The Song9 mins 23 9 mins 23
Sometimes you find solace in the weirdest of places. One such place for me was Khau-Gali. Actually, It was just a regular street near my MBA college campus where many street food vendors would set up their stalls, thelas, food buses and sell their food starting from evening till late hours. Daily. Khau Gali was also not a formal name for this place. A senior of mine introduced this place to me as “Khau-Gali'' on the very first night on campus. Though I loved the name, I was really sure that he had made up the name taking inspiration from those hindi dubbed Harry Potter films. Until I realized that many people, even cab drivers, would recognize it with that same name.
One night, while walking towards Khau-Gali, I was pondering over the vibe of the street. Why did this ordinary lane feel so happening to me? I was 25 then. I used to find places ‘happening’. But I am sure it was not just my naivety, there was something about it. Its geography was certainly exciting. One MBA college, one engineering college and two IT giants were located around that street, so maybe I felt that way because It was always populated with a familiar crowd. Or It could be just food. Believe it or not, from rajma-chawal to loni-dosa, kashmiri-shwarma to litti-chokha and from nimbu-pani to mastani, all of that was available at my disposal in that one street. Or maybe it was simply because of my friends. Imagine an open air central-perk in Pune. It was that for us. A place for all of us to catch up, have tea, smoke cigarettes and discuss everything under the sun. That's it. Is that it? No. There was something more about it, something more specific. Something more alive, always.
As I reached aunty’s cart I saw that Rajiv, Neha, Aashish, Aakash, and Sameera were already there, waiting for me. It was dinner time, two gobhi parathas and three aloo parathas had already been ordered. Aunty’s stall was at the very end of the street, where it was touching the main road. People would take their food from the carts and consume it while sitting on the footpath adjacent to the road. Footpath was nearest to Aunty’s stall so we could sit there while waiting for our meal. We were regular at that place, Aunty was familiar with all of us.
It was eight by then and Khau-Gali looked beautiful at night. Those CFLs and leds of random shades, installed on those moving cubicles, perfectly complemented the smoothness of those late evenings. Many students were there to ditch the mess food, just like us. A lot of software engineers were enjoying their tea after a tiring day. At this time, people used to be there to just relax, to take a breath, to find a brief escape from the hustle of their everyday life and have some food.
“Lagta hai aaj fir mehfil jamegi yaha. (It seems, It is going to be a party here again.)”, I happily said pointing at the guitar Aakash was carrying.
“Forget Mehfil Rahul, you just name it, even a mujra will be arranged.”, saying that she playfully winked at me.
“No need for that ma’am. You just keep singing. That will be enough for me to feel good.” I said ignoring her jesting gesture. She smiled and went back to her food. Sameera, who possessed a hypnotically melodious voice, also bore a wacky sense of humor. She loved to be mad. Insanity was her norm. Honestly, we were also to be blamed. We enabled her wackiness. She was celebrated in our group. She was a star, for us, or maybe only for me.
“Aunty, mummy ban jao meri, take me home, god hi le lo, awesome paratha tha, maze hi aa gaye. (Aunty, take me home and adopt me right now, that paratha was amazing. So much fun it was)”, Sameera was gasping as she soaked all the remaining pickle and chutney in her thali with that last piece of paratha. Aunty smiled and said nothing. She knew Sameera. We were regular at her place, she was familiar with all of us.
After having dinner, it was time to put that guitar to some use. Aakash started playing random melodies. We all joined him. The mood was set, so was our Friday night. “Wait, wait, wait, we will sing this one. Aakash, You know what to play, right?” Akash nodded as Sameera jumped in and took the imaginary stage. I had been waiting precisely for this.
“Zing Zing Zing zzzzZing Zing” Akash started rolling her fingers on the strings .
Sameera started in a heavier voice, “ Laaa$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ife is in deee$$p shit, Still acting laa$$iiike, like a brad pitt.”
We were clapping on beat.
“Zindagiiiiiiii jhand ba, phir bhiiiiiiiiii ghamand ba. Yo…..Zindagiiiiii jhandba , phir bhiiiiii ghamand ba…wooh…” she continued. We joined her. It was pure madness. We kept singing those meme worthy punchlines for the next ten minutes like a rock anthem or something.
“Hey Sameera, one proper song from you. I insist. Please.” The moment the apt for this request.
“Okay Rahul, It's your lucky day.” she threw a kiss at me. She always did this playful flirting with me without having slightest of the idea of the huge crush I had on her. Mean girl she was, anyways, the song she started, was a popular old ghazal called Benam Khwahishe but most of us knew about it because Anvesha and Papon sang in the coke studio.
“Benam si Khwahishe, Awaz na mile,
Bandishe kyu khwab pr, parwaz na mile”
She was giving a complete diva performance with all her signature expressions and smiles. It was evident on her beautiful face how much she loved herself while singing. So did I.
“Jane hai par, Mane dil na,….tu na mere lie
Aage k lyrics, aate nahi mujhe…. (I don't know the remaining lyrics), she sang it too.
