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Pikchar With Rita: Mili and the Tender Ode to Longing and Missing

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In my mother tongue Sindhi, the word sik is very special. It is longing, missing, remembering but avoids the temporality of the past or present.

Sik lagi aahe yaar jee, mohab mithe mann thaar je – would mean I want to be with; but also, I am thinking of the moments I have been with the yaar (god/human) and so on. The definite absence of the object of memory implied in ‘missing’  is missing, so to speak.

Some film songs create sik but use the word yaad, and the one that comes to mind is aaye tum yaad mujhe, gaane lagi har dhadkhan from the film Mili (1975) directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Sung superbly by Kishore Kumar to the music directed by SD Burman, the song is both a visual and aural treat. A pensive-looking, kurta pyjama– wearing Shekhar (played by Amitabh Bachchan) expresses, for once, a state of affection and tenderness to a neighbour who lives one floor below.

Mili (played by Jaya Bachchan) is not exactly the neighbour that I would first warm up to; she is an all-over-the-place neighbour. The one that barges into your life and home; and by being so gregarious makes you feel anti-social.

However, troubled souls are sometimes healed by simple means of being drawn out; of made to step out of self for a little while and appreciate little things. In a pesky neighbourhood, where everyone is supposed to like everyone, and lives bleed into each other, intruding, enriching, healing and hindering, an anti-social person draws much attention. Shekhar is angry all the time, with the world apparently, but really speaking with his self. Mili intuitively knows this and makes no fuss of a past that haunts him and creates this anger, except to draw his attention to what he might be able to give- a space to let children play and a telescopic view into the sky.

The relationship remains far from romantic, it builds just enough to have trust when Mili, who suffers from a terminal illness, falls seriously ill. The neighbourhood that hummed with activity has gone silent and a private man’s longing and love is made public while he sings in his house. Strange mixture this is of love that does not get spoken or heard in conversation, but finds its expression in verse and music, and one that is available for everyone to hear.

The words of this song do not particularly stand out for their lyrics; except that some of us would know when a literal and metaphoric reference has come together in a line such as jab mein raaton mein tare ginta hun, aur tere kadmon ki aahat sunta hun (when I count stars at night, and hear your approaching footsteps)- it is both the lover’s longing at night who gazes at the star-studded sky and fantasises the motion, but it is also the narrative link that makes this song integral to the story.

Shekhar had a telescope in his house and in showing Mili how to gaze at the stars; he opens up to the daily joys of meeting her and finding promise of life in her face. With Jaya Bhaduri (then) and Amitabh Bachchan in the lead roles, the film is often clubbed with Abhimaan, about the on-screen and off-screen couple, of which one  would retreat into the shadows of the other.

While the film has receded in significance for most, the song has lasted as a tender ode to both memory and promise from someone who lay closer to death than life. It is this dual element of something not being there; but infusing the present and the future by its promise that sik contains. I translate the affect of this song in my language and therefore the refrain aaye tum yaad mujhe.. brings for me associations of not yaad, but sik, a moment both over and waiting.

After all, songs are not about themselves alone, they are often about us.

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