Friday, December 17, 2010

The Beginning of Music

My earliest memories of music date back to a time when I was 4 years old or so.
When I think about that music, what comes to my mind without a willing effort on my part to recollect, is our home in Mysore, a National Panasonic tape recorder of that time and cassettes of Balamurali and MS Subbalakshmi. I can also see my father pacing the hall up and down clapping his hands as he played the tala, enjoying the music, occasionally singing himself.

He had bought the tape recorder in Agra for 1100 rupees. That was his first tape recorder. It was black in colour. The button for recording was red I think. It did not stand on a surface but slept. I downloaded these pictures from the net that look very ssimilar to the device I remember vaguely.

When you press the eject button a glass panel opened upwards like the hood of a car.

You inserted a cassette and closed the hood. Behind this was a porous surface. Rows and columns of holes. Thats probably where the sound came from. Seems like another lifetime now.

I even remember the songs that played often. And sure, there was enough of ‘replaying’ these songs since we did not have too many cassettes but only a few select ones.

‘Shreeman Narayana’, ‘Nanati Baduku’ by MSS, ‘Pahi Rama Prabho’, ‘Paluke Bangara Mayena’ by Balamurali…among others.

I used to sing the first two lines of ‘Yendaro Mahanu Bhavulu’ (one among Thyagaraja’s Pancharatna Keertanas), much to the delight of my parents. They would tell visitors (mostly relatives) about it who would ask me to sing it for them. They would pat me after I finished and remark about what a lovely voice I had.

That’s probably when my father began to cherish a dream – to train me in Carnatic classical music.
A dream which I remain guilty of not fulfilling.

There was classical music in the family. Most of them in the family were capable either of singing a few keertanas or varnas. All of them could identify a few ragas. And some of them had performed on stage.

By the time I had reached the age of seven, my maternal aunts had managed to teach me a few Kannada folk songs, Bhavageethe and a few Devaranamas.

While in Sira, I and mom learnt to play the Veena for a year.
I remember how I broke one of the strings and sat in fear as our teacher mounted a new string on the instrument.

Just when it was the right time for my father to find me a tutor for training in Carnatic Vocal, he was transferred to Bharuch, Gujarat.

Having nothing much to do with the plenty of free time that I had, I started learning Hindustani from a teacher who lived close by. When Urvi, my neighbour, playmate and a student of the same teacher, suggested the idea to my parents, they thought why not? What is the harm in it? A few rupees every month… until we go back to the South and enroll her in vocal training…

The classes were in the morning. Not very early. Sevenish I think.
I would walk to our Sir’s house. The harmonium was a necessary accompaniment as we sang.
All the harmoniums were stacked in one room.
We had our preferences. Not all of them produced the same sound quality. Not all of them were new. Also not all of them looked good.
There was one particular new and good looking harmonium producing fine sound that everyone vied for. Since it was first come, first serve, the one who came early got to keep that harmonium for that day. I had to choose between my favourite harmonium and a few extra minutes of sleep. Most of the times, I chose the former.

The first song I learnt, if I remember correctly, was “Beet Jaat Barkha Rut, Sajna Nahi…Yeri Yeri Yeri Pyari…Dadur Bole Papiha Bole…”
When I sang this at home one day before my parents, they seemed quite impressed. I remember I was seated on the teapoy and my parents on the floor, facing me, close to my feet. That’s probably when they took interest in my Hindustani lessons.

After finishing our lessons, we would delight ourselves, exploring the harmonium.
After some experimenting, trial and error, I could play the then famous song from the film Tezaab “Ek do teen”.
I would play this tune every day until I could do it perfectly without fumbling and faltering on the keypad of the harmonium.
I remember the keys even to this day and whenever I have laid my hands on a keypad since then, this is the first song I have played.

The most memorable of all songs that I learnt in those few months was ‘Shyama Sundara Madana Mohana”. This is a song that I can sing even today. This is a song that my relatives still remember. When I had visited my grandparents during the summer vacation that followed, I had sung this song and all had taken an instant liking to this simple but touching song.

