O’ Tehmina

I’m a self-confessed lamenter of the good old days. I’m talking about the days when we physically picked up the phone to wish our friends a happy birthday or even showed up at their homes at midnight with cakes and candles. Times when we celebrated anniversaries by sending big variegated bouquets of flowers to our dearest. Monsoons in which we got dirty in the muck after a Sunday morning rugby game, and upon arrival at home, were stripped naked outside the house and marched straight into the bathroom. Occasions that we celebrated with the entire extended family, which, once upon a time, made no other plans on select days of the year and were committed to togetherness.


The sincerity with which we loved, the honesty with which we dealt our cards, the trust we had in others, the joys we derived from simple pleasures, the humility with which we spoke, the spontaneity with which we helped… while some may argue that these are still prevalent in today’s society, I believe that they existed in their quintessential form only in the generation before mine. We have so little time these days that we claim we don’t have time to deal with our lack of time. We have more and more ways to communicate but less and less to say.


If you’re on any one of these WhatsApp groups, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. One person will start with ‘happy birthday’ and the entire clan will follow with the exact same message or emojified variations of it. The person whose birthday it is will patiently wait till the end of the day to reply with a matter-of-fact ‘thank you everyone’. Occasionally, not surprisingly, he or she will mention ‘thanks all, but the hbd’s actually tomorrow’ and so the entire process repeats itself over the next 24 hours. In a community where each of us has two birthdays, this drama is exponentially exulted.


There is no doubt that technology has enhanced our lives in myriad ways, but the one thing that technology hasn’t perhaps given us is how to make the wisest use of technology. As Pico Iyer poignantly said, “The information revolution came without an instruction manual.” Our professors talk about how they had to sift thought volumes and volumes of books to be able to find answers to complex neurosurgical problems, when now, all of it is available at the touch of a button. Today, the battle is between information overload and the failure to filter it.


One of life’s simple realisations is that no matter how hard you push the envelope, it still remains stationary. No pun intended. Somewhere down the line, all of us have to complete the circle—to go back to the point where it all started. Today people are ironically paying thousands of rupees to holiday on mountaintops so that they may disconnect from email and their cell phone. Kids in schools abroad are taught to go on an Internet Sabbath to limit their onscreen time, and even those who work at Google disengage from all forms of connectivity over the weekends; apparently, they still get their best ideas while playing beach volleyball.


Relationships in the good old days too were different from what they are now. Perseverance and tolerance are at an all-time low. All of us want something more than what we have. Everyone is in this elusive quest for happiness, and self-help books have skyrocketing sales. We all try and find peace and solace from random quotes off the Internet that circulate by the dozen, giving us a false self of satisfaction. In this fast-paced world around us, some are trying hard to learn the art of sitting still. We all want the mind of a monk, but we are still living like monkeys.


For some strange reason, over the last few weeks, I have tried to recall a song from the tribute to Adi Marazban, Laughter in the House, where Bomi Dotiwala comes on stage searching for his Tehmina, who has left him and gone—a song he sang so soulfully, it brought tears to the eyes of the audience. I called him asking him for the words and he said he’d come and sing it for me, and in the next couple of hours he was there. Such was the magnanimity of the man, the humility of a stage artist and the passion for his craft.


When he serenades Tehmina in a voice that would make Frank Sintra bow low, yearning for her, he says, ‘Tehmina tu paachi aav, aapra ghere paachi aav, pagla tora tu lambav, em na mane tavlav. Gai gujri bhooli ja, paachi mori tha…’ it seems that he is not only longing for a love that’s lost but for the good old days that came with it. Tehmina, to me, is a metaphor for all things wonderful and glorious, all things pleasant and righteous. The melody in his craving personifies Tehmina to be the caretaker of his well-being when he croons, bringing it up to a crescendo—‘Leyse kaun mori jatan’—and then the fervent decrescendo—‘Seevse kaun mora botton?’ In a day and age where we order vegetables online and pay people to walk our pets, he mourns, ‘Aapru bajaar kaun lay awse, popat ne kaun khauravse?’


All of us today are in search of Tehmina or her representation. All of us believe we want to spend time with our loved ones, we want to make more meaningful conversations; we want to indulge in art, culture and music. We want to go out into the open and play. We want to take care of someone and we want to be taken care of. We want to have a purpose in life but are afraid we won’t be able to fulfil it. We want to give our best to our children but wonder what they’ll do to us in our old age. We want to be brave and yet kind. The question is whether we can do it. The answer to that is, we have to.


When Mary Hopkin sang her song, I believe that she too, like me, was missing the good old days. ‘Those were the days my friend/ We thought they’d never end/ We’d sing and dance forever and a day/ We’d live the life we choose/ We’d fight and never lose/ For we were young and sure to have our way…’


O’ Tehmina—kaai gai mane tu em chori, jigar moru kaai em tori!