Next Stop: The Red Planet?


Read these as well:-

Given the state of the country as at now, you can safely say that when we celebrate the year 2020, this country would not have achieved the status of a “developed country”. So Dr M’s Vision 2020 will remain a vision and will not become a reality, at least in 2020.

For one, religion had taken precedent in key areas of the country and have caused a mismatch of priorities. Instead of us busy with human resource development and preparing the country for a “developed” status, we are busy on which law to use and how holy or religious one must be. And I saw this in play when I went to a shopping complex one fine day and decided to drop by a bookstore as my son wanted to buy a science book. We walked around and realised that there was more books on religion than on science and mathematics. I was hardly surprised – there were more people at the religion book section than at the science & mathematics book section.

Vision 2020 is also doomed to be nothing but fancy slogan because we still place high importance on racial based policies (we still calling ourselves as Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc instead of Malaysian) and on cheap politics. But come year 2020, all is not all lost though. Year 2020 would mark the start of activities that would eventually place humans on the planet Mars by year 2026.

Imagine a human colony on another planet and we don’t have to look another 100 – 200 years for that. We will see that in the next 10 years and it is very exciting news indeed. The company that is taking the exploration one step ahead is Mars One – is a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands that has put forward plans to land the first humans on Mars and establish a permanent human colony there by 2027.

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(It may not look much now but imagine a lot more people on the surface and with high end technology which allows them to come back to the Earth and back to Mars again? Image source: Mars One)

It may sound far fetching at first and Mars One have been on the receiving end of many as nothing but a scam. Some even question the USD6 billion budget of sending humans to Mars but remember India sent its spacecraft to Mars for mere USD73 million. But think of the feasibility. Think of the possibility.

Mars One lists out the mission feasibility of a human colony in Mars in the following manner:-

Permanent settlement

The Mars One crews consist of people that want to settle on Mars. Absence of a return mission reduces the mission infrastructure radically. No return vehicle, return propellant or the systems to produce the propellant locally are required. Permanent settlement also reduces the required technology development; vehicles that can take off from Mars and return to Earth are currently unavailable and untested. Since the vehicle returning to Earth and the accompanying systems are mission critical for a return mission, they will also require backups adding to the infrastructure that needs to be delivered to Mars. More importantly, to attain a somewhat acceptable risk level, the return mission would need to be tested in a complete unmanned return trip before the first crew even departs the Earth. Even after a full test of the return system is successfully performed, the risk for a crew that will ride the first return rocket would be very high: 126 rockets launched from Earth since 1990 failed to deliver their payloads in the correct orbit.

Permanent settlement also solved the challenge of the astronauts entering into Earth’s atmosphere after having spent about two years in reduced or zero gravity environments.

Use of In-Situ resources

Mars has resources that can be used for a sustainable settlement. Water is present in the soil and can be made available to the settlement for hygiene, drinking, and farming. It is also the source of oxygen generated through electrolysis. Nitrogen and Argon in the Martian atmosphere can be mined to be the inert part of the atmosphere inside the habitat. Martian soil will cover the outpost to block cosmic radiation. Carbon dioxide can be taken from the atmosphere if the plants take in more than the humans expel.
The systems to mine water from the soil and to mine Nitrogen, Argon, and Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere have never been tested in space. Mars is however not space because there is gravity and a thin atmosphere. Additionally, the processes are all more than 100 years old. The water can be collected from the soil by breaking up the soil with a drill and harvesting the resulting debris. Argon and Nitrogen can be collected from the atmosphere by removing the Carbon dioxide through a phase change.

Solar panels

The Sun is a reliable, robust, and plentiful energy source. Using solar panels is the best choice for Mars One since it takes away the requirement to develop and launch a nuclear reactor, thereby saving time and money while avoiding the risks and concerns of the use of a nuclear power source.
Thin film solar (photovoltaic) panels will power the Mars One settlement. These are less efficient than those more commonly used in aerospace, but have the advantage of being extremely light, and are thus easily transportable. The first settlement will install approximately 3000 square meters of power generating surface area.

Existing technology

No new major developments or inventions are needed to make the mission plan a reality. Established suppliers can build each stage of Mars One mission plan. While most of the components required are not immediately available with the exact specifications, there is no need for radical modifications to the current component designs.

Every effort was made to design the mission with as little complexity as possible. The choice to send permanent settlers removes the need for a heavy lift launch vehicle, which does not currently exist. Permanent settlement makes the landing module small enough to land with current technology. A pressurized rover will not be sent to Mars until large enough rockets exists. No water recycling in the transit habitat will be present because the trip to Mars takes only 210 days. Instead, all required water is stored in tanks that also function as radiation shielding. Storage of waste that is not easily recycled is available in the settlement until more technology is available.

(Source)

And just look at the number of people who shown interest in the Mars One project:-

Mars One applicants come from over 140 countries; the largest numbers are from the United States (24%), India (10%), China (6%), Brazil (5%), Great Britain (4%), Canada (4%), Russia (4%), Mexico (4%), Philippines (2%), Spain (2%), Colombia (2%), Argentina (2%), Australia (1%), France (1%), Turkey (1%), Chile (1%), Ukraine (1%), Peru (1%), Germany (1%), Italy (1%) and Poland (1%).

(Source)

The first 3 nations are well known for their eagerness and competition in space exploration. Out of the three, US and India already have rovers and space crafts orbiting Mars. And I am pretty sure the Chinese will do so soon as well although these guys are busy exploring the moon (hmmm, they know something we don’t?). And Malaysia is involved in Mars One in 2 areas – our own Angkasawan, Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor is an ambassador for Mars One and three brave explorers from Malaysia including a woman.

SPACE: India Mars mission

(It’s only cost USD70 million to launch a space craft to the Red Planet. Trim down the money spent on wars, religion conflict and corruption and you can send hundreds of the space craft to many part of the solar system. Image source: engtechmag.wordpress.com)

Mars One is an one way trip as there is no way (presently) to bring the space explorer back. The environment is harsh and there is no guarantee, despite the mission feasibility, that the colony will succeed, especially when the next human civilization is million kilometers away (230,000,000 km to be exact) and in case of emergency, one cannot simply dial up 999 and ask for help. Rescue mission if it is to be done, will take months to prepare and execute and by then, any rescue mission would have been redundant.

