The fundas of Yugadi – and Chaitra Navaratri.

Death of Krishna. Public domain image from Wikipedia.


The Indian calendar can be baffling to many people.

The significant difference between the Indian calendar and the Western calendar (or the Gregorian calendar)  is that our calendar follows the phases of the moon. The Western calendar follows the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.

That is why Indian festivals seem to fall on different days each year, with reference to the Gregorian calendar.

In the Indian calendar, there are certain days that are especially important, since they mark epochal events in Indian history.

The death of Krishna marks the end of an era. Kaliyuga, the age of Evil, began from the moment of Krishna’s death, and according to the scriptures that day was during end-March in 3102 BC. Hence, this day is called Yugadhi, the first day of an Era.

Yugadhi also marks the beginning of a new year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar that calculates the passage of each year based on the Earth’s annual revolution around the Sun, the Indian calendar is based on the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. As these two planets move through the heavens, they seem to transit across the twelve Zodiac constellations, starting with the constellation of Aries (Mesha rashi). Jupiter takes one year to move from one Zodiac constellation to the next and therefore takes twelve years to complete one round of the Zodiac. Saturn takes thirty years to complete one round. And once in sixty years, both planets wind up at the starting point, i.e. Mesha rashi, at the same time.

Hence, the Indian calendar follows a cycle of sixty years. Each year is called a Samavatsara and is assigned a specific name, like in the Chinese calendar. Last year was Hevilambi Samavatsara, and it began on March 28, 2017.

The 32nd year in the cycle begins today, i.e., March 18, 2018. The new year is named Vilambi. This is not predicted to be a good year!

Yugadhi falls on the first day of the first half of the first month in the Hindu calendar, i.e. the month of Chaitra. The official Indian calendar, that was adopted by India on March 22, 1957, and starts from that day, is based on the Shalivahana Saka.


Shalivahana, also known as Gautamiputra Satakarni, was a mighty king from the Satavahana dynasty, that ruled much of South India for about four hundred years, from 230 BC to 220 AD.

Shalivahana was the greatest of them, and the date of his coronation is the beginning of Shalivahana Saka. This was during the year 78 AD. The month of Chaitra is reckoned from that date.

Therefore, the Indian national calendar officially began on Chaitra 1, 1879 (Saka era) i.e. March 22, 1957 (Gregorian era).

And therefore today, March 18, 2018 is Yugadhi, Prathami (first day), Shukla Paskha (Bright half), Chaitra (first month of the year), Vilambi naama Samvatsara, Shalivahana Saka 1940, Kaliyuga (age of Kali).

Also, Chaitra Navaratri starts on this day.  This nine-day festival is dedicated to the goddess Durga, just like the Navaratri festival we celebrate during October each year.

The ninth day of Chaitra Navaratri is Rama’s birthday, i.e, Rama Navami, hence it is also known as Rama Navaratri.

Happy Yugadhi everyone!

Cheers … Srini.


Monkeys farting from the ceiling …

When a reporter visited him for an interview, he took her to his garden and introduced her to each of his friends, Janardhan, Raghunandan, Gangadhar, Jagannath, Budhuram and Jhatpatjhatpat-jhatpat. Problem was, all these ‘friends’ were trees in his garden.

And then he took her to his bedroom, to meet some more of his ‘friends’ –  a collection of human skulls.

During a hilarious interview in 1985 with Pritish Nandy for the now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India, he spoke about the famous interior decorator whom he had called to his home. He told the decorator to design a moat in his living room instead of a sofa, live crows hanging from the walls instead of paintings, and instead of an air-conditioner, he wanted ‘monkeys farting from the ceiling‘. The decorator ran for his life.

He hung a huge notice board outside his house that read, “This is a lunatic asylum.”

When a producer paid him only half his promised fee, he turned up for shooting with half his head and moustache shaved off, and told him, “Aadha paisa, tho aadha make-up.”

He would turn up for song recordings in an old lungi, and refuse to start singing until his secretary called him up to confirm that he had received his payment from the producer. Once, when he did not receive that call, he called up his secretary, and asked him if his payment for the movie had been received. “But Sir, it is your own movie, and you are the producer”,  the secretary told him. “So what?”, was the retort.

A film director got a court order against him, for refusing to listen to him on the sets. The next day, the director forgot to say ‘Cut’ after a car chase scene, and so he continued driving for 100 kilometers more, right upto Khandala!

Only one man could get away with behaviour like that, and still be one of the highest paid stars in Bollywood.

Wild, wacky, unpredictable and uniquely gifted, Abhas Kumar Kanjilal Ganguly, or Kishore Kumar Khandwewallah as he called himself, was quite simply one of a kind. There never was another like him, and never will be.

Today, August 4th, is his birthday.

Kishore Kumar started out to be a hero, like his elder brother Ashok Kumar. He had no intention of being a playback singer. He was a huge fan of KL Saigal. One day, he was loudly singing a Saigal song in his bathroom, and was overheard by SD Burman. Burman had come to visit Ashok Kumar and he was impressed by Kishore Kumar’s singing. He took Kishore under his wing and trained him in the art of playback singing.

Kishore Kumar was the only leading playback singer of his time who never had formal classical training. That didn’t come in the way of his becoming an all-time great in Indian cinema.

From his film debut in 1948 till his sudden death in October 1987, Kishore Kumar excelled in every sphere – he was a hero, comedian, singer, music director, composer, lyricist, film maker and producer. His versatility as a film maker was amazing.  On one hand, he made badtki naamzany movies like Chalti Naam Gaadi and Badti ka Naam Daadi, that had audiences rolling on the floors. On the other, he made serious and thought-provoking movies like Door gagan ki chaaon mein and Door ka rahi, that were acclaimed by film critics. The last movie he made, Door wadiyon mein kahin, did not have a single song in it.

