A. R. Rahman, “Ye Jo Des Hai Tera” (from the film Swades)
written by Mukta Phatak
The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, I took a volunteer trip to Sidhbari, India with an organisation called CORD, the Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development. CORD’s mission is to help uneducated rural villages in India get the necessary training and knowledge for making more money to lead a less impoverished life. They’ve established a training center in Sidhbari where locals can come to learn crafts from other locals, who volunteer their time to teach. Additionally, a different group of local volunteers goes from house to house, checking in with Mahila Mandalas (groups of women who together run a microbank), or urging smaller craftsmen to expand their enterprise by getting trained in a new craft. We were part of this second group of volunteers during our stay there.
Now, I had brought my guitar with me to India, and I brought it with me on our daily rounds of the community. Every home we visited, we visited with a mission; to educate or encourage, to help grow an existing business. Wherever we went, my guitar and music became an instant ice breaker. Many of my fellow volunteers weren’t fluent in Hindi and somehow the universal language of music, as cliched as it sounds, quickly established trust and community in each microcosm of a home. I remember spending one evening in the center’s kitchen, where we got our meals every day, playing guitar with the women as they helped prepare the night’s meal. Another time, a teenager in the town demanded I teach him a song.
I suppose these experiences showed me that all music matters; it is the context in which one uses music that gives a specific piece even more weight. However, for the sake of this article, I chose one song that relates to a particularly vivid experience.
We visited a very small village where school was in session on a front porch, and so I played some classic Hindi kids’ songs. One child asked me if what I was playing was a piano. At the end of our stay, the kids begged for a few more songs. Of course, I obliged. As I was sitting singing and talking to some of the children and teachers, my trip-mates were playing some games. I mean, hide-and-seek is hide-and-seek, whether you’re speaking Hindi or English. Then, as we were all getting back into our car, one child started singing a well-known song, “Pardesi, Pardesi” from the film Raja Hindustani. Pardesi translates loosely to “foreigner,” and the song begs the foreigner not to leave, to stay forever. Soon the whole crowd was singing together “pardesi, pardesi jaana nahi mujhe chhod ke, mujhe chhod ke” (Foreigner, foreigner, don’t leave me, don’t leave me). It was very sweet and moving. After a few moments pause, I began to sing the title song from the film Swades (svuh-deys). The translation below, I hope, will help explain why I chose it in particular. After that, this collection of people, a bunch of teenagers from the privileged suburbs of New Jersey and the children of this small village at the foothills of the Himalayas, with seemingly nothing but a skin tone in common, suddenly had a much deeper compassion for one another. These two songs, sung one after the other in a conversation, had the power to communicate a deep understanding between two vastly different groups. If that doesn’t make the song matter, what does?
yeh jo des hai tera swades hai tera
tujhe hai pukaara
ye wo bandhan hai jo kabhi toot nahi sakta
This country of yours, your motherland
calls out to you..
This is a bond which can never break
Mitti ki hai jo khushboo tu kaise bhulaayega
tu chaahe kahin jaaye tu laut ke aayega
nayi nayi raahon mein dabi dabi aahon mein
khoye khoye dil se tere koi ye kahega
How can you ever forget the scent of the earth (of your homeland)
wherever you go, you will come back.
in new paths (that you take), in quiet sighs
to your lost heart, someone will say
[the someone here is nothing but an inner voice of himself.]
Tujh se zindagi hai ye kah rahi
sab to paa liya ab hai kya kami
Your life is saying to you,
you have achieved everything,
what’s there that is still missing then?
yoon to saare sukh hain barse
par door tu hai apne ghar se
aa laut chal tu ab deewane
jahaan koi to tujhe apna maane
aawaaz de tujhe bulaaye wahi des
Yes, all comforts are there for you,
but you’re far from your home
come, let’s go back, O crazy one
where at least someone will call you their own
just say the word, that country of yours calls you back..
ye pal hai wahi jis mein hai chhupi
poori ek sadi saari zindagi
this is the moment in which there is hidden,
a complete century, an entire lifetime.
tu na poochh raaste mein kaahe
aaye hain is tarah doraahe
tu hi to hai raah sujhaaye
tu hi to hai ab jo ye bataaye
jaaye to kis disha mein jaaye, wahi des..
Don’t you ask why there is
a two-way fork on the road..
you are the one who should suggest the path
you are the one who would tell
in which direction to take, that country..
Mukta Phatak attends Bucknell University as a Theatre and Computer Science double major. She once played the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors, is a vegetarian, and enjoys irony. She spent more time on this bio than the article. Please laugh.