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BIRD IN HAND: SO THAT'S WHY WE CAN'T UNDERSTAND IT

Roast Fish, Saag Paneer And Cornbread


Talat Mehmood

Of the many Black Ark productions which have mystified fans over the years, one stands out: "Bird In Hand" on the Return Of The Super Ape album. Although credited to Lee Perry, this strange and ethereal tune is most likely sung by Sam Carty, who also recorded the weird "Life Is A Flower" and "Nature Man" for Scratch. People have often puzzled over the lyrics to this song, and no wonder - they're in Hindi!

A Scratch fan from England, Jez Humble, finally put two and two together when he recognized that some of the words from "Bird In Hand" were Hindi. He played the song for his Indian girlfriend, and although Carty's Hindi is pretty shaky on the tune, before long they had figured out the words.

An internet search revealed that "Bird In Hand" is actually a cover of an Indian song named "Milte Hi Aankhein". It was featured in the 1950 film Babul, sung by Talat Mehmood and Shamshad Begum. The lyrics, translated, go something like this:

Milte hi aankhein dil hua deewana kissi ka
Afsana mera ban gaya afsana kissi ka
Puchho na mohabbat ka asar, haay na puchho
Dam bhara mein koyi ho gaya, parwaana kisika
Afsaana mera ban gaya, afsaana kisika

As soon as our eyes met, somebody's heart went mad
My tale has happened, somebody's tale
Don't ask me love's effect, oh, don't ask
I took a breath and somebody happened, somebody's lover

Although this was a complete revelation to me, something about the story rang a bell, so I did some homework and discovered that the song is mentioned in a New Musical Express article by Neil Spencer from October, 1976:

"Today's sessions are the backing tracks for a young singer by the name of Sam Carter, who has a song named "Milit Y Ankee", which he informs me is Indian for 'The First Time I Saw You', a title which hardly fits the ferocious uptempo rocker the Upsetters are threshing through..."

The lazy "Bird In Hand" could hardly be described as "ferocious", but it's interesting that this rather obscure song was mentioned in the article, and that Scratch was recording it at the same time Spencer came to visit the Black Ark.

Thanks to Jez Humble for posting this story on the Blood & Fire message board and to Manali Jagtap for the translation.

August 2003