Monday, October 4, 2010

For the Love of Music, the Lure of Tale

Once upon a time, in a far away land, I used to dance Kathak. We were told that the word, Kathak, literally meant Story Teller: Katha Kahey So Kathak (The one who tells the story, or Katha, is the Kathak). It is one of the classical dances of India, and I made a conscious choice of giving it up when my Literature Reading demanded all my attention and resources, a choice I recognized, even then, as logical, and heavy with regret.

Our Guruji would arrive at the height of our after-school naps; we'd be shaken out of slumber and made to get ready for the lesson. Of course, being kids, we really hated that. This rude awakening would be followed by Tatkar, the intense footwork exercises that get increasingly complex and convoluted as the training progresses. I didn't care for it then at all, even though it got easier for me to handle the complex rhythms and beats, because this exercise did not demand any emotional involvement from me. My favorite part came almost at the end of the lesson, when we would begin teasing a thumri or thaat. We'd try to channel Radha's unrequited, helpless love for the blue skinned god, or evoke Krishna as we'd tell of the mischief the god regularly got himself into, while not missing any beats or taal.

This is the fountainhead to which I trace my love for stories: the still afternoon air, a tale as old as memory, what Amit Chaudhary calls a cultural thumbprint.

As the training advanced, new strains were woven in, and we were introduced to the basic ragas, their, personalities, the diurnal characteristics associated with them, the diversions most suited to them. Yes, this does seem like characters, and they are characters! That was the reason I found them most attractive.

In fact, to date, my favorite type of painting is the Ragmaala paintings, in which each of these ragas is depicted anthropomorphically, along with the connecting raginis. I find them rather extraordinary: they express, perfectly, the exact emotions as well as the entire range of human feelings, and there are many schools of these Ragmala paintings! Just like human emotion, these ragas have no singular composer, and one doesn't associate individual artists with the paintings. There are, of course, stories about their origins, stories that connect these ragas to divinities. The ragas, in turn, tell these stories and more, and like the self-sustaining ancient deities, birth themselves.

They remove humans from temporal designations and introduce them to their feelings; for a lover of stories, nothing could be more perfect!

I am thinking of this world I deliberately turned my face away from, since I just finished Amit Chaudhary's The Immortals, and he so faithfully depicts this denied world. I must confess to more than a twinge of regret today, and these forgotten notes suddenly stand out in relief in the Hindi movie songs I am so addicted to, almost admonishing me for not recognizing them earlier.

But then I remind myself that the music is still within me, very much a part of my day, and I have given up nothing. After all, Katha kahey so kathak, and I am told I tell stories very well, like a true Kathak. Of all the compliments I receive from my classrooms, this one is the most meaningful to me.

The new Quarter begins today; I think I shall begin it with the story of Orpheus, my paean to the gods of music.