Without music, my life would be empty.
Each song I’ve heard and know holds a memory for me. It may not be a great song, but it could take me to a happy place. Some songs simply get stuck in my head and play in a loop, refusing to let go.
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato
I have fond memories of my first music teacher – who tutored me in Carnatic Classical Vocal music. Her name was Sita and we called her Sita Mami (aunty). I was five years old at the time and attended classes at her house from 5 pm to 7 pm and she would teach me while she carried on with her cooking. Smells of sambar, mustard sputtering as she added the vegetables to cook into a curry would be wafting in her kitchen. Her daughter, Girija was around 16 or 17 and seemed far older to me. She was kind and loving to all the kids in the building. As I repeated after Sita mami, Girija would iron her clothes on a large plank. Not with an electric iron though! She would hold a flat bottomed vessel filled with boiling water with a metal grip and run it over the cloth to iron it. Very tedious and I would desperately want to iron something like that. So she would fill a small cup with lukewarm water and let me iron a handkerchief.
Every year, during Navratri, I would feel very excited to visit the houses we were invited to, and sing the songs I had learned. When Sita mami was out or busy with something else, Girija would take me through the routine to sing whatever I had learned.
On Sundays, after lunch, my Uncle would get the record player out and play a lot of Cliff Richard songs, followed by Carnatic music and songs by M S Subbulakshmi, one of my favorite artists. We played a lot of Meera Bhajans and sang along, too.
Life is a song, love is the lyrics
Years later, when I was in the fifth grade, I won a school competition and was stunned when I was awarded the princely sum of Rs.100.00 along with a couple of books.
In the seventh grade, I moved to a different school and had the pleasure of learning some lovely songs. One of them went like this:
I am a shrimp, I am a shrimp
And I live in the sea
I’ve lovely long whiskers
That twinkle with glee
With other shrimp babies
I skip hand in hand
We play with the seaweed
And hide in the sand
We swim in the pool
In the hot summer sun
But Father shrimp tells me
Be careful, my son
For someone will come
With a net and a pail
To twiddle you up
By the tip of your tail
And then you’ll be taken
And put in the pot
And fried in the kitchen
Until you’re red hot
Then someone will swallow you
Up in a glimpse
So remember the sea
Is the best place for shrimps!
I love that song. I remember performing “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music at a school program. One song my Mom never tired of me singing to her is “Mother of Mine” and of course, my uncle’s favorite was “Nobody’s Child”
We would have powercuts every day back then and we all looked forward to sitting on the stoop outside our house and singing and playing song tag (anthakshari) – a game where one sings a song and the next person to sing must sing a song whose first syllable begins with the last syllable of the previous person’s song. Great fun!
During Grade 7, to continue my music where I’d left off, my Mom enrolled me at the Technical College for Music. I had no option but to join the first year students as they wouldn’t admit anyone at the higher levels. I remember being bored to death singing the same beginner’s verses when I had learned a lot more with Sita mami. Luckily, school activities became a priority and I was very happy to quit that place. It was during Grade 8 that I started listening to a lot of western music – rock and pop.
In High School, my classmates and I loved setting those mythological stories to modern Hindi film songs. For example, we would take the Ramayana and fill it with songs. I think I still have the notebook where we rewrote Shakuntala with appropriate songs for each scene! In fact, just yesterday, I met this particular friend and classmate of mine.
Once audio cassettes came into my life, I had great fun singing and recording songs. Among the three hundred odd tapes I still have, I am sure one of them has some homemade music.
Our mornings at home begin with listening to the radio, tuned into VividhBharati and enjoying old Hindi songs from 7 am to 8 am when it is time for everyone to leave. During my childhood, it was Radio Ceylon. How I used to look forward to the Binaca Geet Mala compered by Ameen Sayani on Wednesdays.
My husband also sings very well. Ah, that brings back a sweet memory. One of my all-time favorite love songs is “Tere mere sapne” from the revolutionary 1965 movie “Guide“, sung by the legendary Mohd.Rafi, starring my favorite actors, Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman.
This song is very special to me because after Sury asked me to marry him on my birthday in 1996, he sent me a card with the lyrics of this song. Unaware, I sent him a card too, with the same song. We were amazed when we received each other’s cards on the same day and I knew life was going to be great, no matter what. And it is.
The Hindi lyrics are very beautiful – here is a rough translation for you.
Your dreams and mine
Are now of the same hue
Wherever the paths may lead
My heart and yours were destined to meet
Just as the flowers are destined to bloom when spring arrives
Oh my soulmate
Your sorrows are mine
My joys are yours
Your two eyes are my sun and moon
No matter what obstacles the world presents
We will never drift apart
Once your hand is in mine
It is forever
Of course, my all time favorite song is this one: from Do Aankhen Barah Haath