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Aye Mere Pyaare Watan: The Yearn for the Motherland

July 12, 2023 | By

Aye mere pyaare watan, one of the most evocative odes to the Motherland, touches every heart. Shirish Waghmode revisits this unforgettable song in Kabuliwala.

aye mere pyaare watan

The song begins with the melancholic notes of the rabab

Most patriotic songs are songs of arousal. A strident appeal to somnolent patriots to rise to the cause. To awaken the feelings that have been submerged. With words that are warnings of impending danger, of the perils ahead and the need to protect our Motherland from enemies. Most of them are like loud clarion calls – and justifiably so. They need to rekindle existing fires and light new ones in the minds of the young.

But there are some songs which stand apart. And this is one such and hence my favourite. It is the reflection of the deep sense of emptiness which is experienced by man who is away from his Motherland. Material gifts abound but the soul is impoverished. And from this emptiness springs this wail — what else can you call a child’s cry to draw the attention of his mother?

Balraj Sahni - Kabuliwala

Rahmat pines for his Motherland

ऐ मेरे प्यारे वतन,
ऐ मेरे बिछड़े चमन,
तुझ पे दिल कुर्बान

तू ही मेरी आरजू,
तू ही मेरी आबरू,
तू ही मेरी जान
Aye mere pyaare watan,
aye mere bichhade chaman,
tujh pe dil qurbaan

Tu hi meri aarzoo,
tu hi meri aabaru,
tu hi meri jaan

It is fairly well known that this song was penned by Prem Dhawan on his first trip abroad — an occasion which typically sends people into raptures – singing the praises of the host, showering compliments all around and publicly endorsing the prosperity and progress — compared to their own country that they see all around them. But here is a simple soul — surrounded by the various flavours and fragrances, he reminisces

तेरे दामन से जो आये उन हवाओं को सलाम
चूम लूँ मैं उस ज़ुबां को जिसपे आये तेरा नाम
Tere daaman se jo aye un hawaaon ko salaam
Choom loon main us zubaan ko jis pe aaye tera naam

He goes to the most scenic spots, is enchanted by the wonders of nature and comes back to say

सब से प्यारी सुबह तेरी,
सब से रंगीं तेरी शाम
Sab se pyaari subah teri,
sab se rangeen teri shaam

aye mere pyaare watan (Kabuliwala)

Rahmat remembers his little daughter Ameena he left behind in Afghanistan

And he attributes his love to the umbilical cords that still exists in his mind

माँ का दिल बनके कभी सीने से लग जाता है तू
और कभी नन्ही सी बेटी बनके याद आता है तू

Maa ka dil banke kabhi seene se lag jaata hai tu
Aur kabhi nanhi si beti banke yaad aata hai tu

He seeks the protective refuge of his mother’s love which he wants to return and he wants to protect the helpless girl-child, which his new-born nation feels like. But whatever the relation, the more they are remembered, the more the pain they cause –

जितना याद आता है मुझको उतना तड़पाता है तू
Jitna yaad aata hai mujhko utna tadpaata hai tu

A grown-up man but today he is like a lamb who has deserted his flock. His enthusiasm and excitement has waned. He is repenting the burst of adventurism that made him leave the warmth of his motherland –

छोड़कर तेरी ज़मीन को दूर आ पहुचे हैं हम
फिर भी है यही तमन्ना तेरे जर्रों की कसम
हम जहाँ पैदा हुये उस जगह ही निकले दम

Chhodkar teri zameen ko door aa pahunche hain ham
Phir bhi hai yahi tamanna tere zarron ki kasam
Hum jahaan paida huye us jagah hi nikale dam

Like a distraught child he wants to go back — back to the land of his birth — with one wish. He wishes to die in the land which gave him birth. Blessed is the land which breeds such patriots who are proud to carry the debt of their Motherland — every living moment, in every breath they take!

Oliver Goldsmith sums it up best in The Traveller
“Such is the Patriot’s boast,
Where’er we roam,
His best, first, best, country ever, is at Home”

Prem Dhawan, who wrote the rousing songs of Shaheed like Aye Watan, aye watan, humko teri kasam shows his childlike bond with his motherland in this beautiful poem.

Known for their machismo, shedding tears is anathema for them – so they bleed.

The music by Salil Chowdhury is minimalistic. It’s the magic of words moving on the wings of Manna Da’s voice and the cavernous sounds of the rabab! The few wandering Pathans, seek solace in each other’s company and listen to the song which brings them further from their land, but closer to each other! Known for their machismo, shedding tears is anathema for them – so they bleed.

