The Karim Lodge and the Indian John Brown

Hafiz Abdul Karim at the Windsor castle

In Agra, there used to be a building called Karim Lodge near the Bijli ghar. It was built for its last occupant on land gifted by one of the most powerful persons living then, the Queen of England. The last occupant of it was, believe it or not, one who could have attained so much but asked for little, and he was Queen Victoria’s friend and confidante during her fading years. Their passionate story, the story of the sexagenarian rani and her Munshi, is unique and beset with intrigue and sorrow, a story the house of Windsor tried hard to first suppress and then erase. She the empress of India, protected him as long as she was alive, when powerful forces worked against his presence at the palace. As soon as she died, Abdul was unceremoniously sacked and sent home to India, and all written records destroyed.  Was their relationship platonic or was it not? Let’s find out by going back a century and 30 years.

The story was well known to people working in the palace, mainly the queen’s physician James Reid and years after her death, the story slowly saw light, and a couple of books were written, the first by Sushila Anand and the second by Shrabani Basu. But who was Brown? The John Brown mentioned in the title was Victoria’s friend after Prince Albert’s death in 1861, many years before Abdul, he was her Scottish servant actually. Victoria was proclaimed queen in 1876 and Brown her friend and confidante, died in 1883. Four years after Brown’s death, the Queen who had a longstanding interest in her Indian territories and who always wanted to visit India, but could never do it due to the arduousness involved in the travel, decided to employ some Indian servants to get her wish granted in her Golden Jubilee year. Abdul Karim and Mohammed Buksh were selected by Governor (NWFP) John Tyler in India, coached on British manners and etiquette and shipped off to London, as her new servants. They arrived at the Windsor castle in June 1887 amidst the festivities and were meant to be her khitmagers or table servants, to start with.

Karim then aged 24, son of an Agra hakim (native doctor) was to make his presence in the royal household, and how. He became her friend, her Urdu instructor (hence the official Munshi title) and was finally gazetted as her Indian secretary and hafiz. He was certainly a good companion, he told her stories of the great Indian subcontinent, and they discussed political, philosophical as well as a range of other topics, all evident from Vitoria’s diaries and letters.

As they met first, the darker skinned Buksh and the lighter and taller Karim kissed her feet as was the customary greeting for the monarch (I guess they don’t do such silly things these days!). She took pride in her two new assistants and had special Indian style tweed uniforms made for them, making sure also that the kit was complete with gloves, shoes and warm underwear.

It is understood that Karim was unhappy doing menial tasks and after a while wanted to return home. The queen requested him to stay on so that she could learn some Hindustani, and promised to recommend him for a suitable post. However she did something better, she had him promoted to her assistant.

Abdul progressed rapidly, from standing tables, to blotting her letters, and made friends with the other servants in the palace, soon becoming comfortable and at home, something Victoria enjoyed writing about to others. Interestingly, the queen wrote regularly to various people, perhaps it was how things were done those days, even as people talked to each other. The queen wrote (about 2500 words on an average per day) to her friends and acquaintances, and also to Karim regularly, sometimes many letters a day to the same person, such was the system. The queen had only good things to say about him, and a large number of adjectives and superlatives are testament to that affection. Good natured, attentive, quiet, gentle, intelligent, has good sense, great accounting skills, even learning a smattering of French, and in a nutshell, he was to her - a through gentlemen.

Along the way, Abdul Karim taught the queen Hindustani/Urdu, introduced her to Indian curries, and obtained many privileges such as carrying a sword, wearing medals, playing billiards, a private carriage and a footman, his father was allowed to smoke a Hookah. The queen requisitioned her favorite artist to make a portrait of Karim and also sent out memos to her staff that Indians should not be called black and they should not hold any prejudice on account of their skin color.

The others in the palace deeply resented the growing relationship and made efforts to nip it quickly, like when a performance was arranged in 1889 and the queen added Karim to her family group. As the event started and they arrived, Karim saw that he was allocated a seat with the other servants and he stormed off in protest.  The queen was unhappy and from then on made it a point to ensure he sat with the household. Another event where she supported Karim was when one of her brooches were missing and Karim’s Brother in law Hourmet Ali was suspected. The queen instead of castigating Karim, spoke in his support. She then went on to take him with her on a weekend jaunt to Glassalt Shiel, her private retreat, only to hear even more tongues wagging. Later on when Abdul developed a carbuncle in his neck, the queen was seen constantly visiting him and caring for him.  Next we see that she organized for land to be perpetually granted to him in Delhi (that took many months and repeated efforts by the queen herself to cut through the procedural red tape) and Abdul going home in style on vacation.

Like it always happens, another Indian turned up at the London scene, one Rafiuddin Ahmed, who in turn published the queen’s Urdu writing from her diary. Ahmed was incidentally considered to be a spy of the Afghan emir and a small player in the ‘great game’, so the palace officials got alarmed when Ahmed using his friendship with Karim got copies of the queen’s diary and later used the same connections obtusely to curry other favors. Rafiuddin was to become a major reason for the problems faced afterwards by the Munshi.

In 1891, the Munshi’s wife (and mother in law) also arrived in London, and was an object of much curiosity for the queen, who found her shy and nice looking. The queen started visiting them at the Frogmore cottage often, delightedly remarking about hosting the first purdah clad ladies in Windsor castle, though a tad unhappy since they did not wear the sari, but salwar kameez’s.

Many more aspects of this strange friendship astounded royal watchers and the castle staff, the queen then decided to help the couple who were having difficulties having a baby, by asking her personal physician to check the wife himself. You can imagine how the prudish royal household, full of schemers and opportunists, took to these developments.

As the gossip mills churned, the queen was always quick to come behind the Munshi in support, while at the same time, the Munshi was taking full advantage the situation, like for example using the queen’s photographs with him, in an article about himself, in Italian newspapers. Letters and articles show the disdain the white servants had for the preferential treatment the Munshi, a person who in their opinion had much lower standing, was getting. Victorian England was nothing short of racist, but we knew that and the Munshi from his vantage point, was thumbing his nose at them, with royal support. In 1895, the queen awarded him the CIE – Companion of the order of the Indian empire, much to everybody’s indignation. Royals in India took note and complained that a lowly servant was given a CIE, while they were disregarded (he was later decorated with the Eastern star).

Karim, in the meanwhile as it was noted, cemented his stay at Frogmore cottage, filling it with souvenirs and presents from the queen. More Indian Muslim servants joined the queen’s entourage and the queen was at times seen to be conversing with them in Urdu over breakfast. All unsavory for the British nobility and not in line with their snobbery, as anybody would conclude. The queen talking in Urdu, to her servants!