I myself felt ecstatic when I reached the higher notes in a crescendo.

Shyama Sundara Madana Mohana Jaago Mere Lala.
Jaago Mere lala, Jago mere lala, jago mere lala

Prathah bhanu prakat bhaye
Gwala bala milane aaye
Tumhare daras dwaro thado
Mohana murali wala

Jago mere lala, jaago mere lala.

And when I sang the line Mohana Murali wala, we would be all smiles because my brother’s name is Murali and in those days of childhood, this coincidence was such a big deal.

Within a few months, I became Sir’s favourite. He would sometimes start the morning class with my singing. He would ask me to sing Shyam Sundar and smile and rock as I sang.

I would have continued learning but my father had been transferred to Ahmedabad. So I had to be content with a certificate after the exam. I said bye to my music teacher and moved on.

Thus music flowed into and ebbed out of my life, lingering now, receding now, crossing my path occasionally here and there.

I had no clue that that very soon, music was to enter my life, as an epiphany does, not to cross my path, not to linger temporarily, but to stay forever, to be my companion for the rest of my life and to possess me and to dwell in my soul until death.

After sometime of moving to Ahmedabad, we were expecting relatives from the South. And surely, they came. Rama, her husband Srinidhi, her in laws and Vatsa uncle, my father’s cousin.

A tour had been planned.
Ranakpur, Udaipur, Mount Abu, Chittod Garh and other places...

So one morning, we started a journey.
After which life would never be the same for me.

Vatsa uncle had got with him several cassettes. As the taxi moved, the cassette started playing. I was listening to most of these songs for the first time.
They were Mukesh hits.
As the songs replayed, they started growing on me.
As days passed, I knew the lyrics of these songs by heart.
My father, who listened to classical music mostly, and who preferred a silent drive, grew more and more annoyed when the music just didn’t stop.

But the songs played on and on to my delight, thanks to two men Vatsa uncle and Srinidhi uncle.

…Sajan re jhoot mat bolo, O jaane wale ho sake to laut ke aana, Kayi sadiyon se kai janmon se tere pyar ko tarse mera man, Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal se, Raaste ka patthar, Taaron mein sajke apne sooraj se, Chal ri sajni ab kya soche, Chandan Sa badan, Suhana safar, Ruk ja o jaanewali ruk ja

My father swore he would never undertake another journey in a group. He would travel with his family or alone.

When we returned home, I was singing aloud as if I had known the songs all my life.
My affair with old Hindi film music had begun.

One unexpected day, heaven threw an apple.
My father brought home 2 cassettes of Mukesh hits. And I would play them on my tape recorder all the time. These were really old hits that even my Hindi speaking neighbours had not heard. Mukesh was still imitating KL Saigal in some of these songs and had not yet discovered his own voice.

…Zinda hoon is tarah ke game zindagi nahi, Dil jalta hai to jal ne de, Nain hamare saanjh satare
Mubarak ho sabko …main to deewana, Ye kaun chitraakar hai, Haan maine bhi pyar kiya, Hum chal rahe the, Main to har mod par tujh ko doonga sada

A few months later we moved to Bangalore as my dad was transferred again.
My grandmother’s transistor became instrumental in the fortification of my liaison with music.
Vividh Bharati. That was the channel I would tune into after 10 in the night. Aap ki Farmaaish, Bhoole Bisre Geet and Man Chaahe Geet. I would listen to old songs every day. To the resentment of my father.

On some days I would tune in at noon when I came home for lunch from school.

The family went to bed by 10:30.
I shared my room with my grandmother. I would take the transistor to my bed and reduce the volume so I would not disturb anyone.
On some days, I would doze off and my mother would announce the next morning that the radio was on the whole night.
I was afraid they would make this an excuse for taking the radio away from me.

