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Saraswati Mela

Preserving instruments long lost in the alleys of time – Bygone Beats

We hope that no instrument or music form ever has to pass into oblivion in the minds of people.

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Yatindra Mishra writes about the long lost instrument ‘Raavanhattha’in his poem ‘Magical Fiddle”

Just mention this bowed fiddle
and even the dead come alive
on its lilting music reaching out
the faraway sands
one finds footsteps of
the Bengali Baul Saint
called Lalon Faqir
This is no mere instrument to
just play out the notes
but a spontaneous part
of life for long years…
…..Just letting it languish alone
we may forget the names of
who knows how many
Fakirs and Kabirpanthis….

The symbols and motifs which  constitute our culture, develop much like their biological counterparts of an ecosystem. They don’t develop in seclusion but in a symbiotic relationship with a multitude of many other things. Losing any part of it is akin to losing a product of thousands of years of evolution. As Yatindra Mishra says, losing a simple instrument is losing a part of our cultural legacy , losing Raavanhattha is also losing the songs of longing and prayer which accompanied it,  the beautiful writings of the poets and bards which were sung on it. It is also losing the philosophy which forms a part of our shared history and only time knows what else with it. 

With this ache in my heart , I recently came across an initiative by the Music Club of BIT Mesra, Dhwani   . They were working on a project titled Bygone Beats where they chronicled the history of seven instruments lost to time. They researched deeply and made invigorating , short videos on them which would familiarize the viewers with these instruments. They also share rare recordings of the instruments. Their choices covered eastern and western music worlds, Hindustani and Carnatic practices of music. The instruments  covered were Rudra Veena, Lituus, Pena, Bassoon, PakhawajMorchang & theNadaswaram.

Deeply appreciative of the initiative I got in contact with the people behind these projects to know about their inspirations, challenges and rewards.

SM: This is such a novel concept digging deep in the love of music, how was the concept of Bygone Beats conceived?

The loss of any instrument is, in a way, like losing a part of our history, our roots. We felt that we, as musicians, should know about these instruments and their value in music and their importance to musicians and audience. It was also important to understand the causes of their extinction so that we may be able to see if a similar fate awaits any more of the existing instruments or art forms, and to preserve and protect them.

SM:With project of such a vast scale, what is the methodology of your research?

We read about instruments which are lesser known or extinct and selected 7 instruments of various types which we were going to feature in our series. We had even asked our spectators to suggest instruments that they would like to be featured in the series and we included those instruments. We then studied the selected instruments extensively, took help from people who had more knowledge about them and listened to audio recordings to understand them better.

         (‘Nadaswaram’, performed by Mambalam M. K. S. Siva)

 SM:Tell us about  the most enchanting experience of the journey so far. 

 When elders and knowledgeable musicians hear of this initiative and the instruments we are covering, they feel surprised and happy that the younger generation knows about these instruments and is making efforts to spread the knowledge

SM: And your learnings from it ?

Working on this series was quite an enriching experience. Not only did we learn about the technicalities of the instruments, but also their origin and how each of them served as a prominent symbol of the culture of the region where they were popular. It is incredible how musicians spent their entire life devoted to the practice of these instruments and how slowly, imperceptibly, these instruments started losing their touch with audience and musicians alike, until very few people remained who could play them and teach them to the younger generations.

(Morchang Maestro- Rais Khan)

 SM:And the difficulties you faced. 

 Since most of these instruments are no longer played, sometimes information about them or recordings are difficult to find.

SM: How does it feel to recover the lost nostalgia?

 The loss of any art form or an instrument associated with it is a huge cultural loss to humanity. It is indeed sad that these instruments could not survive the changing interests of the audience. But we found the series to be a good way to spread knowledge about them. It was gratifying to know that even people who don’t have the technical know-how of music were interested in knowing about these instruments and appreciated our work.

( Reconstruction of the etruscan Lituus )

SM: What are your future plans and hope from it?

