It started as a midsummer night's dream. I saw my maternal grandma captivate the entire palace in the pre-partition Bengal with the melody that emanated from her smooth voice. Then I heard my mother croon Rabindra Sangeet during countless public performances. Her cool voice, soft as silk, was such a contrast to the hot, stuffy room that greeted me when I woke up from my dream.
Aprils in Mumbai can make you swelter even at nights when the sun takes a nap. That night, I stayed up and thought what my life would be like without the touch of music. I had always resisted my mum's pleas to join her in her riyaaz (practice) every evening. I loved to listen to her sing, but I was sure Rabindranath Tagore's music was not my cup of tea. I realized with horror that I was 22 and counting and I knew zilch about the beautiful compositions of the Nobel-winning poet. What would I tell my children? How would I ever face my grandchildren? Who would pass on the legacy of such rich tunes to the family that I would have and to the generations that would succeed me? The sultry darkness ignited a blazing flame in me right then. I made a conscious decision to embrace my Bengali culture. And I would begin with music.
My mother could not contain her joy when I broke the news to her next morning. She hugged me tightly, like only a mother can. And on that fateful day of April, the first thing I did after returning home from work was to learn Tagore music from the basics. Rabindra Sangeet is slightly different from Classical Bengali Music which originates from the Bishnupur Gharana (School of Music). Bishnupur happens to be a small town in Bankura district of West Bengal. I have spent umpteen summers in Bankura (where I'd visit my paternal grandma until 3 years back when she moved in with us) completely oblivious to the fact that my home town of 19 years was the birthplace of Classical Bengali Music. The more I delve into the world of music, the more I discover how ignorant I am! This is why I have decided to chronicle my journey towards ending my obtuseness.
As my mommy dearest explained to me the intricacies of each note of the octave, I was amazed by how much I could learn from the distinctive style of Kobi-Guru (poet-King) Rabindranath Thakur's music.
In Rabindra Sangeet, each swar (note) is distinct when sung.
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa
Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do
No note must touch the other. The notes don't amalgamate but retain their individuality. Each note stands strong against the onslaught of the other 6 notes.
This simple rule has helped me understand a very important life-lesson. We live in many octaves - family, friend-circle, teams at the workplace and various activity-groups. We share our opinions and brainstorm to create music-like solution to various problems. If the notes are well-composed, the music pleases the listener and singer alike. But at no point must we forget our individual strength and speciality. We must be kind enough to share our thoughts but not weak enough to change our capacity to think independently.
I have a lot of songs to learn now that it's May and the burning sun let's me do little else. So, I will be back some other day with a new lesson that the Bard teaches me. For now, you may enjoy this beautiful composition, "Purano Shei Diner Kotha" (Stories of The Days Bygone):-