Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Profound, Prolific and Funny. (Part-III)

Author's Note: To read the 1st part of this post, click HERE.

The 2nd part can be read HERE.

Through this post... I intend to bring to you a few nuggets of information... some known, some unknown and some little known. But interesting nevertheless.

Former External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh's book "Yours Sincerely", a selection of correspondence between him and eminent public personalities - among them Indira Gandhi, P.N. Haksar, H.Y. Sharda Prasad, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Rajiv Gandhi, E.M. Forster, Nadine Gordimer and Mulk Raj Anand... released earlier this month. The book does not include any correspondence with Sonia Gandhi... but many letters, written by people long gone, remain relevant even today.

In December 1971, Mrs. Gandhi wrote: "It is not important what the Chinese think or what they want. What is important is what they do. So far they have kept to the expected line." Nearly four decades later, her advice would still make sense. But we need to be on our guard... constantly, and not take the famous slogan "Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai" too seriously. Even though we have now graduated to "Hindi-Chini Buy Buy" *wink*

Some of the correspondence reveals Mrs Gandhi's softer, affectionate side. In January 1970, after Natwar suffered a slipped disc while bending to give his son a teddy, she wrote to him, "Do you remember when the same thing happened to KPS Menon? He had to stand in a very artistic Ajanta pose for quite some time. Now you know the pleasures of fatherhood."

When Natwar's daughter was born, she wrote, "You certainly have done better planning than many of us. My heart has always yearned for a daughter, so I can imagine your joy in Jagat's having a baby sister."

Here is a very popular joke involving Pervez Musharraf and Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Pervez Musharraf comes to Delhi for a meeting with Vajpayee. After dinner, Vajpayee says to Musharraf: "Well, I don't know what you think of the members of your Cabinet, but mine are all bright and brilliant."
- "How do you know?" asks Musharraf.
- "Oh well, it's simple", says Atal. "They all have to take special tests before they can be a minister. Wait a second". He calls Advani over and says to him, "Tell me Advaniji, who is the child of your father and of your mother who is not your brother and is not your sister?"
- "Ah, that's simple", says Advani, "it is me!"
- "Well done Advaniji", says Vajpayee and Musharraf is very impressed.
He returns to Islamabad and wonders about the intelligence of the members of his Cabinet. He calls in his favourite member of Cabinet and asks: "Tell me, who is the child of your father and of your mother who is not your brother and is not your sister?"
The Cabinet member thinks and thinks but doesn't get the answer. "Can I think about it a bit further? May I let you know tomorrow?"
- "Of course", says Musharraf, "you've got 24 hours."
He goes away, thinks as hard as he can, calls in his Cabinet Secretary, Chief Secretaries and Joint Secretaries, but no-one knows the answer. Twenty hours later, the member of Musharraf's Cabinet is very worried... still no answer and only 4 hours to go. Eventually he says: "I'll ask Benazir, she's clever, she'll know the answer."
He calls Benazir. "Benazir Sahiba", he says, "tell me who is the child of your father and of your mother who is not your brother and is not your sister?"
- "Very simple", says Benazir, "it's me!"
- "Of course" says the Cabinet member and rings Musharraf. "Sir", says he, "I've got the answer. It's Benazir Bhutto".
- "No, you idiot", says Musharraf, "it's Advani".

During the BJP years, Benazir forged a link with the Advani family with equal facility and friendship. Infact, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani and the slain two-time former prime minister of Pakistan... Benazir Bhutto shared a very special bond - that of Sindh, the land of their birth. Once while she was at his place... during one of her visits to India, his daughter Pratibha narrated the above joke to her. The only change was that Musharraf was replaced by Nawaz Sharif.

Nawaz (another two-time former PM of Pakistan) was famously known as 'all brawn and no brains'. He was also reputed to have an attention span of 30 seconds... which should explain the Kargil War. i.e., Nawaz denying knowing anything about it and Musharraf insisting that he had briefed him. Even though towards the end of the 'war' the former had made an urgent dash to the land of the 'cowboys' to find a face-saving solution, ostensibly at the latter's insistence. His love for good food especially nihari and paya is quite legendary too.

According to Advani (as narrated in his autobiography "My Country My Life") Benazir just laughed and asked Pratibha for a print-out. She took the print of the joke back to Pakistan with her. Incidentally, Nawaz (a Punjabi from Kashmiri stock) was built up by the intelligence agencies and the army (under Gen. Zia) to counter Benazir in Punjab. His better half - Begum Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif - is a decendant of the legendary wrestler, Gama pehelwan. Gen. Zia's father was a humble Maulvi in a mosque and his family had migrated to the 'land of the pure' from India after independence. While the family of Musharraf (who was born near Delhi) too migrated across the border after the partition. Good riddance to bad rubbish... what???

Here is a joke about the late General Zia-ul-Haq who ruled Pakistan for nearly 12 years before dying in an air crash. Infact, his rule was the most despotic and the darkest ever chapter in that country... and there has been ripple effects elsewhere in the region and beyond. The spread of the drug culture, Kalashnikov culture, proliferation of political Madrassas, a destructive 'islamisation' of that nation, discriminatory laws, sowing the seeds of religious strife and the Taliban... et al. Zia had deposed the then prime minister Z.A. Bhutto in a coup d'état in 1977. In 1979 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir's father and the first elected prime minister of Pakistan was executed (hanged to death) under a smokescreen that history now characterizes as a 'judicial murder'. One of the judges had even accused Bhutto Sr. of being a 'closet Hindu'. Now for the joke...