In 1896, Karim took another trip to India and the British planned to have him surveilled, due to his proximity with people such as Rafiuddin, who they felt was joining up with others against the British empire. On Abdul’s return he found that the palace had started a revolt against the special privileges he was getting but that the queen was firmly on his side. The queen made it very clear that she would not tolerate race prejudice, and petty jealousness about a superior servant like the Munshi.

There are some who say he took advantage of her, ever demanding more and more, shouting at the old matriarch and so on, soon to become the most hated in the palace, but that portrait appears to be generally painted wrong, to me, though there could be some elements of truth in them. Sir James Reid probably had other reasons to be sore with the Munshi – It appears that he was asked on one occasion to supply to the Munshi's father a huge supply of drugs including six pounds of laudanum, two ounces of pure strychnine and enough poisons, he estimated, "to kill 15,000 grown men or an enormously larger number of children". This naturally raised heckles on his neck and he was wary of Abdul Karim ever after.

By 1897, the Munshi was also getting exasperated with the rough atmosphere in the palace and suggested that he will resign, as the queen upped the ante and wrote again in his support and expressing disgust, that her own British people, even her doctor Reid were spying on her and the Munshi’s movements.

The palace heated up, with Dr Reid talking about how low class the Munshi was, and that his father
was no surgeon general as Karim had claimed, but a lowly hakim or quack, the queen retorting that this was outrageous (and that she knew an archbishop who was the son of a butcher!) and rumors of him getting knighted started. The queen threatened to pull of her diamond jubilee celebrations, and Dr Reid countered with information that the Munshi had contracted VD. As the queen became livid at this, Dr Reid delivered an ultimatum, egged on by Edward VII that he will have to declare her insane. The queen had no choice but to concede defeat and withdraw from the plan to make the Munshi, Sir Abdul Karim. But all this palace intrigue was taking a heavy toll on the old and benevolent lady, rheumatism in her legs had rendered her lame, and her eyesight was already clouded by cataracts.

In Jan 1901, the 81 year old queen passed away peacefully. Abdul Karim was allowed to say his personal farewell and see the queen’s body and walk in the funeral procession. This could not be refused as it had been willed so by the queen. A lock of Scotsman John Brown's hair, along with a picture of him, was placed in her left hand and concealed from the view of the family by a carefully positioned bunch of flowers. Items of jewelry included the wedding ring of John Brown's mother, given to her by Brown in 1883. That, I assume, may have provided consolation to those who felt she had given her heart to the Munshi Abdul Karim, 42 years her junior. The Victorian era had ended.

That was the end, the new king, Victoria’s son, the pompous Edward VII made sure all the queen’s Indian servants were quickly rounded up, all their presents and letters and other effects confiscated, and unceremoniously bundled back to India.

Edward seized all or Karim’s letters and souvenirs and had them burnt before Karim departed (though Karim as it appears, saved a few). In 1905 George V the crown prince met Karim in Delhi and stated that the Munshi had grown fat, but remained humble. The Munshi passed away in 1909, aged 46, and of those he had spent 13 in the blighty, with his queen. The paranoid Edward then had the viceroy send agents to his Agra house and get anything which remained with the grieving widow, even after Karim’s death.

As the British gentry remarked, there was no more queerness in the castle, ever after.
The Panchkuin kabaristan, once a burial ground for the Moghuls, is now home to a red sandstone mausoleum. Karim, his father and his wife are interred there. The rest of the family moved to Pakistan after 1947. Stray dogs and buffaloes pass by, and as his epitaph states, Abdul Karim is now alone in this world…

Plot 314 in a part of Agra, near the railway line and bijli ghar, near Ghati Azim khan, measuring to 141 acres, all gifted to him by his dear queen, was eventually of no use to him or his family (i.e. his brother, his sisters and their progeny), for most of them had decided to move to another nation hived off by the British and Jinnah, Pakistan. The Indian ministry of rehabilitation secured Karim lodge and the area belonging to him, allocating it to Hindu refugees from Pakistan.

Out there in the Bilayat, the blighty, Karim’s cottage, built for him by the queen, in Aberdeen is available for rental stays at over £1000 per week. They state that free sat TV and wi-fi are available, and that seven guests could be entertained comfortably in modern style. Karim’s name and relationship with the monarch is clearly something I assume, which could be used for profit.

Edward VII, Prince of Wales, who ascended the throne always despised Karim, and it was his complaint that the Queen sometimes discussed Indian matters and as is commonly believed, showed official papers to the Munshi. He as it seems, never got her ear or saw any of those papers and but naturally, his mother never took her playboy and boorish son seriously. She had once written to her eldest daughter, "I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder. Edward succumbed to lung disease by 1910, most probably due to his chain smoking habit. Finally, the son whom Victoria thought was the cause of her husband’s death was gone. Even though Edward comes across as a proper villain, it is also a curious fact that when he toured India in 1875, he mentioned about British racism in letters home, where he complained of the treatment of the native Indians by the British officials: "Because a man has a black face and a different religion from our own, there is no reason why he should be treated as a brute." Why did he hate Karim so much? Was it because his mother saw Karim as a son she always wanted? Perhaps! Karim on the other hand expresses his concern only once in his diaries of an unpleasantness in the palace.

Whatever happened to the Munshi’s widow? The Munshi’s wife died while sailing on the ship bound to Karachi. She was not destined to leave her husband’s side, and was interred with him in Agra.

Rafiuddin, the cause of much concern, retuned to India in 1909, became a minister of the Bombay government in 1928, was knighted (just imagine, the person who was considered a thorn in the British flesh gets knighted whereas the Munshi gets the boot for having been the same person’s friend on a previous occasion) in 1932, lived in Poona to talk about his glorious days in the queen’s court and died in 1954. The person who got him all that access, Abdul Karim, is not known or remembered by India, after all, he was nothing but a servant.

Queen Victoria was not one for racism (She had adopted a little African girl Sarah Forbes Bonetta in 1850, providing her with an education and a generous dowry when she got married) as this episode teaches us, and she valued human relationships. Theirs as Karim’s family was to testify to Basu, was a mother son relationship, perhaps a mother trying to repair the relationship of her country and family with her big daughter, the country India through this newfound son, Abdul Karim (many of her letters to him were signed ‘your loving mother’). She wanted to do something good in return for the representative of that land which was being used to enrich the British people, perhaps….But that is just my impression.

While this belonged to a pre-independence era, another relationship was to determine the destinies of India and Pakistan, that of Churchill, Ruttie and Jinnah. More about all of that for another rainy day…..

