In the world of comics, there is the fictional Superman, the famous crime-fighting cultural icon of the Americans. He can fix everyone, but he has one weakness: the sight of green kryptonite, a radiation-emitting mineral that transforms the hero to zero instantly. Another fictional comic character, Popeye The Sailor, is an uncultured, pipe-smoking, one-eyed young man. Typically, some problem visits him in every episode, but before he is finished, from somewhere appears magically a can of spinach, his source of instant strength. He gulps down the spinach and voila, Popeye becomes a hero to handle every problem around him. For Superman the trigger to weaken instantly is green kryptonite and for Popeye, the trigger for immediate strength is green spinach. You certainly remember the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde too, the tale of a medical practitioner who concocts a serum, after consuming which he transforms into another person. Some of us real people may have our own transformative turn-offs or turn-ons too, even if not with such dramatic or instant results.
Take a humourous man called Sultan Arshad Khan, who now heads Hum TV in Karachi. His transformation point was the main door at his office, as we will shortly see. Most of us who know him think of him as music personified. His knowledge and passion for songs and singing are legendary. Many years ago, he was with PIA as the General Manager of their operations in India. You couldn’t stop the man from singing and drumming his hands on whatever surface he found, coffee tables, car dashboards, books, you name it. Music is all he cared about, so it was a waste of his time and yours discussing fashion or politics; anything in fact that was not music-related. He stayed in Bombay for nine years, but within the first year itself half the film industry got to know him and his affable nature. As for music people, he knew them all, from Anil Biswas to Babul Bose to Prasoon Joshi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Naushad, Javed Akhtar and Gulzar, Asha Bhosle and more. You get the point. It was he who managed, with his childlike enthusiasm, to bring together many great maestros to have tea together, people like Anil Biswas, OP Nayyar, and Sajjad Husain, who were hardly known to give each other the time of day. But in all his nine years, not a single person in his office had the foggiest idea that the boss even knew how to whistle or hum, forget singing! In light of this knowledge, none of us ever asked him what he actually did in his office, but that’s another story.
Anyway, for the music-obsessed Arshadbhai, coming to office and leaving it was as if executed under an invisible arch that acted like a two-way trigger: non-musical when he entered, and utterly musical as he left. His frequent transformation was wonderfully amusing.
Transformation on a boat
Such a transformation happens to many people when they are on a boat that has left the shores some time ago. It’s an amazing thing, for which please indulge me. When we are on a boat—regardless of its size or sophistication—and after some time has elapsed, many of us start humming or singing to ourselves. Someone must do a study to find if there is such a co-relation between being at sea and getting musical. You wonder what triggers the singing mood. Maybe it’s a feel-good thing, pushing the right buttons in us. Perhaps it’s the vastness of the sea that makes us realize how small we are in the cosmic scheme of things, making us philosophical or to reach for higher planes of thought and feeling. Maybe the ripples create gentle waves of intoxication that make us go back to some memory that precipitates an urge to sing. Or even the absence of hustle and bustle or of a cultural vacuum out in the water triggers us this way.
It could be for any of these reasons why boatmen sing so much, only to turn into “What, me sing?” folks once they are on land. It is such boatmen that we are toasting today.
Sea vessels are of dozens of kinds: shikara, houseboat, dhow, sailboat, skiff, speedboat, steamer, trawler, kayak, yacht, luxury liner, and many more. In Hindustani, people who steer a sea vessel are called maanjhi or khevaiyya. The following songs were either sung to such boatmen—whether they were out fishing, ferrying passengers or plain having fun—or they were sung by such people. These songs are not metaphorical references to life like in Maanjhi meri naiyya ko jee chaahe jahaan le chal (Lata/BD Burman/Sartaaj/Char Paise, 1955), and Main tooti hui ik naiyya hoon (Rafi/Naushad/Shakeel/Aadmi, 1968). We are also ignoring just singing on a boat, as someone else propels if forward, like in Meri daastaan mujhe hi mera dil suna ke roye (Lata/Usha Khanna/Rajinder Krishan/Aao Pyaar Karen, 1964), and Do lafzon ki hai dil ki kahaani (Asha, Amitabh, Sharad Kumar/RD Burman/Anand Bakshi/The Great Gambler, 1979). This is a celebration of people who themselves manage to move a sea vessel from one place to another.
