‘Mere piya gaye Rangoon’ and some more Indo-Burmese links

April 14, 2013

Wishing Happy Baisakhi, Happy Indian and Myanmar’s traditional New Year, and Happy Birthday to a legend

Burma oldWhen you think of Rangoon you think of Mere piya gaye Rangoon. Naturally this was what was uppermost in my mind when I visited Rangoon and some other places in Burma last December.

No one went to Rangoon in the song Mere piya gaye Rangooon – it is a stage song picturised on the yesteryear’s famous comedian Gope and the ebullient and beautiful Nigar Sultana. The fact that yet there is a reference to the city indicates that Rangoon evoked some deep connection in India. C Ramchandra was a genius of light-hearted fun songs – this song is in the tradition of the cult song he had created a couple of years earlier – Ana meri jaan meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday (Shehnai).

Mere piya gaye Rangoon by Shamshad Begum and Chitalkar from Patanga (1949), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music C Ramchandra

 

The Last Mughal

It had completely slipped my mind that there was another more powerful and historically significant Rangoon connection, until a mention was made of the must-see place, Bahadurshah Zafar Memorial. Of course we knew from our school history that the last Mughal emperor was exiled in Rangoon, along with his family, where he died. I have seen memorials and memorials. But this one was unlike anything I had seen before. The cruelty of the times seems to come closer to you when you see these pictures of the Emperor in his last days, his wife Zeenat Mahal and his two sons displayed on the wall.

Bahadurshah Zafar and his family exiled in Rangoon

For music lovers, Bhadurshah Zafar is, of course, immortal for two ghazals he wrote in captivity – Lagta nahi hai jee mera ujade dayar mein and Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hun. There cannot be a sadder expression of despair and hopelessness. And you get an eerie feeling when you go down to the basement which houses his grave, which is flanked by these ghazals inscribed on the two sidewalls.

Bahadurshah Zafar's tomb and his two ghazals

Several singers have sung these ghazals – both in films and non-films, making these befitting candidates for Mr. Ashok Vaishnav’s mega project on multiple version songs. SoY readers would be familiar with Rafi’s rendering in the film in Lal Quila. But my favourites are the versions sung by Habib Wali Mohammad.

While I was struck at the poignancy of the last days of his life, standing at his tomb I realised a coincidence – I was there in the 150th anniversary year of his death (he died in 1862). Last year we celebrated centenaries and sesquicentenaries of several historical figures in our country, but we seem to have completely forgotten Bahadurshah Zafar – I do not remember any reference to him in our media. So let us recompense our omission, and pay our tributes to the Last Mughal with the two of his ghazals, which would ever remain immortal:

Lagta nahi hai jee mera by Habib Wali Mohammad live

This live presentation also has a brief profile of Habib Wali Mohammad.  And in a very poignant introduction, he describes how he was ‘exiled’ to the US by his parents for doing his MBA, when he was deprived of his music.  Thus, he brings out the pathos of this ghazal from his own personal memory.

 

Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hun live by Habib Wali Mohammad

This live presentation follows a different tune than we are familiar with.  But strains of the sarangi in Raga Desh heightens the sadness and despondency of the lyrics, perfectly matched by the sonorous voice of Habib Wali Mohammad.

 

MANDALAY

Mandalay also rang a bell from school history books – it appears along with Rangoon and Andaman in our consciousness. There was indeed something common between them. These are the places where Indian freedom fighters were deported. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was imprisoned here along with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Lala Lajpat Rai. Tilak wrote his famous Geeta Rahasya here. Nothing remains of the cell where they were kept. The only remnant is the following:

Place where Bal Gangadhar Tilak was exiled in Mandalay

Tilak's exile in Mandalay

The Last Emperor and The Last Emperor

But the most fascinating link between India and Burma is what can be described as the history coming full circle. The last Mughal Emperor was exiled to Burma (Rangoon) – after the British overran Delhi – where he died.  The last Burmese Emperor, Thibaw, was exiled to India (Ratnagiri) with his family – after the British defeated Burma in the third Anglo-Burma war in 1885 – where he died in December, 1916 (i.e. after 31 years of captivity in ‘Thibaw Palace’ in isolation). Most interestingly, Thibaw line continues in India as a result of the eldest princess Phaya (Heiksu Myat Phayagyi) eloping with the gatekeeper of the palace, Gopal Sawant – in abject poverty, and now oblivious of their royal linkage. Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace is a fictional account of the last Burmese dynasty.  But Sudha Shah, inspired by this book, has  written a monumental historical work, ‘The King’s Exile: The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma’, after seven years of research based on documents, archives, travels and meetings with Thibaw’s descendants in India and Myanmar.  You would find a very laudatory summary of this book by Amitav Ghosh on his blog.

Now you might notice a unique December connection.  I visited the Bahadurshah Zafar’s tomb in Rangoon and the Glass Palace in Mandalay in December.  Thibaw died in Ratnagiri in December.  And on December 22, i.e. about ten days after my visit, the President of Myanmar H.E. Thein Sen visited Thibaw’s Palace in Ratnagiri, and met his descendants in the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Ratnagiri (there are several reports on the internet).