There is so much more to this story for those interested and they are advised to read Basu’s book, which is nicely written. I am a big fan, and her first book “Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan”, was quite telling.

The Indian Sahib, Queen Victoria’s Dear Abdul – Sushila Anand
Victoria and Abdul – Shrabani Basu

The Royal Munshi – Victoria’s secret – Farida Asrar

Crane, The Phillips affair and India

Introducing India’s friend Robert I Crane

India is quite a nationalist country and most people are content with homespun and homegrown heroes. While it serves the greater populace, the many others who were hugely influential in its creation and existence as a modern democracy are hardly known to the teeming masses, not that it would get noticed, even if one were to write an article about it. I will nevertheless try to tell you all about one such person, an American, born in India and who went on to make an impact on the American government’s stance on India during a period when Britain and America were firmly tied up as allies in the WW II.

As Churchill leaned heavily on America’s president FDR, forcing him to withdraw tacit support for India’s independence, the Indian lobby being so created in Washington DC was working overtime to at least tilt the state department’s stance in favor of Indian independence. At one point of time, there was a lone American driven by his convictions, a young upstart named Robert I Crane, firmly supporting the Indian lobby. See I told you, you would never have heard that name or of that fascinating gentlemen, one of the best friends India ever had. This is his story.

But many people did notice that the turning point in Indo US relations was when the Phillips affair hit the wires in 1944. In those days, many with influence to boot, read the very popular column written by one Drew Pearson, entitled ‘Washington Merry-go-round’ in the Washington Post. He was without doubt ‘a larger than life’ media man. Pearson’s articles bordered on sensationalism, using journalism as a weapon against those he judged to be working against the public interest.

Pearson’s description of himself is interesting, his promo brochure states – Pearson is a tall, slender, professorial-looking individualist, whose prime amusement and occupation is observing the merry-go-round of national politics. He had travelled around the world, and along the way had even met Gandhiji in an Indian prison.

Not that there were no reports in the US on the problems in India, even before the Phiilips affair. A recap would therefore be a good idea. The first seeds of discontent started with the Gadhar movement in the second decade of the 20th century, in the US West Coast where a number of Sikhs had settled, moving in mainly from Canada, after some oppression there. Lala Har Dayal led the effort with the publication Gadhar. Within a year he had fled America to Germany, after the British complained, leaving the organization in Rama Chandra’s hands. An uprising planned in Punjab was scuttled by the British and many leaders were being arrested in California. Taraknath Das was a later spearhead, and new efforts were mooted by Lajpat Rai, who started the home rule league. He addressed the US senate, without avail, and then came Syud Hossein, whom I had written in detail about, earlier (See these articles, one and two). WJ Bryan and JH Holmes toured India and wrote about the issues there, and Gandhiji’s salt marches in the 30’s were compared to the Boston tea party. Durant and Emerson wrote persuasive articles. Margret Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter tried to persuade FDR to address a message to India, but that did not quite bear fruit. Subramanya Iyer’s letter to Wilson was widely circulated and home rule was proposed as a solution, considering India’s willingness to support the Allied war interests with fighting men. Things dragged on until 1942, which was when Louis Fischer visited India and wrote about India in many articles and books. Gunther, Pearl S Buck, Dorothy Norman and many others joined the fray in India’s support. Syud Hossein was usurped by the dynamic JJ Singh as the head of the India league. FDR himself had his sympathies with India, and raised the issue with Churchill in 1941 only to be rebuffed by the boorish Churchill, in the most vehement manner.

FDR was also obligated by the Atlantic charter of 1941, cosigned by the US which guaranteed self-rule. Churchill sidestepped the US contention by saying that the charter was applicable to only those under Nazi Germany’s occupation. FDR tried again to reason with Churchill in private, but did not succeed. He then wrote to Churchill in more detail about how Indians could form a multi representative government etc. In March 1942, Stafford Cripps was deputed to India to obtain her support for the war and to placate FDR, but Cripps did not have Churchill’s overt support in the mission. The Americans had in the meanwhile sent Col Louis Johnson for the same purpose and he saw through Churchill’s ploy with Cripps. Churchill won that round and grandly announced that he would not be the one to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. Johnson returned to America. Gandhiji wrote to FDR insisting that India desired freedom. As Nehru wrote about Sino-Indian friendship and future, and Britain was inclined towards letting Japan capture China (so that they could bargain for its annexation later during a peace treaty stage) Chiang Kai-shek met Gandhiji, and later wrote to FDR supporting India’s independence. By August 1942, the quit India movement was announced. Arrests and unrest followed.

FDR decided to send his personal emissary, William Phillips to India. Phillips, grandson of the great abolitionist Wendell Phillips, brought up amongst Boston gentry and trained at Harvard, had risen quickly in his diplomatic career to become undersecretary in the State Department. He had served at the OSS London office and as ambassador to Italy.

He had a torrid time in India, faced with a total lack of support from the British Viceroy Linlithgow. He was not allowed to meet Gandhiji who was imprisoned in the Agha Khan palace. He sent many gloomy letters and cables to FDR detailing the terrible situation in India. He also saw that that the Indians were quickly losing their belief in American support and the US championship of freedom. Finally he headed back home, disappointed. He wrote a memo detailing his travails in India, to President Roosevelt, who was beleaguered with comments from skeptics about the military prowess of the Poms, or lack of it thereof, what with their failures in Burma. From India, another American Samuel Stokes (the apple missionary whom I had introduced earlier) also wrote to FDR, about the sad state of affairs.

And thus, we get to the Pearson Phillips affair. As it occurred, the confidential memo prepared by Ambassador William Phillips fell into the hands of Drew Pearson. Ambassador Phillips’s memo was a document quite critical of British policy and methods adopted in India. Phillips believed that the British arrogance and rigid stance was not right, and talked about its effect on America’s war in the East. He concluded that it was high time Britain declared their intention to grant independence to India at least after the war ended.

This is what he said, among other things

Assuming that India is bound to be an important base for our future operations against Burma and Japan, it would seem to me of highest importance that we should have around us a sympathetic India rather than an indifferent and possibly a hostile India. It would appear that we will have the primal responsibility in the conduct of the war against Japan. There is no evidence that the British intend to do much more than give token assistance. If that is so, then the conditions surrounding our base in India become of vital importance.