Mars One itself can go bankrupt and may not be able to bring the next set of explorers to add to the colony. Anything can happen. After all, it took a lot of research, time, risk and money to send man to the moon, so what more another planet and that too for one way trip. But there are good reasons to make this trio to Mars, namely:-

To give our kids new Hope, careers and Dreams — beyond merely surviving in a world of growing terrorism, more “police state” responses, with increasing resource and energy scarcity ultimately leading to endless global wars

By finally opening up unlimited solar system resources — be it exotic fuels, new planetary minerals or endless solar energy – dramatically alter the “have not” competition between the First and Third Worlds here on Earth … the ultimate source of increasing global terrorism

By greatly accelerating these radical technologies — from “black” energy systems and propulsion to autonomous robotics, from desktop “super computers” to their ultra-broad band communications (essential to conducting “routine operations” on the Moon and Beyond) – dramatically accelerate overall national and global productivity, with startling increases in GNP and GWP

By federally subsidizing the creation of a whole new generation of consumer industries — through pioneering a literal “Second age of Space” — dramatically increase the historical “return on investment” from past NASA spending … from 23 to one to more than 100-to-one; thus, for every billion dollars invested in this New Space Program, over a hundred billion will return to the national and world economy

By finally providing accessible new sources of raw materials and energy “off planet,” processed in lunar and orbital industrial facilities, naturally reverse over a century of planetary degradation and pollution … including global warming

By accelerating fundamental solar system exploration with human beings, return equally fundamental, radical scientific information – ranging from comparative planetary data which will assist preservation of the Earth’s environment through new space installations, to answers to the origin of the human race itself

(Source)

Yes, money and human resource is important but aren’t we been busy wasting them on wars, corruption and wastage as well. Save up on those and you will plenty for the science exploration, I am sure.

Many of us, including myself are from the generation that grew with science fiction movies like Star Wars and Star Trek. Still remember ” to boldly go where no man has gone before”? It is in our nature to explore and find new worlds and the more we explore, the more we will push the boundaries of technology, science and human endeavor. And there is the prospect of rich natural resources that could be mined for humans (there was even plan to start a mining colony in the moon).

For those reasons alone, Mars One mission should succeed.

MH370: The Conspiracies


Let’s run through the latest updates on MH370 for the past 1 week. It does not look great but then again, perhaps no news at all could be good news . There’s still hope.

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(Summing up the status on MH370 as at today – click on the image to enlarge it. Infographic source: http://visual.ly/still-flying-after-seven-hours)

When we first heard about the missing plane, we were anxious, very worried and feared for the worse. We were practically glued to the TV for days waiting for any positive news. One week down the line, we were still hopeful despite the search & rescue team not finding any clues or wreck of the plane. But the reality is that the longer the plane could not be found, any chances of finding survivors was getting slimmer too. We have been hearing contradictory statements and very few positive updates. The earlier rumored turn about have now been confirmed and the search for the plane have moved from the South China Sea to now the west side of Malaysia and the vast Indian Ocean.

And now, it is entering into the 2nd week, things seems to be going from bad to worse:-

Authorities have said that someone on board deliberately disabled the plane’s Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, at 1:07 a.m. March 8, with the transponder — which identifies it to commercial radar systems — getting shut down about 14 minutes later.

(Source)

The Government now had confirmed that the plane had indeed turned (earlier it was suspected but was not confirmed) around and may have headed towards one of the 2 possible air corridors. Added to this is the notion that someone had deliberately switched off the transponder. Another security hole at KLIA? The Government is keeping their silence on the notion of the plane may be been hijacked but have not ruled out any possibilities. If it was deliberately turnoff and the plane had not crashed, all signs seems to point to a hijack.

The search & rescue now focuses on the 2 possible air corridors whilst a parallel investigation is on-going on the crew and passengers (they should also investigate the Immigration officers who failed to detect 2 Iranian imposters). And assuming that the plane did not fly off to another country using one of the two air corridors, the Indian Ocean is one huge place to search (it’s possible that we would never find the wreck if it had crashed into the sea). Almost immediately India and Pakistan had come on air, denying that the plane pass through its airspace:-

Indian military authorities have dismissed the possibility that the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370, which mysteriously disappeared eight days ago en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, could have flown over India on its way to Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan in Central Asia, the Times of India reported.

“If the jetliner had tried to cross the Indian mainland, our primary radars (which bounce radio signals off targets) would have picked it up despite its transponders being switched off (secondary radars beam signals that request information from a plane’s transponders),” said a top Indian Air Force (IAF) officer. “The five Airports Authority of India radars at Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Mumbai are integrated with IAF’s air defence network. The possibility is far-fetched,” said an officer.

(Source)

One cannot underestimate the overwhelming web of radars and detection system that India and Pakistan had deployed in, what one had said, one of the potential flashpoint in the world. But if it has indeed had flew undetected, no one is coming forward admitting the shortcoming of their radars. Many too dismissed that it is not possible for the plane to use the northern corridor for a simple fact – there were too many radar installation & tracking system in many countries that could detect the missing plane. It is not easy for a Boeing 777 to simply slip by undetected by so many countries. So was the case until I read this:-

The major roadblock to this theory has been the insistence from India and Pakistan that their radar network showed no such unidentified aircraft entering or traversing their airspace. It would seem highly unlikely given such information that a Boeing 777 could indeed slip through undetected.

It is my belief that MH370 likely flew in the shadow of SIA68 through India and Afghanistan airspace. As MH370 was flying “dark” without transponder / ADS-B output, SIA68 would have had no knowledge that MH370 was anywhere around and as it entered Indian airspace, it would have shown up as one single blip on the radar with only the transponder information of SIA68 lighting up ATC and military radar screens.

(Source)

Well, that is one theory that may explained that MH370 may have slip into the northern corridor undetected by the Indians and Pakistanis. That it tail-gated another Boeing 777 and presented itself invisible to the web of radars. Another theory on how it could have gone missing is this – by an AWACS jamming the detection:-

What could make a plane disappear from civilian radar while at 36,000 feet yet still be visible on military radar? ONE THING, and it looks like a UFO (as some have speculated) only it’s attached to a Boeing jet – the antenna on a U.S. Air Force AWACS plane. The fact that this missing jet vanished from civilian radar yet remained visible on more robust military radars proves well enough for me that this indeed was an AWACS hijacking, just like we saw on 9/11 where AWACS planes were seen on video observing if not controlling the crashes into the twin towers.

