Do Kadam Aur Sahi - A Sublime Journey and A Sorrow that Lingers
Album: Meenaxi A Tale of 3 Cities, Hindi, 2004

"If a music artist wants to blossom into a full-fledged person, it's not enough if he knows only classical music; nor is it enough if he is well-versed only in raagas and techniques. Instead, he should be a knowledgeable person interested in life and philosophy. In his personal life there should be, at least in some corner of his heart, a tinge of lingering sorrow."

There are a very few quotes that have stirred and shaken me more than those beautiful words have. I have constantly been awed by A.R. Rahman’s gift of artistry, and often wondered what is it that allowed him to write such great music. I had a natural interest in life and philosophy; intuitive understanding of the complexities of life and sensitivitiy to the subtelties of circumstances grew on me from an early age. My Buddhist upbringing nurtured that deep need for understanding and wisdom from my early years and made my life a little easier and balanced during those typically turbulent teen-ages, though it often seemed to an outside observer a very difficult and restrained one. It is this same intuitive sense of balanced understanding of life, now I realize, that drew me to the naturally symmetrical music of my early influences – A.R. Rahman and Yanni – at the age of 13, and made me appreciate and grow with their exquisite music; but, until the moment of reading this quote, I had not made the connection between these natural interests and the awe-inspiring and divine profession of the true artist.

Our constant pursuit of survival instincts press us to restrain our natural abilities and leave them unexplored, and I too was a victim of this natural flow; these words may have been that little pinch the sleeping artist within me needed to rub his eyes and wake up! ‘What is lacking in this dormant artist that keeps him from finding inspiration?’, I thought. What could be this tinge of lingering sorrow that Rahman speaks of that an artist must have in a corner of his heart? What sorrow could lie in the heart of this man, who, to me, embodies all that is beautiful, happy, and heavenly? Is it this sorrow that I lack?

Years passed as an uninterrupted supply of beautiful music and incredible artistry from the maestro continued to subconsciously alter my state of inner spiritual life for the better; he had brought down the glory of heaven to my ears and I longed to feel the joy that he felt. Unaware of the capacity of Rahman’s music to involuntary nurture inspired imagination in me and unaware of the expansion of consciousness that was taking place within me involuntarily, I continued to ponder what feeling of sorrow would inspire him to create such wonderful music.

My moment of truth dawned on me in early 2004, when I bought an album I had eagerly been waiting to get my hands on for quite some time – the soundtrack of a movie entitled Meenaxi – A Tale of Three Cities. It brought together the ingenious creative minds of India’s foremost painter, M.F. Hussein, in his second directorial venture, with India’s foremost composer, A.R. Rahman. From the time the collaboration was announced, I had anticipated nothing less than a feast of magical music from this album, and the music delivered nothing short of my high expectations. It was very colorfully and picturesquely crafted with Rahman himself attempting to achieve the abstract heights of an M.F. Hussein painting with his compositions, especially the two instrumental pieces; but one song stood out every time I listened to the album. It was a very special melody and its sounds and emotions instantly made communion with me; yes, this song was so divine! Do Kadam Aur Sahi gave me so many goosebumps each time I listened to it that after some point, I started to skip all the other songs and play only that, over and over again. That is a high compliment given the quality of the entire album! I did not understand its Hindi lyrics fully at first, except for a phrase here and there, though it was enough, I thought, to put together a rough sketch of what the song was about. I was terribly mistaken! The genius of Do Kadam could not be enjoyed in its full holistic essence by putting together its pieces in a haphazard manner like I did. In fact, to this day, I find some deeper meaning to the creativity in this song; it is a personal treasure of great meaning for me – a calling, I must say – and one certainly worth sharing.

The first sounds, synthetic and mystical with the celestial chimes sprinkling gold dust from heaven – vintage A.R. Rahman – captivate you in sonic arrest. Enter the classy Sonu Nigam…

Zindagii, haath milaa
Saath chal, saath me aa
Umr-bhar saath rahi

O Life! Join hands with me
Walk along with me, come with me
You have been with me all my life

And a gentle punching of the synthesizer and a bass guitar lick in the background picks up volume lifting you up as if you were in a helicopter taking off from earth.

Do kadam aur sahii
Do kadam aur sahii  II

Why not just two more steps
Take just two more steps   II

…and a happily persistent string section leads the protagonist (given the movie’s context, an artist: a writer), in a casual two step walk, guiding him along a sun lit path towards a golden land as the music bathes you in brilliant light.

