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Apni Kahaani Chhod Ja: Leave a Story That Will Be Retold

May 26, 2023 | By

Apni kahaani chhod ja — a line that personifies the masters who created such unforgettable classics as Do Bigha Zamin. Seventy years after the film was released in 1953, we enjoy and discuss this masterpiece by Bimal Roy and sing its songs, which we know by heart. Shirish Waghmode rewinds the song to explore how relevant it still is.

apni kahani chhod ja

He is headed for the city where employment and a better life beckon

Every one of us vintage music lovers have some sights and scenes permanently etched on the canvas of our childhood. One of them is the train journey, which was undertaken for various reasons — visiting relatives, going on a pilgrimage or just a trip as tourists. It was a journey full of joy one way and the return trip used to be equally sad. Those train journeys brought us in touch with the rural landscape, sights and sounds.

Today so much has changed — those farmers toiling in the mid-day sun have given way to tractors tilling the land, the trains have become sleeker, faster and air-conditioned putting a wall of emotionless comfort between you and nature. Forget telling your children about the train journey of yore, even you find it difficult to recollect the landscape. But then our filmmakers have done a yeoman service by capturing and encapsulating those childhood memories in their films. Here is a song which takes you back all the way to 1953, every word opening the vaults of aspirations and hopes of those times and every picture — every scene opening up the photo album of a time gone by!

The song begins with the enunciation of a native philosophy, a simple truth — eternal in nature.

भाई रे
गंगा और जमुना की गहरी है धार
आगे या पीछे सबको जाना है पार

Bhai re (the call echoes)
Ganga aur Jamuna ki gehri hai dhaar
Aage ya peechhe, sabko jaana hai paar

Having established the ephemeral nature of life, the poet tells you how then to make the best of your sojourn here.

धरती कहे पुकार के
बीज बिछा ले प्यार के
मौसम बीता जाए

Dharati kahe pukaar ke
Beej bichha le pyaar ke
Mausam beeta jaaye

Mother Nature asks you to sow the seeds of love — but remember to do it soon — because the times, the seasons, they have this habit of flying away!

dharti kahe pukar ke-do bigha zamin

The picturisation is an abiding portrait of the India of those times

अपनी कहानी छोड़ जा
कुछ तो निशानी छोड़ जा
कौन कहे इस ओर
तू फिर आए ना आए
मौसम बीता जाए

Apni kahaani chhod ja
Kuchh to nishaani chhod ja
Kaun kahe is ore
Tu phir aaye na aaye
Mausam beeta jaaye

Leave a story that will be retold. Leave something to be remembered by. This one life is all you have, who knows whether you will tread this path again. The seasons are departing!

तेरी राह में कलियों ने नैना बिछाए
डाली-डाली कोयल काली तेरे गीत गाए

Teri raah mein kaliyon ne naina bichhaaye
Daali-daali koyal kaali tere geet gaaye

Mother Earth’s messengers are all around you — to buoy your spirits, to enthuse you. The flower buds have strewn your path and await your arrival. The cuckoo pours out its melodies for your ears alone:

The male voice takes up the refrain:

भाई रे
नीला अंबर मुस्काए
हर साँस तराने गाए
हाए तेरा दिल क्यों मुरझाए
मन की बंसी पे तू भी कोई धुन बजा ले भाई तू भी मुस्कुरा ले

Bhaai re
Neela ambar muskaaye
Har saans taraane gaaye
Haaye tera dil kyun murjhaaye
Man ki bansi pe tu bhi koi dhun baja le
bhaai tu bhi muskura le

Hah! Why do you worry? The blue skies smile at you,  every breath hums the song of life —  why does your head droop with worry?

The song is a spontaneous outpouring of the sons of the soil.  Their hopes, their moments of despair, the fleeting shadows of doubt and uncertainty — and the joy of emerging triumphant against all odds — with the benediction of the mother — Mother Earth!

dharti kahe pukar ke

The song is a spontaneous outpouring of the sons of the soil

And the picturisation is an abiding portrait of the rural India of those times. Sun-baked bodies toiling — their sweat glistening, doing what their forefathers did before them — tilling the land and living on the bounty it bestows in return. It also reminds me of what Rachel Carson wrote — “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth, find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts”. How well this explains the generations who put their shoulder to the plough and gave their lives to the soil. And they learn so much from nature.