General Zia driving round Islamabad came across long queues of Pakistanis outside several embassies wanting visas and entry permits to go abroad.
He got out of his car and joined a line to find out why so many people were wanting to leave the country.
No sooner did the people see their President with them... they left the queue to return to their homes.
President Zia asked them why they were doing so.
They replied: "If you are leaving Pakistan there is no need for us to go."

The then regime (of Gen. Zia) had reportedly stripped (and photographed) Zulfikar's body to see if he was circumcised. Apparently, the Pakistan army had always treated Bhutto Sr. with disdain because his mother (Benazir's grandmother) Khursheed Begum was a Hindu from Gujarat who had converted to Islam. That should explain the reluctance of her family, party and supporters to subject her mortal remains to an autopsy under the Musharraf regime. What I find strange was the sudden insistence of the media - both domestic and international - on an autopsy. Indeed the way the media tried to play up the 'autopsy issue' (the denial of permission by her immediate family, that is) and played down the fact that the crime scene (where she was assassinated) was washed within minutes of her assassination... was extraordinary to say the least. Even the vehicle in which she was traveling was washed clean... thus destroying vital clues and evidence. Sudden collective amnesia on the part of the media, analysts, experts, et al means... Tarang, Tarang (that is the suspense music playing in the background, my friend). Even stranger was the attempt by the Scotland Yard to put the seal of authenticity on the Musharraf team's 'investigations and findings' into the murder. But then the cowboys and their cronies will have to shield Musharraf... else future recruitment of would-be Rommels and Guderians... will get affected. In the American scheme of things... he still has a role to play. Most certainly. They prefer someone who is a creature they can control... rather than someone who has strong support among the masses.

The father of Musharraf aka the erstwhile proud supermodel of the very exclusive 'Bushshirt'... was dismissed from service (due to financial misconduct) by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Syed Musharrafuddin (Musharraf Sr.) was a lower grade employee of the Pakistan foreign service. Why the media and others insist on calling him a 'diplomat'... I have no idea. Benazir (during her tenure as PM) had interviewed Musharraf for some position and was quite disappointed by his analytical skills. Infact, she had very little respect for his 'analytical skills' and had termed him 'deceitful'. Musharraf... after wearing several hats (Chief of Army Staff + CEO + President + much else) had once boasted that he could put her in jail on a goat theft case. Can we imagine such a thing in India... ??? A rhetorical question... right? And Thank God for that!

The hand of the 'cowboys' and their cronies behind events in Asia especially South Asia is very evident. And their media... rather the western media/reports/polls, etc... are tools that are used for a certain purpose. Who can forget the stories regarding WMDs in Iraq of all places? The way it was orchaestrated, the purpose and the 'mission accomplished'. Afghanistan? Offlate, if you follow events in Iran as well as in the 'land of the pure'... the pattern is evident. It is called the 'colour revolution'.

The 'struggle cum movement' by the 'Men-In-Black' in the 'land of the pure' is highly suspicious. It was very well orchestrated, since they had to redeem the 'image' of the men-in-black in the eyes of the public and the world. And they succeeded. The black coats are the best bet... to achieve a certain desired result, since they provide the essential 'legal cover' too.

Weren't the 'Men-in-Black' involved in the agitation/movement... way back in 1977... ?? Of course back then... they were joined by others too (including the colourful beards' lobby). We know what the end result was. And wasn't the hand of the Jimmy Carter administration found... behind those 'spontaneous and popular' agitations... ??? Mind you... Mr. Carter was later honoured with the Nobel Peace prize, ostensibly for his matchless services rendered towards peace and charity. Last week, the same Jimmy Carter - one of America's most 'morally upright' presidents - was forced to apologise to Israel... because he realised that his grandson's senatorial ambitions would otherwise be thwarted by the politically-powerful pro-Israeli lobby. So much for 'democracy'.

Aren't the cowboys and their cronies trying to do the same in Iran now... ?? Not through the 'Men-in-Black' of course. That would give the game away!

Ummm... as they say, "Old wine in new bottle".

Until recently, I was yet to understand... how could lakhs of people who did not do a day's work, for 2 whole years... manage to maintain their home and hearth really well. Plus all the other expenses incurred while trying to set the world record, for the maximum distance covered on foot... ??? Then I read... that the Bar associations in the land of the 'cowboys' plus elsewhere had foot the bill. Plus someone with a love for nihari and paya. Plus angels and other mortals. So, the puzzle was finally solved *big grin*

Lets see how the events in South Asia shape up in the days to come. Coincidently, Obama is yet another Nobel laureate... the proud owner of the coveted Nobel Peace prize. Conferred on him by the august panel... immediately after he occupied the most expensive piece of real estate in the US of A.

In India, we are no stranger to bouts of name-changing spree. There are these little, obscure places whose names, rooted in some local tradition or legend, get changed when someone goes on the name-changing binge. Let me narrate a tale that most of you may not be familiar with... but it is interesting all the same.

There is this little place on the Karakoram Highway, about 6 miles short of Abbottabad. It is precisely where the road starts to climb into the mountains. Truck drivers usually stop here to top up the radiators with cold water from a nearby stream to ready their vehicles for the climb ahead. The place had a curious name, 'Khota Qabar', meaning, donkey's grave. Google gives the following information about this place: "Latitude 34.09; longitude 73.17; elevation 3,251 feet."

