Thursday, July 8, 2010


While doing the transliteration and translation of the song from Seema: HAMEN BHEE DE DO SAHAARAA KE BE-SAHAARE HAIN... in my last post,  I realised how relevant was the timing! Today, there’s All-India Bandh against the spiralling prices, particularly of food items, and the unprecedented inflation, the brunt of which always adversely impacts the ‘Aam Admi’ (the common man). So let’s not be under the delusion that the above song pertains to some street-roaming beggars or mendicants or children from Charity Homes. Seventy per cent out of more than one billion people in India have a spending capacity of less than Rs.20, i.e. even less than half-a-dollar a day. What a shame!

Today, I don't think it's worth having tea in a restaurant, looking to the cost and the quanity, both! There was a time when it was so easy for a common man to enter any restaurant in Bombay (now Mumbai) for his cuppa without worrying on that account.  In Sohrab Modi’s Kundan (1955) which was based on Les Miserables, Om Prakash and Manorma are shown singing a song (playback by S.D. Batish and Sudha Malhotra) to attracts customers to the newly opened restaurant: AAO HAMAARE HOTEL MEIN, CHAAY PIYOJI GARAM GARAM/BISCUT KHAALO NARAM NARAM... (may be they were ‘mawa’ biscuits), promising adequate worth for the cost.   I myself remember how during the lunch-break in my school at Mahim, Mumbai, I used to visit a nearby Irani restaurant and sit royally at a table and grandly order my favourite ‘maska-broon’ and the delicious Irani chai. The loaf used to be much bigger; the cup, larger! And the bill? Just a quarter of a rupee or 4 Annas. For the same price I could have two loaves of bread, a plate of ‘usal’ and a cup of tea in the adjoining Hindu restaurant.  Of course, even at that time some did feel the pinch but were at least assured of the "Bhajiya" (Pako.De in Delhi):  DUNIYA KI HAALAT NARAM NARAM/HALWAA CHHO.DO POORI CHHO.DO BHAJIYE KHAA LO GARAM GARAM as exemplified by a Rafi song in Tatar ka Chor (1955).   After the introduction of the Metric system of weights and measures in India in 1956, the Annas and the Pice gave way to the Naya Paise as heralded in Miss India (1956) by Rafi: AAHA BADLA ZAMAANA/CHEH NAYE PAISON KA PURAANA EK AANAA.. Yes every tiny paise was a solid copper-coin and did count at that time. As for the 25 Paise coin that made up 4 Annas, it has since lost its value and thus disappeared from the monetary scene about two-three decades ago!

As the Nineteen-Fifties was about to end, came Ujala (1959) where Shammi Kapoor could at least offer ‘sapnon ki roti’ and the tomato and potato mash along with the mouth-watering tamarind chutney to children: AALU TAMATAR KA SAAG/IMLI KI CHATNI BANE/ROTI KARAARI SIKI/GHEE US PE ASLI LAGE... Yes, there was still time to fulfil the dreams of Independent India – the industrialised India of Nehruvian vision, abolition of the zamindari system (check out Mehboob Khan’s Mother India for the rot) and incorporating all the fragment lands into large co-operative farms.

