Sing a Song

Sing a Song

It is said that if someone is angry at us, we may feel anger in return, but with proper emotion control, we can respond with compassion. This is a form of willpower. This can de-escalate the situation which will allow us to help the other person or safely disengage from them. Focusing on controlling your rate of breathing – a key skill in singing – activates parts of the brain that are linked to emotion. When your mood is up, you respond to stress factors more positively. It also engages what is potentially the body’s greatest stress-reliever – breathing.

Let me narrate a story to elaborate on this fact. 


”The song Darshan Do Ghanshyam was written by which famous Indian poet.”

The movie streaming on the big screen was SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. 

Kishanlal’s 70th birthday coincided with the week of the release of the movie. As part of the birthday celebration, his grandson Rohan had booked 5 tickets for the 6 pm show for the family. On the screen, a tense Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) sat opposite a ridiculing and challenging Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor).

He was asked the fourth question.

”The song Darshan Do Ghanshyam was written by which famous Indian poet.”
Directed by an English gentleman Danny Boyle, the movie had already created a buzz in the Indian press during its shooting and production stages.

The amalgamation of various ‘Desi’ elements had gone into the making of the Hollywood movie and this had created the pre-release excitement. The highlight of the buzz was that Indian actors Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan, Saurabh Shukla, Freida Pinto among others were staring in this Hollywood movie. The grapevine was that it would be made in Hindi as well.

Also, there were rumours that there will be an Indian music director providing music for this movie When this news was confirmed by the production house they revealed that the music would be composed by A R Rehman.

Danny Boyle had shot sequences in Dharavi Mumbai which was the worlds biggest slum and other Indian locales. He had also adapted the movie screenplay from an Indian authors novel ‘Q and A’ and everyone was eager to see how it would be interpreted on the silver screen.

Three years earlier a diplomat Vikas Swarup had written and published ‘Q & A’ his first novel. His inspiration to write this story was from what he learnt in tabloids about Mumbai’s ‘The hole in the wall’ experiments where the local slum kids, who were considered the underdogs, used the internet kiosks, web, computers and mobile devices to wade through intricacies of life. Swarup’s other inspiration for the book storylines were of real incidents that were unfolding in the television studio and law courts more than 7600 km away. It was happening in London

In 2001, United Kingdom had been the base of a major scandal in the television entertainment quiz show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ hosted by Chris Tarrant.

A British Army Major was exposed and convicted of winning the £1 million jackpot by fraud. He was denied the winnings of the top prize as it was suspected that he had cheated. After his playing over two days, answering all the questions with the right answers and winning the million pounds, they put a hold on his winning. 

On further investigation it was found that coughs were used by his wife who was in the audience and another close friend a lecturer who was present as a waiting contestant, to prompt him to the right answers. On closer review, a connection was established between the Major’s answers and well-timed coughs coming from both of his accomplices. Vikas Swarup used this unfolding as a base of his storyline.  He observed, “If a British army major can be accused of cheating, then an ignorant tiffin boy from the world’s biggest slum can be accused of cheating.”

Loosely adapting the ‘Q and A’ storyline In his movie, Boyle used an Indian version of the quiz programme which featured Jamal as a contestant on the hot seat. 

This deprived boy can answer every question correctly. It is dumbfounding as he goes through the rigmarole of the quiz with ease. The host of the show, who also has a financial interest in the programme, raises doubts if the boys integrity. He is arrested by the police as he is accused of cheating. The scene moves to the local police station where an investigation is being conducted.  To prise out the mystery he is given a  bloody beating by police constable Srinivas (Saurabh Shukla).

The investigating police inspector’s (Irfan Khan) questions him. “What the hell can a slumdog possibly know?”.

 “The answers,” Jamal mutters, splattering blood from his mouth, “I knew the answers”.

Jamal justifies the reasoning behind knowing each answer as he recounts his life story in flashback to the police and incidents for each question which educated him in some way and taught him the answers. Till now he had convincing and justified scenarios for the knowledge of answers to the first three questions. They all formed part of his life experiences.

He was on the fourth question.

Sitting comfortably in the plush dress circle seats of the cinema hall, enjoying the special day out with his family Kishanlal’s ear’s pricked up at this question. Before Prem Kumar could say and outlay the four options to Jamal on the screen Kishanlal already knew the answer to this question. He flash-backed into his personal life.



The year was 1957 !!