At present the Indian people are at war only in a legal sense as, for various reasons, the British Government declared India in the conflict without the formality of consulting Indian leaders or even the Indian legislature. Indians feel that they have no voice in the Government and therefore no responsibility in the conduct of the war. They feel they have nothing to fight for as they are convinced that the professed war aims of the United Nations do not apply to them. The British Prime Minister, in fact, has stated that the provisions of the Atlantic Charter are not applicable to India, and it is not unnatural therefore that the Indian leaders are beginning to wonder whether the Charter is only for the benefit of the white races. The present Indian Army is purely mercenary and only that part of it which is drawn from the martial races has been tried in actual warfare and these martial soldiers represent only thirty-three percent of that Army. General Stilwell has expressed to me his concern over the situation and in particular in regard to the poor morale of the Indian officers.

The attitude of the general public toward the war is even worse. Lassitude and indifference and bitterness have increased as a result of the famine conditions, the growing high cost of living and the continued political deadlock.  While India is broken politically into various parties and groups, all have one object in common, eventual freedom and independence from British domination. There would seem to be only one remedy to this highly unsatisfactory situation in which we are unfortunately but nevertheless seriously involved, and that is to change the attitude of the people of India towards the war, make them feel that we want them to assume responsibilities to the United Nations and are prepared to give them facilities for doing so, and that the voice of India will play an important part in the reconstruction of the world. The present political conditions do not permit of any improvement in this respect. Even though the British should fail again it is high time that they should make a new effort to improve conditions and to reestablish confidence among the Indian people that their future independence is to be granted. Words are of no avail. They only aggravate the present situation. It is time for the British to act. This they can do by a solemn declaration from the King Emperor that India will achieve her independence at a specified date after the war and as a guarantee of good faith in this respect a provisional representative coalition government will be established at the center and limited powers transferred to it. 

I feel strongly, Mr. President, that in view of our military position in India we should have a voice in these matters. It is not right for the British to say "this is none of your business" when we alone presumably will have the major part to play in the future struggle with Japan. If we do nothing and merely accept the British point of view that conditions in India are none of our business then we must be prepared for various serious consequences in the internal situation in India which may develop as a result of despair and misery and anti-white sentiments of hundreds of millions of subject people.

Pearson’s disclosure of the ambassador’s comments in the Washington Post on July 22nd 1944, but naturally, caused a sensation in Washington, and greatly assisted the efforts of the India Lobby.  

It was a rough period during the Great War. Just the previous month, London had gotten battered by the German V1 rockets, and after courting disaster in Burma had narrowly and decisively pushed away the Japanese Indian threat at Kohima. India’s eastern bastion had withstood a breach. The British were now carpet bombing Normandy, in preparation for the D day, Rommel was wounded, and the war news seesawed back and forth, jangling tired nerves. An allied victory was still years away. Britain has no intention of losing India, the jewel in its crown, the economic lifeline for their miserable citizens under siege in Britain. The Indian lobby did not want to lose any chance of utilizing any advantage it saw and stepped on the gas.

Did the Phillips memo just fall in Pearson’s proximity, like the proverbial apple fell on Newton? Of course not. It found its way to Drew from the hands of our hero Robert Crane, a child of missionary parents who had spent his childhood years in Bengal and at that point of time in history, was but a junior desk officer on South Asia in the State Department Division of Cultural Relations. Time to get to know him better, I suppose.

Nothing explains his actions and his convictions better than the opening paragraph of an obituary by John Hill, in the JOAS. Hill writes - Born in India of American missionary parents at the start of Gandhi's national noncooperation campaign, Crane's adult life was dominated by two intertwined convictions: that the peoples and civilizations of Southern Asia were of immense importance in the world's past and present, and that American understanding of South Asia was vital to the United States future.

Crane joined the State Department at the end of 1943, just 23 years old and after he finished his Having been born in India-my father was in charge of several schools for Indians sponsored by the Methodist Episcopal Church-and, after we returned to the United States, having had the good fortune to meet a fine Indian nationalist living here, I had early developed a strong sense of the rightness and validity of the struggle for Indian independence led by the Indian National Congress.  My graduate studies in Washington only served to reinforce those views…
graduate studies on the history of U.S. (he received a bachelor's degree from Duke University in 1941, a master's degree from American university in 1943) Indian relations and had inclined himself a great supporter of Indian independence. Crane explains –

As the sh%^t hit the fan, the state department was in turmoil. The president was embarrassed, the British Prime minister and his surly bureaucracy were mortified and a witch-hunt started in Washington. Ambassador Phillips was declared persona non grata in London and New Delhi, but Churchill termed him publically ‘a well-meaning ass’. The US state department recommended that FDR release no public statements. The US congress passed a resolution stating that India was important to the US in war and peace, Roosevelt refused to apologize or disassociate himself from Phillips.

British intelligence stated investigations, as the Atlantic ‘pond’ between imperial Britain and the new world - America stormed and fizzed. President Roosevelt speculated that Sumner Welles, the former Undersecretary of State, had leaked the report. Welles was both a personal friend of Pearson’s and a vocal supporter of Indian independence, but today we know that it was none other than the young Robert Crane. Robert Crane, the junior desk officer on South Asia in the State Department Division of Cultural Relations, was therefore one who risked prison to advance the cause of Indian independence, though his role in the affair remained undiscovered for more than four decades.

Quoting Rebecca Solnit from her fine thesis - Well aware of this widespread anti-colonial sentiment, Crane quietly passed a copy of the classified document to some Indian friends in Washington. By doing so, he violated a U.S. legal code addressing wartime disclosure of classified information that had been first established by the controversial 1917 Espionage Act. If convicted of this federal crime, Crane would have lost his government position, faced fines up to $10,000, and/or imprisonment for up to twenty years. Crane risked all of this to help promote Indian independence.

There was much more to the intrigue and the covert business behind this leak, lest all this sound so pat and simple. It was a well-planned act, involving some 12 members of the India Lobby, a few Americans and so many others.

Crane explained in his paper quoted under references - In the fall of 1941, I enrolled for an M.A. in history at The American University in Washington, D.C. My thesis was to be on U.S. opinion vis-a vis India, 1895-1935.' After the United States entered World War II, I joined the government service and by late 1943 was the desk officer on South Asia in the Division of Cultural Relations, U.S. Department of State. My duties as desk officer for South Asia also brought me into close contact with persons in the District of Columbia who were professionally concerned with India. Most of my associates were pro-Indian National Congress (INC), as was I, favoring progress toward independence for India soon after the end of the war.

