes around with his guitar slung around his shoulder and the same song on his lips, you will avoid looking too much at him, subsuming your interest under food, drink and conversation. Perhaps the singer is going off-key, perhaps he’s too much in-the-face too. But then again, maybe it’s about you presenting a different face in a milieu in which most people are strangers. Never mind that you may actually be enjoying the music.
That is not to say that all music buffs always enjoy themselves when music is played in a restaurant. Many go out for the food and for sparkling conversation, but if someone trumps their agenda with music—especially the loud kind—they are not going to erupt in applause when a song ends. They find the music too intrusive. Being watched as we eat can also be a turn-off.
Even so, many restaurants offer music to add to the dining experience; ghazals, popular film songs or pop, jazz, country western, etc. A book by Charles Spence of Oxford University, Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating, announces that music can make our food taste better. It lists many findings, like patrons rate the quality of pasta and pizza higher when listening to Italian Opera. No wonder that a large number of eateries worldwide play recorded music or the radio. Several other restaurants feature even just a guitar or piano played live. There are even restaurants like The Lounge at Mumbai’s National Sports Club of India, where a grand piano is played live, not by a human being, but by a programmed chip. You may hear a good tune and go want to thank the pianist. You will find the keys being pressed down to play the tune, but won’t find anyone sitting on the stool, or any hand doing the playing. This can seem quite spooky!
Back to live music bands which have been around for as long as one can remember, in spite of their detractors. Excluding restaurants and bars that feature cabarets and other dance acts, New York City leads the world with 1500 eateries which feature live music every day. Tokyo has less than 700 such performers. Mumbai clocks in at around 200, and Delhi is behind that figure.
In Mumbai, the Bar at Bombay Gymkhana features a live piano, as does The Yacht Club near the Taj. The Taj itself features a live piano played unobtrusively at the Sea Lounge. Further south on the seafront from the Taj, find the Radio Club, whose bar can turn you into a gagged zombie on Wednesday nights. Such music-as-you-dine places are dotted in many places on our land.
Several musicians have played instruments or sung live in restaurants down the years. Chic Chocolate, who composed amazing songs like Aa teri tasweer bana loon (Talat/Nadaan, 1951), and Koi dard hamaara kya samjhe (Lata/Rangili, 1952), besides playing his awesome trumpet in hundreds of songs, ran an orchestra for years in the Apollo Room of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. Francisco Casanovas who composed Hemant Kumar’s Wo aankh se pila gaye and Jab chaand mera nikla (besides arranging dozens of tunes), played in a band in The Grand Hotel, Calcutta. Biddu sang and played the guitar in Venice restaurant, at Astoria Hotel, Churchgate, Bombay, before going on to international stardom for composing Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye (Nazia Hasan), and Kung Fu Fighting (Carl Douglas). Not far from Venice was a place called Talk of the Town, where Usha Uthup belted out songs for years. She is famous for singing I love you (with Asha in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1971), and Ramba ho Samba ho (Armaan, 1981). It is here that Louis Banks played the keyboard and sang away, after having done so at Hindustan Hotel in Calcutta. Among his achievements is his arrangement of the music in Mile Sur Mera Tumhara. The gifted Manohari Singh was Louis Banks’ first cousin; he not only graced hundreds of songs with his euphonious saxophone, flute and mandolin, but also composed songs such as Aa humsafar pyaar ki sej par (Kishore, Lata/Chatpati, 1983) and Dono ke dil hain majboor pyaar se (Lata, Jagjit Singh, non-film), along with his partner Basu Chakravarty. For years did Manohari Singh play the sax, trumpet and flute at the prestigious Firpo’s restaurant in Calcutta. The pianist who put Hindi film songs into instrumental orbit, Brian Silas, played for years at the Dum Pukht restaurant at Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton. There have been many others.
Consider these songs where a person was seen singing in a restaurant. Not dancing and singing, because that becomes a story of song and dance. If the patrons themselves dance, that’s ok 🙂
- Koi kisi ka deewaana na bane (Lata/Sargam, 1950)
- Mere man ki dhadkan mein koi naache ta ta thai thai (Manna Dey/Hamdard, 1953)
- Dil chhed koi aisa naghma (Lata/Inspector, 1956)
- Kaun ye aaya mehfil mein (Rafi/Dil Deke Dekho, 1959)
- Koi sone ke dil waala (Rafi/Maya, 1961)
- Ajnabi tum jaane pehchaane se lagte ho (Kishore/Hum Sab Ustad Hain, 1965)
- Aage bhi jaane na tu (Asha/Waqt, 1965)
- Rut jawaan jawaan raat meherbaan (Bhupinder Singh/Aakhri Khat, 1967)
- Hai preet jahaan ki reet sada (Mahendra/Purab Aur Pashchim, 1970)
Not all restaurants can afford live musicians. A restaurant in Madrid, Spain has been in the news for charging patrons during breakfast and lunch, then giving away free meals to the poor at dinner. They have named themselves, not inappropriately, Robin Hood restaurant, even if they don’t actually rob the rich to pay the poor. While lunch tables are booked for months, the place still cannot afford live music. That is unromantic to some, so a message outside says you can sing inside, as long as you don’t disturb the others. After such a meal, maybe the deprived diners sing Hasta Manana, a popular ABBA song, in Spanish meaning see you tomorrow.
Featured image on top: Naqi Jahan and Bhupinder Singh in Rut jawaan jawaan
originally published in DNA Jaipur 12 August 2018 page 11 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-08-12