Mermaids of a Different Kind

If you are an adult woman in America and love to swim, here’s a great opportunity to make a decent and exciting living. You can try becoming a Professional Mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida. The Park’s performers already include 17 such mermaids—and 3 mermen, their male equivalents. They are auditioning for more mermaids this coming Saturday, on 13 January 2018. Your bottom half will need to slip into an aquatic dress outfitted with fins and an indented tail, which you’ll need to learn to manoeuvre for balance and steering.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, some 50 miles north of Tampa in Florida, USA, is about marine life and has been around for over 70 years now. Its central attraction is the ballet performance of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. As you sit in a 400-seater underwater auditorium, Ariel, the show’s pretty protagonist celebrates her birthday and on the ocean’s surface catches sight of a handsome Prince named Eric. A visiting storm is about to destroy the Prince, but the mermaid saves him and brings him ashore. She dreams of becoming human, and thanks to efforts by the evil Sea Witch, she receives legs like us humans, but in exchange has had to give up her beautiful voice. The besotted Prince takes on the evil Sea Witch and wins the battle. Moral of the story: Love conquers all.

As you probably know, mermaids—jalpariyaan in Hindustani—are mythical creatures that are supposed to live in the sea. They are physically like women from the waist up, but below that, they have the body of a fish—scales, tail and all. Thus if you see them immersed waist-deep in water, it can be deceptive, since they look just like women. But for us to recognize what these creatures really are, we need to see their whole form.

Something similar happens in the world of Hindustani poetry, a world in which ghazals are considered queens. These are a written form which consists of couplets through and through. You change those two-liners to anything else and the idea is lost: the result can no longer be called a ghazal. It can be particularly deceptive if a poem starts like a ghazal of two lines, then morphs in its stanzas—as if from the waist down—to three-liners. You now get what is broadly called a paaband nazm, but it’s more precisely a do-teenya, for its 2-3-3 construction. It’s a poetic form with a twin persona like a mermaid’s, and can also be very beautiful.

Look at this example, which many quickly pronounce a ghazal, because it starts off looking like one, with a two-line opener that rhymes:

Bhooli hui yaado mujhe itna na satao

Ab chain se rehne do mere paas na aao

But now it becomes a three-line tercet, whose last line rhymes with the opening couplet written above:

Daaman mein liye baittha hoon toote hue taare

Kab tak main jiyoonga yoon hi khwaabon ke sahaare

Deewaana hoon, ab aur na deewaana banao…

And another structurally-similar tercet, again with the third line in rhyme with both the opening lines of the song:

Looto na mujhe is tarah doraahe pe laake

Awaaz na do ek nayi raah dikhake

Sambhla hoon main gir-girke mujhe phir na girao

(Rajinder Krishan/Sanjog, 1961)

A couplet personality at the top, and a tercet one later, makes for a poetic mermaid. Let’s get a full view of another such creature, keeping an eye on that rhyme:

Husn se chaand bhi sharmaaya hai

Teri surat ne ghazab dhaaya hai…

Haaye in pyaar mein doobi hui aankhon ki qasam

Aadmi kya hai farishton ke behek jaayen qadam

Bin piye mujhpe nasha chhaaya hai…

Muskuraaye jo tere lab to bahaaren aayi

Khil gaye phool padi teri jahaan parchhaayi

Tu ne gulshan mera mehkaaya hai…

(Shakeel Badayuni in Door Ki Awaaz, 1964)

Mermaids can be beautiful, just as black people can be beautiful. Many of the latter can sing and dance beautifully, just as mermaids can swim beautifully. So, if you want to see mermaids doing their act in water, go to Florida. Too far? There are lots to see on YouTube videos. If you are in Mumbai, do see one sitting motionless under the Princess Street flyover at Marine Drive in Mumbai.

Meantime, here is a selection of beautiful do-teenya, musical mermaids of yore. Take a good look at them, for they too are on their way to becoming mythical.

