19 comments on “Fabulous ’40s Songs with Surinder Kaur

  1. Great, Greater, Greaterest songs which I always like to listen .
    I Want all songs of film RATTAN of 1944 to download & listen repetedly

  2. Nice words appreciated. :) Harish, there are a few sites where you can find free downloadable MP3s of the songs from Ratan. The one that I visited most recently is Indian Baja (Ratan is on the second page right now.) Vidur, the latest post is Amrit Manthan!

  3. Thanks for adding the rare but fabulous Madhubala-Surinder Kaur combination. Have you heard Madhubala’s songs as Baby Mumtaz (her real name) from her first film Basant (1942)? They’re really nice and she sings well actually. I have hopes of getting that sometime.

  4. Yes, I’ve heard Baby Mumtaz, and I’ve seen a clip or two. Certainly cute enough… Though some people say it’s strange because Baby Mumtaz, at least in their opinion, looked like a pretty ugly child. :)

    And certainly, I am enjoying most of the ’30s Shanta Apte that I see/hear. More on that another time…

  5. I didn’t know Surinder Kaur sang for Hindi films. I know most of her punjabi songs. The Mawan te tiyan song is an ode to the bonding between mothers and daughters. This song was supposed to have made some big-wig (a president or something) cry like a baby. I admit it made me miss my daughter too, sigh!

    This one is my favorite, embedding was disabled, so I give the link here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpaoR725N-s&feature=related

    A pretty lady sings about how her brown eyes can make the mirror crack.

  6. Hi, Ava. The first time Surinder Kaur’s Hindi film songs came up on this blog, it wasn’t from me, it was from Bawa, in her comments to one of my Noor Jehan posts, a little over nine months ago:


    I was sort of aware that she’d done Hindi film songs but wasn’t really focused on them until after this conversation.

    Thanks for the summary-translation of “Mawa Te Dhiyan.” I hope it didn’t make you feel too sad! :) I like the station that you linked to – I especially like the videos that have the Punjabi words printed out with an English translation at the bottom. It’s too bad embedding is disabled… I was going to post a few of those “word” videos here, but I didn’t see a point to it if people had to click to get to YouTube for every one of them. (Kind of ruins the effect.)

    This is one of the songs that I thought of posting here:

    I like that one… Though I guess my favorite is still Mera Laung Gawacha. (There used to be a copy on YouTube of her singing that, and I posted it here once, but it’s been removed. Oh, well, maybe it will turn up again, as many things do.)

  7. Mera Laung Gawacha has been covered to death. I loved the link you gave here, Chan kithan guzari ai raat ve is another fave. The punjabi used by her (or the poet) can be fairly esoteric, and I don’t understand it all. It was really innovative to have the lyrics written out with a transliteration and translation running at the bottom.

    This one is kind of slow, but I love it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXgreu8j3FA&feature=related . There were several choices of videos but I didn’t like them, I liked this simple one.

  8. Richard, it is always a pleasure to introduce new voices to you, thanks for posting so many of her songs.

    The first one is a very poignant song, and my mum, having 4 daughters, always makes us sing it, even though it makes her all emotional….

    The sisters- there were 3- actually belonged to a well-to-do landlord (jat) sikh family and singing was frowned upon. They used to sneak out at nights to sing in the “jago”, -all night keeping-the-village awake-before-a-wedding sessions, after everyone had gone to sleep and other festivities. Surinder Kaur was the most ambitious one, and Parkash kaur, although the elder, said she was the one who followed. Fortunately, S Kaur was able to make a career after her wedding, backed by her husband, who believed in her talent and that it should not be kept down.

    I have had the great fortune to hear her live in at private concert, and she was just sooooo amazing. What a voice!

    You actually have only half the song. It was recorded in the 78 rpm days, so the second half of the song is on the other side- here is the complete versions

    Very unpoetic translation:

    Mothers and daughters sit together, chatting and gossiping,
    Oh the wheat is high, why do we give birth to daughters?

    Mothers and daughters are friends, this cannot be broken by trivialities,
    Oh the wheat is bright, why do daughters have to scatter so?

    I came walking from afar mother, I stand in your doorway
    My sisters-in-law haven’t asked after my well-being, my brothers haven’t greeted me with love
    Oh the wheat is high, why do we give birth to daughters?

    My lap is shaken with sobs, (…)
    We used to meet so frequently, why have you sent me away now?
    Oh the wheat is bright, why do daughters have to scatter so?

    I climb on the roof mother, and watch out for my brother to come
    I see him come from afar mother, and I breathe again
    Oh the wheat is high, why do we give birth to daughters?

