Musings, Remembering

Chords of memory

It’s amazing, how quickly one’s equanimity vanishes beneath the stresses and strains of living in our beloved Rajdhani.

In the present instance, by ‘equanimity’ I mean the peace of mind that I found at the India Music Summit in Jaipur (4 – 6 October). Time flew while I was there.  Now , barely a fortnight later, all that peace of mind too has flown out the window; my Delhi window that is,  beyond which the afternoon sun is hidden by a haze made up of equal proportions of PM10 particles, toxic fumes from factories and vehicles, and toxic abuse from a million marauding muttering motorists.

Where has all the music gone?

You know how it is sometimes with a wonderful childhood experience?  You remember you had a good time; but that’s all you can recall. It’s as though all the little details— the when and where and how, the who did what with whom and to whom and why, the people and places and happenings and all the other elements— have vanished from memory; they’ve been chopped up fine and atomized in Time’s great grinder and swirled in the waters of forgetfulness, and then slow-cooked with the spices of experiences and the tadka of love and joy and sorrow (stirring frequently all the while), till everything has become like one cerebral kootu.

And so, when you try and remember your childhood experience, you can only discern the kootu; a tasty but uniform, featureless stew.

Yet it takes just a random spark— perhaps a certain aroma, perhaps the way the morning sunlight gleams on a leaf, a certain voice or giggle or chord, or a stranger’s face that reminds you of someone you knew …and at once the years and decades fall away like dream’s architecture dissolves with awakening, and for a brief thrilling moment the wonderful childhood experience of ten years or fifty years ago returns in all its intensity and washes over you and renews you;  and just as you become aware of returning memory it vanishes …leaving you smiling, longing for more.

Sometimes, of course, you can seek out the spark yourself. And with music it’s really easy, music as a spark always works for me.

That’s what I did just now;  I turned to YouTube and sought Aruna Sairam. I found a wonderful performance by her with sarod player Soumik Datta, including  songs she’d sung at Jaipur! Here are two—the 500 MWe Durga stotram Aigiri Nandini, and the Kalinga Nartana joyously and passionately recreating young Krishna’s sport with the great serpent Kalinga.

And in less time than it takes the law-abiding but stressed-out Delhi motorist to yell “Abbe saale, wrong side pe kyon chalaa rahe ho!”, all my stresses and strains have evaporated. 🙂

I can’t wait to attend the 2020 Summit.   To temper my impatience, I just listened to, and share here, the ethereal voices of the Shillong Chamber Choir singing Vande Mataram:  as they did in Jaipur; singing here on another occasion, when Chandrayaan II silently circled the Moon and the Lander Vikram was lost; evoking what their songs always evoke in my mind, the embracing and celebration of Life with all its ups and downs, the joy and awe and grandeur of Eternity.

General ravings, Musings

Saccha Swar—Gateway to Perfection

If you love listening to music – and I believe everyone loves music, it matters not what kind of music it is — you’d  know that there’s this very special and powerful thing that exists in some music, a thing that lights up in your mind and heart when you are listening to the music; a thing that is like pure ecstasy. It awakens you, inspires you, excites and moves you to the point where you feel a sense of supreme joy, pure intense awareness, the wild, mad, uninhibited passion of junoon, utter liberation from all the stuff and nonsense of daily life…when you transcend time and lose the sense of Self,  yet, strangely and paradoxically, you feel more close than you have ever been to the entire universe. 

It’s this mysterious, timeless, supremely powerful thing that makes great music; it’s the ability to find this thing and convey it that makes great musicians great.  To experience this thing is like awakening into a Realm of infinite possibilities, of power and bliss, of union with the One in All and the All in One.  For great musicians, every performance is an exploration, a quest for the gateway to this Realm. Hindustani classical musicians sometimes speak about looking for ‘Saccha Swar’; the ‘Note of Perfection’… maybe that’s a nice description of the gateway.

