The gait was a bit laboured but the tranquility adorning the face was unmissable. With the sturdy hand of his companion steadying him, the man slowly albeit purposefully made his way to the step ladder from which one could board the aircraft. My heart was beating rapidly, and the pattern of excitement was almost discernable to everyone around me. Even though I was in danger of being bested by impatience, I mustered every ounce of my decorous upbringing and acquired decency to bide my time until the man made his way inside the aircraft. Quickly identifying the seat he had eased himself into, I wasted no time in darting there, and thrusting out a tattered copy of that morning’s local newspaper ‘Deccan Herald’, asked in a quivering voice, “Sir can I have your autograph please?” With a benevolent and radiant smile, the man nodded, took the paper from my proffering hand before realizing that he did not have a pen. Pulling out the ball point pen clipped to my shirt pocket, I handed it over to him. Still smiling, he took the pen and signed the paper for me. An air hostess who was patiently hovering behind me all the while, in a voice close to consternation directed me to get back to my designated seat as I was blocking the way of other passengers. Mumbling a reluctant apology I scooted away.
Just when I had fastened my seat belt – I must have been still brimming with undisguised delight – my friend asked me in a completely matter-of-fact manner, “Who was that gentleman whom you approached for an autograph?” All the euphoria that was basking over me and a spontaneous effervescence that had taken me in, dissipated like a melting glacier. Recovering my composure, I proceeded to explain to my accomplice that the man was one of greatest singing sensations ever in the history of Indian cinema and classical music. He happened to go by the name of Dr. K.J.Yesudas. The irony seemed to be completely lost on the listener as he put an end to this bit of the conversation with a meek and unimpressed “Oh, Ok.”
Many years after this incident, I realise my folly of not having pursued the conversation with my friend. The “Oh Ok” should have been merely the prologue and not the end of our discussion. Firmly in the knowledge that the man was not exposed to any melodies in either Tamil or Malayalam, I should have just asked him one question, “Have you heard the song, “Maana Ho Tum Behad Haseen?” That would have killed it. If he had not heard the song before, he would have heard it although I would have been deprived of the exquisite pleasure of writing this piece. Even though the world of music abounds with a billion Yesudas melodies, spanning an entire gamut of emotions ranging from the tragic to the tantalizing, if at all I have to choose one song to introduce the legend and genius of Yesudas to a populace unaware of any of the South Indian melodies, it has to be this song.
“Maana ho tum” has this unrivalled minimalistic touch that renders a peerless experience to the listener. Shorn of complicated musical histrionics and devoid of sophistry, the song is a work of art from commencement to conclusion. In the year 1911, the German based artist, Franz Marc created a composition titled “Dog Lying in The Snow.” The painting featured Marc’s own Siberian Shepherd dog named Russi, lying carefree on white freezing snow in the month of January, near the village where he lived. Other than the dog lying in tranquil repose and the snow, there is absolutely nothing else in the photograph. This very lack of characters is exactly what makes the painting so arresting and so alluring. “Maana Ho Tum” is the verbal version of Russi lying in the snow. Written by Kaifi Azmi and composed by Bappi Lahiri, the song is from a 1978 Hindi movie, “Toote Khilone”, literally translated to mean “Broken Toys.” The song is 5 minutes 25 seconds long and contains two paragraphs. In the picturized version of the song, the hero (Shekar Kapur) serenades his heroine (Shabana Azmi). By the end of the song, as is inevitable the lady succumbs to the charms of her lover under a bright moonlit sky. What happens in between the serenading and the success is just pure magic. The lilting, haunting and soulful voice of Yesudas just wafts over the listener like a balm that is a panacea for all ailments, physical and psychological. Like the ripples of a multitude of waves that break near the shore before retreating, only to reappear with renewed vigour, Yesudas teases, taunts, and tempts before finally bringing the mesmerized listener back to reality in a gradated and gentle manner.
The song is a paean to every listener’s nostalgia. Successful and failed escapades of passion come gushing forth like a dam in imperial flow. Wistfulness mingles with pride as one is unwittingly, albeit uncomplainingly transported back to the past. A past where innocence blended with ambition and grandiose castles were repeatedly being constructed in the rarified air of the times. Yesudas with “Maana Ho Tum” does to Indians, what the Jefferson Airplane did to listeners in the West with their “Somebody To Love.’ Even today whenever my mind and inclination takes me, I play “Maana Ho Tum” on loop. No, it is not my all time favourite Yesudas song. There are a plethora of Malayalam and Tamil numbers choosing the best out of which would ensure that I do a phenomenal job of tearing my hair out. But there is no disputing the fact that “Maana Ho Tum” would give each and every one of them a grand and honest run for their money. Before Denmark won the European Football Championships in a fairy tale run in 1992, they were always touted by pundits and rustics alike as the best ‘losers.’ Even though that ‘commendation’ was no badge of honour, it at least signified the love and respect which the Danes had managed to gather for themselves. The Danes were not supposed to have qualified for the finals let alone bag the trophy. Similarly, even if this song never manages the bragging rights to a numero uno slot, if ever there was to be a ‘second best Yesudas song’ competition, I have no doubts whatsoever in my mind that “Maana Ho Tum” will beat every other song hollow.
Yet, like unrequited love, it lacks that minuscule yet, unavoidable and inevitable element that will nudge it to the top of the pedestal. That quintessential attribute remains invisible and indecipherable. But still it would do just fine for me.
I will ask my friend to listen to this song, after all.