    My life is going, I am sobbing, there is no one but you who understands o mother
    Oh the wheat is bright, why do daughters have to scatter so?

    Chorus repeats twice while the record flips sides!

    I sit before your door o mother, and I call out the names of my borthers
    Oh the wheat is high, why do we give birth to daughters?

    A neighbour has told me o mother, that your father and brother have come
    In my hear there are wedding feasts o mother, my patio has come alive with joy
    Oh the wheat is bright, why do daughters have to scatter so?

    My sisters-in-law are like friends o mother, my brothers presence like the cool shade
    My sisters-in-law lock their doors against me, o mother, I don’t have any other way
    Oh the wheat is high, why do we give birth to daughters?

    I make a clay doll o mother, and I hug him and cry and cry
    The clay doll won’t say anything o mother, and I have cried my heart out
    Oh the wheat is high, why do we give birth to daughters?

  9. @Ava,
    The song you like so much is a much more recent number, written by the poet Shiv Kumar Batlavi, very very very good. Totally recommended. There’s lots of info about him on the internet, a lot of it urban legend. He himself was a much more complex man, and with a deep sense of humour, including the ability to laugh at himself.

    Here is a link to one section of a subtitled interview (there are several parts). he was a fantastic singer and I like his own recitations best.

  10. Ava, yes, Mera Laung Gawacha has been covered to death… And I went through many of those covers, starting with the Bally Sagoo/Cheshire Cat dub-bhangra-dancehall hit of the early ’90s and working my way back in time until I found Surinder Kaur’s, which is by far the best.

    Glad you liked the link to “Chan Kithan Guzari ai Raat Ve”; it is one of my favorites too. And thanks for providing that later song, which also gave Bawa a chance to lead us on another very informative tangent. :)

  11. Bawa, I was hoping you were reading this and would provide a nice translation :) – which does make the song even more enjoyable.

    I have been exploring Surinder Kaur’s songs and very much enjoying them, but I couldn’t do a full post on her without mentioning you. :)

    And thanks for the interesting interview with Shiv Kumar Batalvi. Given the way it ended, with that strange remark about life being a “slow suicide,” I thought that must be serving as an ironic reference in retrospect… And sure enugh, I did a little Wikipedia reading, etc., on Shiv
    Kumar Batalvi and saw that he went the same way as Geeta Dutt and Meena Kumari…

  12. Richard, I was fortunate enough to know something about him first-hand through my uncle, and Shiv Kumar had a great friend in the elder borther of my uncles greatt friend at the time.

    He was an alcoholic and was very free about it, and according to my uncles, all those people that come forward as friends now, but when he was really down, this friend’s brother supported him, although he has never wanted to be any limelight, so his name will not be any biography you read.

    So my uncle can still recall the time as a young college student sitting listening to Shiv K reciting-singing poetry all night.

    He was highly intelligent and you can see how fully aware he was of his own self. It is said that he first started writing poetry over a broken heart, the girl marrying someone else, (something which he refutes in the interview saying he has had ample opportunities with women…),. He apparently wrote one famous poem, “Advertisement” on hearing of the birth of her first child. When she had a second one, he was asked if he would write another poem, he is said to have replied, “Do I have nothing better to do in life? That she should keep on producing kids and I should keep on writing poems…”
    For those of who understand punjabi “Mainu hor koi kum nahin? o bachche jammi jave te mein kavita likhi javaan!”

    Despite all the fantastic versions sung by other singers, including Surinder Kaur- I like his own versions best. Apart from romantic poetry, he wrote a lot of social stuff as well, and his version of Luna, is considered to be a very feminist version of the old tale.

    Link to advertisement song

    Link to a translation (you will have to scroll down a bit to find it, June 2008 entry)

  13. Sorry Richard, i totally forgot to answer your question. He says that all life is like a “slow suicide” and thinks that all intellectuals and thinking people have the same sensation.
    He was definitely obsessed with his death in general and his own death. My dad called it death-wish.
    I had an uncle who was struggling writer in punjabi at the same time, died of a heart attack around the same time, and dad said he was the same, obsessed with the mortality of human beings and intensely feeling the suffering part of human life (I have his short stories and they really leave you anguishing). So maybe it was a kind a preocupation with writers-intellectuals in Punjabi of the time.
    There are others like Santokh SIngh Dhir (a strong communist) or Gurdial Singh, and a myriad of others, all of them focussing strongly upon social issues and realities of village or urban life in Punjab.
    In fact, it is a pity Santokh Singh autobiography has not been translated into English, it is a fantastic book, and a testimony to how he lived his life true to his communist beliefs- in the sense of no human being is above another. Just died this year at the age of 100.