Kishanlal was a pampered teenager in Lucknow. His father Hazarimal was a rich Zamindar.

Being the only child he lived a life of luxury. Behaving in a very arrogant manner even at this age he was fettered with all known vices.

He smoked, drank, visited the kothas and gambled. 

His other big pass time was watching celluloid in Hazratganj cinema halls Mayfair, Capitol and Leela.

Hazratganj was modelled after London’s Queen Street, after the First War of Independence in 1857,  when the Britishers had taken over the city.

New European structures came up in place of many old Mughal style buildings which were demolished.

Kishanlal loved the feel of this place which reeked of the aristocracy. He was turning out like his Zamindar father. ‘Chip of the old (spoilt) block’

Some great Hindi movies had released this year. Hits like Mother India, Naya Daur, Pyaasa, Nau Do Gyarah, Do Aankeh Barah Haath and others. It was also the year in which a devotional movie Narsi Bhagat had released. The movie starred Shahu Modhak, Radha Krishnan, Pratima Devi, Nirupama Roy and Lalita Pawar.

The family purohit had convinced his mum to go and watch this devotional movie and she had somehow convinced her unwilling son to accompany her.

His father and Purohit had also joined them at the cinema hall in Hazratganj. He dozed in spells throughout the screening as this genre was not his cup of tea. However, between his naps, he fleetingly remembered a song in the movie,  the lyrics of which were 

‘’Darshan do ghanshyam naath 

Mori ankhiyan pyaasi re”

In the Tonga, on the way back home from the cinema, his parents were having a discussion and reviewing the movie with Purohitji.  He remained a silent spectator.

His father was enjoying swigs of expensive ‘English Daru’ from his stainless steel, pewter and leather crafted personalised hip flask.

His mother spoke. ”O ji, I have  heard that  Gopal Singh Nepali has written the lyrics for the song Darshan Do Ghanshyam in the movie.” She was referring to Nepali who was also a poet of Hindi literature. Purohitji interjected, ”You are right in some ways Madamji, but are you aware that it was based on the traditional poem originally written by the 15th-century poet Narsinh Mehta.” He had a point and the facts were that the film was based on the life of Narsinh Mehta.

The clickety clicks of the horseshoes on the stone-paved road echoed around. A slight chill filled the air as a cool breeze wafted around. The trees were shedding their slowly drying foliage. The scattered yellowish leaves from the roads flew around in whirls whipped up by the action of the horse hooves. Dust accompanied as the leaves were dancing in the wind.

There was a loud burp and fuelled by alcohol his Dad roared, ”This cannot be right, hic hic. I say  it was written by Surdas.” There was silence in the air inside the tonga. The chill from outside had moved into the carriage. 

”Nahin, Malik. This is not true,” Purohitji broke the silence with these words. ”It cannot be true. The poem originated before Surdas.” Purohitji who was learned and knowledgeable refused and stuck to his argument. ”Malik, Narsinh Mehta was from the 15th century but Surdas was from the 16th century. In the song, the poet is asking for an ‘appearance by God as his eyes are thirsty for his sight”. Purohitji continued with his premise, ”As poet Surdas was blind many people mistakenly associated these lyrics, to him. Poet Gopal Singh Nepali was responsible for the latest and popular rendition but credit for the original rendition should go to Narsinh Mehta.”

As the horse-drawn journey bundled over the uneven roads towards their haveli the wagon shook due to the quality of the roads. At the same time, the arguments in the lantern-lit Tonga also got overheated.

Zamindar Hazarimal was getting angry. His blood was boiling. He could not take this counterargument. Hot-headed and inebriated that he was,  he drew out his precious stone studded pistol and shot Purohit several times at close range. It was a fatal shot.

Kishanlal watched agape as amid the loud bangs and sparks of the revolver one of the bullets ricocheted off the metallic carriage framework of Tonga and hit his mother on the forehead. Her head jerked backwards with the velocity of the lead which had cracked her skull. She was killed instantly lying limp in a pool of blood. Vented Anger had erupted and resulted in murder. Two Murders !!

The startled horses reared and neighed, loud and wildly. The Tonga driver, Zamindar Hazarimal and Kishanlal were all screaming and shouting hysterically. It was a gory dramatic scene of tragedy and panic. The police arrived at the scene and Zamidar Hazarinal was arrested on the eyewitness statements of the Tonga driver. The gun and spent shells were recovered for evidence. Kishanlal was dumbfounded and in shock. Importantly he had lost his mother. This reality had started to sink in. Using all the wealth and powers that he had Zamindar Hazarimal tried twisting the system during the trials. He was spared the noose but was sentenced to life imprisonment.

