Monday, August 17, 2009

The lament of the lover boy in Rangoon, circa 1949.

I saw Patanga (= moth) in my early teens at the Imperial Talkies It was within easy walking distance of 233 Khetwadi Main Road. I had nary an inkling then what an NRI or an expat was. The terms were not in vogue at that time. It was maybe 30 years too early. The rollicking joke in the movie was around the prediction made at the time of the hero’s birth. The astrologer said that he would be surrounded by droves of cars. (“Iss ke aagey pichey motor gaadi daudegi.") Everyone and his aunt took it to mean he would be a rich man and said: “Bahut khoob!” In the very next shot we saw him in the uniform of a traffic cop directing traffic at a busy junction. Later in the movie, he tried to break into moviedom. That’s when he and his co-star performed the song concerning an Indian expat in Burma. In those days, a lot many Indians used to go to Burma to work in the timber − mainly teakwood – trade. (Remember The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation? It was a well-paying job. Anyway, the movie song sequence within the movie had the lovelorn young man calling from Rangoon his wife in Dehra Dun. An overseas phone call was a big thing then, costing virtually a bomb by the then prevailing standards. Even sending a telegram was not very common. It was considered the harbinger of bad news. History tells us that the Indo-Burma Radio Telephone link was established between Madras and Rangoon in 1936 – the year I was born. In 1949, the Own Your Telephone plan was introduced. Also, the surcharge on trunk telephone calls was raised from 40 to 60% by the Honourable Finance Minister, Shri RK Shanmukham Shetty, in the 1948-49 Central Government Budget. By the way, the Japanese occupied Burma in March 1942 and China invaded Tibet in 1949. All this is now in the dustbin of history, of course. Coming back to the song it had a prose preamble wherein the caller identified the originating town as Rangoon for the benefit of the Dehra Dun trunk operator and asked to talk to his wife. After that, the proud wife took over to tell us the story of her husband having gone to Rangoon, boasting that he had made the trunk call just to tell her that he missed her terribly. The husband admitted he had made a big blunder by not taking her with him to Burma. He then went into a detailed description of how he was suffering in a mock serious, even somewhat naughty vein. The lyrics in Hindustani can be read here: The lyric writer was Rajinder Kishan whose greatest claim to fame was the all-time single biggest jackpot pool of Rs.48 lakh he won at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in 1971.