I hate this controversy. All it does is leave a bitter taste in my mouth, taking away the pride in the Academy Award nomination and worse, corroding the light of a sweet lullaby. And the only good thing I see in the whole mess is the fact that my favourite lullaby will probably go beyond the borders of every Mallu’s heart where it has been reigning supreme, soothing cranky infants and heart sore parents for almost two centuries. Now the world will pay attention to this golden lullaby, which is said to have inspired Oscar nominee Bombay Jayashree’s lullaby ‘Kanne’ for the movie Life of Pi.
As for the descendants of Irayimman Thampi who penned ‘Omana Thingal Kidavo’, supposedly to soothe into slumber his nephew, the baby Swati Thirunal, did they have to bring this up at this juncture? Did they not recognize it earlier? They probably did and just let it slip by. But when an Oscar nomination comes calling… well, who can resist the charm of little golden men? But still, they could have let it go and quietly taken pride in it. Do copyright issues matter here?
What surprises me more is Bombay Jayashree’s reaction. Maybe she was inspired, maybe she was not. But she need not have retreated behind a smokescreen citing her inability to read Malayalam as the reason why she could not have been ‘inspired’. For someone who speaks Tamil, to say she does not understand the meaning of ‘Omana Thingal Kidavo’ is a little hard to believe. More so since she herself has sung said song in Raag Desh a few years ago.
Bombay Jayashree was probably being cautious since the Academy only considers original work. But still… it hurts when a person of her stature has to resort to this. She could have chosen a more solid line of defense.
Either way, both parties could have opted for a more decent way out. The loser here is all of us, because even if she goes on to win, I wonder if the victory would be as sweet anymore. Basically all lullabies have the same undertone of comforting sadness. A lot of them are composed in Neelambari or Kurinji… similarities could be uncanny. And not just in the music, in the words too. Lullabies draw upon the same kind of words too, don’t they?
As for the ‘original’ yes, it is my favourite lullaby, but beyond it all, it is a song that falls upon my brow like the cool hand of my mother – anywhere, anytime. Countless times I have wept with joy and sadness, smiled to myself and felt my heart soar with love upon hearing it. It soothes and uplifts and cloaks me in a warm embrace from my mother, which I pass on to my children.
Omana Thingal Kidavo is the stuff of my earliest memories – me lying on my mother’s lap as she sang it to me. The memory is so fuzzy that sometimes I wonder if it really is a memory or just my imagination. But then again, if I were imagining it, I am sure I would have added more color to it.
I sang it to my children when I was carrying them warm and safe within me and I would like to believe that it was a song they recognized when they were born. Yes, the song accounted for several moments of direct eye-contact with my new born babies, barely a few days old.
And it is a song they sometimes still ask for when they are down and have difficulty falling asleep. I seem to have passed it on to them. That is why I felt it was important that they understand what it means and not let it be just a jumble of comforting words set to soothing music. And what resulted was my translation of this beautiful lullaby I did for them, a while ago:
Listen to it here:
Are you the darling baby moon
or a beautiful lotus in full bloom?
Are you the honey filling a flower
or the radiance of the full moon?
Are you a frond of coral new
or the endearing talk of young parrots?
Are you a peacock swaying in joy
or a koel singing gentle notes?
Are you a sprightly young fawn
or a beautiful young swan?
Are you a gift to me from God
or the parrot borne by the great Goddess?
Are you a fresh shoot of parijatham
or the outcome of my good fortune?
Are you a golden casket
to cherish the treasure of my motherly love?
Are you the nectar for my hungry eyes
or a lamp lit to chase away darkness dense?
Are you the seed to my fame
or a pearl flawless for eternity?
Are you the fiery sun’s splendor
come to melt the blindness of greed?
Are you the bounty of my fortune
or the intricate lilt of the veena?
Are you a blossom on the branch
of the gentle creeper of bliss?
Are you a bunch of jasmines
or sugar sating my tongue’s desire?
Are you the aroma of fragrant musk
or the nature of noble souls?
Are you the flower-scent laden breeze
or an element of the purest gold?
Are you the essence of the richest milk
or well-perfumed rosewater?
Are you the land where goodness grows
or an abode where great righteousness lives?
Are you the water that quenches my thirst
or the shade that removes distress on my path?
Are you the jasmine that never droops
or immense wealth that I have earned?
Are you an auspicious sight for sore eyes
or a priceless gem that fell into my hands?
Are you a river of blessed grace
or a playful prank of the dark hued One?
Are you the mark adorning
the beauteous forehead of Lakshmi?
Has my Infant Krishna been born here
and taken up such earthly garb?
Are you the compassion of Padmanabha
or the path leading to my greatest fortune?
Now here is Bombay Jayashree’s version:
So what do you think?
I don’t think it is right to crucify Bombay Jayashree here. Let us give her credit. At least she did not do to it what another Oscar winner did to Omana Thingal Kidavo – reduced it to a piece of mockery. Now that is unforgivable!