A modern version of an old song by Bhadra on Music Mojo, that I have recently listened to, has motivated me to write this. The song is from a Malayalam movie, Thacholi Othenan – ‘Kottum njan kettilla, kuzhalum njan kettilla.’ (Does it remind you of Keats’s “What pipes and timbrels?” – Ode on a Grecian Urn)
This song is a celebration of nature. It goes like a monologue in which the singer goes on asking a few questions to her friends (who are all seen playing together in a ‘man-made studio garden’) The questions are all very simple wondering about the embellishments that the plants and trees bear. The lyrics of P Bhaskaran are relevant to the context of Kerala because the girls who are singing and dancing to the song are from a small region of Northern Malabar in Kerala.
What are they singing about? Let me try to give you the gist for those whom Malayalam is an alien tongue. Hope I can bring the essence out of it without slaying its body and soul!
It is a series of questions in four verses, each one celebrating the visual elements of nature except for the last one which shifts from visual to auditory. In the first verse, the singer is surprised to see the pearl mangalsutra of a jasmine thicket because she says she hasn’t heard the accompaniment of drumbeats or pipes associated with a typical Malayali wedding. The jasmine bush as a bride in full bloom with its pearly white necklace- such an imaginative way of creating a visual image!
Then she goes on asking her saghi (friend) how Konna (Indian Golden Shower) is seen decorated with a golden necklace. She marvels how it is possible without spotting a goldsmith in the vicinity.
And the next visual image is a localised one in Kerala’s cultural context. The poet is bringing the image of the Murikku (also called as Indian Coral Tree/Tiger’s Claw) with its bright red flowers. The singer notices the sprinkled sindhoor on the tree’s forehead. Is it spread all over her forehead because she does not own a mirror? Or has she gone to take part in Kaliyattam, a ritual dance in Kerala to glorify the Goddess Kali. The girl ponders. These are all rich, imaginative visual imagery glorifying nature. Nature is at its splendour. And don’t forget to notice that this is more like a casual, light hearted conversation among friends. Observant of the blessings of nature and sprinkling it with a touch of imagination and sharing it with friends. Do we have the time to see the beauty around us? Some may have… But does it go beyond clicking a picture and passing on.. Do we have the time to paint a bright, colourful picture with words like the poet has done?
The last verse of the song brings out the playful spirit of the young girls. The girl sees two spotted cuckoos getting into a cluster of creepers. She wonders why they are getting into it. Is it to sing a hymn or to make an amorous talk? Don’t miss the juxtaposition of ideas here. During evenings, chanting hymns to Gods was a routine in those days. Singing hymns is immediately contrasted with the sweet talk of the cuckoo couple. After all, the song is sung by a young girl seen playing and dancing with her friends. So isn’t it quite natural to see her mischievous thoughts being revealed to her friends?
The poetic beauty in this song is so idyllic. The poet is romanticising nature through some simple visual treats in a melody. The lyrical quality of this song is unmatched and it will never be forgotten.