And how does one find and follow the path that leads to the gateway of Saccha Swar

Perhaps only the great musicians know; perhaps even they can describe the path and their quest only through their music, not by mere words. This much is clear, though:  the path itself has to be laid down  individually, with the paving stones of endless learning and practice, riyaaz  and  saadhana;  the path  must be walked alone, it must be smoothed through deep discipline and dedication, illuminated by humility and openness and selflessness…

At this point, O long-suffering reader, I abandon my pitiful efforts at describing what I cannot describe.  Instead, I quote wonderful musician Aruna Sairam from an interview I came across recently:

“…Ultimately, when you speak of a raga, it is an emotion. And therefore the musician that engages with this raga is making himself or herself very open, emotionally—and very vulnerable to everybody else who is in that space. This means that you have to trust, and you have to love, yourself and everyone else.  And in that trust you put out your music, and the moment you express it, without inhibitions, the audience gets it, everybody around you gets it, and they in turn return that love manifold back to you…”

[click here for full interview]

Aruna Sairam is going to perform at the Music Summit, Jaipur. We’re going to join her, and many great Path-finders like her, in their explorations towards Saccha Swar; through them and with them, we too shall glimpse and experience the Realm of Perfection.    

Musings

Stellar Choir

I love music, but I’m no good at writing about music (or about anything else for that matter :D). Sure, I can play the drums, even fool around a little with a guitar; but I’ve never learned anything about music formally, instead simply picked up things by the heart and ear—and fingers and wrist and all.  

I tax thy patience with the above throat-clearing statements, O patient Reader, because I’ve sat down to write a few lines on how thrilled I am to know that the Shillong Chamber Choir is going to perform at the India Music Summit, Jaipur early October.  

But I can’t write about the Choir.

I love their music, but I have no words to describe their music and how it moves me.  Even if I knew something about music, I wouldn’t dare try. How can one convey the romance and immensity and magic of a clear, starry night in the language of astrophysics?

I  won’t even try to describe what kinds of music the Choir performs. It just doesn’t feel right to place any brackets of ‘genre’ around wonderful musicians like these; they sing just about anything they set their hearts and minds on…and they sing it with indescribable beauty and passion.

The Choir has performed across India, across the world. And they come from Shillong, my hometown.

There, I’ve said all I can. I humbly offer a link to the Choir’s website, where you can listen to some of their works. For quick samples, try these: Gerua and The wind beneath my wings

And now, I listen to the Choir’s rendition of ‘When a child is born’…and soar away on the ethereal voices and the timeless wonder and joy and hope they echo:

“…And all of this happens because the world is waiting,
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no-one knows
But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter,
Hate to love, war to peace, and everyone to everyone’s neighbour
And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever…
It’s all a dream, an illusion now
It must come true, sometime soon, somehow
All across the land, dawns a brand new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born
…”

Musings

Jaipur’s Sea of Music beckons…

music summit 2019 collage 2

Does music move thee?

It does me. Music inspires me, transports me.   I’m always playing music in my head,  and tapping rhythms on any readily available surface, and so forth. Learned doctors, who wish to remain anonymous,  have confirmed that music is as essential to my sanity (such as it is)  as is oxygen to my life.

And that’s why I’m attending the India Music Summit 2019, that’s going to happen in Jaipur October 4th to 6th 2019. You can take a look at what’s being planned at the Summit here.

Like last year’s Summit which I attended, this year’s Summit too promises to be much more than a series of concerts at a fine venue by great musicians from across the world in a variety of genres —though that alone would be ample reason to attend!

To be at the India Music Summit is to be enveloped in and carried away on the waves of a gentle, infinite sea … on a timeless voyage through time, the essence of rhythm, guided by harmony and cadence and melody and rhapsody and mood and passion and sheer joy.  During the Summit the music fills day and night, it welcomes in the warm glow of dawn and soars deep into starlight, it resounds in the halls and serenades the gardens and lawns. The musicians not only play and sing for you but share their anecdotes and experiences and  knowledge and insights with you… and when you take a break from time to time to stretch a limb or to guzzle calories to fortify body and mind,  there the musicians are, wandering around the lawns just like you, beside you at the buffet tables, ever ready to exchange a smile and namaskaar and friendly word or three…

Everything is so wonderfully informal, yet the music is so incredibly pure, so rigorous, so utterly perfect. The Summit’s got a vibe like nothing I’ve ever experienced elsewhere.

