This post is about 6 days late. But here it is.
Back when I was eight, I thought I was a fantastic singer, owing to the applause that always followed my expert rendition of any Geetham. But once I had impressed the older folks, I was back to home ground humming “Tu cheez badi hai mast”.
I had my eyes on Dad’s Sony Walkman, especially on our yearly trips to Delhi in the summer vacations. My grandmother had a few cassettes that I’d listen to at night, after having accomplished the exhausting feat of watching television for nearly 10 hours straight.
Then, one rainy afternoon in Mumbai, Dad bought me a small present that in retrospect, changed my life. Even if it did so in a small way.
He gave me a brand new audio cassette, and for me the most enthralling thing about it was Shahrukh Khan’s portrait on the front cover. It was beautiful. And it was SRK. Even at 8, the fangirl in me was ecstatic.
That night, I hopped into bed, tore open the transparent plastic cover (I am pretty sure I put that in the dustbin; I cannot remember a time when I was okay with trash lying about) and carefully placed that cassette inside the Walkman. And hit ‘play’.
I realized in the next half an hour that SRK was no more the only man who would have a fangirl in me for life. There was a brand new entry on that list.
A. R. Rahman.
The songs, the music in that album – it does not belong to this world. It belongs to the realm of brilliance, of magic, of cathartic melancholy. It made a profound, indelible impact on me – one that lasts, nay, grows to date.
The fourth song on that album is to date my favorite song of all times. And it has come to mean different things to me as I grew up. Once, it was merely a terrific tune. Later, the poetry crept inside my heart to stay there forever. Today, I know it belongs to my soul. Udit Narayan’s voice and that violin from [1.45-2.21] – someone find me a word to express the beauty that is captured in those 30 seconds ?
Since then, Allah Rakha Rahman has been responsible for countless memorable evenings – dazzling us with a spectacular orchestra one minute, and then leaving us stunned with what he could create with one silky voice and a single string instrument. Oh, have I mentioned he was also the first musician to compose an all a-Capella song in Indian cinema?
For a country that seems to have a rather fragile sense of patriotism, his version of Vande Mataram did not offend – instead it managed to bring everyone together. I still remember the concert of his that I’d attended – usually the audience is only required to stand for the national anthem. In this case, however, the entire crowd stood up in respect as he sang Maa Tujhe Salaam in that powerful voice of his. Soul stirring – that is what it was.
He is innovation and tradition, the charm of the yesteryears and the spirit of youth, insanely complex and endearingly simple. He is genius, and yet almost naïve as he says “Ella puhazhum iraivanukke” (Praise the Lord) as he humbly picks up his Oscar.
In this beautiful interview with Simi Garewal, he remarked that it was perhaps the sense of melancholy that found its way into all his melodies that made them touch people’s hearts so effortlessly.
I still find that sense of melancholy in his Tamil compositions. They’re starkly absent from the Hindi ones though. I wonder why. Is he just uninspired by most of it or is it a musician’s version of a writer’s block? Whatever it is, I am always waiting for another Ae Ajnabi. Ok no wait, that isn’t possible. So I’ll settle for something to rival Rehna Tu or Ruth Aa Gayi Re.
And because I love lists, here are my top
5 10 15 Rahman favourites: (in no particular order – except #1)
#15 Konjam Nilavu
#14 Bombay Theme
#13 Khwaja Mere Khwaja
#12 Rehna Tu
#11 Ruth Aa Gayi Re
#10 Dil Se Re
#9 Jhumbalika (I should ideally upload this one, but Jhumbalika is special to me 😛 )
#8 Ye Jo Des Hai Tera
#7 Ae Naazneen Suno Na
#6 O Bhavre
#5 Mukkala Muqabla*
#3 Enna Solla Pogirai
#2 Pachai Nirame
#1 Ae Ajnabi
Happy New Year, everyone! (Have I already said this?)
*Edited: I’d uploaded this song first, but then changed my mind. “Cowboy dekhe mujhe, playboy chede mujhe” bwahahaha. But the beats. Seriously. Legend.