On their way to Balakot to fight the Sikhs, Syed Ahmed and Shah Ismail, who had come all the way from Breli, India, to wage jihad and liberate the area from Sikh control, had camped where Abbottabad is today. This was in 1831. They had brought a small army of mujahideen with them and some joined them locally. (Incidentally, this is the first time one comes across the word 'jihad' and 'mujahideen' in this part of the subcontinent). The Sikhs, in order to choke the mujahideen's supply lines, posted troops on the hills overlooking the road that led through the gorge.

The mujahideen, sensing the risk of sending supply convoys through the gorge cleverly hired the services of a donkey without a handler... to do the job. Yes, just one donkey. Even though the donkey has, for some odd reasons, become a metaphor for stupidity in our part of the world, it is not stupid at all. In fact, it has an excellent memory and uses it very intelligently. One of the unique traits of a donkey is that once he carries a load to a destination, he memorizes the route and does not need a handler to be able to go back to the same place. Just a light kick in the back sends him trudging quietly to his destination. So unknown to the Sikhs, this dutiful donkey trudged back and forth, night after night, carrying supplies from down below to the mujahideen's camp. It wasn't long before though that the Sikhs found out who the mysterious courier was and shot the donkey dead one night. (Obviously PETA and a famous bahu had not yet made their presence felt).

The mujahideen mourned the loss of the donkey and buried him in a grave rather than letting him rot in the open, as often they do. The place came to be called 'Khota Qabar' thereafter. The battle of Balakot ended in disaster for the mujahideen, but that is a different story. The grave of the donkey may not have survived but the name did. Ever since, people of the surrounding areas, old and young, know the place by that name. Ask any taxi, bus or truck driver and he will know where 'Khota Qabar' is. But recently, a road sign quietly sprouted at the precise spot announcing a new name for the place - 'Muslimabad'...! There was no one to defend the poor, dutiful donkey. However, the people of the area still know the place by its old name. And so does Professor Google!

Next time if you have the urge to call someone a 'donkey'... you know what to do. No?? Okie, I'll tell you. Bite your tongue...

Before I end, here is another joke on Gen. Zia...

Once Pak dictator Gen. Zia was speeding through Germany with his chauffeur at the wheel... on his way to an important ceremony. Driving down a country road, the chauffeur (who was distracted, looking out the window at the countryside) failed to see a pig walk out onto the road, and hit it with the car. Stopping the car, he jumped out, and Zia climbed out as well... to see what was going on. The chauffeur, very distressed by what he had done asked Zia what they should do. Zia told him (rather impatiently) that they were in a hurry and they should move the pig to the side of the road and go to the ceremony and worry about it later.

All the way to the ceremony... the chauffeur, who was a fairly good-hearted person despite his employer, was worried about the family who owned the pig and wondered how they'd react on discovering the dead pig. So when they arrived (at their destination) he asked Zia whether he should drive back to the farm and let the owners know what had happened.

Zia agreed... before hurrying to the podium, and the chauffeur hurried back down the road. Four hours later, he was seen stumbling down the road, his arms laden with gifts. Zia in a rage demanded to know what had happened to him, and the chauffeur explained, "I did what I thought was right. I went to the farm near the dead pig. When I knocked on the door and gave them the news, they gave me these gifts, fed me the best food I'd ever tasted and then sent me on my way."

Zia seemed confused by this and asked his chauffeur, "Well... what exactly did you tell them"? To which the chauffeur replied, "I can't understand it either. All I did was tell them, 'I'm Zia's chauffeur, and I killed the pig.'"

Here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas (belated) and a very Happy, Prosperous and Wonderful New Year (in advance)!!!

Note: Some info gathered, courtesy Wikipedia.


A Tuareg tribesman prays at twilight in Libya. Kinda depicts 'the sands of time'. Pic courtesy: National Geographic.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Profound, Prolific and Funny. (Part-II)

Author's Note: To read the 1st part of this post, click HERE.

In this post... I intend to look at the funny side of politics. Not necessarily the brand of 'poly tricks' practised in the land inhabited by yours truly, though *wink*

I will therefore bring to you several funny, profound, inspirational and stupid comments made by politicians and leaders - the people's representatives - over the decades.

Lalu Yadav is not the only one who makes odd and funny statements, though so full of hot air politicians (as a species) around the globe are... and so utterly convinced of their own greatness that it may never occur to them that some of what they say, their audience may find amusing. Editorial desks in the newspapers and electronic media are most generous in reporting what comes their way.

Speaking of the inimitable Lalu, who can forget his 'memorable' speeches during the presentation of the 'Railway Budgets'... in his earlier avatar as the Minister for Railways. Adding a garnish of some Bollywood masala to the 2008-09 Railway Budget, Lalu Prasad Yadav likened the 'historic' success of the rail network to the 2007 megahit 'Chak De India'. The minister, drawing a parallel with the Shah Rukh Khan starrer, which was based on the game of hockey, said: "We are scoring goal after goal in every match. Every child in the country will now say chak de railways. Mungerilal's dreams (Mungerilal ke haseen sapne) are actually being turned into reality," he said evoking much laughter.