When a dear friend murmured that among the 100 or more musicians that will grace the 2019 Summit are Vikku Vinayakram, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Taufiq Qureshi, any little hesitation I had about attending simply vanished.

She also mentioned the name of a pianist–drummer prodigy I’d never heard or even heard of earlier: Lydian Nadhaswaram.  Great God YouTube granted me a darshan of Lydian’s virtuosity: click here.

I mightn’t be a great drummer, but there are times when I can claim to have a good sense of timing…  I’ve already bought my tickets for Jaipur :).

Hope to meet you at the Summit,  upon the enchanted Sea of Music.

 

General ravings, Musings

Holland: Remembering Eternity…

It’s 43° C in the shade here in Delhi, with a scalding hot wind ripping the  leaves off trees and propelling kilograms of nano-sized dust particles through the tiniest cracks and crevices in the doors and windows to fill the room where I sit, listening to the air cooler roaring in futile rage, eating juicy chunks of chilled watermelon in between keystrokes and cheering myself with visions of my not-so-favourite netas roaming the streets and campaigning for votes in this infernal weather.

Indeed, there is Dharma in this world.

Delhi’s incendiary summer is a good time to remember the crisp chill of Holland’s winter. I visited Holland in December-January; a dreamy, timeless three weeks during which I re-learned the sublime and long-forgotten art of simply being. Base camp was my friend Udai’s apartment in Delft –  it’s the prettiest little town I’ve ever been in. Delft is young by Indian standards (it’s only 600 years old) but its history is linked closely—oh so closely— to the history of India, indeed of the whole world.  There was so much to see, to experience, to learn…not only in Delft but in Leiden, Rotterdam, The Hague … no, it’s impossible to find words to describe it all, I don’t know where to start, so  I won’t even try – at least not now.

Right now I’m just going to place a few photos of Delft, from here and there. Like this…

I did miss two things, briefly but deeply, in Holland.

One was seeing tulips carpeting the earth out in the countryside like in the photos I’ve seen. Winter is off-season for tulips. So, I plan visiting Holland again, in April/May 2020.

Yayy.

The other thing I missed is actually a person: a friend, the first Dutchman I ever met, I’ll call him Helm, for it wouldn’t be fair for me to use his real name without asking him, and sadly I can’t do that now because Helm and I’ve lost touch since we last met in Shillong in the mid-1970s. I was then pursuing an elusive college degree in Shillong, invigorated in my chase by the healing vapours of garden-fresh cannabis and affiliated psychoactive substances. Helm was a visitor to Shillong from Calcutta, over three successive years, each time just for a fortnight or so. He was a Masters student (of Comparative Religions, if memory serves right) at the Viswa Bharati University, Santiniketan (Calcutta); a few years older than I, tall, broad, strong, golden-haired, ruddy-faced, always clad in white kurta-pajama and clogs. Helm was learned, earnest, serene, yet with a ready smile and a huge laugh that could shake the dust and woodlice off the  rafters. Helm lugged his classical guitar along wherever we wandered—exploring the hills and rills, meadows and forests, taverns and caverns—and when the heady ganja and mellow kyat had soothed the spirits sufficiently and the comfortable silences had settled, he would pull out the guitar and pluck and strum beautiful melodies and belt out folk  songs – Dutch, sometimes English – in a powerful baritone. He even taught me one Dutch song: I only remember the tune now, the lyrics are long forgotten.