Myanmar’s President at Thibaw Palace Ratnagiri

Resident Myanmar visits Ratnagiri

INDIA AND MYANMAR TODAY

One thing that strikes a visitor, especially if you drive through the countryside, is that the country and its people are lovely. It is primarily an agricultural country, which means the villages still have an old world charm. However, their new capital, Nay Pyi Taw (also written as Naypyitaw or Naypyidaw), is a gleaming futuristic city with grand public squares, wide avenues, and infrastructure which would be good enough for the next 100 years. Some of the vignettes of the cultural links, in today’s context, I came across are the following.

Myanmar loves Ekta Kapoor

Ekta Kapoor is one of the two modern icons of popular culture – the other being Rohit Shetty. Rohit Shetty says, “Leave your brains behind and laugh in my movies”. Ekta Kapoor is more erudite. Schooled in our ancient literature and Greek classics, she knows that the ultimate in performing arts is karuna rasa. So she says, leave your brains behind and cry in my serials. And what galaxy of crying women she has created – Tulsi, Parvati, and the CRYING QUEEN Archana (Pavitra Rishta). So I was filled with joy when I saw my favourite, Archu’s serial, Pavitra Rishta, coming on Myanmar Radio and TV (MRTV), with sub-titles, while ambling past a curio shop in a pagoda.

'Pavitra Rishta' in Mandalay

Dhoom macha le dhoom in Mandalay

It would be surprising if a cultural evening was held in India’s neighbourhood for Indians, where Bollywood would be missing. These two Myanmar girls do a very good job of dancing to Dhoom macha le dhoom.

 

Burmese New Year, Baisakhi, Vishu, Bihu etc.

And the strongest cultural link, which is eternal, is while people in many parts of our country are celebrating around this day the traditional New Year by various names – Baisakhi (Punjab), Vishu (Kerala), Poila Baisakh (Bengal), Maha Bisubh Sankranti (Orissa), Bihu (Assam) or Gudi Parwa (Maharashtra) – Burma is also celebrating, precisely at this time, its own New Year. In another striking cultural similarity, the most dominant part of their New Year festivities is ‘Water Festival’. This is similar to our Holi, with the difference that it is played with plain, rather than coloured, water. Even though the New Year was four months away, these Burmese girls presented a ‘Water Festival Dance’ – it is a treat to the eyes and senses for its melodious music and graceful moves.

 

Happy Birthday Shamshad Begum

Shamshad BegumI started with Mere piya gaye Rangoon. Though it is a duet, whom do you associate it with? There is an openness and force in Shamshad Begum, which makes her stand out in her duets. And what a coincidence that today is her 94th birthday. It was 72 years ago with Khazanchi (1941), when she stormed the Hindi film music with a verve and joyous style of singing, which came to be known as the Punjab school of music. There are several posts on her in my mind. She is among the few surviving artistes from our vintage era. So while I remember Indo-Myanmar links, Baisakhi, Vishu, Bihu, the New Year, let us also wish Shamshad Begum, who so symbolises the spirit of Baisakhi, a very Happy Birthday.

 

Note: 1. I have, at places, used Burma and Rangoon for their official names Myanmar and Yangon. This is in the sense one uses Bombay for Mumbai (Ye hai Bombay meri jaan). I respect their sentiments for their official names.

2. The place where Bal Gangadhar Tilak was incarcerated is barred to the visitors. That our impossible visit became possible is due to Mr. Tarun Vijay, MP, a man of incredible charms and versatile talents. He was travelling in some other capacity, and our paths crossed at Mandalay.  His request was so earnest, and made in such an endearing manner that it melted the Chief Minister of Mandalay region, at the tea table, into giving approval instantly. By the time the two of us reached there, the message had already reached the guards. But they were still tentative and bewildered to let us in – the first visitors in about ten years. Thank you, Mr. Vijay, and Thank you, Excellency Mr. U Ye Myint.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dustedoff April 14, 2013 at 11:18 am

Very interesting post, AK. Thank you for that. I have only once crossed the border briefly from Manipur to Burma, when my father was posted in Manipur – and, incidentally, we visited Burma on the day of the Water Festival. The Burmese border guard, his wife and little daughter drenched us with ice-cold water, and gave us a lovely local drink – cold water mixed with palm sugar, coconut, and rice noodles. 🙂

I have a family connection to Mandalay too – my uncle (my father’s sister’s husband) was an army officer there during WWII. When the war ended, he was in charge of escorting to India – on foot – thousands of refugees from Burma. It was a very hazardous experience, and my uncle contracted kala azar along the way, which he survived, but it left him weakened for the rest of his life.

2 AK April 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Madhu, thanks a lot for your appreciation, and for sharing your personal experiences of the things which I could only learn and see as a visitor. You do have an amazing array of relations and memories, by which you have been enriching your blog from time to time for our benefit.

3 ASHOK M VAISHNAV April 14, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I, too, thank AKji, as much as he has thanked others in the original article – for such a momentous, informative, emotional and melodious trip to ‘Rangoon’, for allowing us the opportunity to remember Shamshad Begum on this special day, for allowing us to perform a trip down our own nostalgic days of reading these chapters of history in my own school days.

