An Azerbaijani Family

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Sheki, Azerbaijan
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Azeri family that hosted us in Sheki for two days had a tremendous interest in Hindi films. While the spoken dialogues had been dubbed in Russian, the songs were not (thankfully!). However, as any connoisseur of Hindi films knows, it is the songs that make these films popular. How big an impact these songs had on people in a foreign land can be assessed based on this exchange we had with them. The father (Mr. I) spoke English very well in careful measured tones while his wife would interrupt excitedly.  We were the first ever Indian family to stay with them and enjoyed celebrity status at their home. Mrs. I mentioned how she would wear a wraparound cloth like a sari during her schooldays and pretend to her friends that she was Indian.

One particular song was a huge favorite with both and they wanted to understand it more.

Mr. I: Can you tell us the meaning of the Dorokina song?

We (uncomprehendingly): We are not familiar with that one. Can you share any more details?

Mr. I: Mithun Chakraborty was in that film. The Dorokina song is very popular here. We have a relative who sings it in weddings. But he messes up the words and sings it like Dorochina. (this elicits amused laughter from the others as they recall this memory). We laugh because we call him Jimi. What does Aaja mean?

We : We are surprised that you are not talking about other Hindi film superstars like Amitabh Bachchan or Rajesh Khanna.

Mr. I: Yes, we know Amitabh Bachchan. But what is the other name? Can you write it down and I'll search on Google?

We: (writing it down). He was a big superstar. Passed away recently. Many people were deeply saddened.

Mr. I and wife (very excitedly on  seeing his picture on the computer): Oh, we know him! Master Raju! He sings Dorokina song! (they quickly bring up Youtube and play this song - Goron Ki Na Kaalon Ki)

Master Raju! Dorokina! For a while V had wondered if they were referring to this song (a Telugu song Dorokuna Itu Vanti Seva), but quickly dismissed the absurd idea as that (Telugu) film did not feature Mithun Chakraborty. So, they had missed the Hey, Hey, Hm, Hm, Aha Blank Paper magic, but instead knew him as Master Raju, the Mithun mentoring monster musician. We tried our best to explain the difference between "whites" and "blacks" and "heart people" and who inherited the earth. And how the single word "na" inverts the meaning of the entire sentence, trying not to feel too conceited at the abundance of our own knowledge. When we had left Central Asia and crossed the Caspian Sea, we had expected to have gone beyond the sphere of the influence of Hindi cinema, but we were wrong. We ourselves may be impervious to the same influence, but we have to acknowledge its power in touching the lives of people far beyond its intended audience.

While no one would claim that Azeri is similar to Indian languages, there are common words that helped us communicate better with this family as well as others in Azerbaijani villages. For example, an elderly woman we met on the street wanted to know about our travel. We could not explain the concept of going round the world with gestures alone. But once we uttered the word Duniya and drew a circle around an imaginary sphere, we got through and it was very rewarding to see the comprehension on her face. Other words we encountered in Azerbaijan were Tarazu (electronic scales at several Metro stations) and Takriban (statistics in a museum).
On the next day, Mr. I informed us that people at his workplace were delighted to be educated on the Goron Ki Na song and everyone was excited about the Indian people staying at his house. He got a call on his phone and he told us that it was his sister asking him if the Indian people were still at his place! 

We really enjoyed the hospitality shown by our host family in Sheki and it significantly enhanced our Azerbaijan experience. Mrs. I cooked sumptuous vegetarian meals throughout our stay and even they chose to eat the same meal with us. Mr. I's mother joined us for one of these meals and he had a busy time interpreting for everyone since he was the only one who spoke English. He translated very patiently and with a lot of care. 

They are a very devoutly religious family with Islamic chants playing on the TV most of the time. At our departure, Mr. I presented to us a book on Islam being the one true religion and how all others are false. He made it clear that his intention was to disseminate information and not to get people over to his side. 

During our time in Azerbaijan we were careful to avoid bringing up Armenia in any conversation with the local people due to the tense political situation that prevails now. Other travelers had reported that the authorities had torn off select pages from their Lonely Planet guides when they entered the country. We did not worry since we only had PDF files. Mr. I himself brought up the topic and expressed his views in his usual measured manner. In summary, he felt that the genocide issue was overblown. It was clear to us that Azerbaijan and Turkey shared a close relationship. On the Karabakh issue, his view was that there were no Armenians in Karabakh 150 years ago and that Azeris were deprived of their land by the Armenians in the conflict.


Wow; what an experience. To be really valued for being Indian - that must be a unique experience.

Of all the songs in the world - why that one ?? I had hardly heard it before. Mithun is obviously the darling of the old Soviet Union - there must have been some film exchanges those days - else why should he, of all people, be so popular.

Its amazing how much Bollywood and Hindi songs have spread around the world. I too have seen its influence in all sorts of strange places. Maybe that's India's greatest export ! From Ramesh, on Oct 28, 2012 at 02:33PM
Freaked out! I would have never guessed that Dorokina meant this song (In fact, I heard that song on your youtube link after two decades or something)...And I had completely forgotten that Rajesh Khanna was In the movie (I still have no memory of him other than this song I just watched). Some years ago, deep inside the thick jungles of an orang-utang sanctuary in Borneo, I had a somewhat surreal discussion of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham with my guide... From Sandipan, on Oct 29, 2012 at 05:04AM
@Sandipan: Would like to know more about which Hindi films were dubbed into Russian and sent to ex-SSR markets during those decades. It is not as if those markets had a choice. Strangely, Seeta Aur Geeta (not exactly a top-tier film) is also on most people's memories. An elderly gentleman host at our homestay in Stepanakert mentioned this film yesterday! Most people also know the Disco Dancer film as Jimmy as that seems to be the title under which it was released. This made our investigation tougher. From Malini and Venkatesh, on Nov 2, 2012 at 04:51AM
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