I learned much from Helm: about the beauty of all religions and the horrors inflicted across the world in the names of gods and prophets, about humanism, tolerance, the need to remain curious as a child throughout life, how travel can open minds. Helm didn’t educate me on the tulips of Holland, but he taught me a far more valuable life-skill, one that is deeply rooted in India’s glorious heritage and culture—the refined art of making the purest charas (hashish) from the cannabis plants that grow in such profusion in the meadows of Meghalaya. It was a primary objective of his annual pilgrimage to Shillong, to manufacture sufficient stocks of charas to keep him going in Calcutta till the winter break when he went home to Holland.  Thanks to Helm, I and a few friends drastically cut down our ganja-smoking; we switched to charas.

Wherever you are, Helm of Holland, may peace be with you. It was wonderful visiting your beautiful, eternal country: I remembered you, briefly but deeply, when there.  Who knows, the One willing, perhaps we shall meet again someday, in this life or in another, in some timeless rolling meadow filled with music and laughter and companionship and comfortable silences and mounds of stroopwaffel and the divine fragrances of tulips and mellow wine and ripening ganja plants in the sunshine…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General ravings, Musings

Jai Vijaye Bhava,T M Krishna!

The other evening – 17th of November it was – I went with a couple of friends and heard T M Krishna sing at the Garden of Five Senses, Delhi.

It was great!

Krishna was in fine voice; a voice I’d heard only a couple of times earlier, rendering Thyagaraja krithis as smoothly as folk songs. Oh, and also singing in a short but powerful campaign video against Unilever for dumping toxic chemicals and endangering the people and ecology of Kodaikanal (click here to see it)

That’s all I knew of Krishna till around the 14th of November; that he was a great musician, innovative, that he sang for good causes.

And then this great big thing blew up in our faces, amplified to megaton levels by media: that Airports Authority of India  and Spic-Macay had abruptly cancelled a scheduled concert on 17th November featuring Krishna, among other artistes. AAI gave no reasons for the cancellation; but I understood, from editorials print and online, that Krishna was regarded by BJP sympathizers – and therefore, the Central Government, and by inference, AAI too— as ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-Indian culture’, all because he, Krishna, conveyed pithy political and social messages through his songs. I also heard and read that Krishna had been cruelly trolled by ‘right-wing Hindutva’ nuts.

All this I found profoundly disheartening, disturbing, disgusting.  I hoped, over those two days that followed, for some strong reaction from the Central Government, from AAI…but there was only stony silence.

And so, when Delhi’s AAP government announced that it would host a performance by Krishna on the 17th, I decided I must attend. Not to convey some glorious ‘secular message’ or make a ‘political statement’ or anything pretentious as that, but to simply hear Krishna, a musician who just wanted to sing from his heart about things he felt strongly about… and had been cruelly treated for wanting to do that.

Given the circumstances, I was a little worried about the event becoming more a political jamboree than a music concert. But credit to AAP leaders Kejriwal and Sisodia, not only did they arrive only about 20 minutes late, which is incredibly early by Delhi standards, but their bhashans were mercifully brief and non-incendiary. Krishna himself was all dignity: he murmured that he was there not to speak but to sing…and so he did: wonderfully, passionately, movingly.

Now, clacking out these words, I wonder: why must we taint everything in our lives that brings joy, with the corrosive acid of divisive politics?

My music or writing or theatre, my art, my rendering of what I think of as art, might not be to your liking, and vice versa; but surely we can each find the art we like and peacefully enjoy it without having to mock, disfigure, destroy others’ likes, others’ art? Without hurting others?

Just as you, gentle reader, might hold the view that I can’t write for nuts (doubtless with great justification). But that shouldn’t drive us – and our fans, our acolytes, assuming we have any – at each others’ throats?

Like:  I never liked M F Hussain’s paintings. M F Hussain, in my view, couldn’t paint for nuts. I have said so to friends who like M F Hussain’s paintings. It hasn’t affected our friendship.