I also have had occasion to closely relate Myanmar during the last phase of my professional life – in terms of being associated as a team member from the SAW pipe manufacturing vendor for a gas pipeline that was to be laid from a gas field in Myanmar to China. Of course, the association was on the papers only, but I could never go beyond Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon, whenever I would cross word Myanmar in the project documentation.

So, this post also has helped removing (just) one layer of (our-own self-imposed) shutter to such a vast world of possibilities of associations that reference of Myanmar ought to have opened up.

Thanks, once again, and every time I will come across Myanmar now onward.

4 jignesh kotadia April 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm

A very nice, informative , historic documentary film made up around a poet and a singeress, Akji. Despite of having little relation with hfm of this post, it’s a worthful informative article. Thanks to u 4 d facts given abt bahadur shah zafar and burmese exiled king thibaw. Read 1st time abt thibaw and his palace in ratnagiri, bravo !

‘Na kisi ki aankh ka noor’ is indeed a milestone in poetry, only can be penned in utter loneliness and hopeless that faced by Zafar. His citation reminds another music patron ‘Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’ of Avadh, who were exiled to matiaburz where the despondent king had created the great ‘Baabul mora naihar chhuto jaay’.

5 gaddeswarup April 14, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I think lot of Indians went to Burma for work and business in early twentieth century. There are old Telugu songs to that effect. Sarat Chandra Chatterjee spent several years there and a lot of the action in his novel Padher Dabi takes place in Burma. It is one of the two novels of Sarat ( the other Sesh prasna) where women are very strong and question traditional values. One of the heroines Bharati is possibly an Anglo-Indian. I read these over fifty years ago and remember only bits and pieces. I do not remember whether Srikanth ( supposed to be autobiographical) has any Burmese incidents. They may not be his best novels but are my favorites together with the story Mahesh.

6 gaddeswarup April 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm

I should have said that Mahesh is a short story by Sarat, one of the best short stories that I read. Of the authors I know only Premchand or Manto could have written such a story.
I think that the dancer Ram Gopal’s mother is Burmese. Minai has recently written about him.
I read the The Glass Palace but unfortunately after reading ‘ in an antique land’ and it paled off. But Ghosh is generally meticulous with his research. He goes back to some of these topics in his blog
http://amitavghosh.com/blog/

7 AK April 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Ashokiji,
I am happy that this post kindled some personal memories in you too. You must be regretting having missed visiting Myanmar. Was it because that was not the place where one went?

Jignesh,
King Thibaw was a revelation for me too. I was always daunted by Amitav Ghosh. Now I would make efforts to read him. We have heard of great grandsons of Mughals living in penury, most of whom cannot be conclusively identified. But King Thibaw’s descendants in Ratnagiri and around as fruit sellers and such things, with identity established with research, is a story beyond words.

Wajid Ali Shah’s pain has been depicted so beautifully in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi. While Bahadurshah Zafar’s two ghazals are cries to oneself, Babul mora naihar chhutal jaye has now become an eternal metaphor for parting or leaving.

Gadeswarupji,
Thanks a lot for the interesting bits of information. Are such Telugu songs available on the YT. Sarat Chandra’s longish stay at Bhagalpur in Bihar I was aware of, but I didn’t know about his stay in Burma.

8 n.venkataraman April 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Akji,
Let me first reciprocate by wishing you and all the members of the SoY family a happy Baisakhi and traditional New Year.

Your current article is different from the usual ones posted in SoY and provides variety.
Perhaps it was appropriate to have started with a light-hearted fun song before you embarked upon some serious stuff.

Thank you for sharing your experience and trip to Bahadur Shah Zafar’s Memorial in Rangoon and the place where Bal Gangadhar Tilak was exiled in Mandalay. Thank also for taking us through a ‘Manas Vraman’ to Mynamar and for the information on the last Burmese Emperor, Thibaw and his Ratnagiri connections.

The two ghazals written by Bhadur Shah Zafar in his exile were rendered with great feeling and pathos by Habib Wali Muhammad. How ill-fated Zafar was! For his own burial he couldn’t even get two yards of earth in his own motherland. His lamentation ‘why should anyone place four flowers on my tomb? Why anyone should come and light a candle?’ and describing himself as ‘just a handful of dust’ will melt even the stubborn hearts.
Here is an article from ‘The Telegraph’ 6th April 2009.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/5114995/The-Last-Mughals-descendants-to-be-traced.html

I also join you in paying my tributes to the immortal soul.

While on the subject I would like to bring to notice two recent events.

1. A petition has been filed in the Lahore High Court in the first week of April this year for reopening the case of Shahid Bhagat Singh, who was hanged in 1930 with the submission that the freedom fighter be legally declared innocent of the charges on which he was hanged. The petitioner Mr.Imitaz Rashid Qureshi submitted in his petition that Bhagat Singh was freedom fighter who was first awarded life imprisonment, but later it was changed to a death sentence. Thanks Mr. Qureshi for taking up this cause.

