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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Ah, music...

They taught the Lord’s Prayer when I was in kindergarten, and I was so taken by it that I said it before going to bed virtually every night all through my school days.

As part of my curriculum while doing the higher secondary course, I came to know a little about the padavali (devotional poetry, directed chiefly to Ram and Krishna) literature of medieval Bengal (Vidyapati, Chandidas and Govindadas, among others), written in the artificial language called brajabuli and – I believe alone in my entire batch – I became convinced that this was the most important and precious thing I had learnt in those two years (barring poetry and humour in French), not all the nuclear physics and organic chemistry and calculus and stuff they taught in ‘pure science’. That did not prevent me from qualifying for medical and engineering school, but it may have been a major factor behind my deciding to opt out of such career choices. Maybe I was already convinced that my life and time were worth somewhat more...

In the course of studying economics in college and university (during which time, while teaching a great many students and winning medals in examinations and writing a large variety and quantity for diverse magazines and newspapers) I did a great deal of high-level math (only to find out how little it helps to figure out how to help people live better) but also somehow found time to read an enormous amount of subjects as diverse as environmental science and politics and sociology and history and psychology and linguistics and education and law, besides the literature of seven or eight different languages, and philosophy spanning three continents and three thousand years. And I became more and more convinced that Man was lost, and of his own choosing. Even skepticism and atheism and hedonism were thousands of years old – there was nothing in what the Sartre and Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg and contemporary management-guru types have been saying these last few decades that have not been said, debated and either blindly swallowed by some or laughed at by some centuries ago, in many countries. I learnt that sooner or later I would really have to become my own man and make my own choices. As the poet said about Reality, ‘It beckons and it baffles/ philosophy – don’t know/ and through a riddle, at the end, sagacity must go…’

So I began, as the years passed by, to understand more and more about what Socrates meant by saying ‘I know nothing’, and the Buddha meant by saying you first have to empty your mind, and Newton said about a child collecting pebbles on the seashore, and Tagore by dhulaar ja dhon taha jete dao dhulite (leave back in the dust what belongs to the dust).

While I have left behind a lot of things as boys’ toys, one thing that has stayed with me, and indeed grown ever stronger, is a profound affection for devotional music of any sort. The first notes of a really great piece of music, no matter what its age or language or denominational belonging, often transport me to a quiet ecstasy, and coming back to this world of here and now is a pain like no other.

Here’s a small but eclectic choice of my favourites. Youtube is a recent technological wonder that I am truly thankful for! Here is Achyutam Keshavam and Payoji Maine (pardon the ghastly graphics), here is Khwaja mere Khwaja, Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra played as the title theme for Stanley Kubrick’s classic science fiction movie 2001, Abide With me, and This World is not my home sung by Jim Reeves in American country style. I would have added something like Indranil Sen's rendition of Tagore's Daariye achho tumi amaar gaaner opare if I could find it on the Net. See if you can find it for yourself.

‘Ah, music!’ said Professor Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, ‘a greater magic by far than what we do here’.

Those who are interested might want to read what I last wrote on this blog about religion here.

I am not trying to convince or convert anybody. Just enjoy. And if you do find you share my tastes, get back to me, I’d love to talk to you.

19 comments:

devdas said...

Dear Suvro-da,
I echo your sentiments here. I am very close to Shri RajantiKanto Sen's devotional music and will like to share with you this one:
http://www.esnips.com/doc/71aeb5b4-b987-4a23-aed1-1e24e1af080d/Jodi-paar-hote-tor-mon-thaake
I have no formal singing degree but I sing sometimes and also do listen this in Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNPIeb7f6WU&feature=related
Another gem from Shri AtulPrasad "amay rakte jodi apon ghore"

happy listening and keep well,
Dr. Debasish Das.
(california, USA)

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Debasish, both for the appreciation and the links.

devdas said...

Dear Suvro-da,

I am happy that you like such bhakti songs. I am sad to say that not many people enjoy such songs these days.
Another gem for you, words make me wonder and I am still in awe:
http://www.esnips.com/doc/2c22f364-bf0e-4b97-b949-a278e0f57ad7/Tumi-amar-antosthaler-khabor-jano

regards,
Dr. Debasish Das.
(california, USA)

devdas said...

Dear Suvro-da,
you have triggered one of my most favorite topic :)
I hope you enjoy Kabir and I am almost his whole some follower and fan ( does not sound good though ).

If you enjoy classical music and also like Kabir this bhajan will make you ponder more and since when I read this, I have listened it so many times that I just stopped counting :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kY2k0JcfByg

(Shri Kumar Gandharva with his one lung feat .....)

I should stop. I am falling short of words.........

enjoy,

Dr. Debasish Das.
(california, USA)

Chanchal said...

Devotional music has never been very close to me, but yes, something that I have closely observed at times is the sense/feel of determination and purity that germinates inside me whenever I visit some holy place, leaving behind the 'fidgety me' far behind.
Holy hymns do refresh me sometimes!

Music has been an object of affection for quite sometime now. From Louis Armstrong to Beethoven to Rajasthani folk to Darjeeling tribal themes, I enjoy all of them with great relish. Helps me dust my mind off the usual things which jam the brain(quite the same way, you felt in your college years)...

The music which you have linked to the post were beautiful, have a look at these favorite numbers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5IIXeR5OUI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njG7p6CSbCU

Love
Manoshij

Sukanya Mukherjee said...

Dear Sir,

Thank you for the beautiful post. It was a pleasure reading it and a delight to see how wonderful your choices in music are. For those of us who do not know much about your favourites, can you please give us a bit more detailed list of the songs that have always been close to your heart, a list of the songs that you feel are the greatest of all times? We know your choices won't disappoint us. Actually, it will be quite helpful to some of us who do not know much about these things but are willing to and, maybe others can add to the list. After all, music is close to everyone's heart, isn't it?