They bleed within, suffering in silence the pangs of separation. In the still, starless night, they see the caravan of camels traversing the desert, the sandy dunes and the snowy peaks of the Hindukush and the towering Pamirs range. And they hope of returning to their birthplace, their Motherland.

Kabuliwala and Mini

Balraj Sahni as Kabuliwala and Sonu as Mini

And who better to convey this emotional turmoil than Balraj Sahani, playing Rahmat! His roughly hewn face, for a fleeting moment, displays the pair, the ‘child’ within and then the ‘man’ comes to life and takes over!

Balraj Sahni and Bimal Roy

Balraj Sahni and Bimal Roy on the sets of Kabuliwala (Pic: Facebook)

On the back of his successful directorial venture, Anand Math (1952), Hemen Gupta was hand-picked by Bimal Roy to direct this endearing tale of a 4-year-old girl Mini and a displaced Pathan peddler in Calcutta, based on the celebrated story Kabuliwala by Rabindranath Tagore, under the banner of Bimal Roy Productions. It was a tall order since Tapan Sinha’s Bengali screen adaptation, Kabuliwala (1957) had already won wide acclaim. But Hemen Gupta rose to the challenge, brilliantly recreating the world of the Kabuliwala and his relationship with the chatterbox Mini who reminds him of his daughter Ameena he left behind in Afghanistan.

Every filmmaker makes movies about his culture, his people, his surroundings. To make a movie about an outsider, an immigrant who is torn apart from his land, needs a visionary. And that’s what Bimal Roy was — versatility personified.  Kabuliwala was Roy’s homage to the Bard in his centenary year, 1961.

Manna Dey, Salil Chowdhury and Prem Dhawan poured their artistry in this immortal melody. It remains, till today, one of the most evocative odes to the Motherland, ever.

Aye mere pyaare watan (Kabuliwala, 1961) Salil Chowdhury / Prem Dhawan / Manna Dey

More Must Reads in Silhouette

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

From Kolkata to Dublin via Kabul: Tagore’s Internationalism And Cinema

Neel Akasher Neeche: A Tale of Humanism Amid the Freedom Struggle

Manna Dey: A Story of Amazing Versatility – Part 2


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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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5 thoughts on “Aye Mere Pyaare Watan: The Yearn for the Motherland

  • Rajan NS

    This is a great tribute to a ‘song’, and by natural extension, to its creator and all those who were ‘inspired’ to contribute to its greatness. Salil Chowdhury composed a unique and soulful tune and music for it which only the peerless Manna Dey could have rendered as meltingly and which touches the heart of everyone. The austere and very apt use of instruments, obviously designed to enhance and highlight the sheer beauty of Prem Dhawan’s lyrics, is something that Salil achieved with consummate ease in his many great songs.
    It is only natural that the author with his impressive background in music has expressed the many facets of this eternal song so beautifully.

  • Arindam Banerjee

    A wonderful and poignant tale written by Gurudev and equally wonderfully adapted to the silver screen by the great Bimal Roy. Roy’s treatment of the sensitive subject which he was a master at, Balraj Sahni’s acting, Salil Chowdhury’s music, Prem Dhawan’s lyrics and Manna Dey’s rendition of this song make this song and also the movie Kabuliwala an all time classic. It was destined to be. Shirish ji has not only brought out the nuances of the song absolutely brilliantly, but has also briefly touched upon the story at the same time educating us on several interesting facts about the movie and the making of the song.

  • Sam Naqvi

    Oh so nicely created by you Shirish ji. I am impressed by your flow of words, immaculate use of English verbs and adjectives. 👏👏. The layout of the article is excellent, interspersed with the beautiful black and white photos of our favorite Balraj ji. Thanks for the wonderful share. Shirish ji keep sharing. 🙏

  • Ramakant

    I m thrilled no end to receive yr rich content, the hallmark of yr writing. Whatever your pen, or your fingers touch, becomes gold standard, so detailed, indepth n realistic is your analysis .

    U r absolutely correct that the song ए मेरे प्यारे वतन is a departure from the other high voltage, on the face patriotic songs, as it is totally understated n subtle in nature, the cry in the wilderness of foreign shores of a helpless citizen, forced by circumstances, to leave his homeland to earn a living for his family. The fact that this melancholy filled call of conscience is triggered by his unusual closeness with a small girl, he comes across in his daily wanderings of the city to sell dry fruits, reminding him instantly of his own little daughter left behind back home , makes this song all the more powerful n heart wrenching, leaving a lasting impact.