2. The last of the revolutionaries who took part in the Chattagram (Chittagong) armed uprising against the British, Benod Behari Chowdhury, died on 10th April (Wednesday). He was 103.The revolutionary used to live in Chattagram in Bangladesh and was brought to Kolkata in January for treatment as he was suffering from respiratory problems. The Bangladesh government made all arrangements to take his body back to Chattagram and give the departed freedom fighter a befitting funeral.
Here is a report
http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2013/04/12/binod-bihari-s-remains-arrive

Before I conclude let me also join you in wishing Shamsad Begum a long and healthy life on her 94th birthday.
Will be looking forward to your future post on this great lady of the vintage era

9 Naresh P. Mankad April 14, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Very interesting presentation, AKji, with narrative interspersed with musical interludes like a movie. I felt I was watching a short well-made documentary.

10 Naresh P. Mankad April 14, 2013 at 9:36 pm

The summary of Sudha Shah’s book by Amitav Ghosh is as engrossing as fiction.

11 gaddeswarup April 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm

AKji,
Burma was already fading from memory in my childhood. I remember one song which roughly translates as
‘ I am going away to Rangoon Narayanamma
What will you bring me Nayudu baavaa’
Baava means either older sister’s husband or one of the parents’ sibling’s son. I think that there was a lot of migration from northern coastal Andhra during famines. Some indologists may know about the migrations and songs. I did not find any on YouTube. I found a Lata song from 1965 ‘badi da been hai Rangoon ki shaam’ . There seem some Tamil film songs but I did not understand them. There were also large migrations from Tamil area during British time.
Sarat was in Rangoon from 1903-1916 and more or less gave up literature. It seems that his friends persuaded him to write a story for one of the magazines they started and that story became popular and he started writing again.

12 n.venkataraman April 14, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Gaddeswarupji,
You are absolutely right about Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Rangoon connections. He went to Rangoon and worked as an accounts clerk in a government office. He was in Rangoon till 1916. Unfortunately he lost his wife and a one year old son to plague in Rangoon. He was not in the right frame of mind to pursue his literary activities. He wrote the story ‘Ramer Sumati’ when he was in Burma. The house Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay built at Samtabere in Howrah district was a Burmese-styled two storied house. I have visited the place a couple of times. You are also right that ‘Srikanta’ too had Rangoon connections.

‘As a young man Srikanta travels to Burma looking for new experiences and meets the rebellious Abhaya—who rejects her violent, bigamous husband to live openly with her lover—and learns to question the hypocritical social norms that bind a woman down but let a man off. ‘
Thanks for kindling some bygone memories of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and his Rangoon connection.
Lastly one personal question! Is this your real name? Or is it Anandaswarup(ji)?

13 gaddeswarup April 15, 2013 at 2:06 am

Venkataramanji,
My given name is Anandaswarup and family name Gadde. We write family name first. People called me Anand or Anandam in younger days and Swarup later on, since it is long I made it gaddeswarup for my blog. Apparently, my parents wrote about fifteen names on pieces of paper , threw them on my head and this name remained. I think it was the name of some swami in Dayalbag.

14 AK April 15, 2013 at 7:45 am

Venkataramanji,
A lawyer in Pakistan filing a petition in Lahore High Court to declare Shaheed Bhagat Singh innocent is very heartening at many levels. Bangladesh has been always very proud of its Bengali identity. Yet, their honouring Benod Bihari Chaudhary is very gracious. There is some irony in the Telegraph story about the search for the descendants of the last Mughal. Most of the claims about descendants might be just romanticised stories. On the other hand, Thibaw’s descendants appear to be quite well documented by now. Thanks for you detailed comments sharing these enlightening stories,

Nareshji,
Thanks for your appreciation. I am happy you enjoyed it.

Gaddeswarupji,
(I hope you don’t mind if I stick to this name). As usual your comments are very erudite and very interesting. I wish you could locate your childhood song on the YT. The Lata Mangeshkar song you have referred is here. It is more faithful to Burmese dress and dancing steps. Thanks a lot for mentioning this song. I had not heard it before.

Badi rangeen hai Rangoon ki ye shaam by Lata Mangeshkar from Aadhi raat ke baad (1965), lyrics Prem Dhavan, music Chitragupta

15 gaddeswarup April 15, 2013 at 10:04 am

AKji,
I seem to be diverting the discussions to what interests me. May be it is a sign of my age or just me. Strangely, these unanswered stuff at the back of my mind seems stimulated when I see these discussions. I will be more careful. About the Telugu song, my ultimate source for such things is one Paruchuri Sreenivas. He seems busy at the moment; I will try at a later stage.

16 AK April 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Gaddeswarupji,
I wish you don’t restarin yourself. Trust me, your wanderings add a great value.

17 n.venkataraman April 15, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Akji,
Thank you for the reply. I tend to agree with your views on the descendants of the last Mughal and Thibaw’s descendants.

I remember buying this book by Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Glass Palace’ sometime last year. Whenever I find any book that interests me, I purchased it and many such books are in my collection which I am yet to read. I have not yet gone through Amitava Ghosh’s blog, which I will be doing before I star reading his book.

