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Discernment. Online

In Association with




Dekh Chaand Ki Or
(aka The Moon Tunes)

How do songs about the moon, such favourites in Hindi movies, fare in English translation? Try these


by Hrishi Dixit, U V Ravindra, and Surajit Bose


So, it is time to reawaken a dormant monster. It has been over four years since the Translator's Nightmare unleashed many a sleepless night on unsuspecting RMIMers, and noticing a certain aridity in the RMIM playground lately, we are pleased to prod this beast back to life with its sixth and latest edition. For a little background on this amusing but hair-pulling quiz, especially for those who came in late, check out the HISTORY section below.

The theme of this sixth instalment is, as suggested by the Shamshad song in the title (which made its way up there after several unsuccessful attempts to translate it elegantly), the moon. This heavenly being has been a perennial delight of poets and lyricists, especially in the HFM world. The gamut of personified roles ascribed to it is evidence of this - a romantic adversary, an eavesdropper, an innocent bystander, an interlocutor, a juror, a chaperone and probably the most popular one of all, a celestial messenger (to mention a few). So then, the theme of this quiz is to explore this fixation. All the songs in the quiz involve the moon in some way in their mukha.Daa, either in the backdrop or as a key player. The goal, of course, is to guess the song (and, for additional points, the movie - see the RULES section for the scoring algorithm).

Working on the quiz was an educational experience. We gleaned quite a few interesting factoids about the moon, its role in poetry, and the emotional implications of its phases. We also chanced upon slivers of ancillary data. For instance, it is the most pervasive allegory of beauty (no surprises there). And, Rajendra Krishan and Bharat Vyas loved the moon. And, there are very few words in English that rhyme elegantly with "moon" (boon, June, raccoon, typhoon, goon, loon, lampoon, balloon, Rangoon, telephoon) - in fact, the list is so limited that we were forced to recycle the marginally usable ones, like "tune". All in all, the extent to which the moon has permeated the lyrical aesthetic in HFM is quite profound and quite revealing.


Translator's Nightmares were originated by Abhay Phadnis back in mid-1998 as a new quiz in the RMIM arena. The idea was simple -- given (loose) English translations of the mukha.Daa you have to guess the original Hindi song. The series was launched with a couple of back-to-back Lata Mangeshkar nightmares, and was carried forward by three more, until early 1999. The last nightmare (#5) was hosted by Hrishi in Jan 99, and the series then went into a long hibernation. Until now.

Here are some links to past nightmares, to give you a flavor of the quiz:

TNQ 5: "THEY GO TOGETHER" by Hrishi Dixit

TNQ 4: "LITERARY LYRICISTS" by Abhay Phadnis

TNQ 3: "TALAT MAHMOOD" by Vijay Kumar K

TNQ 2: "LATA MANGESHKAR" by Abhay Phadnis

TNQ 1: "LATA MANGESHKAR" by Abhay Phadnis


The key point to remember in this quiz is that the translations are loose, following the maxim: Translate The Sentiment, Not The Words. In other words, attempting to map every word in the English version to a Hindi word won't be a very successful algorithm to decode the translations, since they do deviate a bit from the Hindi original. The hope was to imbue them with a certain poetic aesthetic and not make them sound like K C Kanda's translations of Ghalib. The sentiment, message, semantics of the original are, however, fully retained, which, combined with the subtextual and statistical clues, should furnish enough information to identify the original.

Here is an example:

He speaks to me, yon cloud-wrapped moon
Yes, I have heard it too
Wafts the breeze a new-born tune
Yes, I have heard it too

The moon vies for the affections of both parties in this soft, lovely duet from the mid 1950s, as the key players are engaged in their romantic game. A stellar offering from the CR-Rajendra Krishan pair, picturized engagingly on Meena Kumari and Ashok Kumar. The movie is a veritable CR treasure.

The answer, of course, is:

badalii me.n chhupe chaa.Nd ne kuchh mujhase kahaa hai
hamane bhii sunaa hai
gaatii huii ik giit nayaa aa_ii havaa hai
hamane bhii sunaa hai

Lata-Hemant Kumar / Shatranj (1957)

The quiz contains 25 songs in all, plus a tie-breaker at the end. Most songs selected are popular, well-known (atleast here on RMIM) and readily available, in the hope that the primary effort will be in de-translating the song, not burrowing through the Geet Koshes.