    Prem Dhawan writing these touching lines while being abroad, instead of singing praises of his host country, the normal expectation from an average traveller to keep his hosts in good humour, carries lot of significance n shows him to be a man of his own mind, not of herd mentality. His work in lyrics n music field is not large but whatever he has written or composed is of a very high degree.

    Salilda of course is a big match player as he has proved again n again with sterling performances in Do Bigha Zameen,Naukri Madhumati, Usne Kaha Tha, Parakh, Musafir, Anand, Mere Apne, Annadata, Rajnigandha, Choti Si Baat and many other low key movies. He has excelled here also n has resisted the temptation of using loud n hyper energetic vocal or instrumental music, but still delivering a stunner, proving the adage that patriotism isn’t a show business for public display but something internalised in your DNA.

    Mannada, the perfect singer to put into practice the motto of the lyricist n music director doesn’t fail to click on his home pitch n sings his heart out. The rest is done by the natural acting skills of Balraj Sahni, the actor par excellence.

    So everything falls in place to make this a classic number for all time to come. No chorus, the speciality of Salilda, as per the requirement of the situation n mood, also stands out in this song. Use of orchestra is mainly restricted to rabab, most suited to bring alive the ambience of the home country of the protagonist.

    The automatic outpouring of emotions for the homeland in a low/medium octave song by a sensitive human being is not unexpected or surprising in the least. His unadulterated affection for the little girl is similarly beyond the borders of nations, religion, class n caste. It is out n out pure bonding of hearts n souls, driving home the power n pull of humanity being the biggest, oldest n original faith of the world. It also underscores the fact that patriotism doesn’t always demand shouting from the rooftops at the highest volume with zest n enthusiasm to register.

    Thanx a lot for this heavenly piece.

    I do hope u will bless me with yr future writeups as well as I m a great fan of yr methodical emoting skills making reading a visual n feeling experience to be absorbed in letter n spirit. 🙏🙏🙏

  • Joy Christie

    Shirish ji ,
    Your post has so many many things one can learn for a person interested to learn.

    First is , the English language you write and express is so very rich. It has the finest sentence constructions with the most rich vocabulary making the write up full of literature of music and films.

    Now coming on the description of the film , how the song is picturised or filmed or rather executed on the screen. You have furnished each and every detail of the various branches involved. Story author, director , and so on with their prior backgrounds. The Write up talks about the actors and the music side too.

    Prior to my word, first I wish to say that you have informed the reader what types of patriotic songs have been coming and used to come and how Bimal Roy with Hemen Gupta did the full song.

    Coming to the lyrics yes till now there’s very few patriotic songs of this caliber. It is the vision of Salil Da that a man who usually and always engrossed with symphonies, choral, Choir and fully multi lines harmonies did this song in a much much different way and pattern.

    This shows the vision of the composer giving full importance to the subject, location and situation for making a song.

    As we see its a solo song in a house with restricted crowd Salil Da might have first thought that there won’t be any heavy orchestrated work. Just a singer and the country being Afghanistan he would use the Rabab and just a supporting rhythm to maintain the ‘Theka’ of the song giving a base weight (Wajan or rather a foundation) to the song. See, he has not used the Duff or any other percussion just a simple traditional drum.

    Further he used Manna Da’s voice not Hemant Da nor any other person. Being Manna’s voice was BULAND without vibration and very stable plus as there were no harmonies nor backgrounds Salil Da might have thought of a fully expressive voice which is totally independent of anything.

    The Rabab Salil Da has used seems a pure original Afghani one, because the Tone of the Rabab itself takes you to the land of Afghanistan virtually hearing it. Yes both Kabuliwala and Zanjeer both have Manna Da because his voice can easily fit in the situation of Afghanistan.

    I don’t know who was the Rabab musician in Kabuliwala but in Zanjeer, Kalyanji Anandji had called the Rabab musician from Afghanistan with his own Rabab.

    Again coming to the song , Manna Da when he sings we just feel the original Kabul area the mountains and roads. Salutes to Prem Dhan ji too. I feel sad for today’s Afghanistan which is in the hands of these Taliban regime.
    This song is a duet of Rabab player and Manna Da both interacting.

    Please keep on writing articles. This enhances my knowledge of films

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