Sukanya

devdas said...

Dear Suvro-da
you blog will remain incomplete with this :

http://www.esnips.com/doc/d41130e2-0374-4a51-987a-15fbec32010e/oi-maha-sindhur-opaar-hote

"Shri D L Roy's master-piece"

"keno bhuter bojha bohis miche, bhuter begar khate moris miche..........bhuter bojha phele ghorer chele ai chole ai....
....keno kara ghrihe achis bondho...."

enjoy,

Dr. Debasish Das.
(california, USA)

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Well, firstly, I don't know whether music is 'close to everyone's heart' (Shakespeare himself wrote about 'the man who hath no music in his soul', so...), and secondly, what most people these days call music is, in my book, utterly forgettable cacophony.

Besides, I think I have given a sufficiently wide variety already to indicate the various kinds of music that I like. I don't think there is any point in providing a long list of favourites in addition.

It is most interesting that though this post has been visited more than three hundred times already, only two people (Debasish and Manoshij) have cared to write comments with eagerness and substance!

Madhulika said...

Hi,

I am not sure if I can term myself as lover of devotional songs, but I love listening to 'Khwaja Mere Khwaja', 'Piya Haji Ali', 'Payoji Maine'...and some more like this.

But, yes when I am listening to them it feels as if I have been transported to some other level and I feel happy after it.

Cheers
Madhu

Shilpi said...

Two parts of the comment:

Beautiful piece, this one. And an unusual one without doubt - you’ve shared shots of your chronological self with your readers. I don’t think one can do justice to this post with a comment but I’ll write a bit all the same.

Your essay, if read right reads like a hymn.
It also reads like a riddle.

It makes me feel blessed but it makes me feel pensive too – that I got to know you a wee-bit this lifetime around.

Makes me ponder a bit on karma too and luck one might say, and no, it’s not a disconnected thought.

I think I know what you mean when you say what you do about great pieces of music and the ecstasy and the painful coming back. It seems like an outrage.

At times, the only thing that makes sense in life is music.
**************

Just some links:
Three versions of Schubert's Ave Maria
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_XCvZ9PwHs&feature=PlayList&p=3441C0003CC3CDBE&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=84

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBt-9LhE8ms

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvlTuBnpKpc

Beethoven's Ode to joy
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-WF0PVi2FA&feature=related

Handel's Hallelujah (Messiah)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnHksDFHTQI&feature=related

Amazing grace
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHpye0M34JQ

The Byrds: Turn, Turn, Turn http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg73MRomwSA

I couldn't find one good version/rendition of 'Tomaar khola Hoawa' or U2's 'I still haven't Found what I'm looking for...'

More than many thanks for the essay...and take care.
Shilpi

Pritha Makur said...

Dear Sir,
As I was reading the part where you had written about the Padavali and literature of medieval Bengal, it reminded me of the days, in the earlier part of this year, when my batchmates were about to take admission in class XI. Many of my them didn't want to take admission in Bidhan Chandra Institution and the main reason for their decision was that the above Institution is affiliated to the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education where Bengali/Hindi is a compulsory subject. They stated, almost unashamedly, that they were extremely eager to "get rid of the clutches of this disgusting subject". How could they have such a dislike for their mother language?

Yours faithfully,
Pritha

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Do you think the parents of these people have any idea of what good taste and enjoyment mean, Pritha, beyond eating, sleeping, working for a salary, shopping, gossipping, attending weddings and watching soap operas on TV?

And do you really think we need to bother too much about what the herd thinks, instead of discovering and cultivating our own tastes and ideals?

Pritha Makur said...

Dear Sir,
We should not really bother too much about what the herd thinks, but discover our own tastes and ideals.
This reminded me once again of one of the advices that you gave on the last dy of our class -"Avoid the herd".
Sir, will you please explain in what message they wanted to convey n the song "Achyutam Keshavam"?

Yours faithfully,
Prtha

Suvro Chatterjee said...

One part (the refrain) praises the Lord by mentioning some of His names and attributes; the other stanzas insist that whether you can feel His presence depends on how strong your faith and desire is.

Pritha Makur said...

Thank you, Sir.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Sorry to be so late in saying 'thank you' for the links you provided, Shilpi: it was remiss of me. Magnificent selection.

Shilpi said...

You're most welcome, Suvro da, and I'm glad the selection found a home.
Take care...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

It's music like that, and Pupu, who still keep me going. Else the world has grown very stale, when it is not plain disgusting... one turns to God only when one finds how utterly unsatisfactory this world is. So aver our holiest scriptures. Nobody ought to force it, and nobody ought to supplant that true longing with blind daily ritualism, or bad-mouthing true faith instead, which is equally mindless: one simply doesn't know what one is talking about!

Shilpi said...

...one does turn to God too and listens. One treads water too and waits for and partakes the drops of grace.

Here's a U2 song that I listened to after ages. It's that glorious morning post of yours and one of your conversations especially that got me to listening to U2 after a very long pause. You keep reminding me of the rock group!

"The sweetest thing"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WybiA263bw

It's connected if in a somewhat roundabout way to your assorted musings. It's actually an interesting song apart from being a sweet one (I have no idea what you'll think of the music video though).

And here's one which I had slipped through the cracks of my mind earlier. As bizarre as it may sound to some it reminds me of Tagore's Nirbhoy and even that particular Kabir song - in essence. It rustled through and rose to my head with your recent 'Meditations'.

"Where the streets have no name"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uY7LemSwe7s

Hope you like both of them. I guess I should send a non-rock song link for this essay but let these two be for now.