Romancing the Past

I did not belong to the generation of my country that had Murphy radio glued to their ears. For news and more than that, as their sole source of entertainment. But, even though I belonged to the TV generation, I liked the radio better. Well, for beginners, nobody called it an Idiot Box and I loved getting clicked in the Murphy Baby pose.

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I distinctly remember the cold winter evenings when people gathered outside tea shops, made a fire and huddled around it with a radio at the center. They drank tea, enjoyed the songs and discussed news. The “chai & charcha” (tea & discourse) was such an integral part of Indian way of life.

For me, I can recall so many nights when I went to sleep clutching the small black radio with the volume turned lowest.

In my house, the radio was switched on at 7:00 in the morning so that we could listen to the BBC English news as we got ready for school. It taught me correct usage, pronunciation, enunciation of the language and also enriched my vocabulary. Radio was not just for entertainment, not for me. With regional and international news, presenters who were well informed and experts on the subjects of discussions with clear diction and impeccable language skills, radio was a wealth of information . Anyone listening to All India Radio or AIR would be abreast of the current events from all across the world from New Zealand to Nagaland. Well, for me, it also meant great scores in General Knowledge tests and and a repertoire of excellent points to put forth during class debates.

I loved the radio, I still do. And even in this age of thousands of FM channel, my favorite remains Vividh Bharti – Desh ki surili dhadhkan (Nation’s melodious heart-beat). Which it has remained for as long as generations can remember.

In all probability the most popular programs were the ones which played songs from the Hindi movies. Ameen Sayani’s ,”Bhayio and Behnon” (Brothers & Sisters) would bring a smile on the most tired faces. And one cannot forget “Jaimala” dedicated to the soldiers of the Indian Army and BSF, playing song requests sent in by them. My personal favorite was “Hawa Mahal”, a program that aired audio plays. I owe my oral storytelling capabilities to programs like these.

The summer afternoons and winter evenings would have been dreadful without the solace of the radio. What bliss it was to curl up in the blanket with tea and your favorite songs playing on the radio.

Radio enjoyed much popularity for decades and in turn ensured the establishment and popularity of the Indian Cinema by taking it to the masses. So entrenched was Radio’s presence in the collective Indian mindset that when TV did make an appearance in Indian households, the most popular programs were “Rangoli” and “Chitrahaar”. Both were programs based on playlist of old and new songs from the Hindi films. I am sure no other country in the world plays “Antakshari” (the last alphabet) where as the name suggests one had to sing songs starting with the last alphabet used by the previous player in his/her song.

Radio introduced me to music and so many things wonderful. In my future blog posts I will discuss songs from the Hindi cinema that had lasting impact on me as a writer. Till then you can check out my YouTube channel where I have reacted to a few songs from the Golden Era of Indian Cinema.

Leave me a comment if you would like me to write about any of your favorite songs.

Love Vintage and want to Romance the Past? Check out my book “A Vintage Tale-What’s Past is Prologue” and take a trip to Victorian India.

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And that’s why I love S.T.Coleridge

Recommend playing it as you read.

I fell in love with Samuel Taylor Coleridge when I was in ninth grade. As a teenager I could not fathom any other poem as enchanting and yet so poignant as ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. I couldn’t sleep the night I first read the poem as the vivid imagery painted with words kept appearing in my dreams. For the first time my young mind grasped the true meaning of the power of words.

Coleridge and his mariner have stayed with me ever since. As I was writing my novel I reached the point where I had to describe the sea journey from London to Bombay.  I found myself repeating the lines from the poem over and over again.

