Music and perception

Ustad Bismillah Khan playing his shehnai. (Photo: The Hindu)

Ustad Bismillah Khan playing his shehnai. (Photo: The Hindu)

An effect of pursuing liberal arts is that one’s mind is no more disengaged with the heart. (yes, that typical problem with modern education). Pursuit of any form of art or art itself as an experience, as a conscious consumption works as a bridge between the left and the right brained orientations that psychology talks about. Bridging of these two sides has interesting consequences in life, which are at times thoroughly satisfying. For instance, one’s conception of music as an experience.

Why do eyes well up listening to some people play music? Never knowing who the violinist in Song from a Secret Garden is, but riding with that song a full five hundred kilometers on the road stopping, crying, gazing into stunning landscapes, letting the tears get absorbed by the balaclava covering your face and repeating it all in that order?

And so with Ustad Bismillah Khan whose shehnai can reach such depths within that you’ve never fathomed. This affectionate, intimate connect with the person without having seen him ever, tells something about the ability of music to be a language transcending the need to know. You’ve heard a music and felt something happening within? Then you’ve already known him, met him and you are already talking to him. Ustad Bismillah Khan of one’s mind is perhaps the real Ustad Bismillah  who he ever wished to be! And the rest is just a body, a physical being as the Hindu belief goes. The affinities run deep and gets deeper with time. That the body is gone? How does it matter?

As they say, the music lives on. The language too remains, the message expressed and the man still alive. If you care enough to talk and listen and dialogue, he is there! And so are many such people who are no more with us.


Taking Stock – 2012


Graduate life (this year’s highlight) as I saw one late noon sitting in the lecture hall- is that green tree line in the frame, against a vast blue sky

This month as every year I do the mental thumbing through of the twelve ’30 day sets’ which I always feel have zipped past. The same “wait! wtf!” and “hold on… I don’t even remember” ensues. This too has become ritualistic. And after a little more wallowing in the waters coloured with events, memories and experiences, I trace what was good, what was worth and what shouldn’t ever be lived again (like that time when I felt pushed over the edge – human relationships they call it). These worthies are then listed (at times quite literally on paper) and carried on over to the next ‘365 day set’. New Year isn’t quite a special event, just a convenient moment logistically and time wise to pause and take stock.

So, here is what went right this year:

  1. Rides: A good number of motorcycle rides over long distances. This year was a great experience  in travelling the numerous highways and  living-the-history-geography-textbooks project that I undertook this year. It just meant that all the historical places that I have read in my high school textbooks, I will visit all of them and put a colour picture besides the names that I read in black and white NCERT textbooks. A high point – standing by Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur with a crescent moon in a dark night sky. That was a sight to behold. Loved it! Second, breaking bread at the Gurudwara Sachkhand Sahib  in Nanded. I was that typical unwashed, hungry, travel worn pilgrim who reached the doorstep of this great sikh temple. And I was fed. I was sheltered. It was a stirring moment.
  2. Wilderness: A major trek this year was ascending Kumara Parvatha in the Western Ghats of India. This because of the unsettling quiet night in a tent camped on a ridge overlooking the other ranges. Cold, dark and foggy. And we read Kerouac and slept with thoughts of Muir, Jack London and Indian explorers like Salim Ali. This one trip did much to make me research colonial forestry in India and the tension between development and wilderness.
  3. Graduate Degree: I did what I thought I would never quite do – get back to university. July this year, I joined a Master of Arts program in Development. Graduate life and that decision is stuff for another post. This blog and its straight serious content is a part of some efforts during the first term at the university. Earlier, I held this one from Kerouac close:  Colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middleclass non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets is each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization.
  4. Reading: Aritotle and his Nichomachean Ethics remains my favorite accomplishment this year. A sure stuff to impress people by mouthing the high tension ideas from this. And his Eudaimonia (a Greek word often translated as well-being or happiness)! Other than this I furthered my understanding in Indology with Romila Thapar (Ya. I know… how much other historians abuse her for the “Aryan” theory) , Subaltern Studies collective (Ranajit Guha, Arjun Appadurai and others), history (Gandhian works, Ramachandra Guha), Indian Economic History and Rawls, Sen, Hume and J.S. Mills. A high moment: Reading out Whitman’s Leaves of Grass loud on a road late in the evening. Another one: Reading Sadat Hasan Manto’s collection of short stories. Profound!
  5. Language & Culture: I started learning Persian from a beautiful Iranian lady – Shahin and exploring Central Asian culture with her.
  6. Running and Cycling: November, I begin running 5 kilometers daily. 2012 is a milestone in helping me get back to all the sports and activities that I had put behind me along with high school. How much I loved running all those years and cycling out exploring the neighbourhood. I am back to all of it this year. And the latest edition to the fleet is a new Hercules bike. I run, ride, read and explore this year!

My current read is Persig’s classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In chapter 1 he writes:

We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.

This year’s resolution: stay away from such shallowness, monotony and feeling sorry for whatever!

Happy New Year folks!