Once the plane flew far enough West, AWACS was obviously enough to jam both civilian and military radars, probably because they entered a zone where the angle of both incoming signals allowed for their simultaneous cancellation. That is where the plane finally “vanished” forever, an hour after the “official” vanishing act.

(Source)

And now, the issue of fire on board have resurfaced:-

For me, the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense in a fire. And there most likely was an electrical fire. In the case of a fire, the first response is to pull the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses, the plane would go silent.

It probably was a serious event and the flight crew was occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations. There is no point speculating further until more evidence surfaces, but in the meantime it serves no purpose to malign pilots who well may have been in a struggle to save this aircraft from a fire or other serious mechanical issue.

Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi. There is no doubt in my mind. That’s the reason for the turn and direct route. A hijacking would not have made that deliberate left turn with a direct heading for Langkawi. It probably would have weaved around a bit until the hijackers decided where they were taking it.

(Source)

These are just some of the speculations circulating on the internet (including this) on what might have happened to the plane (read here for more theories). We still have a missing plane to search for and so far, there has not been any concrete leads.

missing-plane-online

(The possible 2 routes of the missing plane but one have admit that it is one big area to search. We only have less than 2 weeks before the black box batteries runs out. Image source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

There is a growing talk on the internet that there has been indeed an hijack and the Malaysian Government knows what had really happened to MH370 but they are buying time to negotiate for the safe return of the passengers from some secret location. This is a bit far fetched, if you ask me. Even if it was kept in secret by the Malaysian Government, things would have leaked and the foreign press would have reported by now. So, I don’t think there is any negotiations going on in the back ground.

Someone also raised the connection between the pilot and his support for Anwar and that he may have committed suicide when he learned that the court had found Anwar guilty. This was absolutely a nonsense and at the most, a very sickening hit below the belt attempt at Anwar (a very typical line of thought by some politicians – if you don’t support us, then you must be the enemy).

Whilst the search continues, the incident of MH370 reveal the glaring shortcomings with the Malaysian Government dealing with a missing plane. I have covered the point on crisis management last week and the foreign press already had a field day on this (from day one). It also questioned on the capability of RMAF in detecting plane that had deviated from its flight path and the failure to scramble the jets to intercept the plane. If that had been done, we would have known whether MH370 indeed turned about to the west much earlier:-

This aspect of the flight raises other questions. Even without its transponder the plane was clearly seen, though not identified, by Malaysian military radar. Yet nothing was done about it. No aircraft was scrambled to see what this mystery object was. In its long hours of flight to the west of Malaysia, was it seen by other military radar, such as India’s, or if it flew north-west, by Thailand or even China. It is difficult to believe any of these countries, seeing an unidentified aircraft approaching or entering their airspace, would not have done something to find out what it was.

(Source)

Whilst this may be disputed by those are familiar with the workings of the military SOP and use of military radar, one must remember that anything that touches on military radar and strategy, also touches on national security and I don’t think any military commanders out there would approve a free for all information to be circulated openly in the media. Who knows what really took place. Perhaps it was known that the unidentified plane was indeed MH370 but they needed time and clearance to inform others. Perhaps RMAF did sent interceptors to check on the plane but they could not identify the plane as MH370. We will never know. One would just hope that the Government will think hard again on the weaknesses of the present air surveillance over Malaysia and take immediate actions to address the shortcomings.

There is only have less than 2 weeks before the black box battery runs out. Time indeed running out for the crew and the passengers. Meantime, the comedy in Malaysia continues. At time when the whole of Malaysia is united in praying for the return of the crew and the passengers and being hopeful on the missing MH370, some politicians on the other hand have proven time again that they are still stuck to their 3rd world way of thinking – that Government knows the best, can be highly secretive and can dismiss any questions & oppositions at their whims & fancy:-

Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh today claimed that Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has bypassed Pakatan Rakyat MPs in his invitation for parliamentarians to attend briefing on the missing MH370 tomorrow. “What he is doing clearly goes against the Parliament convention. It is parliamentary briefing, yet were are not invited. “This is very unbecoming of a minister who is also an Umno vice president,” she said when debating the motion of thanks on royal address in Parliament today,

(Source)

The Acting Transport Minister’s response to this was rather dumb that he did not invite the Opposition MPs because they never ask for it. It is no wonder that Business Week in the beginning of the crisis mentioned that the Malaysian Government is “handling a huge global issue as if it was domestic politics”. Some things will never change, don’t they?

Project “Then, Now & Forever”


Western classical music is perspective – look at the number of people involved in a symphony! Our traditional music is lonely – Ilaiyaraja

Ilayaraja-Wallpaper

(My collection cover image – the image of Maestro Ilaiyaraja. Image source: http://www.tamilkey.com)

As long I could remember, I have been listening to Ilaiyaraja music since I was still young and started to have an appreciation of his style of music – all the way from the 1970s (you are aware that Annakili was not his first movie and that he had to impress the producer Panchu Arunachalam by singing a song that his mother sang and using the table as an music instrument?) to his latest flick in “Neethane En Ponvasantham” – thanks to my Dad who was big fan of Ilaiyaraja (Ilaiyaraja means the “younger” Raja – that is because the Tamil music industry already had another music director named Raja – the famed A.M. Raja).

Back in the 1980s-1990s, I still remember following my Dad to the music store to get Ilaiyaraja latest songs (still remember Alai Osai brand back then?) and the number of cassettes at home started to pile up. Sometimes when he comes back home late and tired, he would ask us to check his pocket and we would find a cassette size package neatly wrapped and immediately we know it would be an Ilaiyaraja cassette. Me and my brother would be key testers – we would play the cassette as my Dad goes off to take his shower (he usually buys it without hearing the content of the soundtrack). After dinner, he would then sit down and listen to the songs without any disturbance and we would be hearing it again for the 2nd round. Now my son is picking up his interest on Ilaiyaraja music as well (as a baby, he often need his Ilaiyaraja music to go to sleep) and he can sing some of the songs really well.

