Son et lumière

Son et lumière was a novel concept when first introduced in 1965 at the historic Lal Quila (literally, Red Fort) in Delhi; it was promoted as “the cultural event of the year.”  Just as the name suggests, spectacular Sound and Light effects were used to highlight two hundred or so years of the Red Fort and Delhi’s history.  The red sandstone fort was completed in 1648 after 10 years of construction and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Since India’s independence in 1947, successive Indian Prime Ministers have used its ramparts to deliver their Independence Day address to the nation on August 15 each year.  The last Mughal (and nominal) Emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar resided in the Red Fort and was later imprisoned there by the British after India’s First War of Independence in 1857 (the British rulers at the time called it the Sepoy Mutiny or the Great Rebellion).  Bahadur Shah was later exiled and sent to Burma (now Myanmar) by the British, where he died a lonely, broken man, penning the famous ghazal, “Lagtaa nahiin hai dil meraa uje dayaar mein …” (please see my attempt at translation, below).

I was in my early teens when my favorite uncle, whom I fondly called Barre Daddy (elder Daddy) took me and his three kids, my cousins to the Son et lumière show and I was completely bowled over.  A narrator with an exaggerated pseudo-English accent recounted key historic events, interspersed with reverberating sounds from strategically placed high-wattage speakers, of horses neighing and galloping, swords clashing, harem sounds of clinking bangles and giggling womenfolk, crowds clamoring and successive Emperors authoritatively proclaiming edicts.  Interspersed with light strobes illuminating various sections of the courtyards and marble balustrades all around, casting shadows and images of events and personalities long gone through the annals of history, it provided a very novel experience to a young, impressionable mind.  While the details may have faded, almost fifty years later I can still recall some of the sounds and images from that special outing with loved ones.

A few days ago, our family met for brunch at a lovely, quaint restaurant located on the lake shore in the Old Oakville Heritage Conservation District.  Our three grandkids had a wonderful time and kept us all indulgently entertained.  The youngest, R (1 ¾ years) got everyone’s attention as he amused himself with a variation of a Son et lumière show of his own!  He is used to the motion sensors installed in their home and spotted similar lights above the restaurant’s back door.  He wanted to be taken closer to it and was fascinated by the light coming on and turning off as his older cousin obligingly clapped her hands.  The look on his face was priceless, smiling as the bulb lit up and then staring quizzically when it switched off!  His cousin, S was thrilled with her own interaction with him.

The little guy left for his nap but our granddaughters insisted that they be taken to the waterfront.  It was one of those days we had all been looking forward to, after a long and very cold winter.  Although cool at 3 degrees Celsius it was a gloriously bright and sunny day with the clear blue sky reflected in the calm, still waters of Lake Ontario.  A perfect day for a stroll, especially clasping a tiny, mitten covered hand that was excitedly tugging me and urging “Nana, hurry we have to see the baby geese!” J (3 ¾ years) and S (6 ¾) were enjoying the sights and sounds around them.  We stopped and listened attentively to the lapping, gurgling sound of the gentle waves rolling in between the rocks before ebbing away, making a sucking sound.  The geese honking in the background were trying to keep away a young, rambunctious puppy who strained at the leash barking excitedly at being outdoors.  S spotted a crawling bug on the sidewalk and wanted to know all about it while J backed off, shrieking that the little creature was coming closer to climb into her snow shoes!  I wish, as they grow older and prepare for their life with “something to look forward to” that the kids are able to also look back and cherrypick memories that would help them feel connected and grounded just as I have been able to, whenever needed.

Everyone left and alone, I savored the memories just created and those dredged from the distant past.  I have given up trying to figure out the mysterious ways of my mind; it is enough that one has the capacity to recall and relish special moments.  Another personalized Son et lumière show for me is yet again complete, to be relived at a time of my choosing.

Enjoy Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s ghazal, sung in the 1960 movie Lal Quila by the late Mohammed Rafi:

Lagtaa nahin hai dil meraa uje dayaar mein I can find no solace in this desolate abode
Kis kii banii hai aalame-naapaa.edaar mein Who can subsist in this transient world
Keh do in hasraton se kahiin aur jaa basen Tell these desires to go find another abode
Itnii jagaah kahaan hai diledaaġhdaar mein Where is the place in this depressed heart to accommodate them
Umre daraaz maang ke laaye the chaar din A long lifespan of four days is all I had sought
Do aarzoo mein kat gaye do intezaar mein Longing/desires used two (days, while), two have been spent in expectation/waiting
Itnaa hai bad-nasiib ‘Zafar’ dafn ke liye how hapless is ‘Zafar’ that for his burial
Do ghaz zamiin bhii na milii kuu-e-yaar mein (even) two yards of land was unavailable in the streets of his beloved (homeland)

5 Replies to “Son et lumière”

  1. I hope your grandkids keep those special memories just as you have from your own past. How lucky are they to have some of these moments capture here in your stories? And who’s heart would not swell when reading lines like ” a tiny, mitten covered hand that was excitedly tugging me…”? Beautifully written Pankaj!


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