By Impana Kulkarni
The soft notes emanating from the hollowed wood strained the beautiful scenes, dances and dialogues from way back into the past, and dropped on to us the way honey gently flows out of its jar and drops ever so smoothly from the table on to the floor. Every note so shrill that it stung stronger than a bee seemed to hardly brush by the ears as it assailed our hearts. Every nerve in our body was like a string on which each melody drew tight and hard and released its hold at the very pique straight at our soul. Sitting with legs crossed on a cemented floor, we were transported to a world where music drives life, music sustains life, music rejoices in life, music is life. Every note was so powerful, that it gushed at us with the force of water released through a pichkari.
A single stream of petulant vibrating honeyed melody unconsciously strung together all the beady-eyed enraptured listeners. And as the wind carries the wingless dried fallen leaves through the air, conducting them through a frenzied dance or a melancholic glide, so the single flute raised its pitch high into the night sky, the lyrics crying out Oh Lord do come down and hear us, and elevated everyone around to unseen dimensions of melody, beauty and devotion.
Gowri Ramnarayan, grandniece of M S Subbulakshmi, recounted her days with the musical queen, as M S sat with Remaji and learnt the bhajans of Meera, Surdas, Kabir, Ras Khan and Tulsidas he composed music for. She sang the Hindi words in her own Carnatic style, because all that mattered was for it to be heard by the lord. Many of them she never sang onstage, they were for his ears only. But Gowri caught snippets of some of those songs from her memory and recited them to us. All of those songs sung by MS today plunged us deep into emotion and love through the voice of Nisha – Rajagopalan, her hum indiscernible from the bass sound of the flute or the velvety violin voice, her lips effulgently singing the same words that those saints and Subbulakshmi sang, and her voice ringing out into the night. While the flute, played by J. B. Sruthisagar, made the entire atmosphere ethereal, the violin, played by Padma Shankar, captured and brought out every thought that passed through our minds, every feeling that struck our heart, it opened a human world within the envelopes of the ethereal. The music and the recollections from its past didn’t transport us away from reality as most people believe classical art does. It showed how our world could merge with the more sublime one, and give such happiness that few get to experience.
The Lord did hear the calls of the flute. As soon as the flute quietened down to allow the singer to begin her aalap, the clouds broke open thunderously and lightly cried tears of joy. As the flute merged with her voice and shredded our body to make way for the overflowing hearts it pelted heavily onto the parched ground- so much that the amplified mridangam and khanjira sounds also got muffled. As the violin along with the flute slowly reopened forgotten memories and then tried to console us, the thatched roof couldn’t hold the rain out any more. And as the music mellowed and pulled us out from that atmosphere, so did the clouds seal their eyelids – to open on another such day when the night will be filled with such music, and the ground hold people willing to listen and receive.
I wish those artists knew all this. I wish they knew what power they wielded, what effect they had on us. I wish I could have told the singer and the flautist that they brought down such wonderful rain, and that as soon as they stopped so did the rain. That so beautifully had the rain linked itself to their music that it would only be fitting to call it divine.