And over the years, Ilaiyaraja has made a good impression on me with his music (especially when I had my Walk-man on and I was doing my revisions) and I have my personal favorites. But out of the many, I went rather crazy on the soundtrack of “Keladi Kanmani” and in particular on SP Bala’s “Mannil Intha”. And I was rather stuck to the same track over and over again for days when I went down with chicken pox and had to be confined to the bedroom. Somehow I felt my recovery was improved by the good music from the great Maestro. At the turn of the new millennium, Ilaiyaraja somehow took a back seat as most of us (including me) started to listen to the emerging new style music coming from South of India – in the form of AR Rahman (but not my Dad – he could not understand AR Rahman to this day). Ilaiyaraja’s style of putting a “break” before the chorus was somewhat tolerable until AR Rahman showed that the music was even better without the break in the middle. The use of CDs instead of cassettes and quality of music recording favored AR Rahman style of composing and thus it becomes the obvious choice when we are at the music store. But in the end Ilaiyaraja had the last laugh when he hit back with a bang in 2012 with Neethane En Ponvasantham and some people could not believe that it is from the same man.

But even with other new music directors (Deva, AR Rahman, Vidyasagar, Vijay Anthony, Harris Jayaraj, Ilaiyaraja’s Yuvan Shankar Raja, etc) dominating the Tamil music scene in the new millennium, we still had space for Ilaiyaraja music (he was humbled enough to join forces with the great MSV to compose for two movies) . Somehow there are situations in a day when an old school tabla sounds better than a loud modern drum. It sounds peaceful too. And of course, some of the older hits are gems – no matter when and where you hear then, it is still a good music to listen especially if you are on a long journey somewhere (it still do even now).

When I started to work after finishing school and had some money to spare, I often head to music store at Lebuh Ampang (which was on the way from work place to the bus station) on the weekends and my target would be old Ilaiyaraja collections – preferably his great works from the 1970s and 1980s. But unfortunately the music store has a dirty trick up their sleeve – they put a couple of good songs at the front but leaving the balance filled up with not-so-good songs (the cassette jacket lists the songs but unless you have heard of it and well aware of the quality, the list would not make any much difference). The idea was to sell more cassettes. As one would say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I will pick one and ask the shop assistant to “test” the cassette. In other words, I wanted him to play the cassette before I buy it, just to be sure. So when one is “testing” the cassette, you will only hear the good ones and you will think the rest would as good as the first song. You will know that it is not the case after you have paid for the cassette and listen to the complete cassette at home. What to do, I was young and easily trusted people. Number of cassettes mounted at home (some years later, I threw away 2 boxes of cassettes). There was a blessing in disguise though – I managed to consolidate a proper list (from all these cassettes) and got them recorded on a high quality TDK cassette (at the same music store).

(SP Bala in the movie Keladi Kanmani singing off lyrics “found on his food wrapper” without pausing to breath during the chorus – a feat he said he did not do in the actual recording at the studio but managed to do when singing the same song in front of a large crowd during one of Ilaiyaraja ’s concert. The man is simply great!)

At the advent of songs being played on MP3s (and I have a MP3 player in the car and I no longer use CDs), it was time to relook into my collections of songs and in particular one from Ilaiyaraja. I had several collections of Ilaiyaraja – some with overlapping songs and taking up valuable storage space in my HDD (some converted from audio CD into mp3 format for ease of storage). And sometimes I get to listen on the radio some of his better hits but one which is not in my collection. So, I started project “Ilaiyaraja” with 2 objectives.

One: To consolidate all the various collections in my HDD and my old dusty CDs into one proper collection titled “Ilaiyaraja – Then, Now & Forever” (inspired by MSV’s TV show title) with the complete movie name, the song title and the year of movie (couple that with a proper track cover image). For this, I used the mp3 tag editor, mp3tag (freeware) which does the trick rather beautifully. It took some time to do the “research” to get some of the movie names for some of the songs in my collection (some was previously titled as 00001.mp3 which does not give any clue on the details). Obviously there were plenty of duplicates – those had to be taken care, so it was time to delete those and keep only the better sounded ones in the main collection.

Two: To add new and missed songs into the collection. Ilaiyaraja composed almost 4,500 songs and I am sure that I have not heard whole of them especially from those movies that we have not heard of (one was this – Magudam where I found one of the best 1990s song – Chinna Kanna Punnagai Manna). Whenever I head to the music stores to check if they have come up with a proper Ilaiyaraja ‘evergreen’ collection, I was quite disappointed. Most “re-use” the usual famous songs (like Mouna Ragam’s Nilave Vaa). I already had them in my collections years ago. Some of the music store had the next best thing – CDs packed with hundreds MP3 files. This made searching more comprehensive without the need burn a big hole in the pocket. But at the end of the day, it was the Internet that made things easier to do “research” (especially at the various forums) on Ilaiyaraja ’s best songs and the background story behind the said song and then watch the songs on Youtube or listen & download the songs at the various Tamil entertainment websites. This would be an on-going process as I discover more songs that should be in everyone’s collection but one that does not get the right air-time on the radio or TV.

As I am updating my main collection and take the opportunity to listen all of the songs in my old collections (some I have not heard in years) and selecting them to be in the main collection, I realized one thing – Ilaiyaraja’s best songs did not come from the 1970s or 1980s. His best songs actually came in the 1990s and it was not because the older composition itself was bad. It was not – the problem was more on the quality of studio recording. 1970s & 1980s was the age of the analogs – cassettes and vinyl records and it was the same at the recording studios where it was done using magnetic tapes.

The sound quality degenerates even lower as the recording is done and then copied for the masses. One good example was the song Janani Janani from the movie Thai Mookaambigai in 1982. If you listen to the original track, it was bad (you can hardly hear the tabla & venna in the background) and you would discard it after a few seconds listening to them. But the same song was sung by the Maestro at the start of his comeback concerts in 2012, the song simply “melted” me away. It was a beautiful and with the clear sound of venna in the middle (I even thought it was an electric venna), it worth listening to it over and over again. His 2012 concert was also the event that made me to stop and take note that even his 1970s compositions once replayed with the latest instruments sounded better.

