My ‘now’ song: Phir wohi raaste

Do you ever have a song, an idea, a storyline, or an image stuck in your head? And it just refuses to go away? For some time at least. I have this with music—it could be a song, an instrumental piece, a jingle, etc. This becomes my ‘now’ song, and the ‘nowness’  (pardon my English here) could be for any length of time.

 My ‘now’ song is Phir wohi raaste sung by Shafqat Amanat Ali from the film Ramchand Pakistani.

I first heard this song on a cold, cold day in December 2008 in London. I was surfing YouTube when I came across the title of the film. That immediately caught my attention and on exploring further, I came across this song. When I heard the flawless rendition by the incomparable Shafqat Amanat Ali, I was hooked. Every part of the song appealed to me—the lyrics by Anwar Maqsood, the music by Surya Mitra, and of course the way it was sung. Since then, Shafqat Amanat Ali has become one of my favourite singers.

At that time, the appeal in this song lay in its ability to connect with my homesickness. Today, I am back home and I am not homesick. Yet, the appeal of this song endures in a way that I cannot explain or describe here. All I can say is that if you have heard this song before, why don’t you listen to it once again here? If you haven’t, then experience this song right here.

Enjoy 🙂

India’s Republic Day celebrations: Time for a change

Another Republic Day has come and gone. India’s 62nd, to be precise. This one has been no different from its previous ones, at least the ones I have been observing for the last 25 years or so. For example,

  • The run-up to the Republic Day saw the print and electronic media competing with each other in reporting the achievements of the country.
  • There were interviews with key armed forces personnel, academicians, ministers, investors, NRIs, and other stakeholders for a “holistic” view of India.
  • There were interviews with the kin of freedom fighters (there aren’t any freedom fighters left now, I guess) in the media. A couple of interviews with retired armed forces personnel were also thrown in for a little variety.
  • The President’s speech (yawnnn…) was boring as usual and had nothing inspiring in it.
  • The Republic Day parade was beamed live on Doordarshan, the national television.

I think that even for those who did not watch the parade (either in New Delhi or the live telecast), like me, could imagine what it would have been like. This is because the parade has been following a set pattern year after year and does not deviate from it for even an inch.

So I knew that there would be an impressive display of India’s military might through its arms and ammunition, various regiments and divisions of the armed forces, the BSF camels, the CRPF, the Coast Guard, etc. Then there would be tableaux from the states and union territories of India, as well as performances by school children and folk dancers.

The evening news on TV and the Republic Day coverage on various news websites confirmed that my visualisation of India’s 62nd Republic Day celebrations was spot on. Some images from this year’s Republic Day parade at New Delhi are presented below (all images are courtesy of

Brahmos Missile Launcher

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Nostalgia time: The 2011 ISH alumni reunion in Mumbai

I have always wondered about alumni reunions, you know. Particularly since I have never attended one in spite of having studied in 8 schools, one college, and two universities. To be honest, I have never felt the need to as I have been in touch with special friends from school/college/university. Besides, I have found many of my batchmates over the years, courtesy Facebook.

At least that is what I told myself. Whenever I heard people talking about attending read accounts of alumni meets, I always felt a twinge of envy.

I no longer feel that twinge as I finally attended my first alumni reunion the day before yesterday. It was not an alumni reunion of any of the schools/college/universities I have studied in; rather, it was of a place I had stayed in — the International Students House (ISH), London. The alumni reunion is special as ISH is probably the only organisation in the world, outside of an educational institution, to have an alumni association.

When I received the email invite a few weeks back, I instantly went into a rewind mode to the year spent at ISH in London.

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Kahat Kabir suno bhai saadho …

Every Indian child, at least the ones who learn Hindi, knows about Kabir—the mystic poet, saint, and philosopher. Kabir ke dohe or Kabir’s couplets were a part of my school life too. Not only did I read his poetry in my Hindi textbooks, I was also exposed to his philosophy through the Government of India initiated “National Integration Campaign” during my school years in the eighties as Kabir’s philosophy and background—which appealed to Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike—made him the perfect symbol of national integration.

Kahat Kabir suno bhai saadho…, which appears like a signature line in most of Kabir’s compositions, was probably the most recognised phrase during my school days. Yet, once I left school, I also left Kabir behind. Over the years, I had fleeting encounters with Kabir through a occassional article in a newspaper or magazine or through snatches of a song heard on TV or the radio.

So, when I heard about the Kabir Festival being organised in Mumbai, I knew that this was a chance to renew my acquaintance with Kabir. According to the Festival’s twitter page, “The aim of The Kabir Festival Mumbai is to introduce Mumbai to the message of Kabir which is perhaps even more relevant today than it was in his time.” The Kabir Festival Mumbai is a “confluence of mystic poetry, music, dance and films”, with the main festival being held from 21–23 January, and the run-up events from 14–20 January 2011.

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Just wondering… Is silence always golden?

A quote that I use quite often is, “Just when I knew the answers to all of life’s questions, they changed the questions”. The reason is, now and then, the quote comes true for me—especially when I am feeling a little smug and contented with life—shaking me out of a self-induced “all iz well” feeling. One such change in life’s questions happened about two years back, on a cold windy day in January. It disturbed me then, and it disturbs me even today, and will probably disturb me for a long time to come.

I was studying in London at that time. Winter break was nearly over and I was waiting for the second semester classes to resume. I was also looking forward to meeting my classmates, especially Erab, who had gone home to occupied Palestine for the winter break. While she was there, Israel had launched an offensive against Gaza, and though Erab was not a resident of Gaza, I was still concerned about her safety and that of her family and friends. Though I had kept in touch with her through emails and text messages, I wanted to see her and reassure myself that she was fine.

Erab returned safely to London and I met her the day classes resumed. As I hugged her with relief and asked after her family and the situation in Palestine, she started crying. She told me that she had received a text message from a colleague in Gaza that morning about the bombing of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society Hospital leading to several casualties. We couldn’t talk any further as the teacher walked in, and we scrambled to take our seats.

After a round of “hiya” and “how was the vacation”, our class of 32 students from 18 different countries settled down to some serious teaching–learning. Or at least tried to. Erab had retreated to a corner of the room and was crying softly. Though this obvious distress did not go unnoticed, neither the teacher nor the other students intervened. The class continued and after a while Erab composed herself. Even after the class got over, no one went up to Erab and asked her what was the matter or how she was. A week passed, then another, and before we knew it our class settled back into the punishing routine of lectures and assignments, normal for a postgraduate programme. Erab never showed her distress in class again, though the situation in Gaza continued to be grim.

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Travel Shot: The red line

May 19, 2009: Buses line up before a signal at Trafalgar Square, London. You can see Nelson's Column standing high in the background

I saw this row of red buses all lined up at a signal at Trafalgar Square, while I was waiting for a bus on the opposite side to take me to Baker’s Street. The buses contrasted beautifully with the grey of the buildings, Nelson’s column and the road, as well as the cloudy blue sky.

And before I knew it, I was digging into my backpack for the camera. 🙂