The railway minister, whose inimitable sense of humour was well in place as he presented the Budget, recited a Hindi poem to convey his achievements and describe the much-talked-about turnaround of the railways. He said,

"Sab kah rahe hain humne gazab kaam kiya hai,
Karoron ka munafa har ek shaam diya hai,
Phal salon yeh ab dega, paudha jo lagaya hai,
Sewa ka, samarpan ka, humne farz nibhaya hai,"

as the House burst into laughter. Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee was also seen laughing away. Infact, Chatterjee was seen covering his mouth trying to suppress his laughter at Yadav's inimitable attempts to translate the poem into English. The complete speech is HERE [Clip]

The poetry was about the Railways doing wonders and earning crores as profits. "The sapling we planted will bear fruit now," Lalu said in the poem. At the request of some members, he translated the poetry into his accented English ("I will try to translate myself in English till here"), which again had the House in rapture. "Everybody is appreciating, ki I have done a tremendous work. Each and every year, I have earned crores and crores every day. And they are saying, Laloo Yadav has planted a fruit tree, and every year, it is duty of my, to grow fruit tree." To much mirth in the House, Chatterjee quipped (in hindi): "Iske baad rail ka koi samasya nehi rahega" (tr: after this, the railways will not face any problems). You can view the clip HERE. Infact, this clip has become a huge hit on YouTube. Watch it... it is a real stress-buster! *big grin*

In his elements, Lalu paused for a sip of water. "Pani peene dijiye," he said combatively, as if someone had threatened to snatch away the glass. His announcement of a coach factory for Kerala brought cheers from the Left MPs of the state. For him the going was still smooth - members on either side listening to his proposals carefully. A minor slip of tongue - 'July' sounded like 'dhulai' - was taken in good humour. In the first hint of a gathering storm, Adhir Chowdhury - a Congress MP from West Bengal - interrupted his list of new Garib Rath trains by asking, "Are there no poor in Bengal?" "Sunte jaiye" (tr: Keep listening), Lalu retorted.

Let us now turn to the land of the sole superpower... and even to the occupant (past and present) of the most expensive piece of real estate there. It may also be sort of reassuring to know that our politicians are not alone in this department. And that they can even be overshadowed and outpaced by miles. Really!

Let me start with President George W Bush who made the following profound observation about Africa once: "We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease." - Gothenburg, Sweden, June 14, 2001. Ronald Reagan, who had quite a wit, said after his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale, "If I had as much makeup on as he did, I'd have looked younger too."

And for those who have wondered why President Bush likes books, here is the explanation in his own words, "One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures." On reading he said, "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.'' - Townsend, Tennessee, 21 February, 2001.

Regarding small business growth and the budget let me quote Dubya again here. "I understand small business growth. I was one." - New York Daily News, 19 February, 2000. On the budget, "It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it." - Reuters, 5 May, 2000. Dubya is simply peerless! He had even proudly stated, "I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office." - Washington DC, 12 May, 2008.

I wonder how did he manage to get himself admitted and then graduate... from Harvard and Yale of all places... ??? I mean yeh halwa hai kya?? Certainly not on merit... thats for sure. So much for 'democracy'... !!

Congressman Tom Feeney of Florida has this to say about Congress: "The only difference between Congress and drunken sailors is that drunken sailors spend their own money."

American politicians have had some most amusing things to say about government, Reagan said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." However, one Grover Norquist of a group called 'Americans for Tax Reform' said, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the tub." Reagan's view of economy remains a classic. He said, "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it."

Richard Nixon, who swore like a sailor, laid down the following qualifications for his new chief of internal revenue or income tax: "I want to make sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he will do what he's told, that every income tax return I want to see, I see, that he will go after our enemies and not our friends. Now it's as simple as that. If he doesn't, he doesn't get the job."

Nixon could not stand Jews. He once said to his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, "You know, it's a funny thing. Every one of the bastards that are out for legalising marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists."

Politics, Nixon once said, "would be a helluva good business if it weren't for the goddamned people." Reagan, asked for his view of politics, observed, "Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears very close resemblance to the first."

President Bush's defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, will always remain known for this observation, "There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

Harry Truman said of Washington, "If you need a friend, get yourself a dog," while Fred Thompson, former senator and an actor in a popular TV series called 'Law and Order', said of the US capital, "After two years in Washington, I miss the sincerity and genuineness of Hollywood." And President Herbert Hoover said, "Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt."

Harry Truman, going over his life in politics, summed it up thus: "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference."

And here is something that established a link between President John F Kennedy and President Asif Ali Zardari (of Pakistan). Kennedy said, "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names." Zardari, asked by a friend to help an officer who had gone out of his way to do Zardari in while working at the Ehtesab (Accountability) Bureau, expressed his reservations but when pressed, relented. "Thank you, Sai'n," his friend said exiting the room, "Forgiven and forgotten?" "Forgiven, but not forgotten," Zardari was quick to remind him.

The Nawab of Kalabagh, once said that he kept two books, one listing the names of his friends, and the other, those of his enemies. "From the first book, you can move to the other book; but you can never move from the second book to the first."

Once, many moons ago, when Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister of the 'land of the pure' and under attack for various alleged financial misdeeds, she quoted from Shakespeare's Othello. 'Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,' said Iago to the Moor, 'is the immediate jewel of their souls; who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.'

Politicians are usually asked to make good governance their top priority. There are no friendships at the top. Good governance demands that they change their friends periodically. Moreover, they are not required to make statements rebutting every criticism... though some continue to indulge in this game, aptly called the 'blame game'. It is often better to leave the repartee to underlings. When a former British premier, Clement Attlee, was told that he speaks very little, he answered, "You don't keep a dog and bark yourself".

(More later...)

Note: Some info gathered, courtesy: Wikipedia.


A picture of a telephone with a funny yet prolific tagline: If we don't take care of the customer, maybe they'll stop bugging us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Paimana Bideh"... (Part-III)

Author's Note: If you want to read the 1st part of this post... and listen to this fabulous song, click HERE.

For the 2nd part, click HERE.

