Chinna Chinna Aasai - Part I


Chinna chinna aasai..... was the song that made Rahman what he is today. It was Pongal 1992 and the most popular songs were Ilayaraja's compositions in Thalapathi and Guna which had been released on Deepavali day of 1991. However a few magazines had hyped up Rahman's music in Roja and Madhubala's water-soaked song, When I saw the song for he first time on DD, I felt it had a different sound, something that clicked immediately and was haunting. A.R.Rahman had arrived. The song continues to linger in our memory, fresh and relevant. People have called it a nursery rhyme, a rehash of veedu varai uravu and so on. But its magic stays. One of the many reasons for the appeal of the song is Vairamuthu's interesting lyrics which got him the National award.

No, this is not an article about A.R.Rahman or film songs. This is an article about my own little (actually not so little) desires. Roja's (Madhubala) desires are a mix of the achievable (catching a fish and leaving it back in the pond) and the impossible (making a dress out of the rainbow). In my case except one, they are all unachievable. But it is the birthright of everyone to dream. And we have been licensed by our President to dream. In fact, Dr.Kalaam has made dreaming so fashionable that it can be used as an advertisement for mentos.

Pre-mentos days (i.e., our student days)
Teacher: What are you doing?
Student: I'm dreaming, sir.
Teacher: Get out!

After eating mentos(i.e., now)
Teacher: What are you doing?
Student: I'm following Dr.Kalaam's advice, sir.
Teacher: Very good. Tell me whenever you feel I'm disturbing you so that I can end the class.

I'm sure you get the point. And now let us read about my dreams (chinna chinna aasaigal). I've written down all 16 of them in Tamil which is reproduced here. You can read my write-up on 8 of them in this issue and the balance will be covered in August 2007. You can go straight to the write-up by clicking here (if you can't read Tamil. ).

Aasai#1(I want to drive a road-roller on Mount Road)

My first career dream which did not last long was to be a traffic constable. But the dream that I can remember was to drive a road-roller on Mount Road. Road RollerOne of our distant relatives was a driver with the Corporation of Madras and was driving a road-roller. I can never forget the moment when he made me sit in his seat. I felt on top of Madras. And the desire to be a road-roller driver was born. When I mentioned this once, my mother said,' Pachu (that was the name of the relative) oru jadam.Road-roller ottaraan. Unakkennada thalaiezuthu.' (Pachu is a fool and drives a road-roller. You are destined to do better things in life). Her words were a dampener but the dream never died. Well, at least I joined transport industry. But the only vehicle I ever learned to ride was the scooter. So I don't think I'll ever drive a road-roller, leave alone on Mount road.

Aasai#2(I want to knock out the middle stump of Don Bradman)

Cricket was always popular in India. I remember going to the house of Mr. Rangachari (road-roller driver Pachu's father) to listen to commentary on the India-Australia match as he was the only one in the neighbourhood possessing the radio in 1951. Later the radio was bought by our neighbour and we got a radio in our house in 1953 or so. I remember reading Jack Fingleton's cricket column in The Hindu from the time I could read English. Don Bradman We had a lot of heroes but the tallest of them was Don Bradman who had already retired in 1948 (when I was two years old). But he was to cricket what Amitabh Bachhan is to Hindi cinema. If any boy had airs about his batting prowess nee enna bradmana? (you think you're Bradman) would be the comment. Just see how Bradman compares with the two great modern cricketers at the end of 52 Tests (which was the number of Tests played by Bradman).

   Player    Inn NO Runs HS Avg 100 50 0
Bradman   80    10 6996 334 99.94 29 13 7
Lara          88      2  4417 375 51.36 10 22 4
Tendulkar 79      9  3534 179 49.77 11 17 4

I was an off-spinner and I've clean bowled a couple of batsmen. But my desire was always to take Bradman's wicket, that too by knocking off the middle stump. Who knows I may do it when they organise cricket matches in Heaven (if Christians and Vaishnavites share the same Heaven!)

