Written by Neeraja Raghavan on 11 July 2016
SANGAM 2016 - Jul 7, 2016, NCPA, Nariman Point, Mumbai
Do good, they say, so that good will come to you.
So I tried to do good – in the hope that the fruits would be reaped in some later birth…
A deep yearning has stayed almost throughout the close-to-six-decades of this existence: to sing whole heartedly, unfettered by self-consciousness…full throated and from the heart. To forget myself and this mundane existence in the depth of beautiful music that flows out of my vocal chords…to lose the separation between this individual identity and the infinite by delving into the ocean of music.
In tenacious (and thus far unfulfilled) desire, I have often prayed for another birth (considering the present one is in its twilight!) when this dream can be realised.
And I have carried the hope that the good that I (think I) am doing now will bear fruit in the form of such a birth.
But in the last two days, I reflected that unbeknownst to me, I seem to have done plenty of good in some former births.
How else can I explain the jewel that dropped into my lap? Two days of ecstatic listening to music of such high quality? Two days with no pressure to meet any deadline, or meet any expectation – but simply to sit back and enjoy divine music? What had I ever done to deserve this blessing? And embedded in this coronet was a music lesson that empowered me to feel: “Maybe I don’t have to wait until the next lifetime…there is time yet, so why not learn now?”
Having gone ostensibly to conduct a workshop for teachers, I ended up just being a part of the audience. [The workshop did not happen – for various reasons.] But so much else did.
In the manner that Life often unfolds, I recently found myself being inducted into the design of a Teacher Development Program for the teachers of Shankar Mahadevan Academy. Slowly, I began to get familiarized with the organization, its members, its Vision and programmes.
All companies have Vision Statements. I have worked in so many in my long career until date. Mostly, though, they serve as grand statements to be posted on websites, flaunted on banners on special days and touted to clients during marketing programs. Seldom have I seen a Vision in Action.
But I saw it in the last two days.
For these two days were a pure celebration of the Joy of Music…no competition, no judgments, no hierarchies. From little children to senior citizens, from Indian residents to foreigners and NRIs, from students and novices to seasoned musicians and teachers – all of them gathered together under one grand roof (NCPA, Mumbai) to sing their hearts out, and partake of a delectable lesson taught by the Master, Shankar Mahadevan.
I, too, sang.
Sitting in the audience, with my grey hair and untrained voice. Running short of breath sooner than most, and often ending up croaking hoarsely.
But who cared? Who noticed? My heart was too full, and I was too busy enjoying it all!
As the simple lesson panned out, I was struck by the sheer beauty of those seven notes. Can the simple notes of Mayamalavagowlai sound so utterly beautiful? I never knew they could. How had I missed seeing the offering up of each note that can happen? The submission of the singer to the song?
No, no Paatu Vaadyaar of mine ever brought out its beauty like this: swaras and alankaaraas were merely a painful step to learning the more exciting varnams and kritis. But sitting here, in this hall, watching Shankar Mahadevan lead hundreds of us into the depth and beauty of just three notes at a time, I felt moved to tears. There was a hidden prayer in each note, an offering Up to the Divine in each sound…I realised that music does not need a kriti to touch, just a swara held long and deep has within it the entire ocean! The bhajan that followed was – to me – just an extension of the first part of the lesson, also a prayer. Prayerful notes. A joining of hearts. Across countries, ages, genders…unseen hands raised up in true gratitude.
What’s more, I felt even I could do it!
While I will surely never sing like even the little children who sang here, I could certainly sing my heart out. And in tune. And enjoy every bit of it. So in a sense, I saw my vision in action, too! [A little sooner than my next birth, you will agree! ;-)]
Conspicuous by its absence was glitz. No Bollywood starlight. No showmanship. Just pure enjoyment of singing and listening. Above all, the Master was down-to-earth in his entire stance and body language. He was not the world famous icon of Bollywood music. He was a passionate musician sharing his love of music with a family that he has set up. The quality of his listening all through the two days was truly remarkable. Only a passionate musician could listen thus. Only a true lover of music could be so humble…
Even as the songs ranged from folk to devotional to pure classical, their messages spanned activism, secularism and national integrity.
But through all of this, it was pure melody that spoke. It touched my heart as nothing has done in a very long time.
So you see, I must have done some good. Because, as they say nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.
If every river needs a source, a confluence like this needs its streams. Some good deeds set my boat on this course. May I continue to ride…!
About the Author
Neeraja Raghavan is the Founder-Director of ThinkingTeacher. She worked with Azim Premji Foundation for almost eight years, mainly in the field of Science teacher education, pedagogy and curriculum development. Her research interests currently focus on teacher development through reflective practice. She is currently involved in creating a Teacher Development Program for teachers of music.