Wednesday, June 4, 2014


I was talking to a friend a few days back about bhajans. Those small songs in praise of God that we memorised, sang, hummed, and performed – depending on our varied skillsets. The discussion then went on to 'How many songs do you think a Parthi student would know?'

We decided that an average Parthi student should know about 80 bhajans. From the mundane 'Rasavilola Nandalala' to the profound 'Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye' – if you add the shlokas, stotras, songs and bhajans together, 80 would be a decent number, I'd think.

Also, when you think of the fact that it was not simply about memorising the words, but also the tunes – it seems like quite an achievement.

You could also add to the list the number of shlokas, vedas (as they were called), and songs that are a part of every Parthi student's repertoire and you have a veritable bank of prayers and hymns with every student.

Bhajans had lives of their own. For eg, if someone sang a bhajan that no one knew, the more knowledgable ones would nod their heads in appreciation and say, "It's a very old bhajan. Not sung anymore these days."

Some bhajans had a much longer shelf life and elicited an 'ooooh' of response from the audience when they began. Like the tremors of excitement when Ravi would begin 'Mohabbat ki kami dil mein', or the frantic passing of the 'duff' when 'Allah o Akbar, Allah o Akbar' began.

Personally, I remember being heartbroken somewhere around my 8th standard. I had a soft corner for bhajans in Hindi – like 'Sai mera, tu hai sahara', and 'Tere siva prabhu'. In the rare moments when I used to pray (probably because my ass was on the firing line due to some incident), I would sing out these bhajans – wailing and praying, squeezing out every ounce of devotion in my otherwise corrupted heart.

So why was I heartbroken then? News reached us that Swami had asked students not to sing songs that referred to God as 'Tu'. Instead, songs that referred to God as 'Tum' or 'Aap' were to be sung. Of course, it seems like a nothing incident right now. Like Venkatpathy Raju waking up on a Tuesday morning and picking his nose. But back then, it meant a lot to me. I remember thinking about it. Would God really mind if we referred to him as Tu instead of Tum? But my Daivabheeti prevented me from thinking about it any further.

While bhajans were an integral part of our lives, they were more accessible. Almost everyone could sing them, and thus they held second place for me in comparision to songs.

Now songs, were a different matter altogether. You couldn't really sing them without raping them a bit, and hence learning them was a challenge. At least for the few music guys in our class. We would listen to songs, then try to replicate them in corridors, bhajans, and the dark alleys of our minds.

The songs we listened to them also brought with them a hue of moods and memories. Every song had an association with a certain time of the year, or a time of the day. As the song floated towards me through those rectangular black Ahuja speakers in the dormitory, a thousand feelings sprang up and danced with the tunes.

You may forget the tunes, the words, the interludes. But can you really forget a certain feeling?

I can vouch for the fact that you cannot. Everytime you listen to the song, there is a certain flight of emotions inside you. It never changes – lifting you up and transporting you back to the days when a magnet was the most important thing in your life.

So without much ado, get ready for a journey back into time. For best results, play the songs that have been provided above the description, close your eyes for a moment, and then read.

O Sai Maa – by Ajnish Rai

The album O Sai Maa hit us like a storm. Sometime around 1997, the album found a place in the elite selection of cassettes that would be played on the PA system, and I doubt it has been replaced till today.

As the strains of the song begin, there is a general happy feeling that envelopes you.

It's Sunday morning, and the lines to the Prayer Hall have begun. The morning is cruel, and sleep is an elusive golden deer. But there is hope. Of better things to come. As you sleep walk from your bed to the lobby to the bathroom to the Prayer Hall, you know there is hot breakfast waiting for you. Followed by Darshan, and then six hours of absolute freedom.

There is a sea of white in the Prayer Hall, falling over the person in front like waves as the song plays in the background.

The lyrics somehow seemed romantic to me – words like pyar mein hum palte hain, phoolon jaise hum khilte hain – made me feel like a 90's hero serenading a badly dressed heroine on mountain tops. There is a romantic, happy feeling in the heart, that goes on throughout the album. By the time the song is over, you have probably dozed off. To be mildly shaken when the Ashtotram begins, and fully when it's time to go down for breakfast.

Naa Sai Nanu Chera – by Ghantasala

Ghantasala is a legendary playback singer in the Telugu film industry. He had once visited Parthi, hoping for some special attention due to his fame. He got none of it. Heartbroken, he wrote a song whose lyrics said, "My Sai doesn't come towards me."