During jail visits, they never spoke about the arguments that caused this tragedy. The chasm between Kishanlal and his father had widened. Within a few months, deprived of his wealth and lavish lifestyle, his father’s health deteriorated and he was soon at his death bed. One night Kishanlal was suddenly called for.

Before the disgraced Zamindar breathed his last he confessed to his son. ”I was hot-headed and stubborn.” Between sobs, he burst out. ”My angry behaviour led to the tragic loss of two lives. I lost a wife whom I truly loved and deprived you of your mother’s love.”

He begged his son, ”Forgive me if you can.” He continued, ”I also killed an innocent holy man unnecessarily. All along Purohitji was right about the song lyrics. It was Narsinh Mehta.”

Death followed soon.  It was later discovered that his father, in his last will, had bequeathed all his worldly possessions to Kishanlal.
Kishanlal turned over a new leaf. Soon after his father’s death he sold all that he owned in Lucknow and moved to Bombay.

Before leaving he left a substantial sum of money to take care of Purohitji’s widow and kids.

Once in Bombay he educated himself with a graduation degree and acquiring a decent knowledge of English he progressed in life. He now started a business.

India was progressing and Bombay was establishing itself as a commercial city.

He was acquiring wealth. However, the guilt that he could not save lives on that fatal day he lost his mother could never be erased. That was baggage he would always carry. Over the years to atone for this he became a philanthropist. He also started developing strong willpower.
On his 70th birthday sitting in the air-conditioned cinema hall, the question was booming with Sound Mixed by Resul Pookutty from the theatre’s Dolby Digital audio system. In a flash, he had got drawn back, five decades back, to the scene in Tonga in Lucknow. In a flash, Kishanlal knew the answer.

Imagine his shock when Gopal Singh Nepali or Narsinh Mehta were not featured here. The options given to Jamal by Prem Kumar were —

  1. A) Mirabai 
  2. B) Kabeer
  3. C) Surdas
  4. D) Tulsidas

On cue, in the background, the crescendo music played as on the silver screen Jamal after going through his flashback (with his deliberately blinded childhood friend) answers — C) Surdas

Anil Kapoor (as Prem Kumar) declared,” This is the right answer” 

“We now go on to the fifth question.”

Kishanlal could not believe his eyes and ears. He exclaimed softly, ”It cannot be Surdas!”

He had learnt this truth the hard way.

He thought to himself. ”Mr Danny Boyle and his Hollywood and Bollywood Team had not done some fact-checking and had let this fatal mistake slip.”

On the screen as the movie progressed the ‘chai Wala’ Jamal advanced unerringly to the brink of winning its highest prize. Going through his other flashbacks he managed to answer all remaining questions and become a ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, rescuing his lady love Latika and going through the grind of the nail-biting climax.

Throughout this Kishankal sat dazed. His blood was boiling He was getting angry. He could not swallow the fact that the truth had been muddled. He dug deep into his willpower. He started humming slowly to himself. He also started breathing rhythmically.

The credits rolled with hundreds of choreographed dancers along with Jamal and Latika rocking to the thumping music of A R Rehman’s ‘Jai Ho’ in a railway station.

Kishanlal though angry did not protest over the wrong answer SURDAS being portrayed as the lyricist of ‘Darshan Do Ghanshyam’ in Slumdog Millionaire.

‘’Darshan do ghanshyam naath Mori ankhiyan pyaasi re” wafted in the air in a crackling old man’s voice,

As the patrons thronged out of the cinema hall after the movie a well dressed, suited booted, elderly gentleman trudging along with them was seen and heard singing loudly. Unknown to the crowd he had learnt to control anger by singing. Unlike his father, Kishanlal did not want blood on his hands over Surdas. 

After the movie’s release, a few people highlighted the Surdas discrepancy but their voice got lost in the enormity of the movie’s acclaim and success. Slumdog Millionnaire got nominated for Ten Academy Awards in 2009 and went on to win Eight. The movie scenes including the quiz questions involving Surdas stayed as it had been shot. It stayed as a Movie Goof.
Going back to the premiere night of the movie, Kishanlal had controlled his anger by singing. His willpower had stepped in.
Cover image courtesy: Google
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