Preparing to write this post, I needed to know, so I spent a few minutes while my coffee cooled, inquiring of Google, “Where is Hindustan located?” And finally the reliable Encyclopedia Britanica (much more hip than the World Book Encyclopedia) of my childhood genially answered:
Hindustan, (Persian: “Land of the Indus”) also spelled Hindusthan, historically, the northern Indian subcontinent—in contrast to the Deccan, the southern portion of the Indian subcontinent. This area can be defined more particularly as the basin of the five Punjab rivers and the upper Indo-Gangetic Plain. As a mostly fertile and well-populated corridor situated between walls of mountain, desert, and sea, Hindustan has been regarded as the principal seat of power in South Asia, containing the bulk of wealth and physical energy. The name Hindustan is sometimes used to indicate the lands “north of the Vindhya Range.” It is also occasionally used as a synonym for the entire Indian subcontinent.
Now that’s settled. Moving closer to our usual concerns, there is the 1918 hit song of the same name. I didn’t know that one of the composers, Oliver Wallace, also wrote the score for Disney’s DUMBO; his collaborator, Harold Weeks, seems only to have composed HINDUSTAN.
A more erudite cultural historian schooled in “Orientalism” could write a great deal about the fascination in the late teens and early Twenties with popular songs celebrating the non-Western: THE SHEIK OF ARABY, SONG OF INDIA, SO LONG OOLONG, CHINA BOY, SAN, NAGASAKI, CHINATOWN MY CHINATOWN: songs that Americans and others sang and played, while they regarded people from those regions with suspicion — “You’re not from around here, are you? Where were you born?” — and refused them employment and housing. As a species, we are fascinating.
I think I first heard the song on Jean Shepherd’s radio program (circa 1969) and he is the reason I knew a portion of these lyrics — which, I confess, I also looked up this morning for accuracy: “HINDUSTAN, where we stopped to rest our tired caravan / HINDUSTAN, where the painted peacock proudly spreads his fan / HINDUSTAN, where the purple sunbird flashed across the sand / HINDUSTAN, where I met her and the world began.”
“Where we stopped to rest our tired caravan”! This performance, from the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend, is anything but tired, sparked by Jon-Erik Kellso’s idea of changing the key for every chorus (I believe between C and Eb). Trumpeter Jon is joined by Tom Pletcher, cornet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass; Pete Siers, drums:
Wow. I’m off to find the painted peacock.
May your happiness increase!