Does no one play antakshari anymore?
Playing antakshari is one of the simple pleasures of life I miss these days. It is the remnant of times when you didn’t have 24/7 entertainment available and had to find ways of entertaining yourself. Perhaps also a remnant of times when people’s sphere of interests were limited and similar. Evening family gatherings in the inevitable absence of the treacherous electricity, cousins getting together during weddings and functions, and the attempts to enliven those homesick evenings in the school hostel – they are all associated with a lively game of antakshari. And who didn’t like Hindi movie songs?
Even though I call it a simple pleasure of life now, boy, was it a complicated affair? Rules were difficult to agree on. Are the “non-filmi” songs allowed? If allowed, just how far are you allowed to go? Can you go beyond the Hindi language? Albums? Bhajans? That classical song you learned in your music class? School prayers? Folk songs usually sung during weddings and functions?
And even after those boundaries were established, how would you know you were staying within those boundaries? Endless debates:
“You can’t sing that. Aye maalik tere bande hum is a school prayer, not a real song.”
“Idiot! It was sung in a film first. You school picked it up from there.”
“That song doesn’t start with ‘ha’.”
“What does it start with, then?”
“‘na’. It’s ‘Na jaane mere dil ko kya ho gaya…'”
Does an obscure sher before a song count as the beginning of a song, or is it to be ignored as a dialogue? What about all those “ho ho” or “aa ha aa ha aa ha” before the songs? Are Gulzar’s songs even songs?
As someone not very socially adept otherwise, antakshari worked for me. I excelled at it. I could pull out my special reserve of old Hindi movie songs to challenge the opponents of my age and win the approbation of the elders. For many of those songs, I knew nothing about them other than the first couple of lines, just enough to use them in this game. Years later, when I saw the picturization of some of them on YouTube, I was aghast. My mental model of what those songs should have looked like on screen was wildly different.
Two of my latest memories of playing antakshari are almost a decade or more old.
We played it in Lucknow, after our wedding, with a group of cousins. We stayed up almost all night. I and a younger cousin-in-law were pitched against each other, I with my repertoire of old songs, she with her collection of the latest ones. Almost nobody could challenge any of us on the correctness of our songs. We couldn’t challenge each other either. I had no idea that the songs she was picking up actually had any lyrics. And she didn’t know anything about the ones I was picking up.
Before that, I had played antakshari with my colleagues at Google, during a bus ride for a company offsite. The game ended when my own partner accused me of making up the songs I was singing! The song that triggered this betrayal went like this:
Ganga maang rahi balidaan
Yamuna maang rahi qurbani,
Aaj watan par jo mit jaye
Wahi hai sachcha hindustani.
Even today, I can’t find this song on YouTube or any other online sources. So, I can’t prove that I wasn’t making this up. I may misremember the lyrics, I definitely misremember the tune. But the song is real. I had heard it on Doordarshan – some old black and white movie.
At Navodaya, our teachers would rather have us play antakshari with Hindi poetry – not with those inappropriate “filmi songs” that corrupt the young minds. But poems were easy to run out of. And too academic. We always had other plans.
Whatever reserve of older songs I had, the first line of attack always consisted of those cringe-worthy, tacky songs of 90s. I suppose it is always the ones you grow up with.
With the light social gatherings focussed on parties and serious ones focused on books, antakshari has been pushed out of my life. The cosmopolitan nature of my friend circle also means that not everyone is a Hindi movie song buff. God knows I am not a language chauvinist, but antakshari doesn’t lend itself to language egalitarianism without spoiling the fun!
But if we do ever have a face-off in antakshari, do be prepared for songs like “dulhe ka sehra suhana lagta hai” and “roop suhana lagta hai, chaand purana lagta hai”. And remember “ho gaya hai tujhko to pyaar sajna” doesn’t start with “ha” and “sandeshe aate hain” starts with “ho o o o”, and hence with “ha”. Also, try not to descend into “Maine Pyaar Kiya” antakshari sequence.