Thursday, October 18, 2012


I first heard the song 'Guilty' while watching Amelie. I was twenty and was initiated into the film rather late, thanks to a late night screening at 'World Movies'. Yet my watching the film was not uninterrupted. My parents were coming to visit me that night -- delayed by a flight, they had hit the road. I had bunked class and drunk beer at Oly Pub with friends that evening, and I was still in the phase when beer made me slightly tipsy and I was mortally scared of my parents catching me drunk. So when they finally reached home, I was extra cheerful and tried to make myself look useful. As I was unpacking the bag stuffed with Maggie family packs (my parents used to get half a dozen family packs of Maggie for me every time they'd visit, knowing how it was my comfort food), and the telly was blazing in the next room, I heard faint notes of the song for the first time. I dropped the packets and ran to the room to see Nino waiting for Amelie at the Two Windmills and the song playing in the background. It was cut short, but I would never forget the notes.

Months later I could finally lay my hands on the soundtrack of the film, and as Yan Tiersen's brilliant folksy tunes played in the background, I switched off the lights and relaxed in bed, appreciating the music. The seventh track made me sit up. It was 'Guilty', and this time, the full song. I played it in a loop and decided to find out more about the singer. I had never heard of Al Bowlly. To my utter amazement I found that this talented singer, born in Mozambique, had once played in my city, Calcutta. Traveling and performing all over the world, he went from Europe, to the Far East, to New York, until finally coming to London. He has sung versions of most of my favourite songs -- 'I've got you under my skin', 'Blue moon', 'My Melancholy Baby' and so on. I discovered that he was killed by a bomb during the war, right outside his flat. He had performed earlier that evening at Oxford Street, and declining an offer to spend the night there, he took the train home. Later that night the bomb would explode his room and the street, and although his body wouldn't be disfigured, he would be buried in a mass grave, tossed with other nameless victims. That night I had cried myself to sleep.

I am often moved by the little epiphanies of life. One afternoon this summer, we were goofing around with Macs, and I suddenly heard someone play this version of the song on a machine. I started crooning the words, got up, and looked around. Becky turned and exclaimed, "You know this song too?!" I said, "Of course" and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking about the scene in the film and the singer, of the many versions including beloved Ella's too, which unfortunately didn't go down as well with me as Al Bowlly's. For I am a magpie when it comes to collecting old music and memories in black and white; and having my ear cocked up for timeless classics always brings its own reward.

It is past midnight now, I'm running a high temperature, and it's Durga Pujo in a couple of days. Sickness makes me garrulous, and with the light turned off, the curtains withdrawn just a little bit so that I can see the idol diagonally opposite my window, I started singing "Heaven, I'm in heaven/And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak/ And I seem to find the happiness I seek/ When I'm out together dancing cheek to cheek", thinking of the Fred Astaire out there in the night who'll teach me to dance cheek to cheek one day. And before I knew it, I started crooning, "Is it a sin? Is it a crime?/- Loving you dear like I do./ If it's a crime I'm guilty/ Guilty of loving you." I can contain myself no more. I switch on the lights, turn my laptop on, and play the song.
The playlist has moved on now, and I'm listening to Nat King Cole's 'I love you for sentimental reasons', and I feel blissfully content.

I think of you every morning,
Dream of you every night
Darling I'm never lonely
Whenever you are in sight.

I love you for sentimental reasons
I hope you do believe me
I've given you my heart.


  1. Glad that I heard it, else I'd have believed and died with the belief that the Blue-version was the original one!

    1. I'm glad you did, Simantini. Sometimes I do like blues or jazzy adaptation of certain songs. But songs like this sound best in their original versions.

  2. Love all that 30' and 40's jazz; Al Bowlly, a tragic story, but legacy lives on. Such innocent sentimentality on love in those long-gone days.

    1. Innocent sentimentality and simplicity. My favourite films and music from the vintage era are marked by their simplicity of plot and lyrics. They just don't make things like that nowadays.