But fast forward to the 1990s when most things are done digitally – the quality of recording and to the masses did not see the same level of degeneration. Sounds of the tablas were clearer, vennas were crispier, the playback singers’ voice was soother and you can even hear the “silent” violins in the back. And that has been the focus of my collection of Ilaiyaraja’s songs – well composed songs and one that has been recorded digitally to be my permanent choice for my car on long journeys. His compositions on Neethane En Ponvasantham in 2012 (all done with help from a full orchestra from Budapest) were simply technically brilliant but here’s what I think the Maestro should do as his next big thing. Ilaiyaraja, whilst he still have the energy and the drive (he is 70 years now), should go back to the studio, pick a load-ful of his older 1970s and 1980s songs (all short-listed by his fans, of course) and re-record them in digital with special care given on the individual instruments (as how it was done on Neethane En Ponvasantham and perhaps roping in his famed music director son Yuvan Shankar Raja as his technical consultant). Once done, he should release them as his best works spanning over almost 4 decades. After all, there is no shortage of Ilaiyaraja die-hard fans out there.

Happy holidays and take some time off to enjoy the music during the long break…

Oh Dear, Tamil TV Serials!


(This post was prompted by another “duel” for the remote control on the horizon and yes, it is going to be with the same old aunty)

Read these first:-

The-Big-Bang-Theory-029

(One of the funniest and most educational TV sitcom to date – thanks to “mommy had him tested” Sheldon, who is by the way standing on the far right there – and I love every episode of it but why can’t the same winning formula be repeated in other places – places like the huge, extensive world of Indian entertainment industry where there is no short of talented, funny actors and scriptwriters? Why?  Image source: http://tvbreakroom.com)

It was a lazy Sunday evening (it was rather a very late evening) several weeks ago when I woke up from my slumber afternoon nap (with a baby in tow, afternoon naps are a luxury these days – some of you will know what I mean) and walked down downstairs where some kind of award show was on ASTRO with my grandma and my mum watching it.

It was the Sun Kudumbam Awards (if you have not heard of this, I don’t blame you) and I did not really catch the gist of the award until much later (yes, I was still in a daze from my afternoon nap) and realized that it was part of the Sun TV to award those in the TV serials “industry” in various categories. All the glitters and pompousness of a mega star studded award show with very revealing clothed dance performances was on the spot but looking at the various categories contested, it made little sense on the minds of the audience. I mean there was very little to shout for – all are TV serials with similar or overlapping story-lines and with categories like the best mother-in-law, best father-in-law and best brother-in-law, the whole award show seemed to be nothing but a well dress circus show. But still nothing happens without a sustained demand from the audience and the same happens here. The serials are there because of the demand from audience (likely to be housewives who have this for entertainment after a good day work of cleaning the house and cooking) and that is perfectly fine.

But certainly large entertainment corporation like SunTV with all it’s financial resources, creativity and talents (and a good pool of ready audience – both in India and internationally) can come up with Tamil serials on subjects other than on family problems, misery, back-stabbing, in-fighting between the in-laws and scheming, right? Just take a good look at some of the serials – see how long they drag the scene that in reality would probably take micro-seconds to complete – in the serials, they drag it to a point where it occupies the entire episode.

I saw one such nonsense some days ago – someone asking a lady if she can follow him to a place. In reality, we would have expected direct questions and answers – yes or no and perhaps why, where and when. But not in this serial! The background music somehow got more tense as the person looks at the lady in distress and the lady (as if she have committed some serious crime) looks back rather panicky and this goes on for a couple a minutes before the lady opens her mouth and asks why (even that took a couple of minutes before we got some kind of answer). Thank God, they are not doing western theme in Tamil Serials otherwise the quick duel with the pistols between 2 mean cowboys outside the bar would have been painfully long (laced with plenty of crying from the family members, emotional speeches and appearance of missing relatives at the last moment) and to a point, real cowboys would have gone back to the bar, order some root-beers and get themselves drunk like hell.

Certainty they can come up with serials that have a complete fast paced story within one episode (crying from start to end does not count here) whilst at the same time, having another bigger but slow paced story that needs one to keep up with all the episodes to know its final outcome. What they can do? What kind of TV serials that we can hope to see in the near future and where one does not need to (desperately) create award categories like best mother-in-law, best father-in-law and best brother-in-law just to keep the competition between the various serials stiff?

If they are scratching their head for a good theme, maybe they can look at these genres:-

Police & Law Enforcement

A story of a police station in a small town with colourful characters as the policemen on duty and led by a young, intelligent but inexperienced inspector. The focus of this story would be on the cases that the police station gets from the public and how the “men in blue” work their way to solve the crimes (I am sure they can pull success stories from the many police stations in the country). Added into this story are known criminals and corrupted politicians who are not happy on how close the police are getting in uncovering their criminal. The “SIDE” story in this serial would be the policemen interaction with their family. I say “side” because the last thing we want is for the family story to take the limelight and the actual policing work to be shown in the intermittent (if this is so, then we are back to square one).

Law

A story of 3 young lawyers who graduated from the same law school and are in the same law firm, each trying to impress all in their way up in civil suits to be senior partners of the firm whilst at the same time, maintaining the dignity and justice of the legal system. A good study would be made during the show on Indian legal systems, the various precedent judgements from the past court cases and perhaps suggestions to close the various loopholes in the system. It would be very highly educational for the common man to understand his rights and the implications under the law.

Paranormal

Short paranormal stories – it could be based on true story or fictional and to string all the short stories would be investigative reporter who goes around looking for paranormal incidents. One rule of thumb though – each case must start and end within the same episode and not not after 600++ episodes later. Zee TV already showing something similar (the show simply named “Fear Files“) in Hindi and it is quite good. Have something similar in Tamil and you are good to go.

Situation Comedy

It is a fact that there are way too many talented comedians in the entertainment industry so getting the right people for a situation comedy would not be so hard to do. There used to be one but it was laced with countdown to the top 10 songs for the week. They can start with something similar to The Big Bang Theory – a story of 4 bachelors who are well educated and living together in a small apartment in the city with multiple personalities including one that talks and acts like Sheldon.

Corporate Drama

A story of 2 business rivals who is trying to outdo each in business, not be scheming, backstabbing or by use of violence but rather by sound business decisions and making the right strategic moves. What are the best practices in business? How one inspires high productivity among his employees? How one deals with shortage of funds and insane call of order at the very last minute.