This is the concluding part. Let me begin this post with five fabulous songs. From the album "Ustad & The Divas". Ustad Sultan Khan with Chitra, Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal. Music: Sandesh Shandilya. Lyrics: Irshad Kamil. The songs are amazing, to say the least. Really... "music is the food of love." Though I must admit... I have never doubted that *smiling*

You can download all the 10 songs from HERE. Following are the links to their videos.

1. Ustad & The Divas - 'Hainiya' - LINK. Alternate link: HERE.

2. Ustad & The Divas - 'More Piya' - LINK.

3. Ustad & The Divas - 'Billo' - LINK.

4. Ustad & The Divas - 'Haire Raatbhar' - Ustad Sultan Khan and Chitra (LINK).

5. Ustad & The Divas - 'Leja Leja Re' - Ustad Sultan Khan with Shreya Ghoshal (LINK).

Marvelous, romantic and refreshing songs... all. You are sure to enjoy them.

Here are a few more for you to savour.

1. 'Chandni si Raat' - Ustad Sultan Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain - Video LINK. The Magic of Sarangi... music is truly divine. Wah Ustad Wah!

2. 'Shaam Dhale' - Chitra and Ustad Sultan Khan - Video LINK. It is a soothing song and brings back memories. (Its evening again/ time passes, it does not wait for anyone/ look another day has passed us by/ it is time to stop all the negativities/ and learn to live... and love...). So true yet so magical!

3. 'Maula Maula' - Ustad Sultan Khan. Features DJ Suketu - Video LINK.

Lets get back to Zeb and Haniya. Here is a little background info... on them. 'Zeb and Haniya' was conceived circa 2000-2003, during the girls' college days in the United States, where Zeb studied Economics and History of Art while Haniya studied Computer Science and Anthropology (at Smith College and Mount Holyoke College in the Pioneer Valley). 'Chup', their first song, came to life in sessions at an abandoned café in the basement of Zeb's dorm. After a tremendous response from the college community, Zeb and Haniya recorded a rough version of 'Chup' and another song titled 'Yaad' with Mekaal Hasan of Mekaal Hasan Band fame (website). Once again, the response was remarkable... and the songs were a hit.

Produced by Mekaal Hasan, 'Chup' also features some of the best talent that Pakistan has today: Gumby, Shallum, Kamran Zafar, Mohammad Ahsan Papu, Omran Shafique, Hamza Jafri, Sameer Ahmed and Sikandar Mufti; as well as Norwegian musician Hildegunn Øiseth. The album (also titled 'Chup') opens with the song 'Chup' and the vocals on this are a treat to listen to.

You can download all the 10 songs in this album - 'Chup' - a myriad of jazz, blues and rock with a pinch of folk and classical thrown in, courtesy this LINK. It contains 9 songs. The 10th song 'Ahaan' can be downloaded from HERE.

I've already given the links for 'Paimana Bideh' - by far one of the best songs on the album - in the 1st part of this post. Now, I'll give you a little background about the remaining 9 songs and the links to some of their videos as well. They are a must-watch! So, here you go:

1. 'Chup' is this sweet, folksy song that packs a jazzy punch because of the use of the trumpet, played by Hildegunn. It has very simple lyrics... yet the song is very endearing. [Video Link].

2. 'Chup' is followed by 'Rona Chhor Diya' which packs a far stronger punch - the girls sound infinitely more passionate, the music is fiery as is the chorus 'maine rona chhor diya' (tr: I've stopped crying). Take a note of the lyrics 'paani barsa / yeh dil tarsa / par jab beeta thoda arsa / maine rona chhor diya' (tr: it rained / my heart pined / but after a while / I stopped crying) and 'ab to bas mai hi khabar hoon / gardish main hoon / rahguzar hoon / toofaan hoon main / tera darr hoon' (tr: now, I'm the news / I'm revolving / I walk the path / I'm a force of nature / I am your fear) - 'Rona Chhor Diya' could very well become the darker, twisted Pakistani version of post-breakup anthems like, Destiny's Child's 'Survivor', Gloria Gaynor's 'I will survive' and Meredith Brooks' 'B**ch'. [Video link].

3. The next track 'Kabhi Na Kabhi' has darker undertones - it evokes images of old black and white films and would be perfect for a hindi film soundtrack. A poignant track, carried through by the vocals and the smooth and sultry trumpet provided by Øiseth. [Video link - performed live].

4. 'Kahaan' is fairly forgettable and it highlights the only issue I have with the album; that listening to it from start to finish makes it feel slightly monotonous. Whereas, if you listen to the songs individually they're all great listening. Perhaps the CD would make for a better hear if the track listing was done in a better way.

5. 'Chal Diye' has an absolutely beautiful guitar arrangement - kudos to Shallum, Kamran, Haniya and Mekaal, and the song's vocals have more of a classical flavour as opposed to the earlier tracks. A slow acoustic ballad that soothes the listener into the lyrics. [Video Link].

6. 'Ahaan' is another track to keep an ear out for - this alternative pop song will be a big hit if Zeb and Haniya opt to make a video for it. [Video Link - this is an amazing track with animation].

7. 'Seh Na Sakay' is another song with an old-world feel to it, like 'Kabhi Na Kabhi' which features early on in the album.

8. 'Aitebar' is an instant classic and here the vocals suddenly sound so much more grown up - even seductive. The song's been complemented by a fantastic video directed by Saqib Malik, who has showcased the concept fantastically through dance. The video, shot in a gorgeous haveli, shows a couple dancing to symbolize their relationship, until the girl closes the door (literally!) on it. The basic concept is a woman who's ended the relationship and she's symbolically closing the door of the house... where she spent time with her partner, husband, we don't know, that's been left open.