I do not know whether it is a sheer coincidence that last month I completed reading the book ‘Empire of the Moghul- Raiders from the North’ by Alex Rutherford, a fictionalized writing on the life of Babur, the first Timurian-Moghul Emperor and now I am reading a book ‘1857- The real story of the Great uprising’. This book was originally written in Marathi by Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Vesaikar (1827-1903) and was published in 1907 (1857- Chya Bandachi Hakikat) and again in 1948 (Maajha Pravas). Later it was translated in Hindi by Amritlal Nagar and again by Madhukar Upadhyay in 2007. The English version, ‘1857- The real story of the Great Uprising’ was translated by Mrinal Pande and was published in 2011. I picked up this book from a book shop in Delhi Airport during December 2011. And now your article on Bahadur Shah Zafar’, the last Timurian-Moghul Emperor! After reading the book in hand I will read Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Glass Palace’.

If anybody is interested, they may also go through an article written on ‘First Indian War of Independence’ by Karl Marx which appeared in the New York Daily Tribune on 16th September 1857. Here is the link
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/09/16.htm

18 n.venkataraman April 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Gaddeswarupji,
Thanks for sharing personal information about your name .

You have said in your comments that you seem to divert the discussion to what interests you. I too do the same. And you attribute it your age. But please do not restrict or restrain yourself. I, for one, enjoy reading your comments and from the links provided by you. Akji also has expressed similar views.

But he may have problems with me. I am sure that I have started getting on his nerve.. Look at my comments (?). Once I start, it flows on, till someday Akji will get fed up and pulls the rein. This I attribute to the infectious ‘BINDAS ADDA CULTURE’ of Bengal that I got afflicted to!

Thanks also for introducing the song ‘Badi rangeen hai Rangoon ki ye shaam’ from Aadhi raat ke baad (1965), which was new to me. Thanks to Akji for providing the link.

19 n.venkataraman April 15, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Akji,
Enough of serious stuff! Before I move on to some light filmy stuff, one query.
I noticed in the backdrop of the cultural program that it was held on the occasion of ASEAN-India Car Rally. Were you one of the 31 participants driving Mahindra XUV 500?

The film Howrah Bridge (1958) also had Rangoon connections. The story goes something like this.
‘Rakesh (Ashok Kumar) lives with his brother, Madan, and his dad in Rangoon. Madan has fallen into bad company and steals the family heirloom, in the shape of a dragon, some cash and runs away to Calcutta. Shortly thereafter, his dead body is found under Calcutta’s Howrah Bridge. Rakesh travels to Calcutta in order to find out the mystery behind Madan’s death, and also try to recover the family heirloom. His investigations take him to a shady hotel run by Uncle Joe, where an attractive dancer named Edna (Madhubala) performs a dance every night. Edna is also from Rangoon and they met each other in the ship on their way to Calcutta from Rangoon. Except for the first scene, which had a scene from Rangoon, the entire film was shot in Calcutta. Here is the dance by Edna of Rangoon.

Dekh kar e nazar by Asha Bhosle and Md Rafi from the film Howrah Bridge (1958), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi, music O P Nayyar

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fWJujWBlf_U

Here another dance number from the same film by Helen. This dance has nothing to do with Rangoon or Burma. But Helen does have Burmese connections. Recently I read a book – ‘Helen: The life and Times of an H-Bomb by Jerry Pinto. Helen was born in Burma on 21st November 1939 to an Anglo-Indian father and Burmese mother. Helen along with her mother and brother left Burma as refugees after the war and had to undergo untold hardship.
Helen told Filmfare magazine during an interview in 1964, “We trekked alternately through wilderness and hundreds of villages, surviving on the generosity of people, for we were penniless, with no food and few clothes. Occasionally, we met British soldiers who provided us with transport, found us refuge and treated our blistered feet and bruised bodies and fed us. By the time we reached Dibrugarh in Assam, our group had been reduced to half. Some had fallen ill and been left behind, some had died of starvation and disease. My mother miscarried along the way. The survivors were admitted to the Dibrugarh hospital for treatment. Mother and I had been virtually reduced to skeletons and my brother’s condition was critical. We spent two months in hospital. When we recovered, we moved to Calcutta”.

Helen was 17 years old in 1957 when she got her first big break in Howrah Bridge.
Mere naam chin chinchoo by Geeta Dutt from the film Howrah Bridge (1958), lyrics Qamar Jalalabadi, music O P Nayyar

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lVKEMOenP-o

Moving on to Tamil films, in 1943, the British Government brought forth a rule that out of three Indian films made two should be in support of the British war effort. Burma Rani (1945) was one of such movies produced by Modern Theatres and directed by T. R. Sundaram. The story revolves around a spy ring in Japanese-occupied Burma headed by a Tamil woman named Mangalam.. The story of their escape forms the plot of the movie. The entire movie is available on Daily motion in three parts- 1st part (55:01), 2nd part 55:01) and 3rd part (10:33). Separate clippings of the songs are not available. I am providing the link – addressto the 1st part, where after almost 1 minute of title-roll there is a Burmese-style dance by the leading lady K L V Vasantha and others for almost one and a half minute. There are few more Burmese-style dances in the movie. Here is the link-address (55:01)

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xsyqqv_burma-rani-1945-mj-taj_shortfilms?start=159#.UWvcjqIa7Yw

There was another movie by the name Mana Samrakshanam (In Defence of Honour) (1945), also about a spy ring. Similarly En Magan (My Son) (1945) was another movie about an injured RAF pilot and a nurse. But neither the films nor the clippings of their songs are available in the internet.