Koii suraj kii dagar
Koii sone kaa nagar
Chaand ke rath pe chale
Jahan thahare yeh nazar

Some path that the sun traverses,
Some city made of gold
Let us ride in the chariot of the moon
Where this gaze would come to a standstill

And the lead guitar applies a slight break along the way to express the magical still gaze and a wonderful panoramic scan of the scenes with an exclaimed ‘wow!’ It beautifully sets up the next lines.

Dhoop dariyaaon mein hain
Phir safar paaon mein hain
Dil kaa aawaaraa diyaa
Doosare gaaon mein hain
Aaon, chale hum wahiin
Do kadam aur sahii IV

There is sunlight in the rivers
Then there is journey in your feet
This heart’s wandering lamp
It belongs to a different village
Come, let us go there
Take just two more steps IV

Listen carefully, and there is absolute mystery created by the tangent chord that is touched just for ‘doosre gaon’ (different village) before harmony returns immediately to base; and the same persistent string section, almost turning around towards his follower from time to time, gesturing with his hands to make haste, never stops saying ‘come on, just take two more steps!’

Leading up to the third verse, now, as they get closer to this mysteriously beautiful place, the grand Timpani starts to roar from a distance and the majestic horns can be heard trumpeting its glory, and the journey’s momentum picks up with a lively conga rhythm layering over the soft hi-hat.

Khwaab dalte hai jahan
Dil pighalte hain jahan
Aaon chalte hain wahiin
Woh zameen door nahiin
Dosti hogi wahan
roshni hogi wahan
Us ujaale ke liye
Jal chuke laakhon diye
Ek hum aur sahii
Do kadam aur sahii  IV

Where dreams happen
Where hearts melt
Come, let us go there
That land is not too far

Friendship will be there
Light will be there
For that light
Millions of lamps have been burnt
We might as well be one of them
Take just two more steps  IV

After this narrative, the string section returns with the conga drums, but the background synth sounds fade out to a serene nightly silence, allowing the traveller to listen carefully to the voice that calls him; it quite appropriately sets up the mood for the next verse.

Kis kii aawaaz hai? Sun
Ye nayaa saaz hai, sun
\Koun detaa hain sadaa?
Chal ke dekhen to zaraa
Raah viiraan sahii
Raat sunsaan sahii
Har ghaadi saath rahe
Kitne gham saath sahe
Thode gham aur sahi
Do kadam aur sahii      IV

Who’s voice is this? Listen
This is a new instrument, listen
Who is this calling us?
Come, let’s go see
The path is lonely
The night is silent
We have been together all along
Together we have weathered much suffering
Why not a little more suffering
Take just two more steps         IV

The peaceful silence of the first two lines is then nicely contrasted with the conga beat picking up the momentum again for the next few lines where the traveller must stomach the courage and the strength to journey through the difficult final stretch in solitude, for not many will be willing to weather such suffering. The change of rhythm instantly provides an additional thrust of enthusiasm needed to carry on till the end.

The most poignant moment of the song to me, however, comes towards the end of the journey, during kitne gham saath sahe, when a high-pitched synthetic harmonica lingers painfully, clinging by a thread to the artist’s soul as he reaches this worthy final destination; and now loud and clear, the horns blow majestically, the timpani crash triumphantly, and a choir of angels welcomes him to this mystical place of infinite grandeur, sublime beauty, and immortality, and he knows that he has achieved every artist’s vision of perfection, and that all his struggles are well worth the reward: he has created heavenly beauty in his own mind.

It took me, at the very least, a year to interpret all of the mind-blowing creativity of Do Kadam and to truly come to grips with the deeper meaning of the song; but after I had fully understood the lyrics, the lingering harmonica sound during kitne gham started to make profound sense; the ethereal pain and sadness that it communicated handed me the answer to the question I had been pondering for quite some time: what is this lingering sorrow that A.R. Rahman speaks of that is essential to being a great artist?

To create such heavenly beauty, divine feelings, and immortal masterpieces on earth, the true artist has to remain pure and warm at heart no matter how vicious and cold the rest of the world may be to him. He has to use in its fullest capacity his imaginative powers that he knows he has been blessed with, and he must learn let go of himself and achieve higher states of consciousness and wait patiently for those moments of divine inspiration, knowing, still, that after all that energy is spent, there will still be no guarantee that someone would see, read, or hear his creation and be able to enter his heart, mind, and soul and become one with him; for that is his divine duty: to create a spiritually beautiful heaven on earth so that even a single person, searching for a higher spiritual state, or perhaps, looking for a way out of some meaningless existence, or even just a momentary escape from a hard day’s pain, will see, hear, feel, and begin to wonder, how is it possible? Where is this possible?