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

The Rime of the Ancient mariner

It finds a mention in my novel and my reference to Coleridge doesn’t stop there. As I kept writing and growing I discovered another poem, Kubla Khan,[ Kubla Khan] and fell in love with the poet all over again.
This time the poet and his process of writing the poem became my fixation. ‘Kubla Khan or a vision in Dream, A Fragment’ is one out of the three most celebrated poems written by Coleridge, the other two being ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Christabel’.
An opium induced sleep gave birth to this masterpiece. Coleridge’s play with imagery, the use of assonance and alliteration, the varying speed of words and the play of vowels are at fine display in this poem. Readers and Critics for generations have tried interpreting it. Some find it an ode to creativity and imagination, others analyse the metaphorical exploration of relationship between the poet and society and some even find strong sexual connotations and references to yonic imagery.
The romantic idea of getting high and then creating something absolutely beautiful has appealed many a creative minds. Whether it was Sartre who took so much mescaline that he saw crabs everywhere or Aldous Huxley who experimented extensively with LSD and mescaline and wrote a mind blowing book ‘The Doors of Perception’. I cannot even start listing the musicians who did their best work when high and the number of songs dedicated to drugs. I would like to credit Coleridge to be the trend setter of this phenomenon, he brought “cool” to literature, much before Hemingway.
But, I don’t feel connected to his words for the above reasons.
Coleridge was an outcast, a rebel in his own right, different from the rest; a Dark Horse. He started off with William Wordsworth but while Wordsworth became a celebrated poet, Coleridge was pushed to the periphery of the literati world because of his illness and his subsequent addiction. His idealism and his Utopian dream of a Pantisocracy, its inevitable failure, poor financial condition and yet his invaluable efforts in reviving Shakespeare and Milton, make his life’s story both tragic and full of enigma. He is as hypnotic as the “glittering eyes” of the ancient mariner who could force people to stay put and listen to him.
Coleridge lived an unconventional albeit a calamitous life and it somehow makes him approachable to the reader. I would probably be scared to death to meet larger than life,  E.Hemingway, but Coleridge; not so much.
And that why I love Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Coleridge finds a lot of reference in my book and most important of them is in context of my male protagonist; Christopher Delano. Like Coleridge, he is an opium addict with a dark past and disturbed present who longs for an Abyssinian maid who would help him create the perfect world he dreams of. Not unlike Coleridge, he didn’t get a chance until it was too late. A misplaced sense of morality, drowning in pity and hatred, Christopher Delano walks on the path of self-destruction.
He describes himself thus:
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“So, you see Miss. McCarthy, I am no hero. For most, I am a pilgrim in search of redemption, of what nature, I am not sure.”
Read more in my book and find out if Miss. McCarthy eventually turns out to be his Abyssinian maid who saves him from himself.
Leave your comments, feedback and suggestions. Please share if you liked this.

Borrowed Words and Loaned Ideas

The hashtag “Thug Life” is extremely popular on social media however the word itself owes its origins to the Sanskrit word “Sthaga” which means to conceal. The word found it’s way into the English Language in 1810 during the British Imperial rule in India. Since then, thugs have fascinated the popular culture and consciousness.

Victorian England fantasized and romanticized every oriental phenomenon. Thugs were dangerous, menacing and brutal killers, in addition to this they belonged to an exotic far away land inhabited by God-forsaken pagans and barbarians. They were ideal literary villains, like Dracula and pirates. A simple google search will lead one to several books written on these deceptive gangs of assassins. In the eyes of the English authors, they were groups of savages who worshiped a fierce looking Goddess and strangled every throat in their way.

It was the second decade of the early nineteenth century, i.e. 1820s. After several years of denial, the British Government of India finally took cognizance of the fact that several thousands of travelers missing on the countryside roads was not an accident.

A Bengal Army Officer decided to do something about it. Sir William Henry Sleeman was the first District Magistrate to wage a war against this secret nationwide cult. Lack of support and belief from his superiors, a formidable silence of the Indian society and secret support of the Indian royalty to the cult were only a part of his problems. But, with innovative approach to policing and “Thugging the Thug”, helped him curtail this countrywide menace to a great extent. By the end of the nineteenth century India was declared free of the Thugs. Sleeman is still revered in many parts of the country, the village Sleemanabad (named after him) in Madhya Pradesh bores testimony to the fact.

Sparing only women, children, fakirs and god-men, the Thugs had terrorized every traveler who took the highways. Once the season was over they would resume their normal lives, as farmers, carpenters, goldsmiths and noblemen. One could never know if the friend one broke bread with in the morning had spent the previous night murdering men and then burying them in mass graves. Growing up, I had heard several blood chilling tales passed down from the members of the older generation in my family.

So if ever you are time travelling in eighteenth century India, watch out for a sash wearing stranger with friendly smile and be warned not to fall for his charming words.

After several films on dacoits during the seventies and the eighties, Bollywood has once again turned to Indian History for inspiration. Aamir Khan’s next is “Thugs of Hindostan” based on the book “Confessions of a Thug” written by Philip Meadows. The same book I referred to write my section on a gang of Thugs who killed by strangling their victims using a red handkerchief.

Read more about them in my upcoming book.

If you like History and fiction, my book promises a good mixture of both. Watch out this space for more updates. Watch the movie and read my book!

#thugsofhindostan