Another Tamil film Rangoon Radha (1956) was based on a play of the same name, and touched on the subject of Indian refugees fleeing from Burma after the Japanese invasion in 1942. But the interesting thing about this film is the story was written by late C N Annadurai, and the dialogue for the film was written by M Karunanidhi, both former Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu.

20 AK April 15, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Venkataramanji,
You have already written Part 2 of my blog, with so much historical and cultural information included. You and Gaddeswarupji have amazing range of interests, and if anything I am going to encourage you people to wander as much as you wish. I do not think anyone at SoY is going to get tired. How else could our discussion range from Kavi Kalidas’s Shyamal Dandak Stotra and Adi Shankaracharya’s Shyamala Navratna Stotra, to the theory of sexual selection in music and gender difference in sexuality to explain the phenomena of asymmetry in Twin Songs in favor of male versions? I would invite you to revisit twin-songs (comment #57, 58) where we have propounded an entirely new theory taking a wild leap across disciplines, thanks to Gaddeswarupji’s lead.

I was not a rallyist, but incidentally Mr Tarun Vijay was, and that is why I described him as a man of versatile talents. The rally was on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Level Partnership and 10th Anniversary of ASEAN-India Summit Level Partnership. My visit was in some other official capacity which coincided with the event. This is a lot of diplomatese, but the sum and substance is that I had a fascinating visit to Myanmar.

21 mumbaikar8 April 15, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Ak,

Thanks for the trip to Rangoon, it is interesting as well as informative, wandering from one topic to another made it more joyous.

22 Naresh P. Mankad April 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm

With the mention of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the mind is crowded with memories of the leading names in Urdu poetry of that period, chief among them being Ghalib. Detailed accounts of their encounters would be really interesting. I found one such incident quoted by Saif Mahmood.

Ghalib was annoyed that his rival Zauk was made Zafar’s Ustaad. He said: ”
Hua hai sheh ka musaahib, phirey hai itraata. (On becoming King’s companion, he has put on airs.

Ustad complained to Zafar. At the next assembly at the Fort, Zafar asked ghalib if the complaint was correct. Ghalib said the comment was not on Zauk, but was a line from last maqta of his ghazal. Zafar asked him to recite the maqta. Ghalib made up the next line:

Hua hai sheh ka musaahib phirey hai itraata
Wagar na sheher men Ghalib ki abroo kya hai.

Zauk sensed this was the creation of the ready wit and insisted that Ghalib should recite the ghazal which in fact didn’t exist. But the master took up the challenge and came up with an instantly made this gem of a ghazal:

Har ek baat pe kahte ho tum ke tu kaya hai,
Tum hi kaho ke ye andaaz-e-gutgoo kya hai.
Jala hai jism jahaan, dil bhi jal gaya hoga
Kuredte ho jo ab raakh, justjoo kya hai
Rahi na taqat-e-guftaar aur agar ho bhi
To kis umeed pe kahiye ki arzoo kya hai.

Not for nothing he is known as doyen of Urdu poetry.

23 gaddeswarup April 16, 2013 at 4:41 am

Generally politics, literature and decisions seem to be dominated by elites and I guess we are among those

http://datastories.in/blog/2013/04/01/indias-5-percent/

But from the beginning films had to appeal to common people to make money and very diverse group of people from businessmen to idealists went into film making. Nobody knew what film or what song would be a success and from blogs like this which look at films over a long period, we probably get glimpses of what appealed to people and what stayed popular after a long time. Perhaps we can get glimpses of a patterns in a complex world. Apparently Utpal Dutt discussed such questions in his books according to this review

http://middlestage.blogspot.com.au/2009/08/i-believe-any-discussion-on-films-in.html

That is why I follow blogs like this where experts who have seen many films over a long period observe some patterns as AKji did in twin songs.

24 Anu Warrier April 16, 2013 at 6:27 am

Thanks for a virtual journey into Burma. Between your post and the comments, it was a wonderful trip.

ps: We are not Bengalis. It is ‘Vishu’ not ‘Bishu’. 🙂

25 gaddeswarup April 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

I noticed that there is Hindi film Burmah Road, 1962 with Ashok Kumar, Kumkum on the YouTube. I do not know whether it has any thing to do with Burma Road and second world war.

From some of the articles on the internet, I get the impression that it was mainly people from the east coast and possibly Bihar who migrated to Burma. It seems many moved out to India, malaysia during various anti-Indian riots and measures. There still seem to be a lot people of Tamil and Telugu origin. There is a documentary from TV9team, which visited Burma that came out last month. It claims that there are still about two lakh people of Telugu origin there. They still can speak Telugu which is understandable to me, some have Burmese features. There also some Tamil videos about the topic on YouTube. TV 9 videoo is mostly in Telugu and so may not be understandable to others. If you want to, check TV9-Telugu roots in Myanmar.