That was not, however, the official policy of the U.S. government. Nor were there very many people in the U.S. government who supported early independence for India. Public opinion, as far as we could gauge it, was ambiguous. The political desk officer in the Department of State, with whom I had to deal, was quite pro-British and followed the "Churchill line" on India at all times. Meanwhile, the British Information Services were expending a great deal of time, effort, and money trying to influence our media and public opinion in the direction of the official propaganda of His Majesty's government regarding India. They even reissued and handed out copies of the notorious anti-Indian book by Katherine Mayo ‘Mother India’. It painted Indians in an awful light. There was also a lot of disinformation spread about concerning Mahatma Gandhi and the INC, especially after the 1942 Quit India movement.

During the period of 1943-1944, there were a few organizations in the United States that tried to publicize the Indian cause and provide accurate information about Indian nationalism and the Indian scene. I soon came into close contact-unofficially-with two or three such groups. In the District of Columbia there was the National Committee for India's Independence, headed by Dr. Anup Singh and Dr. Syud Hosein; they held public meetings on India and issued a newsletter. I became a close friend of these two men and attended all their public meetings as well as a few of their press conferences. I also got to know J. J. Singh, head of the India League of New York City.

As we follow the story in Crane’s own words, we get to see that he met and became acquainted with Obaid Ur Rahman and Maj Altaf Aqdir, both staunch nationalists. Through them, he met KC Mahendra and KAD Naoroji, and later Kate Mitchell. This committed group decided to influence American opinion about India.

The official position of the US government, as Crane understood from briefings by the political desk officer, was that the British Government of India was the legitimate government as well as US ally against the Nazis and the Japanese. Nothing was to be done to undermine the GOI or to give any aid or comfort to its enemies, including the Indian nationalists who were not cooperating in the war against Japan. But they believed that India would be much more actively enrolled in the war effort if the legitimate demands of the Indian nationalist movement for a political settlement were heeded.

Crane continues - This viewpoint received unexpected support when Drew Pearson published the Report by U.S. Envoy William Phillips, who had gone to India as President Roosevelt's personal representative. The Phillips Report had come routinely across my desk in the Division of Cultural Relations. Impressed and pleased by its contents, I subsequently showed it to two of my close Indian friends in Washington. Though I was not aware of it then, one of them copied the report verbatim and later gave it to Drew Pearson, who published it. The report had a substantial impact on public opinion.

After its publication we were able to use it in support of our long-standing argument in favor of the validity of the posture of the Indian nationalists. Public opinion in the United States remained torn between those who bought the British line and those who did not. Most of the public, as far as I could tell, remained indifferent to the Indian nationalist cause.

But there was a problem. A major problem was that India and its future was far less important to the United States than was China. American interest in and support for the KMT government were strong and continuing. The China lobby-if it may be called that-was far more powerful than the informal, poorly supported efforts of the miniscule India League or the National Committee for India's Independence. India had much less support or understanding among American citizens than did the Republic of China.

Nothing much happened, at least Crane also thought so, but the plight of the Indians were better known now to some powerful Americans. He concluded thus - The American public was either indifferent to India or uninformed. A small group favored Indian independence and the INC, and another small group shared the British view that Indians could not possibly govern themselves. Almost no one envisioned India as an important figure on the postwar world political or economic stage.

As the Indian cauldron simmered with the British ineptness and active stoking, as well as the war efforts, Crane was moved on to the Office of Strategic Services and served mainly in the China-Burma-India Theater of operations. But the CBI Theater was located in the North East corner of India, and their activities, especially the 4,000 or so Americans who spent their war days there, are also largely unknown to most Indians. He spent his time as demanded, scouring all kinds of Indian published works for communist propaganda. He found none, but was soon immersed in South Asian culture, something he enjoyed.

At the tail end of the Pearson Phillips affair, Roald Dahl stepped into the scene from the deep shadows. Now how and why on earth could Norwegian Roald Dahl, the famous writer who wrote Charlie and Matilda and many other children’s books get involved in this caper? Well you see; in those days he served the MI6 in its BSC cloak and dagger American outfit, frequenting cocktail parties and such, hobnobbing with the gentry and peddling pro-British stories, and was involved in the task of finding out the person behind the Pearson leak.

Pearson however got wind of the frantic British attempts and gleefully reported that as well – He stated “following the further leaks, the British went frantic. Six British secret service men and two burglar alarm experts arrived at the British India office here. They combed files, took finger prints from documents, examined locks, windows”…..but nobody could ferret out Crane’s involvement, Qadir kept mum. Initially they established the identity of the person who supplied the Phillips letter as Chaman Lal, but later zoomed into Maj Altaf Qadir, the 3rd secretary of the British Agent-general of India, both of whom got evicted from the USA, Qadir getting sent to the Burmese fighting front. As I could gather, the poor man Altaf Qadir died at the Burmese front, unrecognized for all he did.

The India lobby gamely continued on, but Nehru hated JJ Singh – he had once said “unfortunately, the Indians in American are a very unsatisfactory lot. They shout a lot and do no work. Often they do injury to our cause.” Soon after all this and sensing reluctant support from America, Vijayalakshmi Pandit was sent to America to champion Indian cause.

Crane came back to America, continued his studies at Yale, securing a PhD in 1951, perhaps the first American doctorate in South Asian history. He taught South Asian history at the University of Chicago from 1949-53, University of Michigan from 1956-61, and Duke University from 1961-1968. He was the first person appointed to the Ford-Maxwell Professorship of South Asian history at Syracuse University in 1968. He taught at the Syracuse University until 1990. Among his own varied literary achievements connected to South Asia, he also edited Nehru’s Discovery of India. He created many a graduate South Asian program, always including Hindi and Urdu language instruction. And sadly I did not mention this in my earlier article, he was the person behind the PL 480 Indian book collection spree, an act I thank every time I secure an obscure Indian author’s book, available here due to the ‘grain for books’ scheme.

He struggled with glaucoma in the last two decades of his life, but Lakshmi Crane, his wife was there to support him ardently and ably through those years. Sadly, he passed away in 1997. That my friends, is a little bit on a magnificent man, guided by his convictions, that was Robert Crane, India’s friend.

The next part with deal with the OSS in India and later I will get into the CBI theater related American activities in India. Those desirous of reading about the Pearson affair and those tumultuous days in more detail are recommended to peruse Solnit’s fine thesis and Gould’s book, listed under references.

