The wandering Bullock cart

The story of a bullock cart and its incredible travel across continents

Amazing, that was what I felt when I came across this offer,

I was chuckling away after going through it, and I have to pat Suresh on the back for the idea. Well why not, we used to go ‘cart riding’ in places like Turkey (not go-carting, but in some places like Camlica –Istanbul, they have a pair of huge bulls and a colourful cart) paying big dollar. Tree houses, houseboats are all favoured these days, so why not a bullock cart ride (albeit long duration – back breaking….)?

All this took me back in time. When we were kids vacationing in Pallavur, our tiny little village in Palakkad…

There was a time when we had a bullock cart at our maternal home in Pallavur. I remember the chap who drove the cart, Eaachran, who was also our supervisor in the fields (I guess only trustworthy positions got the exalted cart driver status). The cart was not used very much though. In our times, it was parked in the shed (yes, it had its own garage) and once a week, our man used to get the two bulls yoked up in front and take the cart to get stocks from the nearby Alathur market. The cart would come back late at night, loaded with sacks of cattle feed, vegetables, oil tins, fertilizer and provisions. The cattle knew the route back and forth; Eaacharan was normally asleep at the wheels (a few bottles of toddy maybe?) on the way back, but no problems….

We used to take short trips on the cart with Eaacharan, he was a ‘bindas’ guy, had no complaints, he never castigated us for jumping around or making noise. The roads were empty, there were just two buses plying between Pallavur and Palakkad, the Ex servicemen bus twice a day and what was the other? I forgot, I think it was the JBT. An occasional car that was going to Nemmara or a taxi taking some sick person to the town hospital…that was all the traffic on the roads. The lone taxi in Pallavur was used probably once a week, the Landmaster car finally rusted away, I guess, from lack of use.

It was always quiet on the narrow road; you could hear the birds, the wind whistling past the paddy fields. The road was raised, paddy fields and hills on either side. When buses came it was always complicated, they had to back off (ha! Bulls could not back effectively – or so I learnt) many yards till the cart could pull in ‘to the side’. Can you picture the exasperated driver? One could hear the tinkle of the bull-bells and you always smelled hay. The wooden wheels with the metal rim creaked most of the time, no ball bearings or suspensions, mind you!! Divine, when I think of it all now, what solitude! No pollution, no speeding vehicles or unruly drunks around…Sometimes Eaacharen would take the bulls to the place where they put new iron shoes on the hooves. I used to cringe, when the guy hammered nails through the shoe into the hooves…while the bulls serenely continued chewing the hay…it didn’t seem to bother them.

Once I had a longer than usual ride in the cart, we were shifting houses and a lot of stuff had to be taken from Koduvayoor to Pallavur. Some surplus stuff that did not fit the lorry had to go by cart and I was permitted to ride the cart with Eaacheren, Oh! Man, was it a great day!! My son comments, gross dad, you rode a bullock cart??

Life eventually got modern, a new shed was built to house the car and the tractor that came by, the cart was re-parked in a shaded corner of the estate, but it had lost its place by then. Children used it for play when they got bored, but it was built of good wood and it stayed intact through many monsoons and heat spells.

The cart is no longer there, the bulls are dead, everybody has gone hither and thither, living their fast lives…Eaacharan has retired; the roads are now full with the many vehicles plying the road. No industries or pollution in the vicinity, the village remains largely untouched by time, but there are huge numbers of kids around due to the popular Chinmaya school…and suddenly people have started to complain of new problems like allergies due to the rice husk powder floating around…Boy o Boy…There is cable TV, dial up internet is popular, an odd Kawasaki or Honda screams past, compared to the only chugger bike ‘in village’ the Bullet that Company (mill owner) Babu used to ride.

Well, the cart found a final resting place, hold your breath, no jokes, and do believe me, it is now an American citizen, proudly showing itself off in my cousin’s front yard in Tampa-Florida. It was fully dismantled and shipped across the seas, two years ago. At first I could not believe this was happening or that somebody was crazy enough to do such things, but well…I wont comment any further lest I draw her wrath!

What a trip for the lowly bullock cart, from Pallavur to its new home in the new world…One of these days I will get a picture of the cart in Tampa and post it up here. I have not seen it after it reached US, but I will one of these days…

P.S. Eaacharan came out of retirement to dismantle the cart prior to its packing, know what he has no teeth in his mouth these days. I am told Eaacharen fainted from shock & disbelief when he was told where the cart was headed…

PPS. Have you seen a rich mans (Maharashtrian) bullock cart ? Have a look!!

and - BTW there is an ongoing project to modernize the bullock cart..

Usha Uthup

On Kerala - Sometimes after a great show you are so excited and want to know how the programme was. They will just say, `kozhapam illa.' For every shilpi the most important thing is the applause. We live to listen to it. Actually if you can make it in Kerala, you can make it anywhere in the world. The most difficult people to please are in Kerala …So said Usha Utup, rightly so, in an interview….Usha Uthup has always been and will always be a favourite of mine. If you are short of optimism, see a show of hers (even a tape will suffice) to take in her 1000Watt smile and guffaws, or well, just listen to her songs.

