Most of us love music. Some are more fortunate than others and can play an instrument or sing; I am good at neither. However, listening to music is my “mindless meditation”. From the time I start my day, whether out walking, cycling, driving or just sitting outside on the deck or in the front yard, music is now my raison d’etre.
Growing up in India, one was fortunate to develop an ear for the wide range of Indian music forms like classical, Sufi, ghazals, folk, qawwalis and of course, the ubiquitous Bollywood songs. It had been only six years before my birth that the British had left India, so “Anglicized” influences had still prevailed during my early childhood. This helped one to hear and learn to appreciate a wide range of “Western” music like “Pop” (Popular music) that by itself encompassed many styles, Rock, Jazz, Western Classical and so much more, although I was not drawn to Operatic music until much later and only to a limited extent.
It is one thing to listen to music in solitude. However, trust me when I say that one’s listening pleasure is enhanced manifold if a friend shares your taste of music. It is such a pleasure to listen to a classical Indian raag with a friend who enjoys this form, while with another, one shares the meaning of a particularly nuanced Sufi poetry, qawwali or a ghazal. This is not restricted just to like-minded friends. I was floored when I first heard our three-year old grandson, R belt out “Puff the Magic Dragon” in its entirety; originally performed by Peter, Paul and Mary back in 1963 it has remained a favourite since I first heard it. But this latest version shared by a special young soul half a century later is really special! Perhaps, R has been influenced by the talent that his exceptionally music-minded, star DJ father shared with him. Our eight-year old granddaughter, S was singing away Harry Belafonte’s various hits as she hopped and skipped across the front yard this summer; likely a reflection of Jamaican ancestry shared by her father!
Music transcends language. A dear friend shared clips of Bengali music with me while another provided me with exquisite Turkish and Persian compositions in the Sufi genre. I have been sharing some of my favorite songs with you, and many readers of these blogs have requested that I do so more often providing a translation of the verses, where possible.
“Sharing is caring,” as my wife keeps reminding all the children in her care at school. Sharing music is an altogether different, almost an ethereal experience. In Delhi, an uncle introduced me to the intricacies of Indian classical music. On Sunday afternoons, he would bring out his turntable and 78 rpm vinyl records. From Kabir’s bhajans sung by Kumar Gandharva to rare compositions by the legendary Ustads Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali Khan, he opened up a whole new world to me. My father had planted the seed by taking me along to “mushairas” (poetic soiree) and this introduction later blossomed into a full-blown love of Urdu poetry and ghazals. Another uncle and I would sit together for hours recording Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s qawwalis from pirated cassettes back in the 1970s. Then there are fond memories from Bahrain in the 1990s, of a dear friend’s special “music room” where we would be sprawled on the carpet with eyes closed, lost in the strains of Hari Prasad Chaurasia’s flute; at precisely the moment the percussion tabla and flute notes hit the “sum” (completion of the rhythm cycle) as if on cue we would open our eyes to look at the other, nod or smile knowingly and then go back into our enraptured state.
I end with this Bangla (Bengali) and Hindi Rabindra sangeet composition in the late evening raag Kedar, exquisitely sung by Kaushiki Chakrabarty and Jayati Chakrabarty that was shared by a very dear Bangla friend. I did not have to resort to my extremely limited understanding of Bengali to “feel” the emotions; enjoy.