21 January 2022

Noorie

It was 1983 or 1984. My best friend Avijit Bose and I had gone to our friend Kaushik Samanta’s house. Kaushik’s elder sister – Papiya-di – introduced us to a new cassette she had bought – Noorie. At that time I did not know but it was already a 4-5 year old movie. I had never heard of the movie but loved the songs. One of my earliest introductions to Qawwali (albeit the Bollywood version) – “Aashiq ho to aaisa ho“. Loved “Chori Chori Koi Aaaye” too!

A few weeks later, Papiya-di lent that cassette to me. I remember Avijit and I listening to the songs over and over again at our place!

Almost 38 years later, those were the same songs I listened to again. (one more of the vinyl records I got from the Kolkata trip this time).

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21 January 2022

Book Review – “Through the Language Glass”

By Guy Deutscher

Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

I forget which book, but somewhere I had read that Russians have two different words for what we club as “blue”. And they “see” two different colors if you showed them the whole spectrum of “blue” whereas we see one. That had given rise to an interesting question in my mind – Does our perception of the world get affected by our mother tongue (the language we learn to express what we perceive by) or do we all perceive the same thing – we just express it differently?

During Covid, downloaded a book after quite some research – Through the Language Glass and was fascinated by what I learnt.

Found out that Russians are likely to find it ridiculous that English speakers think of two different colors – “siniy” and “goluboj” – as one color – blue. They fail to understand how we do not clearly perceive two different colors. We just don’t see how these are different. If pressed, we will admit, one is simply “deep” blue (think deep ocean color) and the other is “light” blue (this about the Caribbean waters). Conversely, we are likely to find it ridiculous that the Ovaherero people in Namibia do not see the two colors – green and blue as two different colors. We wonder – “What’s wrong with you? How can you say blue trees and green sky?”. It is not like they do not register in their brain as two different colors – it is just that they do not see what is the big need to call them two different colors. Just like we don’t see the need to label deep blue and light blue differently in normal life.

Grammar is yet another area where how we think of events get influenced deeply. Take verbs for example. In English, you have to convey to the audience the “tense” of the verb. You have to pass on the perception of if the event happened in the past, present or future. But you do not need to pass on the perception of the “person” (subject) who for example “walked”. In Arabic though, both the tense and the person is embedded in the verb. In Chinese, neither is embedded. The language grammar influences what you think are the important things to be conveyed during aa conversation.

Different languages force the speaker to pay attention to different aspects of the world every time you try to speak or listen. As an interesting (and somewhat extreme) example, there are Amazon tribes (like Matses) where you cannot just say “Rajib ran by our street”. The language will force you convey either experience (did you see him run) or evidence (he left his water bottle by your gate) or conjecture (he always runs by our street) or hearsay (your neighbor told you he ran by your street).

The most fascinating one is how certain folks (scattered all over the world – Polynesia, Mexico, Bali, Nepal, Namibia, Madagascar) have no concept of left or right. Just the four cardinal directions. Imagine that. Regardless of where they are, they always have an accurate sense of what is North!!

Even gender biases show up in how we see the world. Time and again, an experiment has been done – almost always with the same results. A bunch of Spanish folks and a bunch of German folks are shown a picture of a bridge and asked to describe it in adjectives. The Spanish – for whom bridge is a masculine noun (“el puente”) – use words like big, dangerous, long, strong, sturdy, towering… and the Germans – for whom bridge is a feminine noun (“die Brucke”) see it as beautiful, elegant, fragile, peaceful, pretty and slender!

There are many more such interesting examples from different languages. Eventually, the author answers the question that I had – although apparently, the answer has been settled for good only in the last half century – the language you speak in absolutely biases you regarding how you perceive the world.

Highly recommend this book if this is an interest area for you.

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16 January 2022

Pighalta Aasman

I had just entered my Engineering college in 1985. One of the first things I had bought for myself was a small radio. Mostly to listen to songs. It was probably early 1986 when a song caught my ear – “Teri Meri Prem Kahani“. Not only did I find the tune catchy, I also liked the rhyming of the words “kitab-on“, “sharab-on“, “gulab-on“, “nawab-on” and how they were used in the lyrics. It probably mattered that those were some of the few Hindi words I actually understood at that time!

Later I discovered another song from the same movie – Pighalta Aasman – “Mujhe Aisa Milaa Moti” – that stuck on to me for a long time. Very different kind of tune but memorable, all the same!

Tonight, that was the vinyl record I brought out from the collection I bought in Kolkata this time, cleaned it up and put it on… and in a small way, relived those days from four decades back!

16 January 2022

Longstanding project completed

Original plan was to use the downtime during year end to get all the handwritten letters that I still have neatly organized by person and in chronological fashion. Of course, Covid took my year end away. However, with the long weekend here, I finally got it done.

Some of the letters are from 1984! The “inland letters” of India are ready to just crumble up. Had to use a lot of caution to restore them. You can see some of the olden days “postcards” too.

The earliest letter is from my dad in 1984 followed by my best friend Avijit Bose’s. The latest one is from Madhuri Agrawal from Singapore from a few weeks back.

Some of the letters from my parents were too difficult for me to hold my tears back.

