Tuesday, May 31, 2022


The 20th century saw a paradigm shift in the way we live and work. The ease with which we do most things today is a far cry from the struggle and hard work that went into accomplishing them earlier.

The industrial revolution began in the late 18th century, but many of its practical benefits were available much later.

One of the early time and effort saving devices appeared in 1873. Correspondence, both official and personal, since time immemorial, was handwritten. With the advent of the typewriter, letter writers got replaced by a solid square machine that went clickety-clack and churned out reams of paper in a uniform font. It helped speed up communication and made reading letters and messages easy. It wouldn't be wrong to say that the typewriter performed another cultural transformation; it got women into a place that was strictly the domain of men - the office! Soon stenographers, primarily women, became an integral part of offices. Many went on to become personal secretaries and accountants. Later, with the spread of education, women now hold important positions in management. But it all began with the humble typewriter!


We are all in the midst of a heatwave. And imagine how uncomfortable it would be were it not for the fan? The earliest fans recorded in history were hand-operated. Later, hydraulically operated fans were developed in China during the Han dynasty. The mid-nineteenth century saw the development of steam-driven fans. They worked on the principle of pistons pushing a crankshaft to rotate the blades. These were table models that required inserting a kerosene or oil lamp into its base to generate steam which propelled the pistons. In the 1880s, German-American inventor Philip Diehl attached blades to a sewing machine motor and fixed it to a ceiling. With that began the era of the modern fan. Today we have all kinds of fans: Ceiling, Wall, Table and Pedestal mounted to keep us cool. Further developments in this concept led to the Air Cooler, which blows cool air from moistened pads placed behind a fan. In the last few decades the fan and the air cooler have been replaced by the air conditioner with our homes, offices, transport and public spaces increasingly becoming airconditioned.

Never mind what the quick delivery adverts say these days, we do need the Refrigerator or Fridge. Earlier, ladies at home prepared freshly cooked food before mealtime as one could not store food for long, especially during summer. With the arrival of the Fridge in the early twentieth century, it became possible to keep fruits, vegetables, eggs, butter, and desserts unspoilt for days. Nowadays, cooked meals are stored in the Fridge too, only to be heated in the microwave later. Another essential function the Fridge performs is to make ice. The freezer which makes the ice, also cools our beverages quickly and keeps frozen food good for months. All said and done; no kitchen is complete without a Fridge.

Besides the Fridge, another appliance that is an essential part of the kitchen is the modern kitchen stove. Be it a gas stove or an electric one, every kitchen has it. Before the advent of the modern stove, food was cooked on an earthen stove fuelled by wood or coal. The problems with the earthen stove were that it produced smoke, took time to start, and the cooking process was slow. With the availability of piped gas as early as the 1790s in the UK, initially for lighting and later for cooking and heating, the modern stove made of metal made its entry into the kitchen. The concept of multiple burners came with the new stove, which meant that one could simultaneously cook more than one dish. The flame could be ignited, controlled and put off with a twist of the knob. All this made cooking easy and did not fill the kitchen with health-harming smoke. 

As the world's population increased exponentially in the last 120 years, living and working spaces have gone vertical to accommodate more people in existing areas. Cities and large towns now have multi-storeyed homes, offices, and even factories. This shift from the horizontal to the vertical was made possible by the invention of the Elevator or Lift. Thanks to the Elevator, we now zip up and down multi-storey buildings and move materials with ease. Gone are the days when one had to climb up and down the stairs, even though buildings were usually two or three floors high. This 'exercise' was especially tough for the elderly, sick and disabled. If today we see a change in our city's landscape, it is thanks to the Elevator, introduced by an American, Elisha Otis, in 1853 in New York.

Washing dirty linen and clothes was always a backbreaking chore, what with all the scrubbing and squeezing required to get the dirt off our clothes. Thanks to the washing machine, all we need is to add a measure of detergent, press a few buttons, turn a knob and presto! we have clean clothes within 45 mins to an hour. These machines were invented in the 1850s and were at first manually operated. Later, many inventors improved the technology over the following years, giving us the modern washing machine without which most modern urban homes are incomplete.

But the main driving force for these gadgets and appliances to succeed was the availability of running water, piped or bottled gas and electricity. Without these, none of the modern devices that have become an integral part of our daily lives would have seen the light of day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022