I remember even writing so once (in Indian Express, in a letter): in the late 1990s, a time when, weirdly, it had become the politically correct thing to like M F Hussain, and you risked being branded ‘Hindu communalist’ or ‘fascist’ if you said you didn’t like Hussain. Well, I wrote I didn’t like M F Hussain’s work, not because his work offended my religious or cultural sensibilities but because his work offended my artistic sensibilities. But (I added) that didn’t mean I had the right to burn his paintings or run the man out of the country.

You, I, anyone at all, can take on T M Krishna fair and square, one-on-one, for his political views, such as they are…just as Krishna has the right to take on any of us fair and square for our political views, such as ours are.

But when Krishna the musician is invited to present his music, we must welcome him and respect him as musician.

I have heard Krishna, I love his music, I admire his politics. But that’s my opinion; you can think differently, it’s okay.

But none of us, none of us can allow a government institution like AAI to judge  an artiste, any artiste, by his or her perceived ‘politics’.

It is terrible, the way AAI has capitulated before a gang of nameless, faceless e-thugs whose claim to represent ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Indian culture’  is as well-founded as Lashkar e Toiba’s claim to represent ‘Islam’ or ‘Islamic culture’.

It is good that Delhi’s AAP government gave Krishna a chance to play at the Garden of Five Senses…and us the chance to hear him.

As of today, 19th November 2018, I am a votary of AAP.

But I shall watch AAP’s future activities with considerable interest before taking the call at the next polls. Knowing our politicians, be they from Left, Right or virtually non-existent Centre, chances are high that the AAP will commit some colossal balls-up ere long…

That’s why we need you, T M Krishna! Jai Vijaye Bhava! Jai Hind.

Musings

Entranced at India Music Summit

This is sentimental. Because music makes me sentimental.

I write this with the feeble authority of one who has taught himself to play percussion by ear. I must hastily add: I also play percussion by fingers, palms, and feet.

I write to say I was utterly swept away by the ocean of music created by the many ustaads who performed during the MTV India Music Summit, organized by Musiconcepts at the Fairmont, Jaipur from 12th to 14th October.

I dare not try and describe what they played or how they played or why their performances were so wonderful, so moving, so magical. That is best left to the countless others who are more qualified and knowledgeable than me in matters musical.

But this much I bravely declare: the music I heard during the Summit unshackled my mind (it is of no relevance whether the mind was already unhinged); it carried me off to float effortlessly into realms of utter harmony, where, on the waves of timeless rhythms and riffs and cadences and chords, I transcended – if only for a few days – the mechanical world of space-time that I think of, and usually dwell in, as Reality.

Borrowed and adapted shamelessly from Musiconcepts
Some of the maestros who played at the Summit [I’ve shamelessly ‘borrowed’ and adapted this collage from Musiconcepts ]
Among the maestros who performed at the Summit were Shujaat Khan on sitar, Ajay Prasanna on flute, Amit Choubey on tabla, Ambi and L. Subramanian on violin, Aruna Sairam and Suresh Wadkar on vocals, Prasanna on guitar…. to name just a few. We heard Indian and Western classical, jazz and rock and world music, pop and devotional…

And more than once, at the end of some performance when I opened my eyes to the sound of applause and cheering as the last ethereal notes faded, I remembered something that the great jazz drummer Max Roach once said: that a great musician makes music the way a lover makes love.

Many of the musicians at the Summit demonstrated (and how!) the truth of this maxim in their performances: blending boundless curiosity with childlike delight, self-control with confidence; tempering blazing passion with tenderness, raging desire with empathy; taking us soaring to celestial heights of ecstasy, utter abandon, and then gently, respectfully, bringing us back to earth…

They performed with love, pure and unselfish. The love resonated as much in the joyous, crystal-clear choruses of the Mizo Cardinal Choir as in Usha Uthup’s husky, throaty, sending-shivers-down-the-spine crooning; in the devotional songs of Mazhar and Javed Ali Khan and of Pandit Chhannulal Mishra; in the innocent, lilting violin-cello-piano melodies of the Ramakrishnan Trio comprising Aaliya, Naima and Nisha; in the divine flute duets with which Suchismita and Debopriya Chatterjee dispelled dawn’s chill and welcomed the rising sun.