- Katthwa ke naiyya (Chitalkar Lalita Dewoolkar, P Chandar, SL Puri/C Ramchandra/Moti/Nadiya Ke Paar, 1948)
- Kinaare kinaare chale jaayenge (Suraiya/SD Burman/Yashodanandan Joshi/Vidya, 1948)
- Chanda re main teri gawaahi lene aayi (Surinder Kaur/Khursheed Anwar/DN Madhok/Singaar, 1949)
- Nadi kinaare saath hamaare shaam suhaani aayi (Shamshad Begum, Talat, Rafi/Naushad/Shakeel/Babul, 1950)
- Naiya teri majdhaar hoshiyaar (Rafi/Shankar-Jaikishan/Shailendra/Awara, 1951)
- Tu Ganga ki mauj main Jamuna ka dhaara (Rafi, Lata/Naushad/Shakeel/Baiju Bawra, 1952)
- Dharti azaad hai zindagi azaad (Rafi, Chitragupt/Chitragupt/Anjum Jaipuri/Sinbad The Sailor, 1952)
- Pawan chale zor leher machaaye shor (Pankaj Mullick/Pankaj Mullick/Satya Kumar/Zalzala, 1952)
- Maanjhi albele (Geeta Roy/OP Nayyar/Majrooh Sultanpuri/Baaz, 1953)
- Maujon ka ishaara hai (Shamshad, Lata, Rafi, S Balbir/S Mohinder/Tanvir Naqvi/Naata, 1955)
- More saiyaanji utrenge paar ho (Lata/Naushad/Shakeel/Udan Khatola, 1955)
- Us paar saajan is paar dhaare (Lata/Shankar-Jaikishan/Hasrat Jaipuri/Chori Chori, 1956)
- Maanjhi re himmat na haar (Mahendra/Vasant Desai/Bharat Vyas/Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan, 1959)
- Sun mere bandhu re (SD Burman/SD Burman/Majrooh Sultanpuri/Sujata, 1959)
- Babam babam bam bam lehri (Mukesh/Chitragupt/Majrooh/Ramu Dada, 1961)
- Le chal khevaiya naiyya le chal (Lata/Madan Mohan/Rajinder Krishan/Senapati, 1961)
- Kho gaya hai mera pyaar (Mahendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Hasrat Jaipuri/Hariyali Aur Rasta (1962)
- Aye meri jaan-e-wafa (Mukesh/Dattaram/Gulshan Bawra/Neeli Aankhen, 1962)
- O re maanjhi (SD Burman/SD Burman/Shailendra/Bandini, 1963)
- O mehbooba, tere dil ke paas hi hai meri manzil-e-maqsood (Mukesh/Shankar-Jaikishan/Hasrat/Sangam, 1964)
- Pardesiyon se na akhiyaan milaana (Rafi/Kalyanji-Anandji/Anand Bakshi/Jab Jab Phool Khile, 1965)
- Saawan ka maheena pawan kare sor (Mukesh, Lata/Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Anand Bakshi/Milan, 1967)
- Maanjhi chal o maanjhi chal (Rafi/Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Anand Bakshi/Aaya Sawan Jhoom Ke, 1969)
- Nadiya chale chale re dhaara…tujhko chalna hoga (Manna Dey/Kalyanji-Anandji/Indivar/Safar, 1970)
- Chingaari koi bhadke (Kishore/RD Burman/Anand Bakshi/Amar Prem, 1971)
- Maanjhi naiyya dhoondhe kinaara (Mukesh/Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Anand Bakshi/Uphaar, 1971)
- Door hai kinaara (Manna Dey/Ravindra Jain/Ravindra Jain/Saudagar, 1973)
- Naiyya meri chalti jaaye (Rafi/Naushad/Hasrat Jaipuri/My Friend, 1974)
- Purwaiya leke chali meri naiyya (Lata, Shailendra Singh/Ravindra Jain/Hasrat Jaipuri/Do Jaasoos, 1975)
- O maanjhi re (Kishore Kumar/RD Burman/Gulzar/Khushbu, 1975)
So, next time you get on a boat and feel like singing, do it. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to sing well. Here’s what Elvis Presley once said: “I don’t know anything about music. In my line, you don’t have to”.
Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 3rd Bebruary 2019 page 13 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2019-02-03