Sunday morning as I was leisurely going through Hindu (Dec., 2013) with coffee glass in one hand, my eyes were attracted by the caption: “A Legend revisited” with a byline – “a rare peak into the life of legendry actor Dilip Kumar, who celebrates his birthday on Dec 11.” I ran through it with interest, although there was little that was exciting to read… but as I almost came to the end of the feature, there was a line – “[his] vehement desire to excel made Dilip Kumar learn Sitar for Madhuban mein Radhika naache re song sequence of Kohinoor”, where my eyes got stuck …. mind transfixed on Kohinoor…
It was 1960 … exams were over and the school was closed for summer holidays. I was packed off to Visakhapatnam—my father, literally, loaded me into the IIIrd class general compartment of Howrah mail through the window, and then passing on a tin box and a polyester sack filled with lentils etc., through the same window, for the train was as usual packed and no one was ready to open the door, perhaps, a reflection of the influence of ‘insider-syndrome’—“Oh! Let us not allow the crowd swell up further”— advised me to sit on the sack and not to move even if someone shouts at me. As he was airing the usual parental advices—how I should conduct myself in my brother’s house—the train started … chugged off from Platform No. 3. Leaving Tenali station behind as the mail came into open fields, I could see the Sun lazily rising in the east.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that I am alone amongst the people who are talking a language of which I have no sense whatsoever. I was a little dazed as one man clad in a lungi in funny colors suddenly started yelling at me … of which I could make out nothing … obviously, I kept mum … dropping my eyes to the floor. Pushing me aside with a kind of groan he briskly walked away. As the train reached Vijayawada station, I could, of course, hear people talking in Telugu here and there … and obviously, felt a bit relieved.
By evening, I reached Visakhapatnam station. Getting from the train with my belongings alright, looked for my brother all around. And to my utter despair, I couldn’t find him… pulling up courage, came out of the station… and again my eyes searched for my brother… he was no where… the rush of people died down… except me and one or two rickshaw fellows… all have left. Noticing a boy of my age with his rickshaw, meekly walked to him and recalling all the directions that my nanna gave me to my brother’s house … enquired if he would take me to ‘century club turning’? Saying yes, he asked for two rupees. Recalling what my father said, I said one rupee… and after dilly-dallying … agreeing for one rupee, he kept my belongings in the rickshaw and asked me to sit. Quietly obeying him, I boarded the rickshaw and the wheels started moving … slowly. . peddling through lanes and by-lanes as he came on a wide road with a steep climb… all that I was hoping for was simple … being young, he will not cheat me… will take me straight to my brother’s house alright. Getting down from his seat as the boy was pulling up the rickshaw in front of a row of giant stone buildings … reading the letters on one of them—“Out Patient Dept”—wondered if it was KGH. Then right in front of it, suddenly I saw my annayya (brother) hurrying down on the other side of the road with a worried look. Happily … in a surprised tone shouted: “Annai! Annai!” He stopped at once and with a broad smile came to me …and that’s it , we went home happily …
I had a good time with my annayya (elder brother), Vadina (sister-in-law) and the young nephew playing in the sprawling garden around their house… climbing the trees plucking cashew nuts from the crawling trees, picking from this or that tree a raw mango and biting it sitting on a low-lying branch… OH! What a pleasure to while away the summer days amidst the trees … and in the evenings playing in sand with my nephew at Ramakrishna beach… longingly playing in the surf … and what not. And that was all new for me… going by city busses , buying vegetables… walking in sand sitting in front of massive water spread and listening to its roar all alone, watching the blinking lights of the distantly anchored ships… … the lighthouse and its circling beam radiating wonder (for me?)… all that was a wonder that I enjoyed to the hilt.
Finally as my brother’s last practical exam was over, we were all headed for a movie, Kohinoor … and I was quite excited, obviously, … for I would be watching a Hindi movie for the first time. As we were entering the theatre—the show was already on—my vadina whispered in my ears with a smile: “Your annayya always prefers to walk into a theatre only after the show started.” In that darkness, I meekly followed my vadina and annayya and as they sat in the chairs shown by the escort with a torch, I tumbled myself into a chair adjacent to them, of course, without taking off my eye from the happenings on the screen. Then started the real problem… I could not understand what the characters were talking about … all that I could make out was … a prince was in love with a beautiful princess who is running around the trees in long flowing white satin gowns … like in our Telugu cinemas, a villain coming in between... a couple of good songs … and as the movie came to an end the prince could happily hug the princess.
What I still remember of that picture is the beautiful rendition of the song: “madhuban me(in madhuban radhika is dancing away / the flute of lord Krishna is playing / tied to the legs is the bells of dancers …)” by Dilip Kumar. The presentation was so carefree … all through his face was glowing with a bright smile …. facial expressions and his gestures were so natural that as he rendered the alaap … “ sa sa sa ni dha pa ma / pa dha pa ga ma re sa ni re sa / sa sa ga ma dha dha ni dha sa / madhuban me radhika nache re .. . / oo de na dir dir dha ni ta dha re dim dim ta na na / na dir dir dha ni ta dha re dim dim ta na na / … na dir dir dha ni ta dha re” I was at once reminded of the Carnatic vocalists rendering Tyagaraja kritis back home…. in Tenali…. in the pandals … during Devi navaratrulu and Sriramanavami celebrations. Also, enjoyed watching the accompanying kathak-kind of a dance. But more than the dance, my eyes were glued to Dilip Kumar as he was freely singing this song that was composed by Naushad, perhaps, in Rag Hameer, wondering what a fine synchronization of lip movement even to such fast rhythm as — “na dir dir dha ni ta dha re dim dim ta na na / na dir dir dha ni ta dha re / oo de tana dir dir tana dir dir dir dir dum dir dir dir / dhaa titakita tak dum titakita tak / titakita titakita ta dha ni / na dir dir dha ni ta dha re”— and in between playing Sitar too. Watching him with that innocent child-like natural smile—an equal match to that pretty tranquilizing voice of Mohd Rafi—all through the rendering was a thrilling experience!
The other song that I remember even to date is that lovely duet … Dilip Kumar croons: “do sitaro ka zami par hai milan aaj ki rat / … muskurata hai umido ka chaman aaj ki rat (two stars on earth shall meet this night / the awaiting garden is smiling this night… ) to which Meenakumari responds mellifluously “rang layi hai mere dil ki lagan aaj ki rat / sari duniya nazar aati hai dulhan aaj ki rat” (my heart’s success has spread colors this night / the whole world looks like a bride this night). That Prince and Princess were not, of course, to my eyes, didn’t appear that beautiful as the prince and princess of Telugu movies…no match to NTR and Anjali… particularly, in attire .... their dressing was so un-princely … yet I enjoyed the song.
These two songs were so etched in my mind that it was humming them ... na dir dir dha ni ta dha re dim dim ta na na … madhuban me radhika nache re ; do sitaro ka zami par hai milan aaj ki rat— of course, silently, for my brother was around— or should I say, in that lahar, that I could just walk on foot back home all the way from Lakshmi theater to Maharanipet, a distance of more than five kilometers… along with my annayya and vadina … sharing the pleasure (or pain?) of carrying the sleeping kid between myself and annayya ... as no rickshaw fellow was ready to come that far at that hour of the night. That was my first encounter with a Hindi cinema and of course, with the tragedy king of Indian cinema, Dilip Kumar. Of course, thereafter I did see a few more movies of him but it is listening to those melancholic songs that he sang on screen that I enjoyed most… and talking of which I relish even more. Any way, having already spent quite a time on my journey to Visakhapatnam, it would, perhaps, be wise to reserve it for some other time.