And as she goes through each room she relives a part of her relationship that coincides with what Zeb and Haniya are singing about, the emotion they're trying to express. So sometimes it's anger, sometimes it's hatefulness, nostalgia, freedom, some sort of tension...

Zeb and Haniya look gorgeous as they stand on the sidelines and sing this song in the video. The line 'raat thee teri to ab din hai mera' (tr: if the night was yours, the day is mine) jumps out - and the song finishes off with mélange of guitar and drums, proving how much better live drums sound on an album. [Video Link].

9. 'Ban Kay Touri Jogan' features Zeb on vocals and is probably the most fast-paced song on the album. Zeb holds her own in the face of lyrics that one would usually hear from classical music singers, and it is perhaps the most befitting end to this album. It starts slow but picks up a very fusion-like sound, showcasing the singer's tutelage of classical music.

'Zeb and Haniya' is the music I want to listen to on a holiday, weekend or on a Sunday morning/afternoon. Great vocals; not so mellow that I wander back into bed, but not so aggressive that I'm further traumatized... the first few hours I'm up after hearing them, that is. I'm sure you'll second my opinion/views. Their music draws on a number of different traditions - folk, the blues, jazz, rock, swing (!), ghazals, qawwali, Hindustani classical music, and Turkish and Lebanese music.

In their grandmother's house in Kohat in the North-West Frontier Province, recall Zeb and Haniya, there were always "lots of harmoniums and tablas lying around." Their uncles, "all big strapping Pathan men," sang "beautifully." And their grandmother too wrote and sang in three languages - Pashto, Urdu and Punjabi.

"We are not fighting our culture to make music. When Pathan families get together, there's lots of fun, lots of food, lots of meat, and lots of music. That has been fading away from our experience and other people's perception of Pathan culture. It is something we want to reclaim," said Zeb.

Their songs bring a spectrum of style, instrumentation and influence. Some tracks ring with the cheeriness of pop while others capture the evocative richness of Pashto and Farsi folk traditions. Their sound is not confined to one genre, and has been described as alternative, art folk, ethnic blues and World Music. Their influences are many, including pioneering pop and folk from Pakistan, 60s and 70s folk guitar-based music from the US and UK, classical South Asian music, classic jazz, delta blues.

The artists skim across decades, genres and borders to produce a truly innovative sound. Their songs seamlessly mix blues grooves and jazzy rhythms into complex melodies grounded in local traditions. Finally, we have a sound that touches the brilliant kaleidoscope of language, history, art and culture that is South-Asia... or rather this region. The band draws upon a diverse set of influences including Suzanne Vega, Turkish singer Barış Manço, and jazz and blues singers like Muddy Waters. They have been touted as the successors to the iconic Pakistani pop singer Nazia Hassan, a singer who achieved worldwide fame in the 1980s. Remember the song "Aap Jaisa Koi" from the Feroz Khan-Vinod Khanna-Zeenat Aman starrer (1980) hindi film Qurbani? Remember the voice behind the super-hit song "Boom Boom"... ?? Here is the video of yet another of her popular songs - "Disco Deewane". Sadly, Nazia passed away on August 13, 2000 in London due to lung cancer... at the age of 35.

In an outstanding display of chivalry, it was some of the top male musicians in the industry (in Pakistan) who held the door open for Zeb and Haniya: Mekaal Hasan, Shallum Xavier, Louis 'Gumby' Pinto, Omran Shafique, Hamza Jafri, Sameer Ahmed and Sikander Mufti (from Co-Ven), are just some of the musicians. Fulfilling the duty of brass instruments here is Hildegen Øiseth, an established Norwegian Jazz musician. His trumpets serenade the songs and their lyrics, and quite frankly if you remove his contribution to the album, it would sound incomplete and unfinished. These gents did everything from contributing music to help on production details on this album, and one wonders if there was a case of "too many cooks spoiling the broth" here. Thankfully, under the careful eye (and ear) of Mekaal Hasan, everything is in proportion.

Let me end this post with the great 13th-century Persian poet and sufi mystic Rumi. His poems elegantly and consistently touch our inner being and inspire us to go beyond our limitations towards the Divine. Enlightened souls such as Rumi belong to the entire world... as do all great genius', masterpieces and works of (true) art. When it comes to spiritual manifestations... elements such as nationalities, language, gender, time and space do not apply. Rumi was a global citizen, a lover of all of God's creation. A note for those who overlook his message and want to 'claim' Rumi as their own (country, nationality, language, etc) - they've missed the point completely. The sufi poet's message of love still reverberates years after his death (LINK).

You can read some of Rumi's 'Poems of Passion' (translated into English) - HERE.

1. Rumi's poetry: 'Say I Am You' (a Sufi poem) - LINK. I've been seeking the One for a while now, it's hard, but it's worth it. At moments I feel the Divine within every fiber of my being, taking me over completely. For the rest of my life I wish to know only Him, but I still have so much seeking to do.

2. Rumi's Poem, Iranian Music and Divine Dance - LINK. This video is on the theme of divine love, unity, oneness and the similarity of nations/faiths. God is separate from nothing and nothing is separate from God. We are all ONE. Nothing else matters. God loves everyone.

The music is from the album titled "Gift Of Love Vol.1". The Artist is Deepak Chopra. The track name is "Agony And Ecstasy Of Divine Discontent". The poem is by Rumi, recited by Madonna (not sure if she is the right person to recite it, though). The singer and the Music are Iranian.

Enjoy... and have a great weekend!

Note: Some info gathered, courtesy Wikipedia and instep.