Now for the scoring mechanism and other rules:

1. The main goal, as stated earlier is to identify the song.
2. Correct identification of the song fetches 4 points.
3. Identifying the movie fetches an additional 2 points.
4. No points for identifying just the movie, of course.
5. The tie-breaker will not be included in the scoring UNLESS, of course, there is a tie.
6. No negative points for anything (except brickbats) (kidding)

To keep things fair, we'll score the quiz in two categories -- (a) the song (b) the song and the movie. There will be separate scores and separate winners in each category. Maximum possible score in the first category of course is 100, maximum in the second is 150. The minimum score in either category, suprisingly, is 0.

Finally, the first commandment of all RMIM quizzes applies here as well:

...So it was written, so it shall be done...

Email your responses to by Friday, March 28 2003


Here's a breakdown of the songs in the quiz, by type, decade, singer, composer and lyricist:

17 solos, 9 duets
40s (1940-49): 5
50s (1950-59): 7
60s (1960-69): 8
70s (1970-79): 2
80s (1980-89): 2
90s (1990-99): 2

Singer (including solos and duets):
Lata 9 (4 solos, 5 duets)
Rafi 6 (5 solos, 1 duet)
Mukesh 3 (2 solos, 1 duet)
Asha 2 (2 duets)
Mahendra K 2 (2 duets)
Hemant 1 (1 duet)
Geeta 1 (1 solo)
Suraiya 1 (1 duet)
Shyam 1 (1 duet)
Kishore 1 (1 solo)
Noorjehan 1 (1 solo)
KL Saigal 1 (1 solo)
Alka Yagnik 1 (1 duet)
Udit Narayan 1 (1 duet)
Arati Mukherji 1 (1 solo)
Hariharan 1 (1 duet)
Sadhana Sargam 1 (1 duet)
Yesudas 1 (1 solo)


C Ramchandra 3
R D Burman 3
S D Burman 1
Shankar Jaikishen 2
Kalyanji-Anandji 2
Naushad 2
Anil Biswas 1
Roshan 1
Ravi 1
Aroon Kumar 1
A R Rahman 1
Ghulam Haider 1
Hansraj Behl 1
Ismail Darbar 1
Jaidev 1
Khemchand Prakash 1
Madan Mohan 1
O P Nayyar 1
Hemant Kumar 1

Bharat Vyas 4
Anand Bakshi 3
Majrooh Sultanpuri 2
Sahir Ludhianvi 2
Shailendra 2
Javed Akhtar 2
S H Bihari 2
Shakeel Badayuni 2
Prem Dhawan 1
Rajendra Krishan 1
Hasrat Jaipuri 1
Mehboob 1
Mulk Raj Bhakri 1
Rahi Masoom Raza 1

And finally, before proceeding to the quiz, we would like to thank Abhay Phadnis, Balaji Murthy, Malini Kanth, and Richa Dubey for beta-testing the nightmare and providing very valuable feedback.


Voyage, o moon, yon to my love
This missive to him convey
No drop of peace mine heart doth have
Whilst thou art far away
The moon masquerades as a mailman here, as Lata's pristine late 40s voice yearns melodiously in ChhaayaanaT. This movie, in addition to being a masterpiece from a legendary composer who passed away two years later in 1950, also contains the first-ever duet sung by Lata and Kishore (the latter also figures in a bit role in the movie).
The moon shall sigh his restless sighs
Flowers shall their heartbeats claim
Your name alone shall fill the skies
When words are said in beauty's name

To us, the encomium in this song sounds a bit misplaced, directed as it is towards Mala Sinha from the one and only Jaanii. A restrained romantic statement from Mukesh, composed by Kalyanji-Anandji. Strangely enough, the film seems to consign the flowers to quite a different, charred fate than the one suggested in this song.

Bereft, she wails, of the moon far-gone
The partridge, weeping, dies forlorn

The moon and the partridge, just like the moth and the flame, are inseparably linked in lyric and lore. Here they make their first appearance in the quiz, in a sweet subdued Hansraj Behl melody from the late 40s, rendered in all its splendor by Lata in a movie that also, incidentally, is inseparably linked to said bird.

No pretext more need I to glance thy way
O what plenteous joy the sickle moon brings today!
A lovely Roshan tune rendered by Lata in an equally lovely moonlit night setting (much unlike other, moister nights in the movie). This exuberant ditty, heralding the moon as the harbinger of a newfound happiness, sadly marks the last few happy moments for the character in the movie, who only a little later finds herself at the wrong vertex of a romantic triangle. One of Roshan's most successful efforts, containing several instances of what was considered one of his fortes.