26 SSW April 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

It seems that Bahadur Shah Zafar writing those lyrics in Burma might be a figment of several people’s romantic imaginations. Years ago on another website some of us had a discussion on this. This is a link to Sandeep Dougal’s take on this issue

http://sundeepdougal.tripod.com/Zafar.html

Pritchett’s musings ought to be available somewhere too. I am too lazy to dig it out.
Mere Piya gaye rangoon is always wonderful to listen too. When I first heard this song as a child I was very thrilled with the rhyming of Dehra Doon , Rangoon, tallyphoone, the month of joon and the book I was reading then which was titled “Lorna Doone”

27 AK April 19, 2013 at 12:40 am

I had seen this link some time back, and had a faint recollection of the story about misattribution. I am not a student of Urdu literature, so all I can comment is from common sense. Frances Piritchette’s case is that there is no evidence of Zafar writing anything in exile in Rangoon, because he was denied acess to pen and paper. Could he narrate his poetry to a sympathetic jail staff? If Seemab Akbarabadi wrote Ye na thi hamari kismat, why did he use the takhallus ‘Zafar’ in maqta? If ‘Zafar’ is an interpolation, what is the correct version? Seemab Akbarabadi was a well knwon Urdu poet whose ghazals have been sung by KL Saigal. Is it possible to create and perpetuate such literary deceptions over a sustained period, with truth known only to a few scholars?

So Na kisi ki ankh ka noor hun was written by Jaan Nisar Akhtar’s father Muztar Khairabadi, but it got attributed to Zafar after Rafi immortalised in Lal Quila (1960)? Around that time Jaan Nisar Akhtar was one of the leading lyricists. Would he have remained quiet if his father’s work was so misappropriated? His son, that is Muztar Khairabadi’s grandson Javed Akhtar, has been a prominent film personality for over 35 years. Today he is at the forefront of the fight for copyright of lyricists. Would he accept misattribution of his family’s heirloom?

In law there is a saying ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’.

28 SSW April 19, 2013 at 1:49 am

True enough, these are all hypotheses with no known facts. I like the romantic picture of Zafar penning these verses in Burma, much more . Though I wonder , whether his having penned this is also modern myth.

29 ASHOK M VAISHNAV April 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm

@Gaddeswarup:
I think even the traders from Kutchh, western part of now Gujarat, but an independent State in those days, did settle there. I recollect small talks to us the young toddlers, as sort of stories for the children going to sleep at night, by our maternal grandmother, where she would fondly recollect memories of her days at Rangoon. It seems my maternal grand father had earned his living working there.

30 gaddeswarup April 19, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Yes, the Wikipedia article on Burmese Indiana says that there were Gujaratis too. I also vaguely remember reading that there were migrations to and from Gujarat from ancient times. Rudradaman who selttled in Gujarat seemed to be responsible for the first Sanskrit inscriptions. There are also stories of people from Kamboja who first settled in Gujarat and them migrated to Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Apparently the name Combodia came from those migrants.

31 gaddeswarup April 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I posted today a YouTube video about Telugus in Myanmar http://www.facebook.com/anandaswarup.gadde
Generally mostly Telugu people respond there. One comment by Akshay Regulagadda may be of general interest
“Additionally, I was mentioning this in some email group earlier, but the old Peguan script (from which modern Burmese script originates) can be traced to the eastern Chalukyan script, which is the Telugu script’s progenitor. This is distinct from the Thai, Lao and Khmer scripts which appear to have been derived from the Grantha script (from which modern Tamil and Malayalam were derived). Long way of saying there are quite a few letters and words that are common between modern Burmese and Telugu; the letter గ for one. The word “amma” for another.”

32 N Venkataraman April 24, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Just now I came to know about Almighty’s decision to take Shamsad Begum in his permanent care and custody. About ten days ago Akji had wished her a long life in this post, on her 94th birthday. But that was not to be.
I pray to Almighty to give the departed soul eternal peace.

33 ASHOK M VAISHNAV April 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm

What man proposes , the God disposes.

Passing away of Shamshad Begum brings end to one great chapter. Long live Shamshad Begum in the memories of her fans and her songs.

34 AK April 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Oh No! A true legend and one of my top favourite singers. When I wished her a happy Birthday a few days back, I had hoped I would do so many more times. There was not even a whiff of news of her poor health. May her soul rest in peace.

35 Naresh P. Mankad April 24, 2013 at 2:39 pm

We have lost a voice which was one of its type, unique, in the death of Shamshad Begum. It seems OP Nayyar preferred this type of sharpness of voice, so he made best use of Shamshad Begum, then Geeta Dutt and then Asha Bhosle. It came to my mind that this song has Shamshad Begum in singing match with Kishor Kumar; she adopts that mischievous style too:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ECWlO_rjTw

Indeed a unique, yet versatile singer.

36 N Venkataraman April 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I am presenting this two Naat Songs as tribute to Shamsad Begum.