Farmer Story

Nothing beats seeing something very green on television – but then again, a story about a farmer means waking up early morning, a whole day nothing but hard work and putting the faith on a good weather and getting a harvest at the end of the day.

Historical Story

What was life of our ancestors or of great men & women in the early 1900s or 1800s or even BC? Wouldn’t that make an interesting story for the next generations? No special effects, no modern technology – just pure history studies. What they did for leisure? How they did their shopping and cooked their meals? What were the ancient games that the kids played when they are not busy with school or work at the fields.

Sci-Fi Story

We cannot talk about a futuristic Earth with warp speed spaceships here – I don’t think some of the housewives are ready for that yet but we can talk about an alternate reality, something along the line of women is the more pre-dominant gender and men are confined to homes to do the house chores and to cook (the housewives will love this). Or why not pick something sci-fi from Enthiran – what if the mad scientist also created other robots in secret – perhaps in form of small children.

Children Story

You don’t have to go far. Take Enid Bylton’s The Famous Five as the base of the storyline and put cute, witty kids in the key roles and you have a killer show for all generations. It has been done before and I am sure that an Indian version of it would be a hit too.

Mystery / Conspiracy Theory

Are all those in the Government aliens in disguise? Or the Government has a dark secret division which is doing out-of-world missions on a regular basis but no one knows about it (in likes of Men In Black)? Or what if someone had found something from ancient times that could change the future of mankind and they had to fend off the bad guys from getting it and use it for the wrong reasons? Yes, an Indian version of the X-Files!

At the end of the day, whilst we are fine with the entertainment side of TV serials, on a longer run it must also educate and inspire the viewer to see things from a different and positive perspective. The current (tiring) family themed TV serials are fine for its short term entertainment values but where are the long term positive points when at most of the time; it is nothing but family feuds, conspiracies and sabotage? What about family bonding, maintaining good relationship and positive inspiration? When we going to see them coming up soon on our local channels? I hope very, very soon. Viewers are getting more sophisticated and in more demands than ever (they should be – they are not paying small money for the satellite channels) and if they are not, the entertainment industry must be willing to be more innovative and realistic when it comes to making the viewers to be one.

Dr M, We All Are Pendatang!


(The message from the great Tunku back in 1988 is still relevant today. The issue of asking someone to go “back” to whatever country that their great-great-great parents came from is nothing new and is not limited to the Bolehland but who is not a “pendatang” in the first place and interestingly that includes “whiter than the white” Dr M whose ancestry was from India.  As the Tunku himself had said, think for yourself and see if what some people have done with their powers is right or wrong)

Is this another distraction from real issues in the next general election? Another dump of dirty politics on the main road?

It is a distress for one to read on the Dr M’s admission on “Project IC” in Sabah and where instead of acknowledging his past mistakes (some even called it treason) and trying to get forgiveness and work towards citizenship of the real stateless people in Malaysia, he instead called for RCI on the citizenship to Indians and Chinese before Merdeka. And worse, he puts the blame on the late Tunku Abdul Rahman (the statesman who got this country its independence and saw through the formation of Malaysia) for granting citizenship to “unqualified” people.

One thing for sure, Dr M have fallen from grace even if he has done some good for the country in the past. And on Dr M’s stirring of the cheap dirty politics to cover his back (it is not the first time he has done this), there has been far too many angry response. The one from Erna Mahyuni nails the point on the dot:-

Sometimes, I think the nation would be better served if Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s vocal chords took a trip to Siberia. After all, few things have been as powerful and as destructive as his voice.

With that voice, he suggested Operasi Lalang. With his words, he brought low two institutions: the royalty and the judiciary. But to silence him forever is to play by the rules he set. Kill dissent, smother criticism, strangle freedom of expression. We may not like to listen to Dr Mahathir, but we have to give him the same rights we long for and deserve.

As he enters his twilight years he continues digging his own grave, this time by insisting we scrutinise the citizenships granted to the non-Malays during Malaya’s independence. That he equates Sabah’s illegal immigrants with the Chinese and Indians is insulting. But hardly surprising. Dr Mahathir believes that to elevate the Malays, it is necessary to trample on the other races. In his heart, Malaysia has always been “Malay-sia.” Land of the Malays, for the Malays, by the Malays.

What a lie.

And it is a lie perpetuated by the fools in Perkasa and the more right-wing elements in Umno. This country would be nothing without the “pendatang.” Dr Mahathir also forgets that many so-called Malays have ancestors who were also in their days “pendatang.” The Bugis. The Minang. The Javanese. Go to Kelantan and you will see Malays who have Thai ancestry. Go to Johor and you will find Malays who can name Chinese among their forebears.

USM professor Zilfalil Alwi, wrote a paper “Asal Usul Melayu Berdasarkan Fakta Genetik” (Tracing the Origins of the Malays by Analysing Genetic Data) where he theorised that early Malays could also have been Indian priests who had arrived at the Malay peninsula to propagate the Hindu faith.

That would make sense, seeing the predominantly Hindu Malay population in Bali. Who eat pork unreservedly, to the horror of our Malays when they visit the island. Dr Mahathir says “Melayu mudah lupa” but himself forgets that non-Malays have worked for the country, fought for the country, died for the country. If tomorrow, should all the non-Malays leave en masse, the country would be crippled.

Non-Malays have served in government, in the armed forces, as well as in the police. Can Sabah’s illegal immigrants say the same? Can we say that Sabah’s “instant citizens” fought off the communists or, in the Confrontation, say they fought off Indonesia’s armed push to put an end to Malaysia? Unlike Sabah’s illegal immigrants, the Chinese and Indians did not come from countries who still privately believe that Sabah and Sarawak should belong to them.

If one day Sabah’s illegal immigrant population dwarfs the natives, would it be surprising if either Indonesia or the Philippines attempts to again “claim” the Borneo states as many of its citizens are there anyway? While Sabah’s illegal immigrants have contributed to the economy, the natives do not embrace them as kin. They cannot claim a shared history, they cannot pretend to have become part of the process that led to Malaysia’s birth.

They did not win the right to citizenship. They do not deserve to be citizens merely because they are willing to vote for Barisan Nasional. Dr Mahathir also forgets the Orang Asli, who, among all the peoples of Malaysia, most deserve to be called “sons of the soil”. But they have benefited the least and suffered the most from Malaysia’s creation. We take their land, send missionaries to “save their souls” when we can’t even save them from poverty.

