Sunday, September 25, 2005

My name is Gauharjaan...

Well, of course it isn't. I suppose the desire to be a uni-browed turn-of-the-century (the last one, not this one) courtesan in colonial Calcutta is not that odd, or that implausible. Beats being a graduate student in the twenty-first century pretty easily. I would, it seems, have had many lovers (okay, that's not so different), no lasting romantic attachments (also not that different) but also fame, fortune, and an important place in the annals of the history of recorded sound in India....

But I digress. On one of my recent peregrinations through, I found that they'd uploaded a bunch of very early Bangla recordings which, it appears, have recently been remastered by HMV as part of a series they've released to commemorate 100 years of recorded music in India. One of the most charming (and I can't think at this point of a better word) is what must be one of the very first audio recordings ever to be made in India, in which Gauharjaan Kalkattewali sings 'Phanki Diye Praner Pakhi' - a tappa of sorts, I suppose. Charming, more than anything else, because she claims authorship (in English, at that) of the recording by saying 'My name is Gauharjaan. This is bengali song. Hear my song!'.

I've come across the practice of saying one's name at the end of a recording once or twice earlier, when listening to some old recordings that my grandfather had. One, if I recall correctly, was a thumri at the end of which the singer matter-of-factly announces her name, which is Zohrabai Agrewali. (Apparently there was also a famous Zohrabai Ambalewali, hence the importance of the distinction). It's interesting that the idea of authorship was so important to singers from the outset: I have often assumed that it came later, with royalties and associated financial issues (I doubt very much that Gauharjaan made any or much money from the recording, which HMV is still flogging a hundred years on). Yet it must have been an issue, if not a financial one, from the beginning of recorded sound. 'How do I ensure people know this is me?' cannot have been much of a question when the only performances were live, but it's fascinating that singers caught on to its importance as soon as they came into contact with the new technology of recording. In some ways, they were much smarter than subsequent generations of singers, who trusted studios to attribute authorship correctly: there have been so many disputes about exactly who sang a particular song in a movie. On a different note, think of the whole dispute over who spoke Kirron Kher's lines in Bariwali: Rituporno claimed it was the actress, but it appears that a Bengali actress may have dubbed for her, but has not been given credit. I don't suppose she could have said her name after each line, cinema being the medium that it is...

Perhaps, then, I ought not to have been surprised that the apparently canny Gauharjaan was clever enough to pre-empt any such issues arising with her recording: certainly, I doubt very much that we'd know today whose voice that was unless she had bothered to tell us, in no uncertain terms, that her name was Gauharjaan. But I'm still charmed. More than the crackliness of the recording, the matter-of-factness of her phrasing, the tendency of the recording technology of the time to make her sound higher-pitched than she must have been (only in the elaborate taan-kari does the true quality of the voice shine through), it was those words at the end that made listening to the piece feel uncannily like time-travel.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Limericks: The Planets

So several friends of mine and I (but mainly one friend) have been amusing ourselves by writing limericks about the solar system. Dirty limericks, I might add. Some of them are truly works of genius (and I can say this without embarrassment because those are the ones I didn't write) so here they are.

1. The thoughtless young man on Mercury
Distressed his damsel demure, he
When the tip of his whip
Took a sip of her lip
It would spill out a can of his puree.

2. There was once a young man from Venus
Who had a very, very, very long penis.
He stuck it in a pond
And the fish clung on
To the penis of the man from Venus.

3. The most jaded soprano on this Earth
Not a man to bestraddle her big girth
Then a rhino forlorn
Rode her with his horn
And she squealed out her musical rebirth.

4. There was a doddering old man on mars
Who masturbated into the stars.
His wife went insane
When those drops of white rain
Streamed into her lime pickle jars.

5. The president who reigned over Jupiter
Stuck a cigar in a girl and then lit her
When they tried to impeach
They all heard him preach
That for sex, he'd have used his transmitter.

6. Life is pretty damn hard on Saturn.
There's never a predictable pattern.
Some days there are tits
Growing out of armpits
And on other days it's best to keep your hat on.

7. The men who loved men on Uranus
Soon tired of the talk of "your anus"
What is sexuality
But a free cavity?
So they learnt how to fuck with vaginas.

8. A nightclub once dwelled on Neptune
The best of its kind that side of the Moon
It had strippers and poles
Stuck inside their holes
And they blew out of those the most glorious tune.

9. The cranky young skank who ruled Pluto
Would trample all men underfoot, oh!
With the stock in her dock
And boy, could she suck cock
(But only when wrapped in prosciutto).

And apparently there's now a new planet called Sedna, so...

10. a randy man travelled to sedna and said,
all this talk of planets is hurting my head
so he went and he fucked
with his shirttails untucked
and found his balls hurting instead.