The Forgotten Lobby: Advocates for India in the U.S. during World War II – Rebecca Solnit
Crane, Robert I. “U.S.-India Relations: The Early Phase, 1941-1945,
United States Department of State / Foreign relations of the United States diplomatic papers, 1943. The Near East and Africa (1943)
Aldrich, Richard. Intelligence and the War against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service
Gould, Harold A. Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies: The India Lobby in the United States, 1900-1946.
Venkataramani, M.S. and B. K. Shrivastava, Roosevelt-Gandhi-Churchill: America and the Last Phase of India’s Freedom Struggle.
Quest for freedom, the United States and India’s independence – Kenton J Clymer

Robert Crane – Obituary - The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 2 (May, 1998)
Drew Pearson –

When Melody was Queen - Making the song

Part 2 – Making the song

For a person to listen to a song and finally say – ‘are wah! kya gaana tha… yaar, woh’, the song has to be nothing short of inspirational. From conception to production, from advertisement to music CD release is a long process, and somewhat haphazard when it relates to Bollywood. By the time the music director finally has his copy ready for mass CD or record punching in the pre-90’s era, he was huffing and puffing and would have lost a good deal of hair.

In the first article ‘From the original soundtrack’ we went through the historical development of the music scene. In this one we will study the steps taken to get a song ready. As we saw, a few film studios were established in Bombay during the 30’s and some names like New Theatres, Prabhat talkies and Bombay talkies were prominent. Many others followed, notably Imperial Film Company, Minerva Movietone, Ranjit Movietone, Sagar Movietone and Wadia Movietone. Of course Calcutta and Madras had their own studios, but smaller in number. Most of them had in their employ a number of musicians who not only composed BGM or background music, but also the main fare, film songs. People from that era would easily associate a tune of the movie with a film company, mainly because certain MD’s (music directors) worked only for certain companies and had a distinctive style (An example is Punkaj Mullick who worked for New Theaters). With the passage of time, MD’s became professionals and were associated with various film producers, companies, projects and directors.

Group Photograph of Talat Mahmood, Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Geeta Dutt, GM Durrani, Meena Kapoor, Kamal Barot, Mubarak Begum and others
In the early days where the tune was almost always set to a classical raga, the MD who was usually well versed with Hindustani or Carnatic music would build a tune based on the raga befitting the mood. In case the mood was more suited for a folk tune, a little adaptation of a popular folk song would be done. Once the tune was cast, the lyricist would, again, based on the situation explained by the director, put together or change the words and word sequences to fit the tune (AR Rahman once said it was difficult for him to set his tunes to Malayalam words!). It was important to get the overall combination right, for only then would it become a ‘hit’. Only experience would tell the motely group assembled if the resulting concoction would be a classic or a hit or a filler, there was no formula to make it a hit, it simply had to be instinctively good. Of course, there were inspired songs (song tunes lifted from popular hit compositions in other languages) created by virtuoso’s like Mozart or popular composers from other countries. Early on, Calcutta studios had more western content (Mullick being one among the first to introduce western styles in Hindi songs) than the ones from Bombay and also had a tendency to be biased with Ravindra sangeet. Saraswati Devi, the doyen among MD’s of Bombay stuck true to Hindustani though. Devotional themes used only basic Hindustani tunes and were developed as kirtans. The intention of these songs, as you can imagine, was to embellish the scene, but as years went by, the music in many a case carried the film.

The tunes and interludes were usually supported by various instruments and in the beginning these comprised just the tabla, the harmonium and the violin, with the focus mainly on the vocals. Soon the number, the variety and the combinations of instruments increased greatly, for the piano, Saxophone, flute, xylophones, clarinet, bongos, Congo’s, drum sets, synthesizers, sitar, jaltarang, bulbul tarang and so on could be seen. In most cases, the composition was done by the team comprising the MD, musicians and the lyricists sitting together. Complications, increase in quantity and quality were soon the reasons for the split of this ideal arrangement. MD’s started to demand the lyrics early and this became the norm, whereby the lyricist created his poetry with greater independence. As one can imagine, the number of films were not too many and the time available to create a song and to review and change it was substantial. Each film company did about four to five films, and that meant about 35-40 songs in total per annum. The MD was usually an employee of the studio and so the competition between MD’s was not so fierce.

As you may recall, earlier movies had the actor singing the song, so the MD had to set the tune befitting the vocal ability of the actor and his persona. MD’s rebelled or showed their frustration often for there were very few good actor singers and the final result was typically mediocre. Their style was typically Hindustani and the voices coarse, heavy and somewhat hoarse. To get an example, listen to Awaz de kahan hai by Noorjehan, you can see its difference from the silky texture as compared to Shreya Ghoshal’s Jism song jadu hai nasha hai. Days went by, movies became a popular medium and the Calcutta style of softer sensual singing or crooning caught on in Bombay. The trick with the new style, I understood, was to sing close to the microphone. Saigal was one who adapted very quickly to the new style.

It was towards the early 40’s, when playback singers arrived and with it the quality of the song shot up. Naturally the singer had to have a stand out voice, had to be flexible in adapting to various situations, moods, actor styles and voices and possessing a basic understanding of music. While the actor was a visible connection to the person in the audience, the playback singer had to connect to his audience purely with his voice, all the time staying invisible. As songs and the orchestral ensemble developed, the number of instrumentalists increased and the team size in each studio varied. In many a studio the western part was taken up by Goan Christians. New instruments like Guitars, French horn, trombone, cellos, mandolins and so on arrived on the scene. MD’s in most cases made up and chose members of their teams. The team created the team style.

As the song stood its stead, the lyrical content, the vocal quality and the instrumentation improved, so also the recording techniques. The song started to have its own place in the movie and became more than a scene embellishment. In fact even today people remember the scene of an old movie from playing a particular song back in their mind. The song is etched into your memory, not the scene or the acting, if you ask me.

Picking up from where we left off in the previous article, the number and quality of microphones increased, playback was the norm and music was recorded in the studios. Music was recorded on magnetic tape. Songs were recorded first, filming was done later. Import restrictions were the stumbling factor in development and nothing changed until the 80’s. Even though there were multiple mic techniques, recording was done on single track film.  Studio vans were being conceived, and recordists took over the session. HMV soon acquired the optical transfer machine and rerecording was finally done away with. As technology developed, sound was recorded for films at Film center, Mehboob, Famous and Bombay sound studios. Finally magnetic tape recorders with the 35mm format arrived and by 1967, optic recording started to become obsolete. Multi track recording came next, and by the 70’s upto 4 tracks were being recorded. Music, rhythm, voice and a composite formed the four. Eventually they all got mixed down to a single track for the film master. As days went by, some sound engineers worked with upto 12 tracks dubbing down to increase music in each track. Finally the highly dependable portable Swiss Nagra recorder was used to transfer sound from the 35mm magnetic tape to film.