Aasai#3(I want to eat the apple that fell on Newton/s head)

In my home pages, I'd written about Mr. Kuppuswamy Iyer, my English teacher in III Form (it is now known as VIII standard). He was a brilliant teacher and got quite a few of us interested in the beauty of the English language.He encouraged students to ask any question and one 'doubting Thomas' (who was like Senthil in a Tamil movie getting all sorts of doubts and getting beaten up by an exasperated Kaundamani in the end) asked,'Sir, how did people remain on earth before Newton found gravity?' Mr. Kuppuswamy Iyer was a patient teacher and explained the difference between invention and discovery. Then Newton & AppleI had a few doubts. what happened to the apple that fell on Newton? Was it eaten by him? Or did some passer-by pick it up? Or did it decay? Or is it still in some museum? But since my father's reputation had to be preserved (he was a teacher in the same school) I did not voice my doubts. But I still see that historic apple. Though I'm not very fond of apple, I often dream of going back in time and eating that apple.

Aasai#4(I want to walk on the sea in Marina)

Since I had my primary schooling in a Christian institution, I'd been told of many biblical stories including how Jesus Christ walked on water. Walking on water has a mystique attached to it. It was perhaps seen as a symbol of conquering our fears. In Vaishnavism also, Vishnu is depicted as lying on Adisesha on ocean though he's not shown walking on water.Walking on water But my dream was born perhaps after watching The Ten Commandments. This movie came to India in 1959 or so. This was a grand film with special effects far beyond the times. Cecil B DeMille, the director, has directed about 80 films but is remembered for this film. The scene where the sea parts for Moses is very dramatic. After seeing the film, my friends and I had raised our hands on San Thome beach exactly as Moses did only to see that the waves came towards us and the sea did not part! We decided to try after we could grow beards. In 1960, there was a claim by a Hatayogi that he could walk on water. The Hindu prominently displayed his claim as well as his fall into the water on the appointed day. But the dream of walking on water, that too on the Marina beach on 'Kanum Pongal' day in the presence of admiring thousands of people is strong.

Aasai#5(I want to give a running commentary at Lords)

I've already talked about the hold of cricket over us in our younger days (of course it continues even today). One of the reasons was the running commentary and the commentators. Come to think of it, India became cricket-crazy only due to the AIR commentary which was heard in every household. Sponsorships, advertisements and TV came much later. Today Harsha Bhogle is perhaps the only non-playing commentator (if you exclude Mandira Bedi and the like). But in the days of the radio, most commentators had not been regular cricketers (there was Vijay Merchant but he was an exception rather than the rule). Dreadful Vizzy, Elegant Merchant, Rambling Ananda Rao, Correct Pearson Surita, Devaraj Puri, Golden-voiced Chakrapani, Slow-speaking Balu Alagannan, Excitable R.T.Parthasarathy... these are some of the names from 50s and 60s (with their style described by the adjective) that I can recall offhand, Suresh Saraiah, Anand Setalwad , Dicky Rutnagur and Dr. Narottam Puri came in the 70s, I think. (I'm sure Raghu would name many more). With visiting teams, we would also hear Tony Cozier, John Arlott and others with their posh accents. I now wonder whether we were addicted to the commentary for its own sake or for the game. It was in 1959 that I changed my decision on my career (from traffic constable to road-roller driver to teacher to cricketer to...). This time my desire was to become a cricket commentator and the high point of my life would be to give a running commentary from Lords, MCC. Marylebone was known to me from my very young days. The knowledge did not come from cricket. It was from the board game Monopoly which my brother Sampath and his friends would play for hours and I'd be allowed to be the banker. Bond Street, Regent Street.... and Marylebone Station were all properties that could be purchased (I think Marylebone Station was one of the costliest). Later of course MCC (standing for Marylebone Cricket Club as well as Madras Cricket Club) and Lords became familiar places. My career decision to become a cricket commentator was made earlier but the dream to give a commentary at Lords was born in 1959.Lords India's tour to England that year was a disaster with India losing all the five tests. Pankaj Roy, Polly Umrigar and Subhash Gupte were all towards the end of their careers. The newest star was the handsome Abbas Ali Baig who was called to play for India when he was a student in Oxford and made a century on debut. But the high point for India was the diminutive Ramkant Desai taking 5 wickets in the Lords' Test. I decided i'd be a commentator and would be at Lords one day. I've neither become a commentator nor have I seen Lords (except on TV). But the aasai (dream) remains.