As controversial as he was in his public life, he was equally unconventional in his personal life. He was unabashed about the fact that he married four times. His first wife, Ruma Ghosh, was a famous playback singer and leading actress of her time. So was his second wife, the beautiful Madhubala, who died due to a hole in her heart. Yogita Bali, his third wife, was a well-known actress too.

She left him after a brief marriage, allegedly since she could not stand his habit of sitting awake each night and counting his money! Leena Chandavarkar, another beautiful actress of the nineteen-sixties and seventies was his fourth wife, and remained his wife until his death.


For all his weird behaviour and eccentricity, Kishore Kumar was a political activist in his own right. He stood up against the government during the Emergency, by refusing to sing at a political function. As a result, he was banned from All India Radio and TV for two years, but Kishore Kumar didn’t bother. After the Emergency was lifted in 1977, he promptly bounced back.

His sudden death on October 13, 1987 due to a massive cardiac arrest came as a total shock to everyone. Kishore Kumar was cremated in Khandwa, his native village.

For die-hard fans like me, Kishore Kumar will never die. Along with Mohammad Rafi, he is one of the immortals of Indian cinema.

Enjoy this rare song from Half-Ticket (1961), a freaked-out comedy that was typical of Kishore Kumar. I think this is the only song of its kind in Indian cinema. This is a male-female duet in which both parts are sung by the same singer! Who else but a mad genius like Kishore Kumar could perform a duet like this?

Yoodleyoo, Kishoreda!

Cheers … Srini.

Queen of the Nautch Girls …

There was a time in Bollywood when crazed fans would wait for hours to buy a ticket, not to see the hero or heroine of the movie – but to see the vamp! And she was not just any vamp. One five-minute cabaret number by her was enough to guarantee a movie’s success.

When ‘Caravan’ was released in 1970 with an Adults only rating, I was too young to be allowed into the theater. I had to wait fourteen long years for Caravan to be re-run in 1984, at Rupam Talkies, Sion. And fourteen years later, I still couldn’t enter the theater, because of the huge crowd! I paid the princely sum of Rs 20/- for a black ticket, just to see her famous cabaret number, ‘Monica, o my darling‘. And boy, she was worth waiting fourteen years for.

Such was the allure of Helen Jairaj Richardson. She was sensuous without being sleazy, voluptuous without being vulgar, erotic but not obscene, and she brought grace to a much-maligned dance form in Indian cinema, the cabaret.

Born to an Anglo-Indian father and a Burmese mother, Helen’s family migrated to Bombay in the early 1940’s to escape World War 2. At the young age of 13, she was obliged to drop out of school and look for work. Helen was trained in Kathak and so her friend Cuckoo took charge of her career and got her a job as a chorus dancer.

Helen made her debut in 1951, at an age when other girls were still playing with dolls. She appeared in several songs as a chorus dancer, and did some dance numbers with her friend and mentor Cuckoo. Helen got her big solo break in Howrah Bridge in 1957, with the mega-hit item number, ‘Mera naam Chinchin choo‘.chinchinchu

After that, Helen did not look back, as she rapidly became the top dancer of her time. Her dancing skills were not restricted to skimpy cabaret numbers alone. She shone in classical dance numbers too, as in ‘Tora man bada paapi’, from the movie Ganga Jumna.

It was an era of rigid social mores in India, as the country still had a strong hangover from the British Raj. The heroine in Indian cinema was typically portrayed as a Bharatiya naari, a nice and homely type, who would be happy to cook and wash clothes and wait patiently for her hero to come home. The heroine would never do anything ‘bad’ like smoking, drinking, driving a car, wearing T-shirts and trousers (although ultra-tight salwars and wet sarees were allowed), or worst of all, dancing in public with other men. That was the role of the vamp.

Helen’s westernised looks made her an automatic choice for these roles, since only ‘western’ women were like ‘that’. Unfortunately, Helen got typecast in these roles. She usually was the ‘other’ woman in many movies of the sixties and seventies, the dancing vamp with the golden heart and an Anglo name like Monica or Susie, who’s madly in love with the hero, but gets rejected by him since she is not a ‘Hindustani’ ladki, and she conveniently dies at the climax of the movie so that the hero and heroine can live happily ever after.


Even so, Helen could steal the show from the lead heroine, as she did in films like Teesri Manzil, Woh kaun thi, Caravan, Gumnaam, Mere Jeevan Sathi, and Inkaar (in which her single item number ‘Mungla, mungla‘ made the movie a silver jubilee hit).

Helen is not only the best item girl ever, but she has had the longest career as well. She began at the age of 13 and when she finally retired as a cabaret artiste she was close to her fiftieth birthday. Her sizzling cabaret numbers in Sholay (1975), Inkaar (1978) and Don (1978) were all performed when she was in her late thirties and early forties.

I’d say her best cabaret number was ‘Yeh mera dil‘ in Don. Helen was forty at the time, and still set the screen on fire. In comparison, Kareena Kapoor’s remixed version of the same number in SRK’s 2006 remake of Don was anemic.

After an incredible thirty year career, Helen finally retired as a dance artiste in 1984, but then went on to shine in character roles in modern films like Khamoshi and Mohabbatein.

Merchant-Ivory made a long documentary called “Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls”, and film journalist Jerry Pinto wrote an award winning book on her life, “Helen -The life and times of an H-bomb”.

Here’s to Helen!


Cheers … Srini.