I first heard about Usha Iyer, as she was known then, from our English teacher at school, Iyer saar. He used to tell us during the English classes, ‘Usha is my niece, and sings pop music’ And we used to imagine a girl swinging in her bell-bottoms, tight short tops (like Hare Rama hare Krishna’s Zeenat Aman – a movie for which Usha sang) blowing hair and the such. Later on, I discovered that she had always remained clothed in a chaste Sari and her big, trademark bindi, with mullapoo in her hair…
Dhool (Saravanan) has done a lovely article on Usha, so I wont repeat all of her life story here. Entering filmdom, MB Srinivasan, Kunnankudi vaidyanathan, RD Burman, Bhappi Lahri etc were some of the guys who helped her along in the film music world of yester years, though she complains that she never had any godfathers…now she does many a stage show and releases an odd album now and then.

Always a trailblazer, Usha started off with forming a pop music troupe with her sisters - called the Sami sisters– in the 70’s – Hailing from a staunch Iyer family, Cop father and all, and singing in a night club – imagine a single girl singing in a night club..Well that was Usha. Then she went on to marry an ardent fan Utup, a Christian and …even though a vegetarian herself (but
eating junk food mostly?) becomes expert at cooking Kerala fish curries (you can find her recipe here). Not to stop there, she has now decided to act, as Mammutty’s mom in an upcoming movie.. Well why not? And, she is a grandmother in real life who gives this advice – I recommend grandchildren to one and all. I love their honesty. They have changed my life and brought so much meaning to it.

I remember her songs in Kanyakumari, Shivathandavam (Way back in 1976, Kamal Haasan sang an English song along with Usha Uthup under the music direction of MB Srinivasan for the film Shivathandavam), later on I heard her EP vinyl versions of ‘Beautiful Sunday’ and ‘Seasons in the sun’ so many times. We played them ever so often over the college music system. Even after hearing the Terry jacks original version and the new one by Westlife, my memory sticks to the Usha version of Seasons in the sun!!! I had always been hunting for her songs, but they are so difficult to come by these days, except for the odd number she sang for Hindi movies.. There are a few on Usha’s own
website, but my favourites from her EMI, HMI, Polydor vinyl days are not to be seen anywhere.

Trivia - there is a story of her involvement in Pancham’s ever-famous song Chura Liya in Yadoon Ki Baarat. It seems the two of them had gone to see ‘If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium’ and it was from the title song of that English movie that the tune evolved - but then who knows?

I have not got a chance so far to see her immensely popular stage shows, though we saw tapes & bits here & there. One of these days, she will come to town and we will be there, to cheer, clap, smile, laugh and enjoy.

Less talked about singers - Part 1

Manhar Udhas

The first time I heard
Manhar was way back in College. Somebody had a record Mukesh ki Yadein and I saw that the collection in that record was superb. It had all the popular hits. After a few spins, I could make out that it was not Mukesh. Checked the cover carefully, somewhere in the corner of the LP was the statement – Sung by Manhar …That was the first time I heard one of these re-sung records…

The next I heard of Manhar was when the Abhiman EP came out – Loote Koi man ke nazar banke mera saathi – what a great song…He followed on in Qurbani with ‘Hum tumhen chaahate he’….Some more good hits followed, one I recall was the Hero song Tu meri janoo hai. I hear he is active and does Gujarati Ghazals etc these days…

Shailendra Singh

This chap just burst into the music scene with his ‘Bobby’ songs; even today ‘Mein shayar to nahin’ is a song that still enthrals the listener. But it was not to be; after a few Rishi kapoor movies and some years of struggling (and an aborted attempt at acting) in the Bollywood rat race, he quietly faded away.

A personal favourite after Mein Shayer is a Shailendra Lata duet – Dariya cha raja from Do Jasoos.

I tried to find out what happened to him post Bobby, Rafoo chakkar….but there are hardly anything written on this guy – I was and still am surprised!!
There are mentions that he came on a
Harmony TV program recently and goofed up the song completely…Ah well, must have been a bad day for him!!

‘Hum tum’ has Rishi kapoor humming the Bobby song; rumour mills state that Shailendra Singh probably re-sang the clip.

Runa Laila

Sultana Chowdhry aka Runa Laila sang probably a handful of Hindi songs, but apparently has over 5000 songs to her credit in 17 languages, did you know that? I used to think that she was born Bangla, but she is Karachi born and stepped into the limelight when her sister developed a sore throat prior to a stage show. Well she purportedly has a Guinness book record for the max songs recorded in a day – at Bombay!! And well, she even had
a successful stage show in Chennai!!!

I can still hum those famous Hindi songs of hers -

Do diwane shahar mein & Tumhe ho na ho mujhko to…from Gharaonda
Ek se badhkar ek zaman he donom anek….title song

Part 2 to cover Bhupinder Singh, Nazia Hassan & Hemlata