Lose sight of him, o moon, pray not
Wher'er his road take thee
One which of his comfort speaks
That sweet word bring to me

Two illustrious singing siblings severally implore the moon to keep a watchful eye over their beloved. Another supreme song by CR, and another interesting job for the moon to do here - a chaperone for a loved one.

My heart's the moon, you are its light
How, then, can you flee my sight?
To this very place, return you must;
Futile is all your wanderlust.

Despite his late late voice, Rafi is by no means lesser than any of his contemporaries, as he renders this RD Burman tune from a 70s effort starring Rishi Kapoor. The movie featured at least one other mellow and popular Rafi solo. On another note, we believe David Dhawan pilfered the name of the original Nasir Hussain movie last year.

O what says he, yon silent moon
in furtive sign and clue
Mayhap says he, yon silent moon
that I belong to you

We'll wager that this will be an easy song to guess, considering it is one of Hemantda and Lata's loveliest duets. A very populous, precious and rather moon-friendly soundtrack; featuring, as it does, at least one other tandem moon tune in the voices of Hemantda and Geeta.

O moon, in a moment stolen from thy nightly gaze
with a thousand words of love, shall I him embrace

Perhaps one of the most endearing roles ascribed to the moon - an invader of privacy for two star-crossed lovers. Beautiful song and setting from what is probably one of the most celebrated movies from the violin banner of lower Chembur, set in an exquisitely appropriate (and stereotypically romantic) setting - moonlit night, lake, etc. This somewhat massaged translation synoptically captures the sentiment of the original.

Ne'er did I of a beloved dream
As beauteous as a moonlit beam;
How perfect now you seem to me
As lovely as I thought you'd be

The moon's almost ubiquitous persona to date has been, of course, as a yardstick of beauty. This translation, though deviating e'er-so slightly from the original lyric, exemplifies this role. A sweet but somewhat infantile tune from Kalyanji Anandji, sung by Mukesh. At some foothills, possibly?

A halfling the moon; 'tis the midst of the night
Such a tale unfinished be not our plight!

The melody of this tune infuses a novel color into the already vivid setting of a moonlit night. Lovely duet penned by Bharat Vyas and rendered in all its incumbent softness by Asha and Mahendra Kapoor. The quiz would truly be half-complete without the inclusion of this song.

What cloud dost thou lie sheltered by?
O moon unseen pray grace the sky
And mingle with the stars that art
but pieces of my broken heart

Noor Jehan implores the moon to come and comfort her, in the notes of an incomparable Ghulam Haider tune. A gorgeous melody from the early 40s, one that was probably quite a household song around then.
O friend, the moon walks alone, pray tell me why;
O friend, he's on his own, and fearful am I.

Yesudas finds his emotions and trepidations echoed in the loneliness of the moon (interspersed with highly amusing courtroom jargon in spoken word) in this soft, classically oriented Jaidev tune from the late 70s. The movie, starring the Big B in one of his anti-stereo- typical personas, and centered largely around justice, confrontation and music, is based on a story by Harindranath Chattopadhyay.

'Tis the same moon, the same stars, the same parterre
Why then, o why, lies my heart yet in despair?

It's quite amazing how this tune floats in soft, resigned dolor! A large part of it definitely has to do with Geeta's wonderful rendition, from this early 50s Ashok Kumar production. This is quite a lovely, delicate movie with Meena Kumari in the titular role, and a precious musical trove that boasts, among others, an immensely charming Asha chorus number.

Said I to the moon, "Hast thou seen
Beauty, like my beloved's, another?"
Quoth the moon, "By my moonlit beam!
No, not one, er ... nada!"

That irreverently facetious translation does justice to this RDB tune, as Rafi invokes the opinion of the moon about his beloved (the character's, of course, not Rafi's), a subtle reference to the now firmly established role of the moon as a metric of human beauty.

Tread light, o moon, in the nightly sky
Lest the night depart, and sweet dreams die

With nightly liaisons like these, the pair obviously does not believe in arranged marriage :-). A zippy, fast-paced and somewhat stridently orchestrated Rafi-Lata duet composed by Shankar Jaikishen.

The full moon thou art, or the sun, for sure
Nonpareil indeed is thy peerless allure

The moon's role as the embodiment of beauty is epitomized in this gorgeous and immensely popular song from an eponymous movie, one that proved to be one of the brightest spots in the oeuvre of composer Ravi. One of Rafi's best renditions, in an exquisitely commensurate picturization with one of Bollywood's legendary, mystique-laden star pairs.