To the Orang Asli, we are perhaps the real pendatang who have taken everything and given them little in return. They are barely even recognised in our history books or schools. How many Malaysians, for instance, can name the many Orang Asli tribes? Instead of recognising the Sakai and Jakun as the “real” bumiputera, “sakai” and “jakun” are now Malay derogatory terms.

If you insist on semantics, Dr Mahathir, then technically we are all pendatang.

The call for fellow Malaysians to go back to India, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Timbuktu, etc (and soon Afghanistan, Nigeria & Iran, trust me on this) has been nothing new especially from short sighted, power hungry politicians who often wanting to slay the wrong bogeyman. They seem to take great pleasure in seeing the various races (who now living in harmony with each other) in Malaysia to be in odds with other and then manipulate the situation for personal interests (both BN and Pakatan are guilty on this).

Fuelling the fire for further disunity between fellow Malaysians is the recent ex-PM’s suggestion for RCI on citizenship of Indians and Chinese during Tunku’s time. If Dr M is trying to divert the alleged wrongdoing with his Project IC with this, he is dead wrong. The issue is not so much on why citizenship was granted but rather how it was granted i.e. did the proper scrutiny, procedures and criterias were followed in granting the citizenship?.

Besides it’s futile to dig into the granting the citizenship during the independence now, especially after 56 years in existence. One because the key people involved in earlier decision are no longer alive today, so whatever motive for the citizenship back then must be deduced and interpreted from official documents and other records and we all know how very liberal interpretations (depending on who is doing the interpretations) could led to different meanings and by extension difference consequences. So, it will not be right to fall back on official documents alone. If Dr M wanted to do a RCI on the grant of citizenship for the Indians and the Chinese before Merdeka, he should have done that when he was in power and Tunku was still alive.

Two, when the citizenship was granted to the Indians and the Chinese immigrants in early 1950s and onwards, BN was not the government of the day, the British were and they did not regard the Chinese and Indians as illegal immigrants and did not actively hunt down these people high and low as we do now with illegal Indonesians, Bangladeshi and at times African “students”. And it part of the understanding that the Indians and Chinese (who was then part of the British protectorate) who wish to remain in this country after independence will be granted citizenship and will be absorbed into the new federation. They cease to be the citizens of India and China from that time onwards. And it was done in the open and with the full agreement of all parties (if Tunku did not agree with this condition, he could have simply said no and insisted on another condition for the independence). It was not done to secure one’s electoral powers in the state. It was not done with a sinister motive.

The issue of granting citizenship to illegal immigrants in Sabah (which caused them to leech on the state resources and its people) has not been a new issue to the true Sabahans and it had remained a thorn on them for many years now. If it is not for the upcoming general elections, it is very unlikely Najib’s administration would have proceeded with the royal commission to investigate on the illegal immigrants & the grant of citizenship to them. But now since RCI have been formed, it is best to wait for the royal commission to complete their investigations and submit their final findings. And if the royal commission finds faults and makes the necessary recommendations, hopefully the Government will follow through with the relevant actions.

But in the meantime, we need to deal with threats to undo what our forefathers has done when they first laid the foundation for the country to be independence and move ahead with all races united as one people. We cannot afford the lose the country just because of one old man.

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Astro Vaanavil Superstar 2012


I am sorry for missing out on a post last week – I was out of the country (where the internet was crawling even for simple emails) and out of commission due to health reasons (more of it when I have the time)

(The guy should have been the winner in last week’s Vaanavil Superstar 2012 but unfortunately was bumped to 3rd place. Perhaps it was meant to be so since he was the previous year winner and it may not look good if he wins again this year. But then again, if it is a competition, that does not matter – past winnings should not have any bearing in this year’s competition. Image source: http://sneghithi.blogspot.com. To watch the full competition, please click to here)

You guys saw Astro’s Vaanavil Superstar 2012 over the weekend?

It is not that often I watch local singing competition (not after we had too many American Idols clones running loose on air) but the finals is something else – you will be surprised to see just how many talented Malaysians are there. Equally interesting was the local dance competitions.

Alinda Alphonse, the Vaanavil Talent Quest 2002 winner was voted as the “champion of the champions” whilst the Vaanavil Super Star 2011 winner, K. Logeswaran was voted in 3rd place with Ganesan (2010 winner, I think) taking the 2nd placing. This year’s singing competition was a bit different from previous years with Astro rounding up the past winners from the various singing & talent competitions to compete with each other. It was an interesting concept and was entertaining right up to the finals and then things got screwed up (at least in my opinion)

Perhaps it was intentional or perhaps it was just a coincidental but it was clear that the method of judging and format was somehow “relaxed” to allow Alinda on a smoother path towards the final rounds. Don’t get me wrong – the lone female contestant was really, really good but she was no where as good as the more entertaining, better voiced Logeswaran who got pushed to 3rd placing (in fact, he was better than the 2nd placed Ganesan too). You may differ in your opinion but consider these facts:-

1. Logeswaran’s pick of the song Mona Lisa Mona Lisa was questioned by the judges as a “trivial” song for the finals and this caused him to lose some crucial points. But then what defines a song as a trivial song for the finals especially when it is a song composed by the famed AR Rahman? I may understand if James Vasanthan is looking from his view as a music director and trying to fit the song to the situation at hand but to hear the same from the singer Suchitra was mind boggling. She is a good example of a good singer who should not be stepping in as singing competition judge.

AR Rahman’s Mona Lisa Mona song is not an easy song to sing – the lyrics is not simple to memorize (if you don’t believe me, try listening to it) and whoever singing it need to pace himself against a faster background rhythm (a task well executed by the late Malaysian Vasudevan in the original take). Logeswaran, despite in a goofy costume (which grabbed our attentions immediately) executed well with this song and the lyrics was clear and right at the spot but ended up with getting fired from the judges (James Vasanthan & Suchitra) on the choice of song picked. Duh!

2. James Vasanthan keeps harping on Alinda’s beauty when making his comments, not only in the finals but even during the preliminary rounds – what that got to do with her singing abilities? Some entertainment and impression values, perhaps but it means nothing if you have a bad voice and amateurish singing talents despite looking good. On the other hand, how many really good singers out there who are not so good looking – haven’t James Vasanthan have heard of Susan Boyle? James, it is a singing competition and is not a beauty pageant and it should not influence the judging itself.