Aasai#6(I want to check whether Sharmila Tagore's dimples are real)

Sharmila Tagore was the glamour girl of the 60s and 70s. Sharmila Tagore She burst on to the Hindi cinema with Kashmir ki kali followed by the successful An Evening in Paris and Aradhana, the first of many super-hits. Who can forget the song roop tera mastana? Sharmila was as much popular for her dimples as for her looks and acting capability. We in the south did not know much about her except that she had married Pataudi (who was more popular in the south) in 1968. I'd seen Aradhana in Salem when I was working in Mettur and was bowled over by Sharmila's dimples. I remember asking Mani (who was the resident expert on Hindi films and the stars. He was also the official translator for us) whether the dimples were real. He looked at me pityingly as if to ask whether dimples can be faked.(Today I too have dimples thanks to my dentures). I've never been a die-hard fan of any star, but I had a strong desire to meet Sharmila Tagore and test whether her dimples are real. This dream has stayed with me from 1969.

Aasai#7(I want to ski at least 1000 feet in the Alps)

My first view of snow was only on film sometime in the 60s. In one of those INRs (Indian News Reviews) by Films Division (which are generally boring), there was one on Winter Olympics. This literally made everyone in the audience sit up. The beauty of the snow-clad mountains and the grace with which the skiers came down the hills was awesome. Generally INRs get derisive applause when they end. But this one received genuine applause. It was then that I dreamt of skiing down snow-clad mountains.Slalom in Alps Have you noticed that you don't hear a word of a subject for months. But suddenly when you take interest in it, there is a lot of news about it. or perhaps you start noticing news on that subject. I noticed crossword clues on alps (When record is inside mountain range (4) - RECORD is LP which is inside AS which stands for WHEN) . Another was Look inside hit for a ski event (6). The solution is slalom - Look is LO which is inside SLAM for HIT. Another habit that I'd acquired thanks to Mr. Kuppuswami Iyer was to refer to a Dictionary or Encyclopaedia whenever I had a doubt. Thus I found that a slalom is an alpine skiing discipline that involves skiing between poles (called gates) spaced close together causing the skier to take quick and short turns. It is regarded as the most technically challenging of the alpine ski disciplines. In the 80s, Farook Abdullah tried to develop Gulmarg as a ski tourism town and there were some more INRs on skiing.Inflated tube ride in snow And though I visited Austria and Switzerland in 1983 it was in summer when there was no snow in the places I visited. But during the 4-month stay in UK, I'd seen enough films and TV programs on alps that the dream never died. A part (a very minor part) of the dream was met when Amritha and I went down in the snow on an inflated tube for about 50 metres when we were on Mount Titlis in 1999. We had also donned the skiing kit and took photos. But I wanted to and still want to ski down the alps at least for a 1000 feet doing a slalom and ski-jumping in the process.

Aasai#8(I want to ride a horse to the office)

If you conduct a poll asking people what mode of transport they'd prefer to go to office, the overwhelming response is likely to be an AC car. But en vazhi thani vazhi (thanks to Sivaji, the boss this is Rajini season, you know). For over 40 years, it has been my dream to go to the office riding on a horse. I can't pinpoint when this dream was born. But the film Vijayapuri veeran which I saw in 1961 or so had something to do with it. All Tamil films of the 50s and 60s had horses in them and heroes (occasionally heroines like Bhanumathy) were all good horse-riders. After every historical film that we saw, every boy in the colony would imaginarily ride a horse with sound effect. I was already in school-final when I saw Vijayapuri veeran. So imaginary riding wouldn't do. That was when I decided that whenever I started working, I'd acquire a horse to go to the office. Pony or donkey? The only time I got on a horse was in honeymoon when Amritha and I rode ponies in Ooty. (According to Amritha, they were donkeys masquerading as ponies). Of course I never acquired a horse and I've retired from the railways. But the horse which is the most majestic of all tamed animals appears often in my dream and carries me to the office where I dismount stylishly (like Rajinjkanth) and throw the bridle to the waiting attendant!

(To be continued)

June 2007

BACK to the Main Page