Tuesday, October 28, 2008

#2. My Encounter with Death

When Death Came and Went Back.

It was last September. I started running heavy temperature which continued for about 10 days. My family doctor diagnosed it as malaria, and the treatment continued for the period for that only. True that I had to be tested first for malarial parasite, but the symptoms matched, and the doctor suggested that I could start treatment for malaria. The fever continued without any break, no respite.
After about 10 days of constant fever, I was disoriented. I found that I could not complete a sentence, and though I was conscious initially, that also did not last for long.
It is a hazy memory after that. The local Medical College doctors were on strike and I was admitted to a nursing home. I was in a strange state, drifting from conscious to unconscious. The funny part was that the doctor who ran the Nursing Home was herself on death bed, and so my wife felt that I was not getting the care and attention which was due. (The Nursing Home owner died the next day). Somebody rang up large number of my friends and acquaintances that I was going to pop off soon and so I was told later that there was a big crowd in the nursing home. The nursing home people got frightened and asked my wife that the case was beyond them and I should be taken somewhere else. My wife later told me that it was a strange sight, with a number of people present, but nobody to give correct advice or help. She decided on her own to take me to the Escorts at Delhi. The worst part was that I had not told my wife about my ATM pin, and she had to borrow money from my son’s friend. Then came the ambulancewallahs who demanded exorbitant sum. Ultimately the District Administration came to the rescue, and I was sent in a so called ambulance belonging to some government hospital with very basic facilities and equipments. How I got into the ambulance (it was a Qualis or Innova) is something I just don’t remember. There was a doctor who accompanied me. I had no control over my bladder. The doctor was requested to put a catheter and he said that he had done it. In my half conscious state I thought that I can empty my bladder and it will go the catheter, but that did not happen. My lower garment was changed a number of times, so much so that when I reached the hospital long hours later (I think at about 11 in the night), I had only a bed sheet over me, with no dry clothes. I now remember vaguely that on my drive to Delhi. I was thinking that I was in a train, and there was a special compartment and on the glass door AMBULANCE was written. That the seat on which I lying could hardly be compared to a railway berth, whatever it was probably gave me that impression. My son flew from Mumbai, and he was there to receive me at the hospital, and had alerted the hospital staff to be ready with gurney and nurses at the main entrance. I remember that when they saw that my lower part of the body was uncovered they wanted Purushottam (a young man who accompanied me) that I should be given something, and he told them that all the clothes had been exhausted. Ultimately they had to bring an extra bedsheet.
I was taken to ICU and the doctors did what they had to. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, and the strong antibiotic I was given at the nursing home in Gwalior proved so useful There was another problem. I suffer from claustrophobia. I never take a window or middle seat in the plane. In the ICU and later in the single room I had a running battle with nurses about the cage like protection they raise in the bed so that the patient does not fall down. That made me clausrophobic. Ultimately in the half-conscious state in the ICU, I hugged my side of the end of the bed so that that cage could not be raised. I remember vaguely that ultimately a nurse had to bring her chair near my bed and thus ensure that I didn’t fall down.
I don’t know what kind of experience it was but in the night I felt that the ICU was a dome like structure and the patients’ beds were along the circumference with nurses sitting in the front almost in a periphery, and they were all reading, as if preparing for some examination. The other strange experience I had was that I saw a flight of stairs which went up and up, and the higher steps were lost in the mist, as if in a movie. There were some creepers and the staircase was without any wall or railing on either side. I saw a few girls, in all white, with open hair, the type you see in the children’s fairy books. I still can’t say whether it was a dream or hallucination. Whatever it was, for the structure of the ICU, and the staircase the visual were crystal clear and in bright shining colours. I remember an incident where I saw Shashi Kapoor’s Utsav in the special auditorium of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The producer had brought a virgin print, and probably it was its first run ( later I was told that he personally took away the reels after the show, those days piracy was at the peak. ) The print when it ran was shining, like a new book which is being opened for the first time or glasses out of the dish washer, all clean and shining. Good old days when I had Psychology as one of my subjects, I had read that most of the dreams we have are in grey colour. Somewhere else I had read that for seeing ‘technicolour’ dreams one should not drink water at the time of going to bed. Tthose hallucinatory sights visited on me were not hazy or unclear, but in bright colours. I don’t know whether what I saw were dream, or really hallucinatory, or something that the mind made up later on (if that is the correct way to express the experience). But one thing is for sure. Whatever it was it was nearest to death that I ever experienced. In the boyhood I had read a story about a tree which was taller than anything else, and one boy dared to climb to the top and then he reached another land. The dream about the staircase was something similar, though I did not see what was at the end of the long winding staircase! and strangely even now when I think about it, the feeling I have is not of fear or awe but a pleasurable sensation. That night it was as if everything was set to receive me in heaven or hell (whatever), and at the eleventh hour somebody decided or realized that time was not ripe.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

