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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

13 December, 2004

Magic Of Music

It feels like there's a novel trying to burst from me and all I am allowed is a space worthy of a mere short story...

Imagine this, anyway. A richly decorated shamiana, fit for the richest Sheik of Araby, lit up with chandaliers and fitted with Bose speakers that magically cancel out echoes and unwanted audible quirks.

Ten thousand serious faces staring at the dais in taut anticipation, where there is a sudden flurry of movement after a miniature eternity. The audience, having sat obediently for nine hours on the same spot, most of them on a thin rug spread over the sports ground, now comatose with fatigue, hunger, irritation, and even anticipation - gets galvanized into action and brings the house down.

The singer has arrived. He has trouble standing up on his own. Disciples and well-wishers support him, he growls like a lion as he is wont to, and insists on walking down, up to the scarlet red chair in the centre. He almost stumbles rather than walk, moves inch by painful inch, but manages to reach the chair after another eternity.

Again there is a flurry of worrying over him, and he is finally ensconced in his chair. One does not fail to notice the lifeless hands, with only the fingers twiching now and then. He seems paralyzed from neck downwards. He looks at the audience and the familiar gleam of a hunger about to pounce on the prey returns, a mischievous smile hovers on his expressionless face. His eyes burn like an animal's hiding in the bushes : one gets the glimpse of the wildeness in them.

He starts to sing. He hums, rather. He slurs the words, he looks down when he sings. One realizes he is not singing for the listeners, he is singing for his Creator, and we happen to be there. There is a deadly chill in the air now -it is way past midnight and the breeze from the river makes even the young ones in their leather jackets shiver, the older ones are almost mesmerized by this slow spectacle unfurling. Every soul seems to be getting uplifted.

The singer looks like he has been sinking into quick sand. Only the head can move here and there, like a big cat trapped viciously.

He sings on, having selected raag Malkauns: the pentatonic scale, very challenging for a singer. What can you do with only five notes? Singers ask. Pandita Kishori Amonkar believes it is a raag suited to instruments, not to the human voice.

'Pag Laagan De....' he has chosen the bandish that must have by now thrilled the life out of many millions for decades. His voice has deepened over the years, that tendency to thunder out rebelliously slowly creeps back into him - listening to which one feels the amplifiers and the speakers are unnecessary. Within minutes the audience is transported from their soul-crushing world of mundane worries and ceaslessly creeping anxieties into a pristine heaven of pure sound wherein one sense, the sense of hearing has thrown open portals hardly ever touched. The other senses revel like schoolkids at play.

As the next crescendo builds up, he suddenly stops -and plunges back into the other melody with the impishly teasing shringar-russ filled drut gat: 'Rangralia Kare Tu Sautan-ke Sang...' taking on the aspect of a terribly annoyed lady who has caught the lover in a compromising situtation with her rival....

As he brashly explores the endless possiblities of generating more and more adventurous taans, one notices the lifeless wrist have started allowing movement to the fingers. In mintues, as he goes on letting out megawatts of sheer lung power, his face radiating an superhuman confidence and control over the audience, his elbows allow him more movent. At the end of a particular taan that takes his voice beyond description and comperehension, he throws up both the hands, nearly reaching his well-know aggressive mannerisms. Again, his hands move backwards and forwards - his body has forgotten it is paraylzyed.

One holds one's breath. He is beginning to slant in the chair, defying gravity, and all other silly physiological constraints. The air seems elecric, there is an aura sort of field around him - by now his eyes are glowering fiercely... My companions look at me anxiously. Is he going to have a heart attack? This is the wordless question tearing across our inner spaces.

He manages to climax three times, giving the tabalchi enough doses of challenge to fumble forth -whilst he himself quietly, like an experienced driver, manages to descend through the ghats with his completely unreliable vehicle...

When the audience breaks into a standing ovation, it is nearly half past one, we also get up and realize : we have just witnessed a unique miracle.

The Magic Of Music.

We drive away in total silence.

Words falling wayside like empty peanut shells....

The singer : Pt. Bhimsen Joshi
The venue : Sawai Gandharv Sangeet Mahotsav
The date : 12th Dec. 2004



Blogger Pragya said...

Brilliant description Max! Felt I was there, could hear the Raag Malkauns.


13 December, 2004 19:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm..Max, a suggestion if I may? Could you edit this post so that the lines flow in continuity - it's easier to read it that way...this way the mind is more intent on following the sentence and one loses the beauty of the words somewhere along the line...also could you delete that vast space you left at the bottom?

13 December, 2004 20:02  
Blogger Max Babi said...

sure anon,
I am myself annoyed by the funny linebreaks
and the huge empty spaces...being self-taught
in using computers has this risk I guess.
Hope to discover a solution soon !

cheers !

13 December, 2004 22:13  
Blogger Max Babi said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

13 December, 2004 22:13  
Blogger sunil said...

I envy you on both the counts-1. for being capable of presenting such a graphic account of an abstract event like music and, 2. for being a witness to and a part of an occasion to listen to the enthralling and sublime rendition by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi in these days of his life when his live performances are so scarce.

14 December, 2004 11:45  
Blogger atreyee said...

How I envy you,Max- wish I as there ...Sunil's words ! Very well put.

14 December, 2004 21:50  
Blogger Max Babi said...

Tks Sunil, Tks Atreyee...

These are rare compliments-worth treasuring.
I intentionally shifted to Pune, eight years
ago on two accts [1] Sawai Gandharv Festival
abt which I was sick of hearing ad nauseam,
and [2] this being a wet place. Have had a ball
on both the accts so far...

14 December, 2004 22:31  

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