Life is Ha-Ha, Hee-Hee

12 Aug

As a kid spending her summers in my grandmother’s drafty old house in a town where nothing ever happened, my one source of fun was my mother’s elder sister. My Auntie S was, to put it simply, awesome.

She taught me to waltz and cheat at cards. She took me to the movies and bought me all the popcorn I wanted to eat without once telling me that it was sure to send me straight to the hospital. She bought me the garish outfits (neon blue spandex cycling shorts! paired with a violent pink boat-necked top!) my mother wouldn’t so much as let me try on. She took me to the beach and bought me hot peanuts from the roadside vendor without loudly imagining his personal hygiene habits in excruciatingly appetite-reducing terms. She fed me with her own hands when my mother would have told me to stop acting like a stupid baby. She would ferry me about on public transport – the joy of those autorickshaw rides till today overshadows any theme park ride I’ve ever encountered. She thought up adventurous meals that ought to have instantly triggered my gag reflex but instead were incredibly delicious especially when served with the air of a forbidden treat. She let me paint her face with the extremely expired make-up (bright, ungodly orange was a hot shade in the 1960s!) she kept expressly for that purpose in an ancient biscuit tin hidden in the cubby hole behind her dressing room mirror.

And she taught me the campfire songs of her youth.

I couldn’t sing a single one of them back to you today but there were summers when my grandma and my mother could have cheerfully chopped her into itty bitty pieces for teaching me those things. I don’t know what kind of songs they’re teaching the young ‘uns these days in Girl Scouts or in the Girl Guides (if they even have them anymore), but in the 1950s, they liked them loud and effervescent. They were songs that you could sing if you were tone deaf and still have a good time.

Whatever music might be about in general, those Guide songs were about the girls and their enthusiasm more than anything else. I can only imagine what it must have been like, to let an entire troop of conservatively-reared South Indian girls loose on rowdy songs amplified many times over by the freedom they must have felt at escaping the confines of their home and its restrictive upbringing. Even if they were in the charge of equally strict nuns. And when my aunt taught me those songs, consciously or unconsciously, she was teaching me the only way she knew to sing them – with a heart brimming with joy! – as much as the music and lyrics.

And boy, did I sing the heck out of those songs! At the top of my voice from sun-up to sun-down you would hear me marching about, singing classics like, “This is the way we play our drums, play our drums, play our drums… ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum, ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum, ba-dum ba-dum ba-DUM!” I serenaded my expressionless grandmother with it. I sang it for my father and my uncles in the evening. I followed my mother around the house, asking her to properly appreciate my skills. I offered to teach it to my older cousins.

I was a one-child Girl Guide slander machine. Seriously. Fifteen rounds of ba-DUMs before breakfast would drive any sane person to contemplate murder and mayhem. Or unkind thoughts about any organization capable of unleashing such horror upon all familydom.

But the song that really got everyone’s goat – the one that finally made my mother beg her sister to leave my repertoire of songs incomplete was a song about a kookaburra.

It has often mystified me as an adult – why would a Guides troop in 1950s South India be singing songs about an Australian bird? But then I figured it must be some kind of colonial hangover (kind of like the Guides themselves, hey?). But as it turns out “Kookaburra sits in an old gum tree” is a song with special meaning for the Guides. And thus my aunt, an active member of the Guides, duly learned it by the campfire.

Now I don’t know if the Irish nuns who taught the song to my aunt had something against the Australians or whether they thought the song lacked pizzazz when transported to its exotic new home in the south of India – or if my aunt just thought I would like it better if she doctored the lyrics a little. In any event, when I went searching for the song today, it was definitely missing its most important lyric – the infamous chorus that rendered it so hideous to my family and cemented it in my own memory as the ultimate childhood song:

“Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha, hee-hee, hee-hee, Hoo! HOO!”

What’s truly weird is that as I look at the lyrics of the actual song, I recognize the words and the tune comes very naturally to my lips. It’s definitely the song I used to sing all those years ago. And I can see that there isn’t a single place in there where that chorus could possibly go.

And yet…! Curses! That kookaburra is laughing at me now!


Posted by on August 12, 2009 in Desipundit, Music, Personal, Video


15 responses to “Life is Ha-Ha, Hee-Hee

  1. bollyviewer

    August 12, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Your Aunt sounds like every mother’s worst nightmare! I am sure my siblings would disown me if I tried even half the stuff your aunt got away with, on their kids.

