I have always believed that music has the power to put life back into a comatose soul. How I generated this fascination for music is something that is inexplicable, but from time immemorial, I have loved to listen to all kinds of music. This allure is very strange, since there is no individual anywhere on my ancestral tree who is sitting on or even hanging from any branch of music. I personally am of the opinion that all of us human beings have music within us. It is something that is ingrained in our genes and cannot be cleaved off from us. Music is also a part of everything that we see around us – in a way music is directly proportional to the symmetry in life. Some of us align ourselves to be a part of it, and some others align to play an active part in appreciating it – after all good music also needs people who can appreciate it.
So what drove me towards music? As far as I remember, I have always been listening to good music. As a child, growing up in an India that had not yet seen the explosive advent of pointless television programming, radio was the only succor on a given day. Sitting in front of the radio and listening to Hindi movie songs on Aakashwaani and Vividh Bharati are memories that I shall eternally cherish. Binaca Geetmala used to be a program that used to be eagerly looked forward to, with the dulcet and silken voice of the great Ameen Sayani acting as a unguent for my weary soul. Even before I discovered the magic of books and the charms of reading fiction, radio and the movie songs it played, used to be my lifeline. Luckily for us Indians, our movies have songs for every occasion, so irrespective of my mood movie songs then gave me an ultimate high. And the playback singers, the musicians and lyricists of those days obliged us with lilting songs that elevated or alleviated your mood (depending on your state of mind). I particularly remember the LP records of the songs from Bobby and Sholay that my Grandfather had. Every week when I would visit my grandparents, I would insist on these being played. Without needing to be present before you in the form of moving images, these songs of yore were of such high quality that you could literally feel emotions of the cinematic situations not only in the singers rendering, but also through the infectious music which was further enhanced by poetic lyrics. For me personally, the playback singer, music director(s) and lyricists were the main characters of a movie, with the actual cast just giving support to these “real heroes / heroines”.
Once I discovered the option of recording songs on cassettes (yes I agree, those were nostalgically joyous days!), I would have a list of songs prepared virtually every week and would pester my mother to take me to the music shop, and then worry the owner to get it recorded for me at the earliest. Life became more interesting once my father got a new music player, which had recording facilities in it. I could now record songs of my choice and play them back whenever I wanted to. Not just movie songs, any kind of music used to transport me into a phantasmagorical world, where I could get lost without worrying about finding my way back home, for this musical world that I dwelt in provided ample bliss to me. I was never a big fan of the different genres of Western music, but any good operatic music or a western classical instrumental piece would make me swoon with joy.
People say I have been blessed with a passably good voice, slightly above the regular bathroom singer variety, so rather late in life I got enrolled under the tutelage of a maternal music teacher and trained in Carnatic Classical singing for a few years. But the pressures of professional life and some unprecedented turbulence in my personal life made me give up one of the passions that I have cherished right from my childhood. Then about six years back, my lovely wife gave me one of the best birthday gifts I could have asked for – she enrolled me once again in a music academy, this time for Hindustani Classical training. The one day in the week that I go for riyaaz is like manna from heaven for me. The two hours of vocal calisthenics that my teacher makes me undergo, once again transposes me into a world where magic exists! No matter how hard the day has been for me, this sitting in this realm of music soothes my soul and irons out the creases caused by the disorders of the day. I would be amiss if I do not acknowledge my best half for helping me regain this lost world, and also for pushing me towards the other passion that I have in life – that of writing. So thank you my love, you truly are my inspiration.
Unfortunately, the music in present day Hindi movies comes nowhere close to recreating that special, magical world that I, and I am sure all my contemporaries, dwelt in during our growing-up years. Of course there are some wonderfully gifted playback singers, and the music in some of today’s songs is enchanting, but the lyrics in most of the songs are not just asinine, but downright insulting to the intellect of true music lovers. The typical mantra for a successful song today is to add some percussion pieces with techno-junk music, so that beat sounds catchy, and then sell it to the youth packaged with some famous actors mouthing the puerile lyrics. I do not subscribe to this new trend of remixing old songs with new beats – it is akin to applying a coat of varnish to antique furniture and trying to sell it as a contemporary piece without realizing that the value of the original is priceless! Recently a FM radio station ran a survey asking the youth to select between a catchy dance number and a remarkably soulful, melodious song. I was surprised and a tad bit saddened when the overwhelming choice was for the dance number! Is this what the future holds for our beloved Hindi film music? It hurts me no end when I see my nine-year old daughter singing these ridiculous songs. But when she also sings some of the old Hindi movie songs with equal ease, I also see hope.
Music is an omnipresent force that acts as an effervescent balm to soothe the psyche. I completely endorse the observation by Miguel de Cervantes that, “Alas all music jars when the soul’s out of tune” – if your soul cannot recognize the music around you, every sound will be cacophony and every note will bring despair.