3. James Vasanthan commented that Ganesan’s pronunciations in Tamil were very bad but then surprise, surprise Ganesan garnered more points from the judges than Alinda (the highest during the whole show). What that means – you can win even though you have low points? It does not make any sense. Shouldn’t the points from the previous rounds have some bearing on the total points that determines the champion? After all, you are judging past winners and it is the finals – it is easy to do well at some rounds and bad in others – as a singing superstar, the one who does well in all rounds should be awarded the winner.

4. What was the purpose of the round where the contestants have a duet with KJ Yesudas? The duet with the great Yesudas should have been fair to both singers at the final round. Ganesan’s session with Yesudas was like 50-50 (which was good because we could see Yesudas in action and Ganesan was able to match Yesudas at most parts which itself is admirable) but when it comes to Alinda, it was more like 90-10 with the great Yesudas’ voice coming in occasionally (and that too in Bahasa). That meant the judges get to hear more of Alinda than Ganesan and possibly tipping more in Adlinda’s favor. Come on, out of the many thousands duet songs by Yesudas, the organizers only managed to get this song for Alinda? They could have just asked her to sing solo.

I could be wrong but I think that Astro could have done better with the singing competition for talented Malaysians to show their singing skills. We are not a power house in global Tamil music industry but we have great talents, no doubt about that. And I am surprised that Astro with all that years of organising talent competitions experience and funding is still struggling to get things done just perfect.

I am sure Astro will do their post-mortem and will do much better the next time but perhaps they could start with opting for more Malaysian “sourced” judges (no lack of them there) instead of “star” judges from India who may have seen way too many singing competition (which is good for experience but is not good when they start comparing with talents from previous competitions) and who may not recognize that there are people outside India who can sing rather well in Tamil. It will be good also if some of the audience are picked to be special judges as well (perhaps via some prior online competition with being a judge at the finals as one of the prizes).

Astro should also review on the format and points granted to the contestants with points from the previous rounds adding up to the total points – this way the contestants who screw up in the first round but have enough points to move to the next round still have a fighting chance in the next round. Who knows, perhaps they may blow away the judges in the next round? After all, it is the finals and no matter who you are, you do get nervous in the first rounds and tend to make silly mistakes but once you have warmed up, you will or forced to bring the best in you.

These are just some of the changes that Astro should look into for the up-coming singing competitions – we have the talents but let’s not eliminate them based on flawed format and poor organisation. Kudos to Astro for organising the Astro Vaanavil Superstar but let’s work on fixing the shortcomings for the next one. P.s. I still think Logeswaran should have been the winner.

Crazy on Luka Chuppi


One for the weekend…

(This song was sung by Kuhoo Gupta and Pradip Somasundaran who did a fine job rendering the song from the original singers, Lata Mangeshkar and A R Rahman)

Damn, it is the song that I have been listening all day long for past one week and I can’t shake it off.

I saw the movie Rang De Basanti starring Amir and the duo from the 3 Idiots sometime ago, liked this song (especially the fast guitarist music in the  background which later transcend to a haunting tabla music) and this song has been one of the must song that I listen at least once in the morning especially when I am starting on my journey.

A R Rahman is simply brilliant with his composition (the other compositions – Tu Bin Bataye and Roobaroo are brilliant as well) but equally brilliant is the lyrics (I don’t understand Hindi – it is not necessary though, music is an universal language – you can just sense the meaning without you realising it).

It makes the song more touching with the beautiful lyrics is the scene from the movie – where a mother loses her loving son and his friends losing a good friend and they know that he will not be back.

The award winning lyrists, Prasoon Joshin who wrote the lyrics for this song said that the lyrics was developed while discussing with Rahman the scene about a mother losing her son. Joshi wrote the lyrics about the mother and son playing hide-and-seek with the sad reality of the son being hidden forever. He confessed to have been in tears while Mangeshkar was singing the song. The soundtrack won the Filmfare Best Music Director Award, and had two of its tracks, Khalbali and Luka Chuppi, considered for an Academy Award for Best Original Song nomination (Source: Wikipedia)

The translated lyrics, from Music & Lyrics blog:-

[Mother]
Luka Chuppi bahut huyi saamne aa ja naa
Enough of hide and seek, come before me.
Kahan kahan dhoondha tujhe
I searched for you everywhere.
Thak gayi hai ab teri maa
Your mother is now tired.
Aaja saanjh hui mujhe teri fikar
Its evening and I’m worried about you
Dhundhla gayi dekh meri nazar aa ja na
Hazy is what my sight is, come to me

[Son]
Kya bataoon maa kahan hoon main.
What do I tell you about the place where I am, maa?
Yahan udney ko mere khula aasmaan hai
There is freedom and independence like the vast sky here.
Tere kisson jaisa bhola salona
Like your stories it is innocent and beautiful here
Jahan hain yahan sapno vala
Its like a dreamland here.
Meri patang ho befikar udd rahi hai maa
My kite (I am) is flying without any worries maa.
Dor koi loote nahin beech se kaate na
Nobody to steal or cut my kite’s string.

[Mother]
Teri raah takey aankhiyaan
My eyes are waiting for your arrival.
Jaane kaisa kaisa hoye jiyaa
My heart is going through various emotions.
Dhire dhire aangan uthre andhera, mera deep kahan
Slowly darkness in creeping in the courtyard, where is my lamp(son)
Dhalke suraj kare ishara chanda tu hai kahan
The sun is setting and gesturing to the moon, where are you?
Mere chanda tu hai kahan
Where are you my moon (son)?

[Son]
Kaise tujhko dikhaun yahaan hai kya
How do I show you what is here?
Maine jharne se paani maa, tod ke piya hai
I’ve drunk water from the fountain maa
Guchcha guchcha kayee khwabon ka uchal ke chuwa hai
I’ve touched several clusters of my dreams
Chaaya liye bhali dhoop yahaan hai
The sunlight along with the shade is here
Naya naya sa hai roop yahan
The atmosphere is so different and new
Yahaan sab kuch hai maa phir bhi
All that I want is here maa… but still…
Lage bin tere mujhko akela
Loneliness is what I feel here without you

Have a nice weekend!

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