    And I remember learning the “cuckoobaarra” song in kindergarten – sadly without a chorus. But your family should be glad that you only regaled them with marching songs. It could have been a lot worse – you could have murdered their favorite songs, over and over again, all day long (as I used to)!

  2. Nandini Vishwanath

    August 12, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    My mom taught me kookaburra 😀 Makes me think of how quintessential a girl guide song this is! My mom was a girl guide too.

  3. Deci Bel

    August 12, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Hey Ms. GG slander machine, (you’re not gonna believe this but) I get done watching Milk and get over here only to have you “coochie-cooing” in my ear, “Gay your life must be”! 😛 (Phew! Barely escaped becoming permanently deaf coz it did set off Fourth of July fireworks inside my head, of “sing the heck out of songs” childhood memories! Oh man, Kookaburra WAS ubiquitous back then.)

  4. wordjunkie

    August 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    That chorus is from another great Tam childhood song… *Kalyaana Samaiyal* from the film Maya Bazaar. This and Kookaburra were my parent torturing devices , and my six year old keeps the tradition alive.

  5. Nikhil Narayanan

    August 13, 2009 at 2:04 am

    I was reading on post the G reader and the mention of the Kookabura song made me click on the link.
    It was sung even by scouts! Not sure if that is because all those camps were S&G camps.
    The songs from those Scouts camp are so many.
    I remember singing Kookabura, then “Khaalistaan kyun maang rahe ho Hindustaan tumhaara hai…”, oh no! Can’t recollect any more..
    The knots,the scouts law and promise,the kit inspections,the badges,the camp fire,the awful food,the camp fires…


  6. Gradwolf

    August 13, 2009 at 5:16 am

    This is the first time am even hearing about it! 😐

  7. dipali

    August 13, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I remember that song!
    Cool post, very cool aunt:)

  8. memsaab

    August 13, 2009 at 11:27 am

    I was a Girl Guide in Rhodesia and we sang this song endlessly, and I still love it. I taught it to my nieces when they were younger too, although they probably don’t remember it…

    Did you sing “I Zig-A-Zumba Zumba Zumba” too? (My other favorite.)

  9. M

    August 13, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Heh – I was a GG and sang this in the late 70s/early 80s! I taught my kids this song as well – and we embarrassed sundry Australian family members when we visited!


  10. pitu

    August 13, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Now I wish I was a Girl Guide 😦

    But I have a handy treasure trove of extremely violent, blood-curling, adrenalin pumping, throat cutting, sword fighting, most definitely not PG-13 Army songs taught by my Nana 🙂

    You have inspired a post! 😀

  11. Beth

    August 14, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Aaaah! “Kookaburra” was in my grade school music book too! (But I don’t remember singing it in Brownies.) And Memsaab, my mother sang me “I Zig-A-Zumba” but in her version it was the chorus to a university athletics fight song, I think. She may have made that up.

    • memsaab

      August 15, 2009 at 3:06 pm

      Mine was all about Zulu warriors and chiefs…but I was in southern Africa after all 😉

  12. mithun

    August 15, 2009 at 4:10 am

    i remember seeing this song once…nice.

  13. Amrita

    August 15, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    BV – oh no, regular songs were no use to me. I liked them loud and upbeat! Actually, my aunt was rather famous for spoiling the babies and with me, she had a little girl to spoil so they gave her extra room coz she’d lost her own little girl when she was a baby. Everybody was happy! Until I began singing. You should hear my singing voice. Ouch.

    Nandini – I’m kinda surprised the number of GG alums and their offspring on this board! 😀 Makes me wonder why I never joined.

    DB – if you think that’s gay, how about – “I like bananas, monkey nuts and grapes – that’s why I’m Tarzan the king of the apes?” hee hee!

    WJ – what, the Ha ha Ha, hee hee hee thing? That would make a lot of sense – I have to ask her.

    Nikhil – The Khalistan song cracked me up for some reason! 😀

    Adithya- you’re probably to be congratulated.

    Dipali – i do love her!

    M – lolz! were you really?

    Pitu – its almost the same thing! 😀

    Memsaab & Beth – Hell yeah! I remember I Zig-A-Zumba! I loved it! Also Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi! Which didn;t make sense then, and doesn’t make sense now.

    Mithun – 🙂

  14. pitu

    August 16, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    ooh I lurve Oggy Oggy!

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