Gaata Rahe Mera Dil is aptly named, for as one turns the pages, one cannot but resist humming some of the immortal numbers it is about. It’s also a good book to read while it is raining and hope that the monsoon lingers a little longer, as then the weather adds the right mood to hum these tunes. The book picks its way, year by year, through fifty years of the nation’s ‘favourite’ Hindi film songs. It’s a tough job, and the authors admit that the fifty they have selected amount to less than 20 per cent of the songs they would have liked to include, a reconfirmation perhaps of Pareto’s ineluctable 80:20 principle.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with their choice, the spread is delectable. I, for one, found many of my own favourites, and reacted only at times to what I believed was a wrong choice. Interesting titles have been given to each song, and sometimes that might have dictated the choice of the songs themselves. Thus, Zindagi Kaisi Hai Peheli Hai from Anand (1971) is titled ‘The Enigma That is Life’ and ‘Yoodle Yoo’ is a description of the bubbly, eponymous title song of Jhumroo (1961). However, both films have other songs that were better loved. Generously though, the authors admit that there will be quibblers, as it is with any list of this sort, and have invited readers to list their own favourites.
Each song-story is preceded by an ornately framed still (though many of them could have been reproduced better) and includes interesting facts and trivia. The setting of the song, the instruments used, the raga it leans on, the stories surrounding its composition or rendition form part of each chapter, making for fascinating reading. For example, in the chapter curiously named ‘Baker Street, Chandigarh’, describing Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil from the whodunit Bees Saal Baad (1962), the authors explain how the blending of the Shivaranjini raag with notes drawn from outside the raag work towards creating and enhancing a supernatural feel.
There many little gems of information for the Hindi film song buff across the world. Like M.S. Subbulakshmi being first choice to sing Allah Tero Naam, which Lata Mangeshwar eventually sang (in Hum Dono), and Gulzar losing the Filmfare Award for writing Dil Dhoondta Hai (Mausam) because the first two lines were borrowed from Ghalib, are some that make you keep turning the pages. Though doing so too quickly may not be right.
Gaata Rahe Mera Dil is a book that needs to be taken in slow measures, drop by drop, as it were. Best to read a chapter, play the song and listen to the tune unfolding. Only then can one understand it better, thanks to what one has just read about the song in the book. As a reviewer with a deadline, I did not have that luxury. But yes, I did have the perfect conditions—outside my window in the little hill town where I am, the rain sets the perfect scene. The swish of wet tyres of passing cars added their bit. It stopped raining as I continued reading. But by then it did not matter, drenched as I was in song.