Benam si khwahishe, chalo ghar chale (Let's go home)” as always, she ended it vaguely.
Everybody clapped and hooted for her. “Sameera, it was wonderful. Thank you. You made our night”, I overenthusiastically complimented her to cover-up my issues with her forgetting the lyrics. My eyes were fixed on her face, subconsciously overflowing with all the affection I had for her. She successfully ignored it as always. After everyone was done praising her, we all started moving back to our respective hostels.
Sameera’s hostel was second last, just before mine so while getting back, I used to get some alone time with her. I used to walk those minutes at a little slower pace, and that night was no exception.
“I think you take your singing too casually. ” I complained without any warning.
“And I think you take my singing way too seriously. Rahul.” She looked at me. A scary silence followed us till some steps further.
“What is the catch? I am pursuing an MBA. Then I will get a job. Singing stands nowhere in my future plans. It is just for fun. That’s it.”, she said while she kept moving along with a straight face. I tried to remain quiet and not dig this discussion further but couldn't restrain myself for too long.
“You know Sameera, My mom used to sing when she was young. She worked for a local radio channel as well. Then she got a government job, got married, and soon she was a busy working wife. She left singing. Nowadays when I see her working in the kitchen, she tries to sing alongside the songs playing on the TV but her voice doesn’t support her and it kills her, deep inside, I know, I have seen her…..I” I paused, took a deep sigh and cleared my choking voice.
“Sameera, it is not about making a career or getting fame and all. It is about valuing your own uniqueness which Almighty itself has gifted you with.” I concluded and waited for a response.
“Look, we have arrived at the hostel. We will talk about this later. Good night Rahul.” She replied and left. I smiled at this expected behaviour of hers and advised myself to let her be.
One week later, we were having dinner at aunty’s stall. This time there was no guitar, and we were in a bit of a hurry as it was exam season. We finished our dinner, Aakash paid and we were about to leave when aunty asked, “Kya Baccha log, aaj gana bajana nahi karna? (What happened kids, no party today?)”
“Aunty, aaj na ho paaye. (Aunty, not possible today)” Sameera replied.
“Beta 5 mint sun lo, meri bacchii gana sikh k ayi hai tumhara wala. Mayus ho jayegi. (At Least listen for 5 minutes. My girl has prepared your song, she will be upset)” Aunty put another paratha on the stove and stretched back her hand with a blink as the intensity of stove fire was warmer than she expected. “Eye mulgi, suna re. plate dho lena bad me. (Hey kid, sing the song, wash the dishes later)” she called her daughter.
“Ha sunao, na. (Yes, come on.)” Aashish sat on the pavement while we were standing behind him making a semicircle.
Manisha, a thirteen year old girl, came forward. She dried her wet hands with her dupatta. There was some sweat on her dark complexioned face which was in perfect ratio with her malnourished skinny body. She stood up facing Aashish. Sameera sat on her knees beside Manisha facing everyone else. Manisha closed her eyes and started:
“Benam si khwahise, awaj na mile
Bandise kyu khaab pr, pawaj na mile
We all went numb in surprise. She was good. Her pronunciation had errors, understandably, but her tone, rhythm and voice had put us in a different zone altogether. She was that good. Images of Manisha, taking our plates back, putting extra butter on parathas and serving pickle in our plates and many others were getting more and more clear in our thoughts, which were blurred before this very moment.
“Jane hai par, Mane dil na,tu na mere lie
Aage k lycs, aate nahi mujhe….. (I dont know the reamining lyrics), just like Sameera, she sang it too. Sameera shockingly looked at her.
“Benam si khwahise, chalo ghar chale” She completed and waited for our judgement.
Everybody clapped and hugged that cute little girl.
Sameera stood up and removed the dirt from her jeans. She was perturbed. She put her palm on the kid’s head, and though she tried not to, that puzzled feeling made her look at me. There she was, smiling with a twinkle of tears in her eyes. Those expressions were priceless to me. I smiled gently, nodded and blinked to convey that it was okay to feel what she was feeling there.
While walking back, in our ‘alone’ time, there was an awkward silence between us. “Sameera”, I tried to end that awkwardness. “Don’t.”, she interrupted me halfway. “Okay.”, I obeyed and surrendered. We walked till her hostel along with that stillness and wished each other a good night. She was about to enter the building, I was idiotically staring at her, suddenly she turned, called me back and said,
“Thanks for sharing your mom’s story with me that night. Thank you Rahul. It matters.“
She smiled and went away.
That smile generated one more on my face which stayed for a little longer. Perhaps the whole night. Flashes of the pleasing events that just took place, were playing on loop in my head, with a lasting image of Manisha’s eyes, filled with hopes and smiles. Although it had not changed anything, definitely not in a big way, not for me, neither for Manisha and perhaps not for Sameera as well, but one question, I had almost figured out that day. The question was, “What is that “something more alive” about the weird street known as Khau-Gali?”