‘Mere kashti paar laga dena’
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clJkgpjJ2v0

‘Paigam saba layi hai gulzar nabi se, Aya hai bulawa mujhe darbar-e-nabi se’
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bl9Az5X-ob8

37 gaddeswarup April 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm

While preparing to post about her passing away on Facebook, I played one of her duets with Talat in Babul. My granddaughter Leila whi is just six listened and liked it. I am sure that her songs will be remembered for a long time. Filmfare has a short but comprehensive overview of her career
http://www.filmfare.com/interviews/remembering-shamshad-begum-2948.html
She seemed to have been content for many years in the company of her loving daughter and son-in-law and traveled around India and the world with them. May she rest in peace.

38 Hans April 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Shamshad Begum is no more. Who would have thought that she would die within 10 days of her birthday and this post. Her birth date is also linked with a very historic date. Jallianwala Bagh happened on 13th April, 1919 in Amritsar. Shamshad was born on the next day in Amritsar, while the blood of those killed in that Bagh had not yet dried up.

39 jignesh kotadia April 24, 2013 at 11:51 pm

RIP great lady

40 Lakshmi Srinivas May 22, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Thank you so much for presenting a comprehensive account of Burma/Myanmar in the context of Indian cinema and History.
After reading through the posts I couldn’t resist making my minuscule contribution to the discussion
Parasakthi (1952)-A historical film in Tamil has the protagonist played by Thespian Shivaji Ganesan in his cinematic debut, as a man from Burma who visits his hometown in India to attend his sister’s wedding, only to become a victim of frauds and crooks, losing everything except his sense of justice. The movie ends with a a court scene towards the climax. and is known for hard hitting dialogues (written by M Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu’s former chief minister), and a passionate performance by Sivaji Ganesan
Reference: http://forbesindia.com/article/100-years-of-indian-cinema/25-greatest-acting-performances-of-indian-cinema/35125/0#ixzz2U24wh2l6
A YT of a song sequence from Parasakti. What fascinated me was the ‘Awara hoon’ look sported by Shivaji. In fact during the time slot 2:39-2:43, the tune was so similar to “Barsat mein” . Please correct me if I am wrong

41 Lakshmi Srinivas May 22, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Sorry for the goof up! Here is the You Tube link
http://youtu.be/eCVQAzG8_14

42 AK May 23, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Lakshmi Srinivas,
Thanks a lot for this interesting information. It seems the Burma reference in our literature and films is much more than we imagine. The ‘Raj Kapoorish’ look of Shivaji is very cute. The similarity with Barsaat mein is there, but it is very fleeting and almost imperceptible. You do have a very sharp ear.

43 Lakshmi Srinivas May 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Thank You AK ji for a prompt reply and a generous compliment. I can now muster enough courage to comment /react in some more segments of SOY.Yes Shivaji looks cute and the Tamil adaptation with folk music thrown in for a good measure adds value to the song and the sequence.

44 Canasya May 24, 2013 at 12:47 am

Wonderful historical anecdotes, intense personal narratives, and uniquely memorable trivia weave the rich melodious tapestry SoY is today. The last part of the (war) action in Guleriji’s story “Usne Kaha Tha” was set in a place called Myawaddi in Myanmar (erstwhile Burma). The link below from Bimal Roy’s movie shows the name of the place at 11:47.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=RyWmuO4yeEQ#t=707s

Because Baishakhi coincides with the Burmese New Year celebrations and Thingyan (water festival) mentioned in the posts above, here is the Baishakhi song from Usne Kaha Tha (Dupatta dhani odh ke):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=VWqXs_ImT_0

45 AK May 24, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Canasya,
Burma and Japan! This is interesting, because Guleri had written Usne Kaha Tha in 1915, when the setting was the First World War, at the Western front and the enemy was Germany. This must have been changed in the film to the WWII and Burma as Bimal Roy might have felt that people would relate to it more easily. Though I don’t think this liberty was necessary, as it is essentially a poignant love story in which the protagonist (Lahna Singh) sacrifices his life to save his superior at the war front because of a promise given to the latter’s wife, who was Lahna’s childhood beloved.

46 Nandu Dalvi June 1, 2013 at 9:35 am

gaddeswarupji,
Mainly it is you who pointed out Indo-Burmese connections in modern era literature. (I am a fan of Sharadchandra Chatterji’s fine novels, including those with Burma-background.) I personally know from friends and direct contacts of Sikh, Gujerathi diaspora who were driven out of Burma in the 1950’s. [My own grandfather earned a Victoria Cross in British-Burma wars over the turn of 19th century.]Sadly, this aspect of history of Indian connections for better part of 20th century and before has received such minimal exposure, but we get excessively teary-eyed over emperor Jafar’s sweet-sad poetry made famous by music industry. Unfortunately, the world thinks of societies bearing oriental features (as in Tibet, Burma) must be akin to Chinese, and modern Indians brought up on Indian media’s lack of own scholarship and overwhelming reliance on Western media’s superficial notions also fall in line. In historical perspective, I would like to know how did “Brahma Desh” name came to be applied to Burma of the old. It is easy to understand mix up of pronunciations such as Yangon/Rangoon.

47 D P Rangan October 6, 2015 at 1:38 am

The only thing I can write is not a thing of repute. Indian personnel posted in our Embassy in Burma used to sell their permits to remit money to India to local Indian origin Burmese at exorbitant rates.
This I have heard from one of my friends who was in I.F.S.

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