In a chorus song like this, set in an agrarian setting, someone from the toiling masses takes the lead in singing and the rest join the song in chorus. The protagonist who is just a passerby does not join in. But the passerby is no ordinary man, he is Balraj Sahni who needs no script, no dialogue to show the torment of a man who is leaving his village for the city.

dharti kahe pukar ke balraj sahni (1)

Balraj Sahni as Shambhu Maheto takes one parting look at the land

His initial gait is speedy, a man hell-bent on reaching his destination. As he listens to the singing of the chorus, his walk slows but his face does not betray any emotions. He cannot afford to waver or have second thoughts. He is headed for the city where employment and a better life beckon! He steels his nerves and turns around but pauses. He takes one parting look at the land, and in that moment, the veil slips and we see a mélange of emotions crisscross his face. A melancholy display of his helplessness and the compulsions that have driven him away from his village. The angst, for a few seconds, is palpable, then the veil drops, and he turns away and stands on the path to the city. All alone, only with his bravado for company!

The tune reportedly has been inspired by a Hungarian Army song – marching columns of men found it inspiring and soothing. But Bimal Roy, Salil Chowdhury and Shailendra have so seamlessly transported the tune, the rhythm and most importantly, the words, into the Indian milieu that it sounds, feels and looks homegrown on Indian soil. And Manna Dey is magnificent. Right from the Bhai Re call which sounds a gentle alarm bell to the last frantic beckoning of Balraj Sahni who is walking away from his farmlands — he is in commanding form. Lata chips in with her customary sweetness. Incidentally, the actor enacting Lata’s voice on screen is Chitra Nawathe, a Marathi film-star, who starred in many Marathi movies as a leading lady!

But the song haunts you with the words, the picturisation and the soaring skyward voice of the great Manna Dey!

Dharti kahe pukaar ke (Do Bigha Zamin, 1953) Salil Chowdhury / Shailendra / Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar

More Must Reads in Silhouette

Manna Dey: A Story of Amazing Versatility – Part 1

Manna Dey: A Story of Amazing Versatility – Part 2

‘If Raj Uncle Liked a Song, He Would Give Baba a Gold Coin’: Amla Shailendra Remembers Her Father ‘Kaviraj’ Shailendra

‘Bimalda Spread Happiness’ – Jagdeep on Bimal Roy

Balraj Sahni – An Institution of Acting

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Shirish Waghmode is a member of the family that ran the music store, Maharashtra Watch & Gramophone Co, Dadar(W), Mumbai for a record 91 years! From 78 RPM to EPs and then to LPs and then from cassettes to CDs & DVDs, they have been witness to every milestone that technology wrought. Shirish is passionate about Marathi, Hindi and English music in equal measure and has been a public speaking coach and a compere (two shows of Jagjit Singh being the crowning glory). He enjoys writing about music.
All Posts of Shirish Waghmode

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4 thoughts on “Apni Kahaani Chhod Ja: Leave a Story That Will Be Retold

  • A Bharat

    A beautiful mixture of nostalgia and music. Those were indeed the days when real poets expressed their thoughts through film songs , geniuses wove musical threads around them and inimitable voices showered them on to the world. Years later the same singer with the same composer to guide him was to pour out an even more poignant poem of nostalgia about the land he had left behind in Kabuliwala! The present writer has beautifully brought out the nuances of a great picturisation.

    1. Antara

      It was the time when poets, music maestros and golden voices all converged together to create timeless creations. So true, Bharat ji. Apni kahaani chhod ja will is timeless because it connects with every individual, each in his own way. Such a song of universal truth tanscends generations.

      Somehow this song reminds me of the lines from A Psalm of Life , by Longfellow

      Lives of great men all remind us
      We can make our lives sublime,
      And, departing, leave behind us
      Footprints on the sands of time 😊

      Beautiful post by Shirish ji. Especially marvelled at the way he has expressed the emotions of Shambhu Maheto, perfectly captured on screen by the genius of Bimal Roy and Balraj Sahni.

  • Joy Christie

    It is always a treat when we read and listen to Shirish Ji.
    His analysis and detailing about films is a learning process for us.

    This movie, its story, its screenplay, the songs musically and lyrically — everything is just out of the world.
    Salil Da scored very melodious songs in the movie.

    This song has that famous phrase Mausam beeta jaye — it is inspired from a Russian March song ‘Meadowlands
    Its just this phrase which is inspired.
    Again, Salil Da has just followed the tune but the basic structure of rhythm and the blending in his works is simply fantastic. In fact, to take the original phrase and recreate it is not a simple job. Its only Salil Da who could do it.

    While Manna Da sings the earlier part, see the vision of Salil Da — he has used sarangi behind in the harmonies not the violins. Later the violins start playing in broken chords in rhythm and piano is played in off beat rhythm filling the gaps. What a thought!

    Throughout the song the piano then is used as percussion playing in tandem with dholak. Mandolin is also playing throughout — both harmony part and lead pieces.

    Hearing the song it compelled me to write a small essay 😊

    Thank you Shirish bhai for your superb write up. Learning a lot from your articles ♥️♥️

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