Sunday, 19 May 2013

Melancholy Monday (Lessons from the Bong Bard #2)

You can read the first post in this series here.

I've been practising Rabindra Sangeet on and off for almost a fortnight now. I enjoy dabbling with the different raags (melodic modes) that my mum's been teaching me. Sadly, the technique seemed too mechanical to me and I would miserably fail to put any life to the music. That is, until last Monday when my misery brought me out of another.

I never feel the office blues. Never. It so happens that I love my work, the people I work with, the office premises, the stationery, the cafeteria food, the conference calls with my coworkers in London, the occasional chat with a colleague in Hong Kong, the townhalls, the free cappuccino, the open culture, the formal dress-code, the meetings, the fun events, the catch-up sessions with the HR and the big bosses, and even the walk back home. My life is perfect, you'd think. But when you weave a blanket of happiness based on past statistics, you start expecting a similar or better state of mind with every passing day. And when the circumstances don't meet your expectation, your blanket starts thinning and you spot holes in it.

I experienced my first Monday morning blues in a weather that was far from cold. Maybe, I had got off the wrong side of my bed. I kept to myself the whole day and tried to allay my dysphoria, in vain. Sometimes, you just cannot tell what makes you so melancholy. I was not my usual self even when I got home. I poked at the porridge I was supposed to eat. Under normal circumstances, I would be ready in my shorts & sneakers and be off for a quick jog. I flopped down on my bed and slept with my head buried in my pillow. I felt tired. Weak. Useless. Undesired. Incapable. I had lost all hope. And my mum asked me then to get my notebook and practise Raag Bhairav.

You know that condition when you know you are strong enough to hold back your tears as long as nobody makes you talk? It's that delicate balance your throat has with the tear glands. You break the dam (open your mouth) and the tears flood your eyes. I did not want to sing that day. I was sure my voice would crack and my mother would be disappointed at the weakling she had raised. Nevertheless, I gathered myself and repeated the musical notes after my mum.

Lesson - 2

Rabindra Sangeet, and every Indian classical music for that matter, has a multitude of ragas or melodic modes. Each raag is characterized by the combination of swaras (notes) it comprises. Some notes are shrill and some soft. Each raag is best appreciated at a certain time of the day and emphasizes a certain state of mind.

Raag Bhairav is a morning raag. It embodies the solemnity and strength that comes with peace. I sang with complete surrender. And the tune guided my voice to follow it note-by-note. I was surprised at my own attempt. I was improving. My quiet state of mind was helping my vocal chords. I transferred the pain in my heart to the sound that came from it. I noticed for the first time that my western voice was starting to take a classical Indian turn. I did not sing as loudly as I usually would, but I was certainly softer and more solemn. My mother and I explored Raag Bhairav that evening by elaborating every note that comes together to form it. We did a raag-vistaar, like she'd say. And then we sang a Hindustani classical song based on that raag.

I learnt that melancholy Monday that each new day is like a new raag. Some are celebratory, some serious, some make your mornings, and some your evenings. One can enjoy new experiences like new music by only exploring everyday like one would explore a raag.

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