  • Mehfil mein jal utthi shama parwaane ke liye (PL Santoshi/Niraala, 1950)
  • Mitti se khelte ho baar-baar kis liye (Shailendra/Patita, 1953)
  • Ae lo main haari piya (Majrooh/Aar Paar, 1954)
  • Dil ki dhadkan pe ga umr bhar muskura (Shewan Rizvi/Lakeeren, 1954)
  • Tasweer banaata hoon, tasweer naheen banti (Khumar Barabankvi/Bara Dari, 1955)
  • Kahaan ja raha hai tu aye jaane waale (Shailendra/Seema, 1955)
  • Tum apni yaad bhi dilse bhula jaate to achha tha (Jan Nissar Akhtar/Yasmin, 1955)
  • Do dil dhadak rahe hain aur awaaz ek hai (Asad Bhopali/Insaaf, 1956)
  • Wo khushnaseeb hain jinko yahaan qaraar mila (SH Bihari/Hill Station, 1957)
  • Humne to jab kaliyaan maangi kaanton ka haar mila (Sahir/Pyaasa, 1957)
  • Aansoo bhari hain ye jeevan ki raahen (Hasrat Jaipuri/Parvarish, 1958)
  • Jalte hain jiske liye (Majrooh/Sujata, 1959)
  • Insaaf ki dagar pe bachcho dikhao chalke (Shakeel/Ganga Jamuna, 1961)
  • Mujhe pyaar ki zindagi dene waale (Prem Dhawan/Pyaar Ka Saagar, 1961)
  • Aap ki nazron ne samjha (Raja Mehdi Ali Khan/Anpadh, 1962)
  • Aap ki baaten aap ki qasmen (Anand Bakshi/Kaala Samundar, 1962)
  • Awaaz de ke humen tum bulao (Hasrat/Professor, 1962)
  • Aye husn zara jaag tujhe ishq jagaaye (Shakeel/Mere Mehboob, 1963)
  • Phir wohi shaam wohi gham (Rajinder Krishan/Jahan Ara, 1964)
  • Is tarah toda mera dil, kya mera dil dil na tha (Rajinder Krishan/Shehnai, 1964)
  • Lagja gale ke phir ye haseen raat ho na ho (Raja Mehdi Ali Khan/Wo Kaun Thi, 1964)
  • Pyaar ki daastaan tum suno to kahen (Kaifi Azmi/Faraar, 1965)
  • Main to ik khwaab hoon (Qamar Jalalabadi/Himalaya Ki God Mein, 1965)
  • Humen kya jo harsoo ujaale hue hain (Anand Bakshi/Namaste Ji, 1965)
  • Babul ki duaen leti ja (Sahir/Neel Kamal, 1968)

Early on above, we said Love Conquers All. With that in mind, here is the ultimate ode to romantic love, a poetic mermaid written by the King of Ghazals, Shakeel Badayuni, for Mughal-e-Azam (1960). To add value, Shakeel first personifies love, and then salutes her:

Zindabad zindabad, aye muhabbat zindabad

Daulat ki zanjeeron se tu rehti hai azaad…

With a spectacular thought:

Mandir mein, masjid mein tu, aur tu hi hai imaanon mein

Murli ki taanon mein tu, aur tu hi hai azaanon mein

Tere dum se deen-dharam ki duniya hai abaad…

And this one is breathtakingly stunning:

Ishq baghaawat kar baitthe to duniya ka rukh mod de

Aag laga de mehlon mein aur takht-e-shaahi tod de

Seena taane maut se khele, kuchh na kare fariyaad…


Zindabad, zindabad, aye muhabbat zindabad!

Way to go, Sir!


Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 7 January 2018 page 13

8 thoughts on “Mermaids of a Different Kind

  1. Still marvelling at the way you connect one idea with another. Kept wondering what mermaids had to do with Hindi film songs, till I read the whole piece without skipping a line. Made me eager to fish out at least one ‘mermaid’ myself, which you had not hooked. I think got one by a random attempt. ‘Ruk jaa raat, teher jaa re chanda’ from DEM . I think this can fit into the mermaid suit. If you find an extra line in the middle (basically repetition) like ‘ meri tumhari prem kahani’/’aaoongi main samg tumhari’ … well, a mermaid can also be little obese, can’t she?!

  2. You never cease to surprise me Manek . I always begin my reading at the top and a book from its preface. Just when I started wondering, about the journey you were taking us today- in singing terms in Marathi [ whenever a classical raag is sung- and the singer continues the alaaps and murkis, the listeners get engrossed in it- the singing seems to go wayward for many , but it is the singers ability to come back to the basic [ sum ] of the dhrupad where he started, without seeming to be wayward ,that classifies the singer as great.

    You have mastered that art

  3. Good morning to you Manek…Very interesting DNA, plus sounds good as a new career, with decent living….How do you get every week interesting topic, with details….Though, now I am very happy with my current life, and with Friends like you…Thanks for thinking about us though. Good collection of songs with topic of Mermaids. I am lot better from Monica, and Sneh, with my weather ….Thank God for that…Always I need to read few more times to digest fully DNA from you, Manek. Thanks again, we always get to learn some thing new from you.

    1. Lucky you, in California, where the weather is so fine. And not that I disagree with you, but this is what Michael Caine said, after living 2 decades in Los Angeles, and before going back to England: “Los Angeles is boring. It’s so predictable. You open the windows at 10 am and the sun is shining…always shining 🙂 “

      1. Yes Manek, so true having Sun shining all the time does get boring some time. When we have some clouds, or rain, that’s the big news on each TV channels……Which we are expecting next week….We all need some changes, in life, and climate too.

  4. Wow! Have wanted to get this “mermaid” clarified for a while now- never thought she would come clothed so beautifully! How do you do this, Manek? The research, the connections, the expression, the music links! Just wow! I learned a few things for the first time today after reading this – including the term “Paaband Nazm”. Many many thanks for the essay! As for the possible job offer? I’ll pass, even though a 80 degree Fahrenheit Florida sounds rather tempting right now- we’re at 18 in St. Louis today!
    I’m going to be reading this essay many more times, I know! Thank you!

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