`Awara hoon` in a Turkish tavern

Istanbul: "Awara hoon, ya gardish mein hoon asman ka tara hoon"...The well-known number from the 1951 film "Awara", starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis, was being belted out by a musician in the unlikeliest of places - at a crowded restaurant in Turkey`s most well known city.

In Turkey, singing and dancing with abandon is part of life, and what better time to indulge in it than over dinner, relaxing with family or friends over wine and food, and with a musician or two to add that zing to the evening.

Adnan, the musician who sang the "Awara" number, can croon in numerous languages. Every evening, he entertains guests at `meyhanes`, or taverns, located along Istanbul`s happening street, Istiklal Caddesi, a pedestrian-only avenue that seems never to sleep.

Shops, selling anything from clothes, bakery items, books and artifacts are open till late in the night, inviting tourists to their colourful interiors. And after you`ve done your fill of shopping, or window shopping, step into a meyhane, which is similar to the Urdu word maikhana or tavern.

The wining and dining and singing and dancing at meyhanes begin late in the evening and continue well past midnight. These taverns are located along the inner lanes at Istiklal and are generally old houses that have been converted into meyhanes. The décor is simple, chairs and tables inside the restaurant and outside too. In summers, the outdoor is preferred. And while tucking into bread and dips and sipping your favourite drink, a musician will entertain you at your table.

"Awara hoon" (which literally means `A vagabond am I`) is the most popular Hindi number known to Turkish musicians and whenever an Indian crowd happens to be there, it is crooned to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument called the baglama.

Doesn`t he know any other Indian songs, there are so many? "Well, this is the one they seem to know and like the most, though, as you say, it is a very old song," tour guide Derya Kutukcu explains laughingly to this visiting IANS correspondent.

At one table, a set of musicians is playing a Turkish number, and the attractive woman sitting there with her companion begins to sing along with the male musician. She sings with abandon, and rather well too. A round of appreciative applause follows when the song is over. She smiles in acknowledgement.

Then she places a request for a song. While it is being played, the woman sips her drink and taps with her fingers on the table. She says something laughingly to her companion, gets up, and breaks into a spirited tap dance near her table.

She is not the only one dancing. At another table a little away, another woman is dancing to a musician`s song. The atmosphere is infectious, and your feet begin to tap too.

The gay spirit of the Turkish people is admirable. They love song and dance and a good evening out, and enjoy it to the core. The musicians, of course, expect generous tips whenever they play at your table. It is their livelihood.

And while enjoying an evening out at a meyhane, don`t forget the `raki`. Known as lioness` milk, it is a drink meant for the courageous. Raki, the national drink of Turkey, turns milky white when water is added; hence the description.

Its strong aniseed flavour grows slowly on the senses, but for Indians used to clearer spirits, the flavouring is not too appetizing at first. The colourless drink is served in small glasses, with water provided in a separate glass.

"Raki is a drink from the Thrace area of Turkey, the European part of the country," says Imran M. Rana, the owner of Musafir Indian Restaurant in Istanbul, a throbbing city of 16 million people.

"It is a kind of ritual drink, used during all celebrations. It is accompanied by white cheese, a salad made of egg plant, yoghurt, hummus (made of chick peas), and fish, which is a very good accompaniment."

"Raki hits you hard, like an angry mom, maybe that`s why it is called lioness` milk!" Imran says, adding in Hindi, "Pyaar se maarti hai (It hits with love)".

"The aroma adds to its hardness. You`re supposed to have a sip of raki, and then of water, in that order," he adds.

By the time dinner and the dance and music are over, one begins to wish the atmosphere at Indian eateries too was as carefree.