Categories: My Voice

Guest Author


By Dr. Lakshman O. Rao

I have been thinking of writing a book for the past 10 years. I’m not trying for a New York Times bestseller – just a simple story of my journey from India to the United States. I want to write an account of events of my life from the past 50 years, meant for my grandchildren. I am not a writer; I have never published anything besides my PhD thesis and a few research papers many moons ago.

I started this project while I was working full time at an 8-to-5 job. At the end of the day, I would stay in my office and type a couple of paragraphs. I am not good at typing either and would type with one finger from each hand. My writing stopped as soon as I retired from my job; there is no quiet office in my home. When I was working, there used to be 24 hours in a day. Now I feel like there are only 12. I don’t know what happened to the other 12. That is another excuse for not writing. I hit a writer’s mountain, not just writer’s block.

Just recently, someone sent me a recording on WhatsApp of top songs from the beloved Indian radio show “Binaca Geetmala” that aired from 1954-1979. I don’t think any Indian aged 60 to 90 has not heard of host Ameen Sayani (who sadly passed away recently) and his radio program. Every Wednesday night, people would gather around and listen to wonderful songs. At the end of the year, he would play top songs and select the top song of the year.

As I was listening, each song took me back down memory lane – the situations I was in, people I lived with. These came back like a movie reel. This energized the writer in me again after several years.

The year 1954 was a sorrowful year in my life and hearing the song “Jayen to Jayen Kaha” brought tears to my eyes. I could sort my feelings out better now as a 76-year-old man than as a 7-year-old boy, who had just lost his mother. The wonderful commentary by Ameen Sayani brought back memories – good, bad and all.

In my fourth-grade class, I used to have a math teacher who would hum “Ye Zindagi Usiki Hai” while we were working on our math problems. In those days, we had to memorize multiplication tables and recite them whenever he asked us. If you made a mistake, he would put a pencil between your fingers and squeeze. It was painful. This song brought back that memory and then another. Several years later, in a math class in the U.S., the professor was writing out a problem on the board. He was trying to multiply 16 times 8 and started working on the calculation. I suddenly shouted “128” in that quiet class of 30 students. The professor looked up. I didn’t know if he was impressed or annoyed, but I felt proud, and thought of my fourth-grade math teacher and thanked him. People who grew up in the Hyderabad state in the 1950s would know 12-tables and 16-tables fluently; there was a good reason for that.

Another song “Zindagi Bhar” brought the memory of my high school classmate. He was a wonderful singer. We used to call him “Zindagi Bhar,” even though he would sing many other songs. I can still vividly recollect his face and his voice. Another song from the movie Dosti, titled “Mere Dosti Mere Pyar” reminded me of my college friend, who too was a wonderful singer. If there was Indian Idol in those days, I’m sure both of my friends would have been selected.

The song “Savan Ka Mahina” reminded me of its Telugu version of the movie Mooga Manasulu. This movie and Lava Kusha are the only movies I have ever seen three times in the movie theater. The song “Mere Manki Ganga” from the movie Sangam brought another wonderful memory. This movie was played in Dilshad Talkies in Hyderabad. This was a four-hour movie, with two intermissions. A good friend of mine from childhood took me to this movie, and we saw many others in Hyderabad in the 1960s and 1970s with many top songs played on the Geetmala program. After 60 years of friendship, we have drifted apart. I guess friendships come with an expiration date.

Another song “Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Me” reminds me of one of my cousins. She would sing this song very well. Now she sings lullabies to her grandchildren.

Wonderful songs, great writers, singers, music directors brought back all these memories. I can also recollect some of the actors’ faces like Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, and Shammi Kapoor. They were all different with their distinct mannerisms in their characters.

I cannot recognize any of the actresses, except Nutan, Meenakumari and Vyjaynthimala. All the others look alike to me. Maybe that is what happens when you are 76 (my wife does not mind!).

Putting it all together, all those songs brought back wonderful memories that I can use in my book. On the day I got the WhatsApp message and heard this program, I was kind of sick. I went to bed, but could not sleep, tossing and turning for about four or five hours. Those memories were going through my mind like a movie reel. If there was a probe to connect my brain to a computer, it could have become a 200-page book, possibly a New York Times bestseller.

Maybe when artificial intelligence becomes available to the common man like me, one can put down all their thoughts and publish several books.

My uncle, a retired botany professor, published several books of stories, his travels, and biographies in his retirement. He always says whatever thoughts are in your mind, just put them on paper. Another niece of mine, a prolific writer, says “Mammaya, you don’t have to have a sequence. Put your thoughts as they come. You can edit later.” So, my writer’s block (mountain) slowly moved away with the help of “Binaca Geetmala.”

Over the years, we studied history of kings, queens, presidents, and viceroys. How are they useful to us? Your own story is important for your grandchildren. Even 50 years from now, we are always called Indian Americans – never just American, never just Indian. Our future generations need to know the Indian part of their heritage.

So, friends of my league, listen to “Binaca Geetmala” and bring back all those memories. Put it on paper. Include a family tree with it. Every one of us who came to this country years and years ago has a story to tell. Tell the stories to your grandchildren.

Dr. Lakshman O. Rao. is retired from SC state government and lives in Columbia, SC. He is currently serving as a Secretary of the board of trustees of Sri Dasavathara Venkateswara Temple in Columbia. Contact: [email protected]