The night air was cold as my sandaled feet walked along in search of their destination. The faint sounds of music could be heard from inside a nearby building. Following the lilting tune, I allowed it to draw me closer to the entrance. The strong yet sweet smell of incense wafted through the air to my nostrils as soon as the door became ajar, inviting me to enter.
The room itself was dimly lit, but became lighter still, as a beautiful young woman, soon to bear her child, traipsed around softly, placing small, newly lit candles on each of the many panes of stained glass windows. Her smile and nod welcomed me.
The artisans assembled were practicing for what was to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I was unaware of how this night would leave such a lasting impression, as yet.
Taking a place in the back of the little hall was sufficient for me. But after being invited to move to the front, I couldn’t resist. A decision, which in hindsight, was the best one to have been made.
All the guests were soon to find that this would be a night of whimsical fancy, as we were to be taken through the ages of Indian music, from its ancient roots in Classical Raagas to folk music and devotional hymns, to the present romantic and popular renditions of Indian life, love and majesty.
The next few hours spent listening to the various sangeet was the sweetest journey through Indian music that I had ever encountered up until that point. Closing my eyes, the warm air and aromatic odor enveloped around, as the melodious sounds emanating from the mesmerizing chords of the sitar, the pounding of the tabla, the shimmering glissandos of the harmonium and the soothing expressions of the most exquisite instrument, the human voice, welled up warm emotions within me. For all in tense and purposes, I was in India!
The tiny village was filled with the khubsurat sounds of those gathered to share their sorrows and joys through music and dance, telling the stories of each one’s zindagi.
As one handsome young man took his place behind the tablas, the crowd was hushed to nothing more than a whisper. At the first leisurely, but insistent and compelling tappings, his body and those of his audience began to sway slowly and gently, like the cooling breezes of the night air, which had come to quell the remaining effects of the blistering heat of the day. He closed his eyes, the tempo became faster and faster still, as his skillful hands quickly caressed the smooth form beneath them. His constant swaying hastened its pace to keep up. The amazing speed at which he performed, left me breathless, as I watched in awe.
The intensity heightened until I felt myself wanting to rise and accompany him with the passion expressed through Bharata Natyam. Images of Madhuri Dixit and Shahrukh Khan in the wedding song/dance called Sanso Ki Mala Pe from ‘Koyla’ flooded my mind. If only my inexperience and shyness hadn’t confined me to the place where I sat. How I wished to be transformed into a dancer with the ghungaru, being free of all restraints and allowed to show how this exhilarating and enchanting rhythm was affecting every part of my being at that very moment in time! Then as swiftly as the throbbing sounds of the tablas had commenced, they ceased, leaving me reeling with their echo pulsating in my ears.
Before continuing on, everyone was invited to the table which bore delicious samosas. A welcome treat for the taste buds. Afterward, we quenched our thirst with either water or cola for those who didn’t mind the caffeine at this late hour. I played it safe with the more natural drink of the two.
The air then again became filled with song. The Karnatak vocals took precedence and eventually those of the timeless “Rang Barase took their place. First, the men with their deep voices and expressive gestures, burst forth in song. The voice of one particularly distinguished older man captured my rapt attention, as if I had met him before. Had I? There was something very familiar about him, a connection perhaps to a mutual friend or relative. In any event, I could picture him being on the silver screen as he sang truthfully from his heart.
Next the women added their softer renditions of popular filmi tunes. Then, a combination of the two styles united. The playfulness and celebratory memories of Holi were conjured and one wished the festival of colours could be enjoyed on every day of the year.
Unfortunately, the festivities came to an end all too soon, which I didn’t want to happen. I would have been content to stay all night, until the morning sun rose up over the horizon. But I had without meaning to, been transported back to the tiny hall that I had found just a few short hours before. It was time to leave, but not without taking all the sights, sounds, and tastes with me so that I might be able to vividly recall them for years to come.