No ends, no beginnings…just thoughts

Most days are dull. I know I won’t remember them when I look back from a vantage point of twenty years hence. Some would stand out. Some for no reason at all and some for the richness of the moment or for the depth or intensity of feeling they inspired.

I have always liked this program of old Hindi songs on satellite TV called “Abhi to Main Jawaan Hoon”. The presenter of the program is so humble and self-effacing that I still haven’t learnt his name, even after years of watching this program.

Unlike the video jockeys of today he projects the idea that this program is not in the least bit about him but about the gems of music that have emerged from the work of Indian lyricists, musicians and singers in the first half of the twentieth century. And gems they are. I can get so absorbed in these songs that nothing else around me would register. It is the only thing that would make me understand why the musicians on the Titanic played on even as the ship broke in half and sank.

The selection today was mesmerizing and included Akele Akele Kahan Ja Rahe Ho, Deewana Hua Baadal, Dil Cheez Kya Hai and Chupke Chupke Raat Din among others. They have been my favorites for a long time; from the time when they appealed to me at the most basic level; the universal language of beautiful music. Now in the fourth decade of my life, as I contemplate the words “break it down”, every time I hear a rock band perform and the lead singer utters them before giving each part of the band an individual turn, or when I return to fundamentals as I try to solve a problem, or thinking of Mr George Mayer*, who always talked about getting back to first principles, I hear these songs and watch the accompanying visuals with closer attention. I notice each part, observe and marvel at each nuance. Nuances that have me drifting, free associating, making connections to recent events in my life or in the lives of people I know

There’s the song Chupke Chupke Raat Din where Ghulam Ali effortlessly emotes with his voice and then I listen to the words…Kheench lena wo mera parde ka kona daffatan, aur dupatte se tera wo mooh chupana yaad hai…those words speak to me about the essential difference between a man and a woman in any relationship. The man wants to uncover the mystery, the woman wants to conceal, as long as possible…when one curtain comes down, another one must go up; they must be kept guessing. Whether she knows it or not her very existence depends on preserving this mystery, to sustain it, for when the mystery is gone nothing remains, just a void that seeks to devour everything within its dark expanse.

Then there’s the line about the girl braving the blistering of her feet on a sun baked roof on a hot summer day to call out to her beloved…she didn’t want to lose a single moment, not even to slip her feet into a pair of slippers, so eager was she to get to him. How often have I felt that way myself? It’s a sense of anticipation unabated yet secret; one that begs disclosure as much as it seeks concealment.

The song is of course a reminiscence of a remorseful lover, of the things he failed to appreciate and the tenderness he destroyed and these thoughts instantly connect with a synaptic glow that revives a heart-stopping quote from someone who said, “Beauty is desired in order that it may be befouled…”

The song from Umrao Jaan…Dil Cheez Kya Hai…has me marveling at Rekha’s performance, the Kathak moves all seem significant and meaningful (something I had always failed to notice before), not a single wasted or extraneous motion, nothing to detract from the significance of the song to the movie and its contribution to the story.

The tabla is an instrument that I can’t say I never noticed before, I did, but I didn’t pay it much mind, and now watching this song I think of the ‘taal’ to which Rekha, playing Umrao Jaan, takes several steps forward while dancing for an audience, toward her audience, and I know this moment will be memorable for me when I look back from the future.

Twenty years from now, when I am thinking about my disgust at my monochrome days of yore, these sepia toned moments of colorlessness will show a splash or two of color, of my absorption with every scene I watched on this program and every song that led me to close my eyes and sing along in sync and with perfect timing. I’ll remember my desire to be able to play these tunes on the violin (perhaps by then I will be a respectable player of the violin, there’s always hope). I know I will remember this otherwise dull day…I think.

Although there are moments I remember now when nothing happened: I don’t remember every single day of my past, most of it went by in a blur but if I am ever in a position to see my entire life flash in front of me, I wonder which moments will be the chosen ones.

I wonder why I remember the moment from 1989 when I was walking from my basement apartment in Riverdale, MD to the parking lot, before leaving for work. I remember the feel of the day, what I wore and even what I thought. It was something as mundane as, “I guess Mr Nagendra won’t be giving me a ride to work today.” I still can’t remember why that moment is memorable. Perhaps the moments we remember are not the most significant ones or perhaps I fail to see the significance of that particular moment and it will either appear to me in a dream or in some moment of déjà vu where I am similarly attired or the morning has the same feel to it as that morning 18 years ago.

The biggest set of questions that arise out of this piece of writing, or free associating, which isn’t really trying to say anything at all, simply a chain of words with which I am trying once again to hammer in a peg, or lay down an anchor of some sort, so that the past isn’t as blurry, is this – Why the fascination with the past? Why does it seem so important to avoid a blurry past? Why does it feel crucial?

And as I ask myself these questions I wonder why the words – home, roots, the rounded spoon (a relic from my childhood) – why do they come to mind? There is the obvious answer – because I am thinking of the past. But why am I doing that? I am still young enough to gaze into the future instead but I rarely do.

I often wonder why the people of this very young country are willing to pay any price for an old home, the older the better, the more dilapidated the better. They often change the old place, renovate, rebuild, add amenities and then stand back and observe their handiwork with immense pride. The insides of such homes are always new, always modern so why then is it all important to have a foundation that’s centuries old and to have four walls that can tell a story.

All in all a realm of constant wonder with connections that are not entirely obvious but exist all the same in a world of old favorites in music, old relics from the past, fascination with old homes, and the palimpsest like insights in all things I’ll accumulate in a long and ordinary life.

* Mr George Mayer – Our much respected principal who recently passed away.

PS: I considered it Prufrock, but didn’t find “lightening up” enticing! 🙂


  1. …and the realms collide, yet again. Loved this immensely, perhaps because I was trying to find a semblance to the thoughts whirring in my own psyche; and you know what they say about "thinking alike." You might think these are just a string of thoughts that you threw into a space where they morphed into words without a beginning or an end, but the way every strip of descant sort of rilled into the next, forming an amalgamation of the bigger picture – of memories, of uneventful incidents, and the very innate human desire to ferret out the sepia-toned past…and relate every happenstance to the things we are able to comprehend, like music, books…turned out rather well. Sort of like sewing tapestries together and finding out later that they wove into a patchwork quilt; one that'll comfort you twenty, or thirty years hence, when you're feeling melancholic or cold 🙂 No prizes for guessing what it'll do to me then too! Keep going, B! Hugs!

  2. Sombre, elegiac – and as always very moving. All your writings, especially of this genre, have the quality of tone poems. Brooding elegance.JJ.

  3. And what profound thoughts they are!Perhaps we are fascinated by the past because it is what we do not know, and will not experience; what we do know, but will never experience again; or what we wish to experience.We are also fascinated by the future, but we remain loyal to the past because it is more tangible (in most cases).

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