Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Music and I

Leisure isn’t always a time for you to indulge in things close to your heart, or things you don’t get the time to do but like—listen to music, catch up with friends, watch a movie, read a book etc. Especially for those of us who like to spend our leisure time doing ‘nothing,’ our leisure time at times involuntarily becomes time for introspection. A close but not always rational look at what I am doing, why I am doing it, and most importantly, should I do it? What else can I do?

These moments are the ones we spend in a state of extreme closeness with ourselves. We evaluate our goals in life and try to define the person we are against the person we want to be. The philosophical extent of such ruminations often turn toward the negative and we reach a stage of despair. However, there are times when we think/rethink our goals and objectives and gain crucial insights into the person we want to be and the direction in life that we want to take.

Whatever may be the strain of thought—positive or negative—what is most important is that these are moments when we can drop all pretences and be the person we essentially are. Throughout the day, I am a professional, a peer, a report/subbordiante, a child, a partner, or just a random face in a crowd. All these roles have their demands; the necessary rules of playing a role always guide and moderate our thoughts, actions, and personalities. The only time we can stop playing roles is the time we spend on our own.

What do you do when you are low—vulnerable and weak, or dissatisfied and bitter, or disillusioned and vacant? In such times, I listen to music. Music has seenme through a lot, and hopefully, will see me through a lot. Like ‘a bridge over troubled waters’ it helps me forget my state of being and helps me disentangle myself from the confusing web of failed expectations and promises and of misgivings and repentances. I don’t know whether whatever I feel when I listen to music is created by the soundtrack, or the lyrics, the singer, or the composer—what remains with me is the experience.

I don’t remember exactly when I realized this bonding with music or its power to heal and create. All I have are some moments frozen in my memory that I rewind and play as simply as CD or audio cassette. I remember my grandmother sitting on our verandah and sing “Jhod utheche baul batash,” a song by Rabindranath Tagore, while the sky turned dark with clouds. What I also remember is that day her biopsy reports had arrived and the doctors had declared that she had cancer.

I remember a lazy summer afternoon many years ago when I happened to find my way to the secluded music room at school. I don’t know what it was that made me slip out of the class and make my way toward the music room. Probably it was providence. The room on the ground floor with its splendid array of musical instruments was always special to me. But after that day, it had acquired a special status altogether. For, on that day, I experienced the sheer power of music that helps you connect with another person without their telling you anything.

The room was slightly dark and I was mid-way in my ritual tour of the room, gently touching the instruments, fiddling with the guitars, admiring the drum set, glancing through the music sheets even though I couldn’t read them, when I heard the clicking of the drumsticks against each other. It’s the first thing most drummers do before they start counting mentally, decide the tempo and then star drumming. That first click always made me automatically start counting and begin singing at the precise moment when the counting ended or I would hear the first note of the piano or the guitar prelude. I didn’t want to move. I was standing with my back to the drum set about seven feet away from me. Whoever had entered the room has obviously seen me there, and I definitely didn’t have any explanation for being there instead of listening to why the periodic table is important and memorizing the atomic numbers of elements which somehow sounded very distant to me. My heart thumping, all my nerves tense I waited for an angry voice to address me.

Instead, I heard the crash of cymbals. But somehow it was very different from the usual effect of the crescendo or the last note of a particular progression when the drummer brings the sticks down on the cymbals before beginning the next bar. This was distinctly angry and, at the same time, painful. And then, finally, I heard a voice. But instead of calling out my name or addressing me it sang : “Go away from my window, leave at your chosen speed….” I turned to see the back of a young man sitting on the drum stool and singing almost to himself “Go melt back in the night, everything is made of stone…” I knew the voice, but have never heard him sing this way. The words almost chocked in his throat; still, it was painfully melodious. I stood there in the dim light listening to him sing; but now I was not afraid of being caught and punished. I was afraid I would make a man baring his heart to himself conscious of my presence. My cheeks were wet, I was crying silently. I had heard the song a hundred times before and probably a thousand times in all these years, but to this day, whenever I think of that day, I feel a strange kinship with that man who never knew that he has given me one of the most blissful and enriching experiences of my life.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Books for leisure

Leisure, as a concept, is much debated and discussed. I will not attempt to enter this heavily populated academic terrain of ‘leisure studies.’ Instead, I pose this simple question: What do you like to do when you have some leisure time? Well, this is with the assumption that you do have some leisure time for yourself that you spend doing the things you like; or, not doing anything at all, if that’s what you prefer.

Thus, we have this chasm dividing people who enjoy the luxury of ‘leisure’ and those who don’t. Let’s talk about the group that does enjoy the luxury of leisure first. Some prefer chatting on the Net—with people they know, don’t know, or even, don’t want to know. Others listen to music, watch a movie, or call up a friend. Some socially self-conscious people, on the other hand, cultivate hobbies that are creatively stimulating or are targeted at stimulating other people’s appreciation of their creative talents.

Now, for those who don’t enjoy the luxury of spending time the way they want to, by doing the things they want to but can’t at all times, it’s really sad. All they can do is mope about their leisureless states of being and feel jealous of the other half of mankind.

Needless to say, creative as we are, we find excuses to justify our states of leisurelessness. A common ploy is to show ourselves busier than we are, and in the process, ensure that we deprive ourselves of whatever little leisure we could have had.

Good question? What I do in my leisure time? Before I answer that, I must categorize myself into one of the two groups that I have divided mankind into (heights of oversimplification, don’t you think so?). Well, I’d say that it’s not that I don’t have time for leisure; but I don’t have a lot of it either. But when I do, I try to make the most out of it.