  14. Bawa, thanks for more very interesting info… I will have to look into those links more thoroughly a little later. Of course, I had to look up Santokh Singh Dhir… This seems like somebody I would have liked. :) The sources I saw said that he died at 90, but still, if he also kind of believed in the “slow suicide” idea, then his was very, very slow. :) But apparently, he stayed sharp until the end – so sharp, in fact, that it has inspired the doctors to study his brain:


  15. Oh, that is interesting. My mistake, he was born 1920, so 90. And i jsut realised that I shared his birthday!
    He was a remarkable man. Born to an extremely poor family he managed to educate and raise himself as a person in his own eyes, but was never became rich as he refused to compromise on his principles and would not work for anyone or organism that didn’t give him his intellectual independence or upheld the currrent unjust economic system. Which made for a very hard life for his and his family.
    There were many others in the socialism-communist movement in Punjab, but most “compromised” at one time or the other but he carried on. What is unjust is unjust and that is that and he refused to toe any official line on that view.

  16. Bawa, how admirable a quality it is, indeed – especially compared to many in this day and age – for an artist to stick to his principles in that way. Although, admittedly, it is impossible for a person to survive in society without supporting the economic system in some way. And it becomes more impossible for someone who hasn’t achieved the amount of success that would lead to contributions from fans as well as government grants (plus, I guess accepting government grants gives one possibly unwanted ties to the government)… But still, I always have great respect for people who make sacrifices in order to give less support to the social-economic system that they oppose – or at the very least, the harsher aspects of it – and who haven’t made convenient distinctions between what they supposedly ultimately believe in and the things that they do in the day-to-day.

    I have already met too many “Marxists” who who have benefited from doing active work (much more active than something like proofreading ;) ) on Madison Avenue or Wall Street or who have even made good money trading in stocks and bonds. (The word is that even anarchist Noam Chomsky (a longtime influence on yours truly) has done that to some degree – oh, well.) And it’s increasingly rare to see people on the left here in the U.S. who even know what it’s like to struggle or live in poverty (while many of the real struggling people are lost to the right wing). So, I understand your admiration for Santokh Singh Dhir, for his integrity and the very dignified choices that he made. (Though I hope that his wife had as much of a choice in this hard life, and trust/hope that it wasn’t hardship that would cause any true suffering on the part of the children (which it wasn’t really, from what I gather?) – now, that’s where it might get a little trickier, ethically speaking, I guess…)

    BTW here’s a nice short bio that I found:


    Anyway, so, you have a birthday coming up in about a week and a month? Maybe I’ll post something in your honor on that day. :) (I had my own birthday 13 days ago, but while I do enough to celebrate the birthdays of my favorite Bollywood/Lollwyood stars, etc., I try not to pay attention to my own. :) )

  17. Thanks for the link. It is a really personal piece, although I am surprised that he hasn’t read his autobiography.

    The family he was born into was very poor, working as “lagis”: servants who would clear up after religious functions/weddings/etc. and do piecemeal work for people in the village. His dad set himself up as a tailor in order to improve his status in life, but it never worked, according to Dhir, He recalls with bitter humiliation his wedding day (arranged by his parents). Ypu know when Sikhs go to a temple money is placed before the Holy Book as a donation. Apparently his parents had no money to pay anything, and they were going to use the moeny recieved this way (5 Rs) in order to pay other things at the end of the wedding. But there was hardly any collection and you can imagine the situation a the end of the wedding day. He hadn’t known about this plan.

    As a child he was sent to Delhi to learn the tailoring business (the English pattern) because there was supposedly a lot of money in making dresses for Memsahibs. But his uncles, who worked for a famous saree shop in Connaught Place, New Delhi exploited him ruthlessly, half starved him, and all he ever learnt was to stitch borders to sarees )(my mum says in those days you chose a saree, then a border and it would be attached by the shop for you).

    No wonder he ended up being so staunch in his views. I think he fought for many years for the government to give him a stipend, in lieu of his many awards and services as a writer, and that is basically what he lived upon. His surname was something else, and he called himself Dhir (brave) both for the courage it gave him and the fact that it was a high-caste Jat surname, which he wasn’t supposed to be able to have.

    You are right about all the half-way socialist-communists in the world. i read somewhere about a Folk star being a person who became rich singing about how wonderful it was to be poor, guess it applies. I do not know whether I would agree with Dhir, but one has to admire someone who lived through so much. Yes, his wife and children probably would have liked him to be a bit less principled at times, though in the end it seemed it all worked out well.

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