I told Sharmila about my project.

“I have organized the letters that I still have and some of the ones that I wrote”
“How do you have letters that you wrote?”
“Well, for international letters, I take a photocopy. Just in case they get lost, I email the photocopy to the recipient later.”

“How come you do not write any letters to me anymore?” was her next question.
“What?”
“You used to write to me before marriage. How come you write to others still but not to me?”
“Why would I write to you? We live under the same roof. Moreover, we are on talking terms.”

Apparently, that did not convince her.

Maybe that Covid-time realization on silence might be not too futile after all.

I can foresee a day when she would ask me “How was dinner?”
Vowed to silence, I would furtively pen a letter and mail it. (BTW, our new house is bang opposite the post office.)
She can open up the wax sealed envelope a few days later and read out loudly “Needed a little more salt!” Or something like that!!!

9 January 2022

Superuna

After the 1981 Disco Deewane, brought out another vinyl record this evening that was actually released just the next year (1982). I was preparing for my Board exams when this album by Runa Laila (from Bangladesh) hit the streets. I remember finding the tunes very catchy those days.

My favorites were – “Suno suno meri yeh kahani suno” and “De De Pyar De”. The tune of the last one is actually completely taken from a popular folk song in Bengal where the farmer sings to the Rain God for rains to come so he can till the land.

The composer – Bappi Lahiri – had a bit of a reputation for plagiarizing tunes from other places.

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7 January 2022

My unique experience from Covid isolation

Just came out of Omicron isolation yesterday. Fortunately, it happened after I reached the US and not while in India. Also, isolation was relatively painless since I had the whole new house to isolate from! The only hassle was there was no bed – so it was more of camp night experiences with a couple of camp blankets used as mattress on hardwood floor. But, otherwise, I had the place all to myself.

Because of coughing and the bed situation, I could never sleep more than 15-20 minutes at a stretch the first five or six days. And I could not talk to anybody over the phone because of the coughing.

That actually opened up to me an experience I had never had before. For about 10 days, I was in near 24 hour silence. With no talking whatsoever. Any of you who know me can be excused for not believing it.

I sat endless hours in that picnic chair you see looking outside the door. I could not go out into the patio – it was too cold for me. And that step stool was my handy tea-cup stand and place to keep my phone and ipad.

This has gotten me intellectually curious in the topic of Silence itself. What does silence do to us? Is it desired or have we evolved out of it? Does being a social being still jive with silence?

Reached out to my friend Neal Rajdev for some pointers on books that I can read. Have you ever read a good book on Silence or the Practice of Silence? If so, could you share with me?

One of the things I veered into during those long nights of Covid isolation was poetry on silence. Most of them had some kind of an inner self / spiritual kind of bend. The best ones for me were from the Persian poet Rumi. This particular one became my favorite:

“Silence is the language of God
All others are just bad translations”

Loved it!

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26 December 2021

Disco Deewane … aha… aha…

The year was 1981. I was in 9th grade. Our house was on 9th street of Ranapratap Road. On the other side of the road was 16th street. The very first house on that street had a Malayali family. There were two kids – Jacob and Thomas – who went to my school (juniors). They always kept to themselves. Their dad used to do a lot of gardening and I used to say “Hi” to him on my numerous trips down that street to meet my best friend Avijit. Well, I did not say “Hi” so much as “Kaku, kemon aachhen?“.

There was one more thing I remember of that house – they had a record player (turntable). There were two particular records – whenever they played them – we used to stop playing whatever it was that we were playing (really the choices were between soccer or cricket depending on whether it was sweater worthy weather or not) and gather around their house to listen to the songs.

One of them was Disco Deewane. It used to sound very strange and very catchy to us. The strange part was because before that, our ears were brought up on a staple diet of Rabindrasangeet/Nazrulgeeti or Hindi Bollywood (soundtrack) songs.

And catchy because… well it was Disco. It took me five more years to even know what Disco meant.

Much later I found out this was the first non-movie-soundtrack (Bollywood) in India to take off and paved the way for later non-movie albums and singers. What I did not know – and found out from Wikipedia today – is that this topped the charts in a country like Brazil too!!

As a funny aside…
I believe the words go “Disco Deewane… aha aha”. That “aha aha” bit is interesting. In Bengali, we say “aha” when we appreciate something. Almost like saying “Bravo” or colloquially “Awesome”.

Those days, as much as I liked the album, I had never quite figured out why was Nazia singing the song and then commending herself by saying “aha aha”.

Yes, the memories of this album goes back to those tender years.

One more vinyl record I picked up from Free School Street in Kolkata last week.

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24 December 2021

“Yaara teri yaari ko… maine to khuda maana”

While in Kolkata, went to Free School Street and got a few more vinyl records. This time, I focused on some of the Hindi movie songs that we used to hum during our school days.

Yaarana – a favorite of Sharmila’s and mine – was the first one I brought out tonight and listened to with her.

I remember how much I used to love the tune of those words…

“Yaara teri yaari ko
Maine toh khuda maana
Yaad karegi duniya
Tera mera afsaana
Tere jaisa yaar kahan
Kahan aisa yaarana”

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