Some MD’s now had one more member in their entourage, the recording assistant. The cassette player had arrived and impromptu ideas and tunes were quickly recorded and archived for later use. The first movie with six track stereo was Sholay, with Deepan Chatterji as the recording engineer and the music by the maestro RD Burman. The complex recording process for the 70mm film was completed in London and later replicated for Shalimar, with Pancham da always deeply involved in this pioneering process, of getting the stereo sound right. Recording coordination was tough, the large orchestra synchronized instruments watching the others, for there were no monitor earphones. But the process was old fashioned, the singer sang with the orchestra while it was recorded multi track on a 35mm magnetic tape, and if a mistake occurred, they started all over again. Experience counted, or costs went up. New singers and musicians were therefore not easily inducted. They had to earn their place.

In the old Bollywood, when Shankar-Jaykishan, Kalyanji Anadji, The Burman’s, OP Nayyar and so on ruled, the musicians were all free lancers and four songs a day was the norm. Pyarelal was considered the most knowledgeable, OP Nayyar the most human and Kalyanji Anandji as a keyboard whiz when it came to composing tunes. In the new Bollywood of the late 80’s and early 90’s, where HMV was less important, RD Burman, Rajesh Roshan, Bhappi Lahri, Ravindra Jain and so on influenced the scene, to do things differently. Gulshan Kumar and the cassette revolution happened, western influence on Indian film music increased and music became affordable and more mainstream than before, a time where you depended on the AIR or Radio Ceylon to play a tune. Now you owned your music. The large studios and orchestras were becoming a waste and the cost of song production too large for a budget producer. And with this came up the lumpsum system where the producer offered a package deal for a certain number of songs. The MD thus increased his dependence on electronics and synthesized sound. The orchestra died, it became history. But it was an era of originality, it was an era of group effort, improvisations and sometimes, genius peeking through. They gave us the memories. So how exactly did one of those sessions work out in old Bollywood?

Time to record a song, and now we are in the old Bollywood era, a time when the maestro’s ruled. The producer and director explained the scene and the sequence, the locale, and he hero or heroine who would lip the song. Everything started in the music room, and typically the MD’s office as this was usually in his sitting room (Some MD’s like RDB rented a room in Linking road and put up an impressive sound system, popular SJ had a large building set aside for this). The MD brought on the appropriate tune from his bank vocally, with a harmonium or through his sitting assistant and discussed who would be best to render it vocally. The producer or director would step in and insist on a certain singer while the discussion sometimes veered away then to expenses based on that singer. This was a time when self-taught musicians and trained musicians existed side by side. The latter was needed to notate the tune for this was the only way a group could play synchronized music after it was arranged. But some of the traditional players still could not read the notations and picked the requirements instinctively, after it was explained to them and a couple of rehearsals were carried out. The swaras were written in an Indian language in the sa re ga ma fashion and in some cases the song was notated in western style. The musical interludes were based on the location or situation and had to blend with the main tune. In some complex cases where the scene changes and takes on multiple characters, the tunes and interludes have to be redone after a first version is completed.

The lyricist in those days interacted with the director, producer and MD often, making sure his poetic composition would fit the tune and also have the right set of words, based on the character and situation. Use of Urdu, local dialects, other languages, and so on was based on the situation and scene.  In many a case, the musicality of the director was persuasion enough for the flow of creative juices from the MD and lyricist.  Not all songs had an audio value and many were situational at best. The audio value song was the song the MD really counted on to become immortal, that was his signature song of the film.

The concept started at the sitting or baithak session where the MD came up with the tune befitting the
scene and developed it with a sitting musician, a petti or harmonium player or violinist. An assistant or arranger notated it (in later days recorded the tunes with a portable recorder). The sitting musician was a regular with a particular MD and accompanied him like family, unlike the orchestra staff who got involved case by case. He was usually welcome to bring in improvisation, and was well respected by the MD. Once the tunes were set and accepted by the producer, the next step for the rhythm arrangement with a specialist set of musicians. Then the various other parts were set, such as interludes, countermelodies and orchestration. Soon the composition itself was ready for a group rehearsal (In the New Bollywood, things took a slightly different route, where this entire section was completed using keyboards, with hook lines and repeating of set music rhythms. By the 90’s the usage of computers, MIDI sync and Protocols picked up and the traditional raga based song fell by the wayside).

Initially there were restrictions on the song duration, both due to AIR as well as due to the recording media and set to around 3 minutes. To fit this, you had a prelude refrain – Mukhda, followed by an Antra a verse, the Mukhda is repeated, then a second antra or verse and finally the refrain again. In longer versions you had a third and even a fourth verse. The interlude music is the bridge between the sections. The Mukhda sets the mood, and gets you into the song, so is very important, that is where the magic starts.

It was a time when there were no cellphones and SMS, so messengers or informers scooted or biked to various places in Bombay’s suburbs, delivering messages to musicians, singers, summoning them to sessions, changing times or cancelling sessions. They were music coordinators actually, getting together the group to perform the orchestral session or a song, based on the requirements, usually well advised by the MD and the arranger of the prerequisites. Once the group was readied, they rehearsed in parts or together and again and again depending on if the MD had arranged a studio or if he had his own (like SJ did). Some of the very busy Ustads did not come until the penultimate day. Most of the famous MD’s of that time did not directly partake on the film background music aspect and passed it on to their arrangers, only checking now and then.

The great MD Khayyam reminiscences - It used to be magical to record with a huge live orchestra. Aisa lagta tha ki sangeet banana ek ibadat hai (we used to feel that making music is a prayer). Singers, writers, recordists and musicians would all work together towards fulfilling the mission of making beautiful music. Every music company used to have around a 30 member orchestra. The rehearsals used to be two three hours long, and there would be around three rehearsals before a song was recorded. By then, all the musicians in the orchestra would know all the notations by heart. So, while recording, the music used to come straight from the heart. (Interview - Soumya Vajpayee Tiwari, Hindustan Times, Mumbai Apr 02, 2016)

During these recording sessions, the prominent person who later on simply faded away was the track singer. They were the ones who participated in the rehearsals to get the tune just right, until the final day. On that fated day, the star play back singer arrived, threw some tantrums, made some changes, sang the song with a flourish and walked away with all the adulation and praise. In fact these track singers were the first to sing any song, but you won't find their names on album covers or anywhere in the movie credits. Their only hope is that one day the MD will elevate their name and version or use their song if the singer did not turn up.

Well, as tradition dictated, the playback singer listened to the track singer’s version and got the feel of the song which had been recorded on a solo track. This was the track that got erased and replaced with the singer’s voice after he had executed it with his inimitable style. So you will understand that there were many track singers in the industry, with voices close to the required singer’s style. Track singers were required to know music, understand notations and the MD’s style and unsaid requirements. Because the good ones were always required, they were always left there and never allowed to advance, as some track singers opined. They were the ghost singers.