All the pathos in the song comes through the Ahuja speakers. For some reason, I associate this song with Thursday darshan. Thursday darshans were the anti-thesis of Sunday darshans. It all began when the bhajans started, and the mikes weren't switched on – there was something utterly depressing about it.

Everything about the Thursday morning was the same, and yet nothing was the same. You woke up, had bath, went to the Prayer Hall – the same process. Yet deep within, you knew that after the bhajans, you had to go back. The white would be discarded for the Sky Blue and Navy Blue. You had to go back to your classes, chant the prayers, and go ahead with the drudgery.

The song was a cry of pain, like the Thursday mornings.

To complete the story, later, Ghantasala regretted his pompous attitude and was blessed with blessings. He went on to compose a happy song called 'Enta Hai Enta Hai Eenadu' (Oh! What a joyous today is). Sadly, it did little to change the sombre mood the earlier song brought in. A sense of impending doom. A sad, draggy feeling.

Sankata Mochana Naam Tihaare – by Hari Om Sharan

Hari Om Sharan's 'Hanuman Chalisa' was played at least once a week on the PA system. Right after the epynomous Hanuman Chalisa, this song would come on.

I always imagined the singer was a grandfather who was telling the story of Hanuman to children. He would sing a paragraph and then the chorus would sing, 'Ko Nahi Jaanat Hai Jag Mein Kapi' – Sankata Mochana Naam Tihaare'.

My memories of the song are mixed. Like the cycle of birth and death, happiness and sorrow, the song was a steady fixture throughout my years in the school. Surprisingly, it seemed to shift its mood according to the situation. When there was a Video Show on the day, the song seemed like a joyous tribute to the glory of Hanuman. But if it was a day with two Maths classes and Brinjal Curry, it could suck the happiness out of you.

A reflection of your day ahead, this tune could either haunting or jaunting.

Ya Devi Sarva Bhooteshu – by suspected Black Magician Sitting in Bengal

I don't really know who made that album. As far as I know, it's a common prayer in Bengal, sung during Dussehra. But this definitely had the most impact on me.

Through the Seventh Standard Dormitory windows, you could see Headmistress Aunty sitting in front of the idol, adding fiery red kumkum to the idol in a dark hall. It often sent shivers down my spine. When I was caught in a scandal (which was often), I would often wonder if Aunty would strike down on me with a Trishul, her tongue out like Kali Mata.

A haunting tune, this prayer had further rammifications in our schedules. Even though the song was scary in itself, it's playing heralded the coming of happy times. Dussehra would be followed by Winter Holidays, and then by Birthday Celebrations (with a limp Unit Test in the middle), followed by Sports. In short, a three month long extravaganza that climaxed in the Hill View Stadium.

Memories of the pyre in the Poornachandra Auditorium, with the sages chanting the shlokas. The stage burning a yellowish orange. Of prayers in the mornings and dramas in the evenings. Of happy times lurking behind the scary chants.

Jogging Music

The most glorious music to have touched the ears of homo sapiens.

I could write a book on what the music meant to me.

Five Stones, Rasna, Item Wise Practice, Squares made of chalk powder, the smiling Parvathi statue who could see you wherever you were on the ground, the ma'am behind Parvathi with a deck, waking up late, and sleeping even later, of bath in the dining hall, and practice in the dormitory.

Of new friends found, irrespective of batches. Of new records set in juggling and duff rotating. Of cricket and WWF cards hidden in the pockets. The school dress relegated to oblivion, the Shoe Rack bursting out in the enthusiasm, or probably protesting the stench. Of food in the dining hall at any point of time. Of the lights in the ground at night, the music that would become our life for the next few months.

Of a ribbon stiched along the sides of the pant, of a morning filled with exuberation. Getting ready hours in advance, and putting on the costume. Of waiting for your turn to go in, feeling like the world depends on you, even though you are just a speck in a large formation. Of listening to the music for the last time. Of walking back to the school, listening to the last strains of the music fade out of your mind.


And then the cycle would go on again, the songs, the Ahuja system, the moods, the bonda kadi, the buffalo milk, and the Sunday bhajans.


  1. Amazingly written...brought back a lot of memories!

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  3. 'Suspected black magician' - That was ultimate!

    Thoroughly enjoying your blog posts.