Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Music of Life

A wet, rainy afternoon. Pitter-patter, nay, the beating down of large, heavy raindrops. Blazing disc of the sun, meek, against the invading army of dense, dark clouds. Ferocious wind surging in and out of the house, rattling frail window frames, flaying hapless curtains. The monsoon war rages on…

Oblivious to all this, I am at complete peace with myself, with the world – transported to another plane altogether by the lilting tunes of Bhimpalasi flowing like nectar from the mellifluous voice of Gaan Saraswati Kishori Amonkar – drowning me in the melodious ocean of the seven swar's  – the saptasur. As she meanders through the raag, light-footed here, a heavy step there, I am transported back to my childhood, to the commencement of the journey, my musical journey through life.

I remember waking up every morning to the strains of Hindustani classical music in the sonorous voice of Pandit D V Paluskar. I recall seeing father meticulously going over his collection of old and new gramophone records, choosing the appropriate one to play, depending on the time of day/night and the mood. His gentle humming as he affixed the record onto the player, the sparkle in his eyes and the childlike eagerness with which he awaited the first notes of music to issue forth as pointed needle met revolving record. Eyes mist out at the thought of the days gone by, but the smile plays on, to the music that never ceased…

Throughout the day, there would be music all around – the sound of birds chirping, water gushing, leaves rustling, animals frolicking, even snakes slithering and lizards crawling! I would climb up my favourite mango tree (or the guava, or the neem!) and sit still for hours together, fascinated by the wonderful sights and sounds of nature. The growling of an empty stomach was the only sound that would induce me to step inside and head towards the kitchen.  And then, the kitchen sounds – the vessels clanging, the mortar-pestle thudding, the grinding stone grinding, the masala and seasoning spluttering, and in times of the harvest, the threshing outside and the winnowing of grains inside! Oh, the joy of playing in the rich harvest of pearly rice, golden dal and earthy wheat, as mother and grandmother cleaned, winnowed and stored them, all to the humming of some old folk song handed down from generation to generation – I was the richest princess on earth! :)

Come evening, and the chirping of the crickets signalled the time to light the oil lamp and recite the evening prayers and tables. Evening prayers in grandmother’s firm yet melodious voice is a memory treasured by not just me, but the entire family. The calmness that her rich voice brought was akin to the application of a cool, soothing balm onto the hot, stuffy tiredness of the day’s toil. We all sat down to dinner in a much pleasanter mood after that. After shatapauli in the shimmering moonlight, we came back inside for a sweet dessert of night raags. As sleep took over the child that was me, mother gently gathered me into her arms and rocked me to sleep by singing sweet lullabies in Konkani and Marathi. Mother and mother tongue, simple and unassuming, yet leaving a deep impression on one’s mind.

Music continued, and music training too, not just in a music class, but by being taken to night long concerts at the community hall and even to Nashik city. Every Saraswat household is blessed with atleast one vocalist, instrumentalist and several connoisseurs of music. Visits from relatives would invariably turn into impromptu maifals with everyone wanting just one turn to display his/her talent, and getting several – one fuelling the other – unending music, unending fun! I especially remember one such family gathering when I was all of 3 years old, in which Sriram bhaiyya sat down with my harmonium after the afternoon meal and doled out dish after dish of delicious bhaav geets, bhakti geets and natya sangeet. Enthralled by his mesmerizing voice, I didn’t realize when I fell asleep, only to be wake up in time for the evening tea. Not one to let beauty in any form remain unappreciated, I promptly went up to him and innocently said “Bhaiyya, you sing so well! I slept so peacefully after hearing you sing!” As bhaiyya picked me up and gave me a hug, I wondered why he and everyone else in the house were roaring with laughter! To this day, Sriram bhaiyya maintains that it is the best compliment he has ever received for his singing! :D

School, college, IIT and IISc – I looked for and found music everywhere. In college, I was an active member of the Indian Music Group and helped organize and compere the JanFest that year. As part of the ArtMan (Artist Management) team, I had the good fortune of interacting at close quarters with the stalwarts of Indian classical music. Running around to Anna for hot tea and cool sandwiches for Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, the vacuum sealed thermos that won’t open and was ultimately opened by the handsome and talented Salil Bhatt, being addressed as ‘Mayaji’ by Parthosarathy Chaudhuri, the lightening speed with which Pandit Vijay Ghate’s fingers teased the tabla, the exhilaration at hearing the haunting tunes of the Pahadi played by Pandit Chaurasia late at night even as the police came to ensure the stop of the programme at the designated hour – the memories are many, rich and vibrant! Who can forget the race against time to cover up the green room (which was indeed painted green) because Kishori tai was not fond of that particular colour! How we rushed to the market, bought bales of white cloth and painted a beautiful peacock on it, even decorated it with shining mirrors, and managed to cover the walls only a minute before the lady herself walked in! Dr. Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande so liked our art work that she asked to take it away with her after the programme – we were more than pleased! I also vividly remember the morning of 26th January 2002, when the flag was hoisted by Kishori tai- there was a slight drizzle, and after the hoisting, Father Principal made an announcement that brought the house down – the government of India had conferred on to Kishori tai, the Pada Vibhushan, and Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the Padmashri that year!

At IIT too, music greeted me. My roommate, my ‘roomie’ , used to wake up early in the morning for her riyaaz. In order to not disturb me, she would climb up to the hostel terrace and practise there. Her beautiful singing would wake me up and lure me to the terrace too. A golden red sunrise and Hindustani and Karnatic shastriya sangeet being practised by one passionate about it – one has to be blessed to enjoy all three together!

At IISc, music was the solace to my PhD-battered soul. The extremely talented Rhythmica group breathed life into all their performances and into their listeners. How each member of this team could sing well and play most, if not all, instruments, just as pros, is something I wonder about even today. Then there was the time I feigned illness and bunked lab to stay up at an all night classical programme organized by the IISc Marathi Mandal in the gymkhana. After a wonderful four hours of listening to Ashwini tai with my talented, young junior Nishad giving saath, I stood up in the break time to stretch myself, only to find the Boss looking daggers at me from the 1st row of the VIP sitting, right behind the baithak! I immediately sank back into sukhasan, only to rise up with the morning sun the next day! I had to face an altogether different kind of music in the lab that morning  :D

That wasn’t the only time though - history repeats itself, and the Boss soon understood the strong correlation between my falling ill and the probability of a music concert in the vicinity. It had it’s advantages too – once when the Boss was gifted passes to a high profile music concert (tickets to which were too expensive for the torn pockets of a poor grad student), he promptly gifted them to me! So I had the good fortune of not just listening to Ustad Rashid Khan, Aman and Ayaan Ali Bangash and several South Indian Vidwans and Visdushis, but also to witness Pandit Birju Maharaj live, in person! I was in 7th heaven that day!

Life, however, is not always as musical. Sometimes, all there is to hear is empty, soulful music. At such times, I remember father’s words – “Divine music can be created even from a hollow flute that is full of holes. It matters not how hollow or how many holes, but it matters whether there is the will to create music.”

At that, I surrender and let the music of life envelope me. It accepts me in all my emptiness, in all my entirety. When the mind is atune with the anaahat naad, one is at peace with oneself, absorbed in divine bliss. As the nectar of life’s music begins to flow, I begin to live... immortally...