Once the song is complete, the choreographer takes over and creates the scene with the dance and steps to match, after training the hero, heroine and others in the scene. The actors lip sync to the song as it is filmed with a variety of locations and costumes effortlessly moving across continents, air or water, indoor and outdoor and all sorts of weather. Sometimes it is an item song, which has hardly anything to do with the story line and features an erotic dance, these days enacted by a leading heroine and not a vamp (Helen, Bindu et. al.) like in the old times. This is typically used to take of any drag a previous scene sequence may have created and energizes the audience.

Between the 30’s and today, the suburbs of Bombay housed so many film and music recording studios, but now is concentrated around Andheri. The musicians and the studios are all there, barring those of maestros Rahman and Ilayaraja which are in Chennai Madras and other parts of the Globe.

Time went by, beautiful songs and immortal melodies were created which we all savored, a great many music directors graced the scene sharing the limelight with countless actors and directors who have since then faded away, unrecognized. Hemant Kumar, SD Burman, Salil Chaudhary, Madan Mohan, Naushad, Shankar Jaikishen, RD Burman, LP, OP Nayyar….the list goes on and on…all names we know so well, those who produced countless gems we hum even today. The incredible lot of playback singers we grew up with in the 60-80’s are also gone, Kishore, Rafi, Mukesh, Gita, Lata, Asha and so many more. They were the vital stars, the people with golden voices, infusing soul, voice and life into the song. Changes were seen rarely, like when ghazals entered the film scene and when singers from the south made their mark in Bollywood. Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand’s productions continued to stick to quality, while Disco made its entry with Bhappida. After a diffident phase in the 80’s, the 90’s brought back many a great score, new MD’s like Rahman and many new singers. MD’s including RD Burman slowly strayed from pattern music to new styles, and brought back melody like in 1942 a love story.

As somebody mentioned, a good singer has the magic in his voice which stirs up dormant human emotions, put a smile to a grumpy face or bring a tear to a joyous man.

The singers too, made their mark and slowly the last of them are retiring from the silver screen today. The new wave have taken over, with new sounds, we can detect the Punjabi weighty voice coming back, what we had lost when Noorjahan left. The tunes are more energetic, and no longer lilting. There is an urgency in each song, with little time to waste in conveying a message. The lyrics are more nonsensical.

The many hundred musicians are hardly remembered. Some moved on to become music directors or made their own recordings, like guitarist Bhupinder, but by and far, the instrumentalists just retired with their instruments, the sounds having been recorded or consigned into banks and memories, only coming out rarely for live shows or paid events.

In the mid 80’s programmable synthesizers arrived on the scene and the process started to get broken up. The keyboard was used to program the song tune and this was used to get the final parts together, and on the recording front, new multi-track machines were being introduced and the uninterruptible power supply was used to get a constant power source and avoid track tuning errors due to the fluctuating power frequency in densely populated and industrial suburbs of Bombay. Can you imagine, some recordings had to be done after the factories and offices had shut down and the power magnitude and frequency had stabilized, sometimes early in the morning! And then came Dolby Digital and digital recording in the latter part of the 90’s. With the 24 track Dolby methods, hard disk recording on computers had also commenced.

With software programs a plenty, new sessions are done on the fly. Programming the track is done at home, then some recording of acoustic instruments is carried out at the studio back home where the files are mixed and bits punched in and out. The home studio easily blended with the music studio. Singers were asked to do bits and the MD team combined (punched) various versions later, as needed. Old timers complained, they had to sing the whole song in progression to get the feel right, to get into the mood, but soon, they too picked it up (more like - or adjusted, put up with it and got paid), or so they say. It was certainly cheaper than getting hundreds of musicians in one sweaty room and having a temperamental singer sing the song 15 times before the final take, but well, that’s all history.

Life has moved a long way from all that. Spiraling costs and studio economics changed the entire process in the 21st century. Computers, software and banks of audio sounds meant that everything was available without having to ‘recreate it for the moment’ with an instrument. The lump sum system became the norm and the making of music was centralized in the MD’s computer or keyboard. Synthesizers were the first, MIDI common protocol technology came next, sequencers to play back the combined music soon following. With that the art of music direction mostly became programming. Using advanced software, maestros like Rahman or other new MD’s create and change tunes at will, working off vast libraries they have themselves created to ease their work.

Look at the case of the currently hot Salim Sulaiman duo (Sonam Joshi, Mashable, July 19 2016) - In the last few years, as the siblings have spent an increasing amount of time travelling and performing live concerts, they've increasingly used apps such as Music Memo and Garageband to record ideas and work remotely. For instance, Salim often works with a room mike fixed to his iPhone to record tunes, which are then exported to Logic Pro to be fleshed out. "We do 75 concerts and travel 100 days a year," Salim says. "A lot of our music is composed in hotel rooms. These remote gadgets really help us put down an idea when we're away from the studio." But they add - "Technology is there to help you. The most important thing is your own creativity and what you produce," Sulaiman says. "Everybody uses the same machinery, but two people sound so different because you have the option of unlimited sounds. Technology makes life simple, but it's your creativity that works"

Singers then lend their voice, not necessarily singing the whole song in a few takes, but doing bits as and when required, all to be joined up and edited later, punched in or out or overdubbed. Facetime and skype are used with the singer not even in the recording studio for the rehearsals. Rhythm bits are looped, time markers helping sound engineering and mastering done with expert software such as Pro tools. They still create lovely tunes, just a few if you ask me, and not necessarily ones which would be remembered like that masterpiece by Lata Mangeshkar or Rafi or Mukesh from the 70’s. But then, that is my take, not one my nephew or niece would agree to!!

In conclusion, I will add the words of Vishal writing at Apna sangeet - Philosophically speaking, the music composition gives body to a song, the music arrangement gives flair or dignity to a song, and last but not the least, the lyrics gives the character to a song. Take away any of the component mentioned above, and the song becomes incomplete....

Behind the curtain – Gregory Booth
Bollywood Melodies – Ganesh Anatharaman
A journey down memory lane – Raju Bharatan
Hindi Film Git – Alsion E Arnold
Hindi Film songs and cinema – Anna Morcom
More than Bollywood – Ed Gregory Booth and Bradley Shoppe

Some interesting recording clips

Rdburman at recording – courtesy
Rdb at recording - courtesy megabyte4everyone
Group Photograph of Talat Mahmood, Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Geeta Dutt, GM Durrani, Meena Kapoor, Kamal Barot, Mubarak Begum and others - courtesy