The back pages of all my note books were filled with these songs. I would write down the title of every new song that I discovered. Sometimes I would take down the complete lyrics.

While in bed listening to the radio, I would commit to my memory a song with the intention of noting it down the next morning. On some unfortunate mornings, I would wake up not being able to recollect the song. I would rake my brain for days. What a relief I felt when I would recollect it at last! I would quickly write it down before I forgot it again.

To avoid such tension I began going to bed with a notebook and pen placed beside my pillow. I would scribble in big letters in the dark leaving enough space between the letters so I would have no difficulty deciphering them the next day.

Every Sunday, I would set the alarm clock to ring at 7 and wake up by 7 10, finally having won the battle with sleep, just to watch Rangoli on Doordarshan. I would lie on my sofa as I watched the program. Sometimes I would doze off and then wake up with a start wondering if I missed a good song.

Kishore, Lata, Rafi, Mukesh, Manna Day, Hemanth Kumar, Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, Talat Mehmood, Mahendra Kapoor, Asha... they sang to me day and night...

All these songs mixed with my blood and flowed in my veins. They pumped new life into me and gave expression to my feelings. They gave identity and a name to each one of my feelings. They helped me tell one emotion from the other in the bundle of confusion and obscurity of tumult in my heart.
They turned my moroseness and gloom into beautiful poignancy. They made sorrow savourable and turned my melancholy into philosophy.

There have been many many songs that I have associated with one or the other life situation. In fact, there has been a song for every situation.

When my grandfather died, we were still in Ahmedabad. And my grandparents were in Chaamarajanagar, a town in Mysore district. The cremation would be over by the time we reached. We would not be able to make it in time to see him for the last time. My father was disheartened.

We flew to Bangalore and from there drove to Chamarajanagar in a taxi in the dark of the night.
Nobody said a word.

Months later, I recollected that taxi-drive and imagined that as we drove, the song from Mukesh, “O Jaane Wale Ho Sake To Laut Ke Aana” played.
I imagined that my father, usually controlled and too embarrassed to be demonstrative of his feelings, let his carapace split, for once, gave vent to his bottled up grief and shed a tear, as he listened to that song.

That, if I can recollect correctly, was the first time I attempted to associate music with a life situation.

In the year 2006, Cognizant gifted a 30 GB Apple iPod to each employee as it celebrated a turnover of 1 billion dollars. From here and there and everywhere, I collected songs and stored them in my iPod.
With over 3000 songs in it, it is pretty much the summation of all the music I have in my life today. And therefore, it is one of my most valued possessions.
Many a day, I go to bed, with my iPod and fall back on music. I close my eyes and soar to heights or sink to the rock bottom depending on whether it is the crest or trough of my emotional life.

During the phases of emotional stasis, I turn on the radio and listen to whatever is playing.

Today, surrounded by my laptop, iPod, walkman phone and a website to download free music from, I look back fondly at the cassettes, tapes, my grandmother’s radio, and the national Panasonic tape recorder that have all played their role in a very important part of my life.

That tour of 20 years ago itself is forgotten, smudged and blurred. Those forts, palaces, temples and lakes and forests…

What remained at the end of that journey was the beginning of music.


Rishi said...

Beautiful post a very different one on music. My music beginnings I actually don't remember. I have faint memories of my remote childhood days which I don't remember much, but somehow some songs give me a feel of memories of those days.

Anyway one thing I noticed in the list you didn't include "Kishore Kumar" any specific reason.


Pramshanks said...

Very very beautifully written... wish I could write like you do!

Love always.

Sowmya said...

Hey Rishi,

Thanks for your patience...It was a long post... Will include Kishore right away... dont know how I missed him :)

Thanks Pramod for those kind words :) I think everyone writes beautifully when they write from their heart with 100% sincerity.

Rishi said...

Hi Sowmya,
Any post on music I am happy to read even if it is very long. Kishore is my favorite after Lata. Thats why I asked. Only if I have to choose the favorites otherwise I love hearing all of them.