WHEN you spend your time researching and writing about eras gone by, your sense of the present can get a bit distorted and occasionally you find yourself paddling merrily along forgetting when you are.
It was one of those points of pause—I was moving into a chapter about when Len Hutton led an MCC team to the Caribbean in 1954—and while I was shuffling through my notes, I decided to play some music. On the desktop, I opened my little stash and came across a folder I had labelled ‘“Indian Oldies”.
Inside were songs from a CD that someone had compiled and given to me. I have no idea of its origin, but I’ve listened to it umpteen times, loving all of them. I had given them makeshift names as I didn’t know their actual ones—for years they were represented by words that sounded like one or two of the lyrics; pretty much the way many of our ancestors had been named because no one really cared about identities when they arrived to this land. For some odd reason, that afternoon I decided to do a search.
I began to play one—it is playing now as I write—and as I searched for its name, I went back to some moments that reminded me of how we explored and created with so little resources, and how much pleasure we got from these unsupervised activities with our homemade props.
I’ve often written about how I grew up literally surrounded by around 20 cousins; we all lived in the same compound, except for one set who lived across the street. Mostly I recall it to describe how much cricket was played. There was cricket and kites, marbles and tops, ring games, football; all kinds, generated with equipment we manufactured ourselves (except the marbles, of course).
I had forgotten there were other activities as well. I have a feeling this particular memory is based on a concert that we had planned to entertain one of my uncles who was visiting from Canada with his Canadian wife and daughter.
I remember now that we often did this kind of thing. Some would sing, or recite poetry, there would be some semblance of musical accompaniment—mainly drumming, because no one had instruments. But under the lead of our older cousins, we would come up with enthusiastic renditions of whatever they wanted us to do.
So, as I discovered yesterday, the name of the song is “Inhi Logon Ne”, rendered by the marvellous Lata Mangeshkar (I didn’t know many of the songs on the CD were sung by her), and it came from the 1972 movie, Pakeezah, which starred Meena Kumari and Raaj Kumar.
As soon as I saw the name of the movie, I remembered how enthralled my mother had been with it. Was that why it had found its way into our repertoire? I don’t think so. It would have come from my older cousins; adults were not involved.
We spent days carefully flattening crown corks (the bottle caps you find on beer), boring holes in the middle with ice picks and threading them together with string. These were to be ghungroos—the string of little metallic bells that form a musical anklet—and they were to become the centre of our performance, though not the way we imagined.
There were four of us girls around the same age, and we were to be the supporting dancers while one of the elders was at the centre. I figure if the song was from 1972, it might have got to Trinidad maybe the next year or so—I would have been around seven or eight. We rehearsed daily in the little shed where they generally stored agricultural produce before taking them to market. We had to be careful not to step on the piles of tomatoes spread out on brown bags that may have been made of jute.
I have a feeling we might have had some kind of costume too, but I really cannot recall because I would have had no hand in constructing it.
What I remember is the performance. It was simple enough, two of us on either side of our teenaged cousin, going about basic, repetitive moves.
I am grinning as I write, because like the diligent researcher I am, I am getting up to try to recreate the steps as the song plays. I cannot for the life of me see how my memory of those moves could possibly coincide with the melody and rhythms of the song.
But, as I said, we were enthusiastic. I recall we were meant to bring our bare feet down hard so that the gunghroos would make their fabulous sounds (in unison). By the time we were on the third or fourth stamp, the unfortunate strings came apart. One by one our crown corks were rolling away. But we kept going. We pretended it was not happening, kept our smiles pasted on, looked front, directly at our audience, and tried hard not to step on any of the treacherous corks.
I have no idea what made us keep it together. There was no plan for such a mishap. We just knew we couldn’t stop; the show had to go on. And we got quite an ovation.
I just wanted to share this. No reason.