On this day, 75 years ago, the mellifluous nasal baritone voice of Kundan Lal Saigal fell silent. However, thanks to modern technology, with about 200 recordings and 36 films, his mesmerising voice has been immortalised to the delight and pleasure of later generations. Saigal didn't have any formal training in music from a Pandit or Ustad of a Gharana, though he did spend two years with a Sufi Peer, Salman Yusof. He nurtured his musical skills in the company of wandering minstrels, Sadhus and Sufis, and at Mehfils and Mushairas. It was his love of singing that refined and polished his vocal cords. As the waters of a river flow uncharted through the land enriching its soil, his natural voice, unconstrained by conditioning, flowed through his lips, lending a mystic charm to his songs. He sang a vast repertoire of songs. Romantic songs such as 'Do Naina Matware Tihare Hum Per Zulum Kare'; songs of love and yearning like 'Tarpat Beete Din Rain Nit Din Birhaa Ko Raat Satave'; Bhajans and Ghazals; sad, melancholy songs such as 'Dukh Ke Din Ab Bitat Nahin' and lullabies, probably the first in Hindi cinema, 'So Jaa Rajkumari, So Jaa'. His mastery over the classical genre was evident in Jhoolana Jhulao Aao Ri. At the same time, he sang children's songs with equal ease, as is apparent in Ek Raje Ka Beta Lekar Udanewala Ghoda, a piece that had lyrics as well as prose. The evergreen 'Ek Bangala Bane Nyara' resonated with the collective emotions of millions desiring a magnificent house. Besides these, there are the classics: Babul Mora Nahiar Chute Jai, Balam Aaye Baso More Mann Mein, Karun Kya Aas Niraas Bhayi, Diya Jalao Jag Mag Jag Mag, Kahe Ko Raad Machaiyi and many more that are regularly played by popular demand on Vividh Bharati and Radio Ceylon, or Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation as it is known now. Whilst Saigal's solo songs cast a spell on his fans, his duets with singer-actresses of that era were equally popular. He sang some memorable duets with Uma Shashi, Kanan Devi, Khursheed Bano and Suraiya. Saigal first tasted success with the film Chandidas. The story is about Chandidas, a poet, played by Saigal, who falls in love with Rami, a low caste girl played by Uma Shashi. As Rami sings of building a home on the foundation of love, Chandidas joins in this melodic duet, 'Prem Nagar Mey Banaoongi Ghar Mein'. It was one of Saigal's earliest duets that became a hit. They paired together in many New Theater movies, such as Puran Bhakt, Daku Mansoor and Dharti Mata. Audio of Prem Nagar Mey Banaoongi Ghar Mein https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bp9eTM_6bvQ Their romantic duet in Dharti Mata, 'Main Man Ki Baat Bataaun, Kya Kya Baat Uthat Man More' penned by Pt. Sudarshan and beautifully composed by Panjak Mullick, in which both lovers express their thoughts towards each other became extremely popular. Audio of Main Man Ki Baat Bataaun https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRbSop0O8qE Though, the song that first comes to mind when one refers to Dharti Mata is 'Duniya Rang Rangili Baba, Duniya Rang Rangili' in which Saigal is joined by Uma Shashi and K C Dey (Pankaj Mullick in the record). Audio of Duniya Rang Rangili Baba https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2dQWFVU8Qg Another well-known actress with whom Saigal successfully paired was Kanan Devi. And their most notable performance was in Phani Majumdar's Street Singer. Whilst Saigal's rendition of Wajid Ali Shah's thumri, 'Babool Mora Naihar Chooto Jaye' made him a singing sensation, his love duet with Kanan Devi 'Sanwariya Prem Ki Bansi Sunai' helped establish Kanan Devi's reputation as a melody queen. Another classic duet with Kanan Devi in Street Singer is 'Rut Hai Suhani, Mast Hawaein, Chaayi Hai Udi Udi Ghatayein'. Credit must also be given to Arzoo Lakhnavi, who penned the lyrics, and Rai Chand Boral for composing music for many of the hummable melodies Saigal sang solo or in a duet in films produced by New Theaters, Calcutta. Audio of Sanwariya Prem Ki Bansi Sunai https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HOIUiCtO6g When he came to Bombay in 1942, he signed a contract with Shree Ranjit Movietone, and the first movie made under this banner was Bhakt Surdas. It was in the genre of Saint Films and was a huge success. Its bhajans and devotional songs became an unforgettable part of the Saigal legacy. One such eternal melody is a duet with Rajkumari, who did not act in the film but lent her voice as a playback singer, sung in Raag Bhairavi, 'Sar Pe Kadamb Ki Chhainya Muraliya Baj Re, Mori Laaj Rahi'. Audio of Sar Pe kadamb Ki Chhainya Muraliya Baj Re https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2Au9JhujHI Actress-singer Khursheed Bano, who starred opposite Saigal in Bhakt Surdas, tasted success after a string of forgettable films. Her romantic duet with Saigal "Chandani Raat Aur Taare Khile Ho, Taare Ki Chaiyya Mein Do Dil Mile Ho" is still doing the rounds on Radio and YouTube. Audio of Chandani Raat Aur Taare Khile Ho https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tKIi5R-qNU The following year they paired again in the classic, Tansen. It was as if Saigal was born to play the role of the great 16th century Sangeet 'Nav Ratna' of Akbar's court. "More Balpan Ke Saathi Chhaila Bhool Jaiyo Na", a duet with Khursheed, was an instant hit, as was Khursheed's solo 'Ghata Ghanghor Ghor, Mor Machave Shor, More Sajan Aaja'. Saigal's peerless solo rendition of songs such as Diya Jalao Diya Manao, Baag Laga Dun Sajani, Sapt Suran Teen Gram Gaao Sab Guni Jan and Rhum Jhum Rhum Jhum Chaal Tihare made Tansen the second highest-grossing film after Kismet in 1943. This was Khemchand Prakash's first association with Saigal as a music composer, and the often hummed lyrics were written by Pandit Indra. However, D N Madhok is also mentioned as a co-lyricist in the credits. Video of More Balpan Ke Saathi Chhaila Bhool Jaiyo Na https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RvcNEVFrKE Towards the end of his career, Saigal did two movies with Suraiya, a leading singing star of the 1940s and early 50s - Tadbeer and Parwana, the latter released after his passing away. A love duet in Tadbeer with Suraiya that became popular was "Rani Khol Apne Dwar, Milne Ka Din Aa Gaya, Aa Gaya, Karle Naino Nain Do Char, Milne Ka Din Aa Gaya, Aa Gaya". In many of his songs, Naino or eyes have been used to express love. Audio of Rani Khol Apne Dwar, Milne Ka Din Aa Gaya https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-6cmNSzNdY
On 26th December 1946, Saigal, having completed Shahjehan and Parwana despite failing health, boarded the Frontier Mail to visit his hometown Jalandhar. On 18th January 1947, the legend passed away, but his songs continue to remain popular with the connoisseurs of music, young and old.   



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