Many summers ago life was young. And innocent. I was masoom too. And longed to take a ride with “Lakdi ki Kathi, Kathi ka Ghoda”, a song so simple and innocent in Shekhar Kapur's “Masoom” that starred Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi in pivotal roles. It was only a little later that life offered other pleasures and I realised what it meant to hum along to “Huzoor is Qadar Bhi na Itrake Chaliye, Khule Aam Anchal na Lehrake Chaliye.” But truth to tell, Gulzar's “Lakdi ki Kathi” is the impression that is indelible in one's heart and mind.
As indeed are songs of another era; time when a mother was supposed to be a lullaby specialist and peers co-singers. Time when boys and girls, unspoiled by video games and play stations, would run the streets on warm winter afternoons or sprinkle water on the terrace on summer evenings even as they sang, “Chal Mere Ghode Tik Tik Tik” or “Nani Teri Morni ko Mor Le Gaye”. Parents would merely give an indulgent smile, knowing, like everything, this phase of innocence shall pass too.
Pass it did, and one got to know that actually “Chal Mere Ghode Tik Tik” was not a song composed by the neighbourhood bhaiya but a certain composer answering to the name of Ravi, the man who was to later carve out his own niche with music in films like “Chaudhvin ka Chand”, “Waqt”, Humraaz” and the rest. Just as “Chanda Mama Door Ke Poohe Pakaye Boor Ke”, that wonderful song moms would sing while they fed their little ones was not mom's own creation. It was merely lifted from “Vachan”; the song having been sung by the inimitable Asha Bhonsle for Ravi in 1955; a song Ravi counts as the best of his songs for children. Matters little that many won't know what is poohe today!
“Chal Mere Ghode” was a masterpiece from the 1959 film “Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan” where Meena Kumari – yes, you did not expect the tragedy queen to do this – went on a merry jaunt! Removed just a little in time was “Nani Teri Morni” from the black-and-white “Masoom”. Again, a Ravi creation, who along with the likes of Raja Mehndi Ali Khan, Shailendra, S.D. Burman and later Gulzar and R.D. Burman, has given the Hindi film industry some of the best children's songs, songs that still occasionally find a mention in All India Radio's Children's Day specials. Yet, these are the songs that are often given a short shrift when anybody sits down to pen the greatest Hindi film songs. But unobtrusively, they have been part of our growing up years, and in their own ways introduced us to melody.
Says Ravi, “I carved out quite a reputation for children songs. I gave ‘ Chanda Mama', ‘Dadi Amma, Dadi Ammi', ‘Hum Bhi Agar Bachche Hote' and ‘Bachche Man ke Sache'. People seem to have forgotten all that now. The industry has always thrived in raising new heroes, toppling the established ones”. He recalls how he wanted nobody but Mohammed Rafi to sing “Hum Bhi Agar Bachche Hote”.
“There was nobody like him. In fact I asked Rafi Sahab to sing for my first film, ‘Ek Paisa De De Babu'.” Chips in Gulzar, who once got Lata Mangeshkar to sing a song meant to express a woman's beauty, “It is a different mindset you bring to work. You just have to think young when penning songs for children. You certainly cannot underestimate their intelligence.” For “Lakdi ki Kathi” though, he did not resort to established singers but roped in Vineeta Mishra, Gurpreet Kaur and Gauri Bagal. Result? A song, that featured a young Urmila Matondkar and a very young Jugal Hansraj and Aradhana, is still regarded ‘ young' some 30 years after composition!
Yes, our Hindi film industry, often derided for churning out cinema that can be enjoyed only by leaving the brains behind in a refrigerator, has almost always done well despite itself when it comes to children songs. Which is quite surprising as the industry has reserved ‘ adult' lines when it comes to dialogue for children! But for wonderful songs, you need to look no further than Rafi's “Chun Chun Karti Aayi Chidya” in “Ab Dilli Door Nahin” where Dattaram's music was a fine accompanist or the inimitable Ashok Kumar's “Rail Gadi” in “Aashirwad”, a film Gulzar considers as his second coming after the long apprenticeship under Bimal Roy. He forged a bond with Hrishikesh Mukherjee and began his “second schooling”. Whether “Masoom” or Ashirwad”, Gulzar has always been able to adapt. “My poetry is a part of my sensibility. You cannot plan or compartmentalise life. It is instinctive. Just be yourself. If you are yourself, nobody can say you are wrong.”
Riddles for kids
Then take your mind's eye to Lata's “Ichak Dana, Ichak Dana” in “Shree 420”, a song replete with riddles for kids. Much like “Teetar ke Do Aage Teetar”. On another level though we had a heart warming song from “Boot Polish”, “Nanne Munne Bachche Teri Muthhi Mein Kya Hai”. It talked of the dreams of the street, the hopes of the helpless.
Often, the songs have carried the narrative forward. As in “Andaaz”. At times, they have been inserted to break the monotony of a heavy subject. For instance, Meena Kumari was very keen to work with Bimal Roy in “Do Bigah Zamin”. So a lullaby “Aaja ri Nindiya” was added to the film, though initially it was not there in the film!
Talking of lullabies, well, they have been different from children's songs in the industry. They have almost always displayed a mother's love for the child, an exception being “Tu Hindu Banega na Musalman” in “Dhool ka Phool” where Manmohan Krishna played a doting father. The children songs though have largely been happy, replete with cheeky words and humour. Remember “Chakke pe Chakka” “Re Ma Mare” or “Sare ke Sare Gama to Lekar”? Time to rewind this coming Children's Day?
“Lakdi ki Kathi, Kathi ka Ghoda ” from “Masoom”
“Soja Rajkumari Soja” from “Zindagi”
“Aaja ri Nindiya Tu” from “Do Bigah Zamin”
“Nanhi Kali Sone Chali” from “Sujata”
“Chandan ka Palna, Resham ki Dori” from “Shabab”
“Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman” from “Dhool ka Phool”
“Main Gaun to Chup Ho Jaye” from “Brahmachari”
“Tujhe Suraj Kahun ya Chanda” from “Ek Phool Do Mali”
“Chanda Hai Tu, Mera Suraj Hai Tu” from “Aradhana”
“Lalla Lalla Lori Doodh ki Katori” from “Mukti”
“Mere Ghar Aayi ek Nanhi Pari” from “Kabhi Kabhie”
“Zu zu zu…Yashoda ka Nandlala” from “Sanjog”
“Ek do Teen, Char Panch Chhe, so Gaye Duniya ke Sab Bachche” from “Aulad”