There is some disappointment in seeing how Pakistani record labels market their bands. If one were to visit Zeb and Haniya's website, they get a much closer feel to the group's music than the one depicted on their album. The picture on the back of the album, for example, is a much more relaxed and truer image of the two women than the one on the front - juxtaposed in darkness and with big, bold, manly letters. Clearly the record label needs to let their bands be true to themselves. But a book can't be judged by its cover and a band (in this case) not by its album cover. Zeb and Haniya are all set to be heard out loud and clear, across the radio, on the telly and on your music players. They will be anything but 'chup' from now on...

K.S. Chitra is also known as the 'Nightingale of South India'. I think she is simply amazing!

Rumi's poetry: 'Say I Am You' (Sufi poem): The credits do appear at the end of this video, but it is by the composer, Eleni Karaindrou, and is the theme music called "Eternity and a Day" from the movie, Aggelopoulos.


The cover of the album "Ustad & The Divas". Quite appropriate for this post, right... ?!! Pic courtesy: link.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Paimana Bideh"... (Part-II)

Author's Note: If you want to read the 1st part of this post... and listen to this fabulous song, click HERE.

'Paimana Bideh' is a gem of a track. Originally a Pasthun/Darri folk song, the girls (Zeb and Haniya) get everything right here. It's the kind of track you'd want to listen to after a long tiring day at work. With its almost lullaby-like vocals and careful use of the trumpet by Hildegunn Øiseth (an established Norwegian Jazz musician), this track is about yearning and love, and is the perfect number. Hildegunn's use of the horn... in this number, is fantastic. It draws to a whispery close all too soon! This traditional folk song is sung in Pashto and Dari and it brings home the charm of great world music: that it even strikes a chord with someone who does not understand the language.

Given the unfortunate signs of our times... I thought it would be appropriate if I began this post with a beautiful song rendered by
Abrar-ul-Haq - "Tere Rang Rang".

You can view the video HERE. A lovely song indeed! The video is a must watch!

The complete lyrics of this fabulous song can be read:
HERE. It is an Urdu-Sufi kalam. Download link: HERE.

Since we are talking about poetry... let me quote the great
Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869): "Hazaron khwahishein aisi ke har khwahish pe dumm nikley." [Meaning: that I have a thousand wishes and the uncontrollable desire to fulfil each one of them]. Wonderful words, indeed.

For those of you who have listened to this song (Paimana Bideh) and fallen under its spell... let me just add that the original poetry (in Pashto/Dari language) is by the great Persian polymath, astronomer, poet and mystic
Omar Khayyám (1048-1123/1131). Following is the complete lyrics with english translation. The new translation is based on the earlier translation. You can even find the urdu translation in that link.

Paimona bedah key khumar astam
Man ashiq e chasm e mast e yaar astam
(Bring me the chalice, so I may lose myself,
I'm in love with my Beloved's intoxicating Gaze).

Chashmat key bagh e khutan memanaat
Royat ba gulab haye chaman memanaat
(Your Eyes light up my secret garden
Your Face lights up every rose therein).

Gul roo ba kuneed waraq waraq boyee kaanee
Ba lalazar e be watan me yaraat
(Face like a flower, it give petals their fragrance
The land of my Beloved is placeless).

Man ashiq e chasm e mast e yaar astam
Bedeh bedeh kay khumar astam
Paimona bedah key khumar astam
(I'm in love with my Beloved's intoxicating Gaze,
Bring! Bring! So I may annihilate myself.
Bring me the chalice, so I may lose myself).

Az O madanet ager khaber me dashtaam
Pesh e qadamat kocha ragul me kashtaam
(If I hear of Your sacred arrival,
Under Your feet, I will spread a carpet of flowers).

Gul me kashtam gul e gulab me kashtam
Khak e qadamt padi dam e war dashtaam
(Spread flowers, Spread rose flowers,
I will sacrifice myself at the dust of Your feet).

Paimona bedah key khumar astam
Man ashiq e chasm e mast e yaar astam
(Bring me the chalice, so I may lose myself,
I'm in love with my Beloved's intoxicating Gaze).

Symbology of "Wine" and "Beloved's Intoxicated Gaze": In Sufi poetry and music... a much used symbol is "Wine" and "Beloved's Gaze".

The Sufis define their relationship with God through "Love" and thus their favorite name for God is "Beloved". No wonder some medieval European writers thought of the Sufis as the lost and hidden Esoteric Christians in disguise... since Christ's teachings and the Sufi doctine of love are so strikingly similar.

"Beloved's Intoxicating Gaze" is an imagery used to mean the special grace that falls upon the heart of the devotee that give rise to God realization or recognition of God and brings bliss of the soul's loving self-surrender.

For some its a surprise that despite intoxication or strong drink being prohibited in the Scripture, yet the imagery of wine is found in the works of many Sufis... even though they themselves never touched wine or any other intoxicating drink.

The great Sufi teacher
Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927) wrote: "What makes the soul of the poet dance? Music. What makes the painter paint beautiful pictures, the musician sing beautiful songs? It is the inspiration that beauty gives. Therefore the Sufi has called this beauty sāqī , the divine Giver who gives the wine of life to all.

In the imagery of the Sufi poets, this tavern is the world, and the sāqī (wine giver) is God. In whatever form the wine-giver comes and gives the wine, it is God who comes. In this way, by recognizing the sāqī , the wine-giver, in all forms, the Sufi worships God. He recognizes God in friend and foe as the wine-giver."

About losing oneself, about becoming annihilated by the intoxicating divine wine, the 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi said it beautifully, "Dissolve like sugar in water before the Beloved."