And if the Summit was shaped and held together by these many delicious and diverse strands of music, their impact was hugely enhanced by the interludes during which the maestros shared their musical knowledge and insights with us, through relaxed baithaks and conversations filled with anecdotes and banter. It was amazing how, with seemingly no effort or intent, these little one-off sessions developed a dynamic and logic of their own, with the ideas and musings and music in one session reflecting and being built on in another, till they became threaded together into a single string of multi-faceted, many-hued gems of gyaan.

There was so much of value, so much to listen to and revel in, so much to learn. Here are just a few random strands drawn from rapidly fading memory, in no particular order (the interpretations and translations, and any inaccuracies in them, are entirely my own):

  • Shujaat Khan, fondly recalling his father Vilayat Khan, and also Bhimsen Joshi who would often visit their home:

“Once, while listening to me as I was doing my riyaz, Joshiji began to chant the refrain of what sounded like a bhajan. Of course the bhajan blended perfectly with the raga I was playing, but I was unfamiliar with the lyrics. They went something like this (sings):

       Pachhhee-suhha

       Lakshmi Maaaa Ryg Gyu – Poo

       Ney-Mahaa

       Raaaaasha-Trahah

“After we finished, I asked Joshiji what the bhajan was. He replied, with a chuckle, that having momentarily forgotten the actual lyrics, he had instead sung out the address of his residence in Pune: ‘25, Lakshmi Marg, Pune, Maharashtra’… 

  • Shankar Mahadevan, talking about his work with Bollywood songs and explaining—through songs—why we must, and how we can, respect, preserve, build on, and popularize our incomparable musical heritage—Hindustani, Carnatic, and all their many regional streams—without compromising on the rigour and purity of their classical systems and structures.
  • Shujaat Khan on sitar, sliding almost mischievously from a lovely contemplative Hindustani classical piece to a Bollywood pop tune. And leading us, with his wizardry on the strings, on a voyage along a river of liquid notes during which we experience the closeness of music to nature, to life, to Creation.
  • Ambi Subramaniam with his violin bearing us smoothly, blissfully, across the realms of jazz, world music, Carnatic raga.
  • Chhannulal Mishra effortlessly switching from Hindustani raga to Carnatic raga, providing glimpses into the one deep ocean whence both great rivers of traditional Indian music originate…
  • Sufi Kathak dancer Manjari Chaturvedi,  speaking  passionately on her ‘Courtesan Project’ to erase the social stigmas attached to the tawaifs (courtesans) and give them the respect and credit they deserve as  supreme exponents of dance, music, drama and literature:
    • Today, it has become so convenient for us to depict the tawaifs as ‘victims of sexual exploitation’ because they were women who performed in the nawabs’ courts. This is wrong! By the same token, we ought to be depicting as ‘victims of sexual abuse’ the men who performed in the nawab’s courts! The truth is, the tawaifs were great artistes, they were ustaads. And ustaad is a gender-neutral word! We only denigrate the tawaifs, we diminish and devalue their achievements by looking at them through the narrow prism of gender. Their music, all music, should be judged by its intrinsic value and quality, not by the gender or social position of the performer…”
    • “NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, carry ‘golden records’ containing sounds and images intended to depict the diversity of life on Earth for any extraterrestrial intelligence that may come across them. The records contain music from many countries: the song selected from India is the raga ‘Jaat Kahan Ho’ sung by khayal singer ‘Surshri’ Kesarbai Kerkar. Today Kerkar is still remembered in NASA’s golden disc on distant Voyager…but she is forgotten by us…”

The memories of the conversations blur and coalesce; presently they will fade and disappear altogether.

The music and passion endure, enthrall.

 

    High on music, captivated by this mighty war drum, I tried echoing the driving beat of  the Fairmont Gatekeeper…and succeeded in driving away a number of guests