#1. Of Hindi Film Songs :In A Reverie

In A Reverie

Sometime back there was a serial programme on TV named Junoon in which artists from three different schools of light vocal music participated. Everybody in India hears, enjoys and hums film music whether it is ‘anubhavam pudumai’and chinn chinn asha’ or ‘chalo dildar chalen, chand me par chalen’ and ‘suraj hua maddhim, chand jalne laga’ .. But very few have heard Sufi and folk as such and appreciated as such. Not that they haven’t been used in film music. S.D.Burman used Bangla folk and gave some memorable songs. Good old days there was a movie ‘Nadia ke Paar’ which had Bhojpuri dialogues and songs and one Moti B.A.had composed them. Now scores of Bhojpuri movies have been made at a fraction of the cost of a normal commercial film. In one of them even Big B has acted. Sufi has been widely used mainly in association with gangsters and baddies (don’t ask me why!). But hearing the three vidha (schools) separately in a one hour programme by trained singers was a treat. This time when I was in a metro, I casually picked up a Sufi album-and what a gem it turned out to be, with eternal ‘dama dam’ to the classic ‘Afreen’. I remember that one of the judges in the programme refused to recognize ‘Afreen’ as a Sufi song which is love for God. He quoted lines from the lyric which were sensuous and bodily. It would be good to know what these lines are: Haven’t seen anybody as beautiful/ the body as if an Ajanta statue/ body as if it is magic on the eyes of the beholder/ body as if fragrance incarnate/ body as if it is an exciting tune/ body as if it is the sea of moonlight/ body as if it is the first light of the day….One can only say that the judge had genuine reasons for his assertion.

Counterpart of Sufi in Hindi will be Bhajans., and many a time they touch the heart of the listener. Dev Anand films always had one or two bhajans with haunting melody, peaking with ‘Allah Tero naam’ and ‘Prabhu tero naam’ in Hum Dono (The first is more famous, but the second more melodious). Anup Jalota and Hari Om Sharan have given us some lovely bhajans.

Long ago when I was a child (it was early fifties ) I read an article in which there was an anecdote about a famous Hindi poet of ‘40s of the last century. ( I think it was Makhan Lal Chaturvedi). He had gone somewherefor a puja, and at the time of the aarti (worship with lamp burning ghee or camphor) the all time favourite ‘Om Jai Jagdish Hare’ was being sung. After the puja was over, the poet asked the host whether he knew the name the writer of those few lines. On his reply in the negative, the poet confessed that it was composed by him. And he told the story behind it. It seems that there was a puja at his place, and his wife asked him to give her a bhajan with which aarti can be done. The poet composed it in a few minutes, and it became an all time favourite. I only hope that I have named the poet correctly. Makhanlal Chaturvedi was more famous among the students for his patriotic poem ‘Ek Phool ki Chaah’ where the wild flower wishes not to go for the head of the gods, nor the hair of some beautiful maiden, but wished that it be thrown on the path by which the brave were going to die for the country

One of our Vedas is a collection of hymns (Samveda). I remember one poem of Mahadevi Verma, one of the few romantic poetesses of Hindi: ‘Saamgaana gaa gaye jahan rishi/ Kyon na wahan main gaoon. (Where the sages have sung the hymns from Samveda, why should I not sing.). It must be a challenge to the conservative cognoscenti of those days who must have raised their eyebrows on a romantic poetess.

How deeply music affects us! My wife says that in order for a certain piece of music to be likeable, it is not necessary to understand the meaning of the lyric. I agree only to an extent. Songs from other language I could appreciate only when I understood it. Bhupen Hazarika’s famous Rangaman song was explained to me by an Assamese classmate. I still don’t have a cassette or cd of the song. Maybe I pick up a copy on my next visit to Guwahati or Kolkata, the chances of which after retirement are slim indeed. Being a catalyst to your emotions for love, war and patriotism, some songs have refused to die. ‘Vande mataram’. ‘Suraj ban ke jag par chamke, Bharat naam subhaga’ or ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai’ are almost interwoven with our freedom struggle. However, many patriotic songs have been lost in the abyss of time. During my boyhood days, I had come across a collection of such songs which were used during the days of colonial rule. I am not sure whether those songs are alive today or whether that small book is still in print.