We loved the song, and had eagerly been waiting for it. And, luckily for us, it played in the first half of the film. The Delhi movie hall where we were watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , back in the late ’70s, had its own rules when it came to show timings. An English film playing there would be lopped off if it came in the way of the Hindi film being screened next.
So, as it happened, we never got to see the end of the film. We heard later that a lot of people died, but, hey, the song was there all right. Raindrops keep falling on my head , mouthed Paul Newman, on a bicycle with Katharine Ross. And we, a bunch of moony schoolgirls, sang along with him.
We used to burst into this song every time it rained. For one, despite the gloomy lyrics ( Just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed/ Nothing seems to fit ), the tune was uplifting. And, two, we anyway knew only a few Western pop songs that celebrated thundershowers. Rain, when it did figure in a song, was usually a metaphor for sorrow.
Unlike the poetry-winged words that welcomed a dark cloud promising heavy showers in Hindi film songs, rain was a true dampener in many of the English songs we grew up on. Even when they mentioned rain, the Western melodies had little to do with it. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen The Rain? was said to have been about the Vietnam War, though band leader John Fogerty later said it referred to a bad time in their musical career. Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain was believed to have been a reference to acid rain, but Dylan, even decades before he got the Nobel, prudently disclaimed that. And this is what Prince had to say about Purple Rain : “(It) pertains to the end of the world”.
There were, of course, a few who did enjoy rain. Julie Andrews’s My favourite things and Gene Kelly’s joyous I’m singin’ in the rain come to mind. But rain was seldom the lead player in a song — there was nothing like Salil Chowdhury’s lyrical O sajna barkha bahaar aayi (Dear beloved, the rain is here...) or SD Burman’s Rimjhim key taraney liye aayi barsaat (Here comes the rain with musical showers).
When rain did find a place in a Western composition, it mostly kindled memories of an old love. Take Simon & Garfunkel’s Kathy’s Song :
I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls...
A jaunty choral song called A walk in the spring rain recalled a brief interlude. And James Taylor, in his honey-tinged voice, lamented:
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain...
But I always thought I’d see you again...
Even in a lilting song by a group called The Cascades, it spelled bad news — the singer’s lover had left:
Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain,
Telling me just what a fool I’ve been
I wish that it would go and let me cry in vain
And let me be alone again...
That the rain was not much of a muse in the pop songs we grew up on is not really surprising: In colder climes it was not a weather pattern that people looked forward to.
In India, on the other hand, in most parts the rain came after a season of sweltering heat, and dark clouds or a wild cascade denoted a wide spectrum of emotions from love and sorrow to desire and separation. Outside the world of cinema, it figured in monsoon raags, folk music and indie pop. Remember Shubha Mudgal’s foot-tapping Ab ke saawan ?
Unlike her, few among Western composers or singers serenaded rain. Karen Carpenter had a problem with rainy days and Mondays — always got her down, she complained. The Beatles’ Rain was nothing much to write home about. John Lennon thought so, too. “It’s about people moaning about the weather all the time,” he’d said. Years later, Adele sang that she’d set fire to the rain, and watched it burn.
The one song that had rain as its main motif — Jose Feliciano’s Rain — had a curious refrain, taken from a nursery rhyme published in The Little Mother Goose in 1912.
The old man is snoring (It went),
He bumped his head and went to bed,
And couldn’t get up in the morning.
The last line, it was later explained, referred to a senior citizen’s sudden death, possibly from a head injury. Nice stuff for a nursery rhyme, but then that’s another story.
I suppose a child’s rhyme paves the way for the adult’s song. Little tots in the West grew up reciting Rain, rain go away . Indian children’s verse, on the other hand, happily embraced rain. I remember two Bengali poems from my childhood — Britshti porey tapur tupur (the rain falls, pitter patter) and Aay brishti jhepey (Come, storm us, rain).
Speaking of poetry, there’s an Urdu couplet that romantics mouth every time it pours. Why should I call him, it goes. Doesn’t he know it’s the first rain of the season?
There’s a song there. But, no, not in English.