This is about the often-strange state of my mind, I presume. But it’s about music. It’s about my daily meditation, my Bhakti Yoga, my trance.
I report it to you.
Judge it, if you please. Adore it, if you can. Chastise it, if you must. But this is me. This is what it is: another shameless confession. I told you my blog would be about one hundred percent, heartfelt, honest feelings. I can’t hide it anymore.
I won’t hide it anymore.
Every morning, a different song comes to my mind. Often, I dream about it. Last week, I dreamed of a Tagore song based on a morning raga and a slow, seven-beat rhythm.
nutan pran dao sakha…
(this new beautiful morning
give me a new life
Today, I dreamed of a Nazrul Islam song.
Mor ghumoghore ele manohar
shiyore bashi chupi chupi
(you came to me in my dreams
you sat by my head, silently,
and kissed my eyes…)
The songs appear in strange ways. As if I’m singing a few lines, somewhere – a friendly gathering here in America where suddenly two of my pretty Calcutta cousins show up with a big smile, cousins I haven’t seen in twenty years. Or, as if I’m performing at one of the Bengali New Year or Tagore birthday celebrations I organized in Southern Illinois or upstate New York. Or, a new-generation Calcutta poet and I are having a pleasant conversation talking about the new trend of cerebral Indian music; we both happily decided that Bollywood was pure trash. Or else, maybe it’s an unknown, uncanny, turbulent river where I’m in sole charge of the oars, and I’m nervous, but still singing, a little incoherently.
Then I wake up.
The song stays with me for the rest of the day, and I sing it in my mind, silently, as if I don’t want to let the others know about my new secret today. Not even to the woman who’s sleeping next to me, and waking up together with me. Sometimes she knows because I’m singing it just a little louder, either in the shower or in the kitchen downstairs, making tea. Sometimes a new song – similar to the original one, perhaps based on the same raga, carrying a similar mood – hijacks the tune and takes me over, and I sing the new song from that point on, only to be taken over by a third song, and then perhaps by a fourth. Often, I forget the original one that I began my day with: I can’t seem to remember it at all, however hard I try. In fact, the more I try, the more it slips away. And I know I don’t like the new song I’m singing now because I want to get back to the first one – the one that came in my early morning dream.
As if I’m trying hard to remember the face of my very first crush: way back when, on the early-Spring balconies of North Calcutta.
Then I stop singing altogether, and trivial, mundane things take my day over. Like, I ride the bus and there’s an argument between the cranky driver and an attitude passenger. Or, it’s a Christian preacher screaming on the crowded subway calling everybody a doomed sinner (and nobody questions). A poor, homeless man is sleeping covered head to toe on the crowded, morning train taking up an entire row of seats. Two old women are talking to each other in their own language at a pollution-level decibel. A Hispanic singer plays nylon-string guitar on the platform. Or, a line of cheerful kids goes on a field trip with their teacher, chortling. I forget my song.
Then, at night, in the quiet comfort of my bed, while reading a favorite book I’d read thousands of times – maybe one of those Satyajit Ray, Saradindu Banerjee or Parashuram stories – it suddenly crawls back, as if it was waiting all day to return to me – the real me.
It says, “Hi, I’m back, see?” It says, “Now sing me secretly again, deep inside your heart, before you fall asleep.” It says, “Close your eyes now, and think about me. I’m all yours.”
And I very gently caress it, make love to it, and sleep with it.
I don’t know how it all began. But I remember I sang since I was very little, as far back my memory can go – maybe when I was only three or four. At the Montessori school Shishu Niketan, we stood up in a line in the semi-dark assembly hall and our music teacher Sister Ela would play on her small, ancient, decrepit piano and lead us on:
amar hiyar majhe lukiye chhile
dekhte tomay pai ni ami
dekhte tomay pai ni
bahir paane chokh melechhi
ami tomar kachhe jai ni…
(You were hidden in my heart
I couldn’t but see you
I couldn’t but see you
I looked out to the outside world
Yet I didn’t return to find you)
Or, she’d sing something more cheerful:
amra sabai raja
amader ei rajar rajatwe
noile moder rajar saney
milbo ki sattwe
We’re all royals
in this kingdom of our King
or else, how can we
how can we greet
with no treasures
Did we understand the meaning of the songs? Hardly; but it didn’t matter. It was fun. Deep-voiced yet mellifluous Sister Ela would sing Tagore tuned in simple talas: the three-beat Dadra, four-beat Tritala, or three-two-three-two-beat Jhampaka. She’d sing three or four songs, taking fifteen minutes or so, and we the little crickets would happily chirp in, slowly settling down. Morning songs, and then fun games, Bengali and English rhymes and reading. Then, after lunch from our small tiffin boxes we brought in from home, it’s time for an afternoon nap in the dark and quiet nap room wrapping in our homespun quilts, supervised by junior teachers. At three thirty, it’s time to run. Ma would be waiting outside the school gate along with the other mothers and sisters, to pick up their precious little ones. The Nepali gatekeeper Bahadur would carefully let us out, one cricket at a time.
Ma and father both could sing. Father mostly sang patriotic songs, and he sang rather well. I’ve seen our relatives, especially his cousins, requesting him to perform at small family gatherings. Ma would sing quietly, when nobody else is home, and she’d sing in a strangely soft and artificial contralto, as if she’s stifled to sing normally. She would not sing in front of anybody else; I was her exclusive audience. Sometimes I made fun of the way Ma sang and she’d pretend to be upset. In a few seconds, though, she would laugh it away. She couldn’t be upset with me. She wouldn’t be unhappy with me.
It was music. I has always been music.
[I shall return and write more. I hope you return too. Thank you, my friends.]
Brooklyn, New York