O moon, to this earth, do sometime descend
We shall sit and confabulate, my friend

We take a leap into the much-musically-maligned 90s with this ARR- composed duet in the voices of Sadhana Sargam and Hariharan, as they invite our heavenly confidante to join them on earth. Lofty dreams, we must say :-)

The moon's gone lost, lost in the open skies
And nary a wisp of sleep shall grace our eyes

Lots of trees, lots of echoing calls, lots of fast walking on our hero's part (while the heroine looks on in restrained amusement), and we have one famously popular moon tune. SD Burman takes the credit for composing this Rafi number, another instance of his long associa- tion with this film's banner (with whom our hero is inextricably linked as well). The two lines of the translation summarize three lines of the original mukhadaa, in a somewhat synoptic way.

Soft, o moon, sink soft and slow tonight
This sweet night that drifts today
Tomorrow may not pass this way
Soft, o moon, sink soft and slow tonight

A beautiful Anil Biswas lullaby, beseeching the moon to stay and preserve the night in the words of Bharat Vyas, as our hero, fresh from a hand-to-hand (rather hand-to-paw) combat with a lion, tries to go to sleep. One of Anilda's later efforts, from a historical movie that was partially funded by the government of Thailand, if memory serves right.

This face, so like the moon aglow
And golden tresses all aflow
These eyes, oh, like a lake azure
A myst'ry they conceal, for sure
I find no words of praise, I'm awed!
How shall I Him that made thee, laud?

Shot on a lake whose waters were once as blue as the eyes being mentioned, in a land that was once paradise on earth, this Rafi song has the hero gushing forth about the heroine's physical beauty like so many firemen's hoses. This was the Hindi film debut of the nubile nymphet whose physical attributes are being "tag over"ed with all those superlatives. Aided and abetted by a Rafi a-rockin' and an Asha a-sizzle, OPN's music for this film has endured for almost 4 decades with nary a sign of waning.

I am thy moonlight. Thou, my moon.
Of thy sweet song I am the tune
This that tugs at our hearts tonight
'Tis true love, not fancy's flight

Quite a mutual admiration society here, in this romantic crooner from the late 40s, with Suraiya and Shyam serenading each other in Naushad's notes. A warm, symmetric and oft-hummed tune, the words of which circumscribe the name of the movie.

Endless sorrows upon me wrought,
Gave my fragile heart no thought,
Fie! Fie upon this diabolical world
Ev'ry wound's afire, aglow,
Bespeak of this, o new moon, go
Fie! Fie upon this diabolical world

Ah, the golden voice that was silenced, at its peak, so cruelly by the bottle. In the throes of heartbreak, it implores the moon to speak of its agony at the hands of the cruel world. This period piece was the crowning glory of this musical giant who ruled the film world for a good part of two decades, inspiring a whole pantheon of singers who strove to imitate him.

With this honeyed breeze fill your breath tonight
Gaze at the moon, and bathe in its light.

One of the best collaborative efforts from Lata and Mahendra Kapoor, this CR tune wafts softly in the same honeyed breeze it talks about. A beautifully written pure Hindi piece, from one of the later films from the Rajkamal banner, featuring Shantaram himself, along with atleast two other women in his life.

The moon hath hidden in the clouds his face
Come hither, my darling, let us embrace

A turn-of-the-century duet composed by Ismail Darbar, and sung by two of the most popular singers of the 90s. This movie, featuring (among other things) a legendary siren of the golden era in a significantly mellower cameo, was undoubtedly one of the better musical offerings to come out of this period.

Is it thy face, or the moon shining bright?
Thine dark tresses, or the harbinger of night?
O ye with eyes like the ocean blue
Prithee, what should I call you?

And again in closing, the moon shines in its favorite allegory. Kishore admires this specimen of unabashed pulchritude in a movie earmarked as a comeback vehicle for the star pair, with a third vertex thrown in for effect. Somewhere in the song nestles the name of the movie too.


Nestles in the silent skies
the moon, subdued and soft
In sweet embrace of slumber's bliss
does a somnolent land waft

No translation can do justice to the hallowed pen of Sahir, as he paints the soulful picture of a sad, silent night. One of Lata's best efforts for her Madan Bhaiyya, this soft melody is missing from the movie itself. A movie that seems to convey, in a sense, a journey of sorts?


Check out the Lata quiz here

Published on 18 March 2003

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