The mystic desires that which Omar Khayyám calls wine, the wine of Christ, after drinking which, no one will ever thirst. (:: Bowl of Saki, by Hazrat Inayat Khan).

1. Omar Khayyám - In Praise of Wine -

2. Khayyám's poetry (with persian music and english translation) - Do not Reproach Lovers -

Khayyám I believe is saying... live your life to the fullest but be ready for death whenever it comes. Echos of it can be found in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's celebrated poem "

"Ulysses" is a dramatic monologue (since Ulysses is the only speaker throughout the poem) about an old man who loves to travel and remain active. He is unhappy and dissatisfied as a king and is speaking of his love for travel and dislike for redundancy. Ulysses would rather "Drink life to the lees" (lines 6-7). This means: he wants to get all he can... from life. Keeping this in mind, he gives the throne to his son, Telemachus (who would appreciate it more than him). Then he sails off to enjoy the final voyage of his life. Tennyson uses the theme of desire. "Ulysses'" entire speech is about wanting to travel rather than be idle (and be a king). Tennyson's poem is filled with connotative language. The poet writes about enjoying life to the fullest. Every moment of it. "From that eternal silence, something more". Ulysses also makes allusions to Achilles.

In "Ulysses" Tennyson explains his philosophy of life through the words of the lone speaker, the Greek hero, Ulysses. According to Tennyson, the purpose of life is to remain active. One should not waste time waiting for death. That would make life dull. He explains the brevity of life and urges the readers to devote themselves to action and make their life worth living.

In Urdu, a whole lot of ideas are expressed with the help of 'intoxication'... propping up suffering as a metaphor. It's not meant to be taken literally. Omar Khayyám used words like 'maikhana' to stand for 'the world as a whole' and 'paimana' to mean 'a glass brimming with life'.

"Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light."
-- Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát, Quatrain I

"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
And Wilderness is Paradise enow."
-- Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát, Quatrain XI

The Persian poet, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer - Omar Khayyám - is probably the most famed of all Persian poets in the West, ever since
Edward FitzGerald translated the Rubáiyát in Victorian 19th century. This profoundly influenced the West's perception (or misperception) of Persia in the turn of the century. In fact as unusual as it may seem, one of the original manuscripts of the Rubáiyát was carried aboard the RMS Titanic and was to disappear with the doomed liner under the sea... never to resurface again.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, (rendered into English Verse by Edward FitzGerald) can be viewed HERE. Alternative links: 1. HERE and 2. HERE.

A Persian ruba'i is a two line stanza with two parts (or hemistechs) per line, hence the word "Rubáiyát", (derived from the Arabic root word for 4), meaning "quatrains". The nature of a translation very much depends on what interpretation one places on Khayyám's philosophy. The fact that the Rubáiyát are a collection of quatrains - and may be selected and rearranged subjectively to support one interpretation or another - has led to widely differing versions.

"Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!"
-- Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát, Quatrain XCVI

"Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits--and then
Re-mold it nearer to the Heart's Desire!"
-- Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát, Quatrain XCIX

Here is a video... with haunting, heart-rending music. Quite akin to Khayyám's intensely passionate poetry. It is from the very depths of the eternal soul. Fatalistic, yes, but so beautifully stunning, in my opinion... with the whirling dervish and the divine music. The link is: HERE.

With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,

And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:

And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd--

"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."

-- Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát, Quatrain XXVIII

1. "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" (Part 1) by Richard Le Gallienne (reading): LINK 1

2. "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" (Part 2) by Richard Le Gallienne (reading): LINK 2

Magnifique! Verses about how one must accept the transience of all sublunary things.

None answer'd this; but after Silence spake

A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:

"They sneer at me for leaning all awry;

What? did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

-- Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát, Quatrain LXIII

These lines are from the very first edition/publication (in 1859) of the "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" translated by Edward Fitzgerald - "The Potter's House" - LINK.

Of course, we too are made of clay. "All this of Pot and Potter - Tell me then, Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"

And strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot

Some could articulate, while others not:

And suddenly one more impatient cried--

"Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"

-- Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát, Quatrain LX

FitzGerald himself called this a "transmogrification" rather than a "translation" - he made up much of it. There were five editions - this is from the first.

Here is another LINK. These verses (from "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" by Edward FitzGerald) were cherry-picked from all the five editions, not in order. The pictures are mostly photographs of plates by Edmund Dulac.

Omar Khayyám is a true legend and his poems sound wonderful everywhere and in any language. To have these beautiful lines running through one's mind throughout the day/evening/night, is, in a word, heavenly. What the 'cowboys' and their cronies are doing to this great land/region (Persia: present-day Iran) we are all aware of. Not to be left behind, Hollywood also did its bit... with the Gerard Butler starrer "300".

Note: Some info gathered courtesy, Wikipedia.

The translation of Khayyám's Rubáiyát: Nicolas took the view that Khayyám himself clearly was a Sufi. Others have seen signs of mysticism, even atheism, or conversely devout and orthodox Islam. FitzGerald gave Khayyám's Rubáiyát a distinct fatalistic spin, although it has been claimed that he softened the impact of Khayyám's nihilism and his preoccupation with the mortality and transience of all things. Even such a question as to whether Khayyám was pro- or anti-alcohol gives rise to more discussion than might at first glance have seemed plausible. (I have already explained the symbolism involved vis-a-vis 'wine' and 'glass'... in this post).

More info on Hazrat Inayat Khan - the exemplar of
Universal Sufism and founder of the Sufi Order International: HERE.


Illustration by
Arthur Szyk for the 1940 edition of "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám". Pic courtesy: Wikipedia.