The Nineteen Sixties too were not bad, though the Chinese invasion of 1962 brought in great austerity in public expenses. The inflation was only gradual. The system of Joint-Family still existed. A three-digit salary was considered decent and saw many families raising their children within their income. Food inflation did raise its ugly head in the ‘Seventies, but all was not lost as Dharmendra sang DAAL ROTI KHAAWO PRABHU KE GUN GAAO (playback Kishore Da) in Jwar-Bhata (1973). The ubiquitous dal-roti was still within our reach. To hammer the nail of inflation, the very next year Manoj Kumar came out with his ROTI KAPDA AUR MAKAAN which was a satire on human values and especially parodied the “Mahngayee” or the cost of living, particularly the soaring prices of sugar in the market. There is a song in the voice of Chanchal (Bobby fame) that drives home the point: At first we used to carry money in our fist to buy a bagful of sugar but now we carry a bagful of money to buy a fistful of sugar!  Price- rise acceleration began with the ‘Nineties the period of so-called economic reforms, when the prices jumped higher every two or three years. With the dawn of 21st century, and especially for the last several years the speed has gathered a greater momentum.  Shortly stated, the world prices for wheat, coarse grain, rice, etc., nearly doubled between 2005 and 2007 for complex reasons including rise in oil prices, devaluation of the US Dollar, rise in demand, production shortfall, and already low stocks. Recently, despite promising a slew of measures such as allocating pulses, wheat, rice and sugar to the state governments as well as importing wheat, pulses and sugar, nothing has improved the situation. Now in 2010, there’s a price-rice every month and price of even the cheapest of food, Dal, has soared beyond the common man’s budget.  Evidently, promises have not been honoured, and brazen black marketing and hoarding of food items and essential commodities goes on unchecked, resulting in the steep hike in food prices.

In the early Fifties we had Rafi Ahmed Kidwai who, as the Agriculture Minister, introduced the food rationing system in times of crisis and worked wonders with the food distribution system. Today in times of plenty, it is Sharad Pawar who has been additionally given the portfolio of Food and Civil Supplies as well as Consumer Protection! This is not fair! A minister should not be given portfolios that connect and controls the entire chain of growing, reaping, harvesting, selling and distribution of foodgrains. No doubt then, that the unprecedented escalation in food prices is being attributed to him.  It has become so increasingly difficult to buy items of food and necessities. Today, some seventy percent of Indian citizens are crying out: HAMEN BHEE DE DO SAHARAA KE BESAHAARE HAIN, FALAK KI GOD SE, TOOTE HUWE SITAARE HAIN....

In the meantime, the Ruling Party will condemn the Bandh and refuse a roll-back, while each one of the Opposition Parties will attribute the success of Bandh to itself. Either way, it is the common man who will suffer once again.  This will go on and on and this is the tragedy!



  1. It's a worldwide phenomenon Nasir Saab. In Australia, you CANNOT get a cup of coffee for less than AUD$3.50...except maybe percolated coffee in McDonalds! Yuck.

    A cup of 'tea bag' chai, which you brew yourself is $3.50 too. Go figure!!!! And houses? If you don't have $500,000 don't bother living in the cities. most Australians are now in debt until after they retire, which is set at 65 years.

    But we did not have rationing here; except during war time cos we WERE a country of live stock and grain farmers.....however escalation in labour prices and the continuing drought has seen the livelihood of Australian farmers being taken over by the Chinese (I have nothing against them, don't get me wrong...it's all economics). The so called FTA has seen commodities such as sugar, and sugar farmers, most of them 5 to 6 generation from India settled in Australia in the late 1800s, and yes most of them are Sikhs with very, very broad Aussie accent, losing their farms cos they cannot compete with the cheap labour of the West Indies. All in the name of 'specialisation and globalisation'. Sorry, I am all for self-sufficiency which contradicts my profession as an accountant/economist....which is a creative subject in itself, LOL!

  2. Thanks for the in-depth comment Veen.

    What's the point of globalisation I wonder if it fails to bring relief to the countries across the world.

  3. Hear Hear. I totally agree.

  4. What a wonderful post Nasir. I love how you have given us context of the times with songs and films that were popular then. And I so appreciate the work that goes into translating these lyrics into English---I know it is painstaking, and I am going to be sure I read them all (great lessons in Hindi for me as well!). Thanks.

  5. memsaabstory you're most welcome! Couldn't answer earlier for the problems of internet connection.
    I'll get back to you later since I have the mechanic standing at my back.

  6. am back! You're always welcome memsaabstory. I do visit your blog often and read your wonderful reviews of Bollywood movies as well as the posts on Trivia, etc., which are all so informative. Regarding Hindi, please feel free to ask any meaning or whatever you may need. Have a nice day!