Sunday, April 16, 2017

Of Kishori Amonkar, BoRomamu and Pujo (or "From in Delirium")

It was a nondescript morning in many ways. I got up early, made lunch for the kids, set up IB's breakfast and had a few minutes to glance over the BBC News website. It took me a few minutes to catch the news headline that Kishore Amonkar was no more. I am not sure why I was deeply moved by the news. I am an ardent fan of North Indian Classical Music but only when played on instruments and had not been listening to Kishoritai at all in the recent past. Restlessly I went on to youtube to find the documentary on her made by Amol Palekar that opens with her Bhoop. As I stared at the screen and watched the relatively dark opening shots of her in a temple, with her Bhoop playing the background, it took me to a different phase of my life  - a different time, a different place and amongst different people.

My boRomamu had a Philips Hi-Q International model of turntable, widely popular in its days and one of the few material possessions that he held onto dearly. He was a lifelong bachelor and a teacher by profession and his days were usually filled with giving private tuitions to students or being at his school right next door. However the Pujo days were different because he would not teach on those four days and of course, the school was closed. On every Shaptami morning, or so as my blurry memory suggests to me, he would play a Meera Bhajan Vinyl by Kishori Amonkar that he had; my memories of Pujo mornings in my boyhood and youth were that of hearing the notes of "Mhaaro Pranam" trickling through to my ear drums and (pleasantly) reminding me that Pujo was finally there at the doorsteps. Of course, those were not the days of earphones and smartpods - so the sound came gushing from all around - it got out of his windows, only to bounce off boRdida's house, got through my windows, door cracks,   to reverberate more and announce that a celebration was awaiting. The delicious expectations of what lay in the day ahead was in a way announced by Kishoiriji in the morning. Interestingly, I don't think my boRomamu was a ever a big fan of Kishoriji because I don't remember him playing this record often. However, he played it enough number of times right around this time of the year that I have a hardwired association between the two in my mind. In hindsight, I think that this was his way of doing something different on a Puja morning, that set the day apart. Musically speaking, I always got intrigued by Mhaaro Pranam because of the way it starts but the latter bhajans never etched my mind because either I was already up by then, which scattered my attention or I was back under the pillow trying to catch the last few minutes of post-sleep leisure.

It also reminded me of one of my boRomamu's favorite books by one of his favorite authors - Mohabharoter Kotha by Buddhadeb Bose. If memory serves me right, in Mohabhatoter Kotha Buddhadev Bose goes on to show how Judhisthir, otherwise often maligned as weak and indecisive, was the true hero of Mahabharat. One of the sections dwell on his conversation with Dharmabak and as I grow older, the simple yet profound answers Judhishthir offered to Dharma's questions seem increasingly wise, across space, time and culture. To Dharma's question -"what travels the fastest", Judhishthir replies, "the mind". I haven often been struck how fast my mind migrates, at the appropriate impulse, which is often only a sound or a smell.

As someone who is ignorant of the grammars of music, often when I listen to familiar music, incapable of being led by the technical nuances, my mind often strays and conjures up imageries of other times I had heard them, and the persons and  places around me at those times contribute to the emotional whirlwind that my mind goes through in the process. A few weeks ago, I was struck by how the taste of English Toffees reminded me of the Sohan Halwa that my father used to get from Ghantewala's in Old Delhi. And Judhishthir knew about all of that; amazing, isn't it ?

At least two things happened on that fateful morning. Prior to that, I had been, for a good thirteen years, solely been listening to North Indian Classical Music but only played on instruments and only by a handful of artistes. I have written elsewhere about another night that led to my relatively sustained interest in that medium. However, since then I have started listening to vocalists with a more engaged attention. I have been listening to Kishoriji's Bhoop on and off but haven't quite been able to bring myself to listen to Mhaaro Pranam. I suppose that would hurt too much !

But I think the more profound effect it had on me was that I started slowly succumbing to the realization that boRomamu is not around any more. His vinyl player is not in his room any more although the LP might still be there. Not having visited Kolkata since his demise, I have not had to face a closure and I am not quite sure that merely not seeing him in his room will bring it about; after all,  he might have just gone downstairs to teach or to have lunch. However, as the persons, both the physical and the vicarious, around him who formed part of my precious days of adolescence and youth slowly fade into oblivion, I surmise that I will be able to wrap it up, only to be reopened another time and another place.