 The subject of music is very vast with numerous genres, styles and instruments, all designed to suit different types of audience and artists. Each of these holds some connection to our deepest emotions and is equally important. We hope that no instrument or music form ever has to pass into oblivion in the minds of people.

The Dhwani Team

Despite all the difficulties and the challenges faced in uncovering the long lost history and performances , Team Dhwani did a commendable job . They have shared various videos and text posts which are available on their Facebook page providing an insight into the times and beauty of these instruments.

To summarise this truly noble preservation initiative , I would again like to quote Yatindra Mishra from his poem In the Boat of Poetry and Music’-

Carrying on their shoulders
the boat of poetry and music
who knows how many
minstrels and mendicants have
been walking piercing the
mist of long centuries
Even they would not know that
what difference they made to
our lives by walking in thus
They were the ones who saved
in their dinghy a tune
of the endless music of life
that had fallen out of our palms
just as though it had slipped from
musical repertoire of the formless one……

Much like the Derveshes and the minstrels of the poem, the Dhwani team brought for us a glimpse of different hues and melody of life’s infinite music which had been previously lost to us. We hope that like the etrenal nature of their name ( Dhwani stands for sound) they lend a new life and renewed spirit to the music, expressions and art which have been buried in the sands of time and oblivion .

 

Note: All images and video courtesy –  Dhwani – Music Club, BIT Mesra.

 

BP

In awe of poetry- This is a poem that heals fish

A poem is when you have the sky in your mouth..
A poem ...is when words beat their wings..

...

Poetry always leaves things unsaid, so that new meanings can sprout from the crevices that are left. It is for me no coincidence that the Irish Godddess of medicine and healing, Brigid is also the Goddess of poetry. She carries a cauldron which signify her transformative powers. Mythology dealt with symbols and the image of Brigid is a beautiful homage to understanding  the healing and transformative power of poetry.

The awe and wonders which lie in the recesses of poetry are combined with childhood innocence and curiousty and explored in an enchanting illustrated book- This is a Poem that Heals Fish.

The book begins with the frenzied cried of little Arthur as he says-

Mommy! My fish is going to die!

Come quickly! Leon is going to die of boredom!

As an antidote to the unbearable prosaic and mundane struggles of day-to-day living, Arthur’s Mom prescribes the most primitive and powerful drug for Arthur’s fish-

Hurry , give him a poem!

And she leaves for her tuba Lesson.

Arthur is bewildered , as he doesn’t know what a poem is. He searches in his kitchen, in his cabinets, among the cleaning supplies, even under his bed but nowhere can he find his poem.

Thus , he goes in search to know what exactly is poem and this is where we , along with Arthur embark on a magical journey.

Determined , Arthur continues his search.

He runs to Lolo’s bicycle shop.

Lolo knows everything, laughs all the time. and is always in love.

Lolo-Illustrations from the book

Arthur  asks everyone of his dilemma and gets vastly different answers from all of them.

A poem , Arthur,is when you are in love and have the sky in your mouth…

Oh! Okay…

Arthur’s friend Mrs. Round the baker has the following answer-

A poem ?

I don’t know much about that .

But I know one and it is hot like fresh bread.

When you eat it, a little is always left over..

Oh! Okay.

Poetry as bread-Illustrations from the book

Mahmoud from the deserts has his own answer to the question.

A poem is when you hear the heartbeat of a stone.

Oh! All Right.

Mahmoud and stones-Illustrations from the book

On the mention of a heartbeat Arthur is startled and rushes to his fish . He finds that his colourless existence has lulled him to sleep. As poetry crosses all the barriers of the possible and impossible, Arthur then heads to his pet canary Aristophanes to seek his answer. The bird obliges –

Puffing himself up, Aristophane chirps:

A poem is when words beat their wings.

But perhaps the most endearing and deceivingly simple reply comes from Arthur’s Grandma.

When you put your old sweater on backwards or inside out, dear Arthur, You might say that it is new again. A poem turns words around, upside down..

Grandma’s Upside down -Illustrations from the book

 

Then she tells her little grand-kid to visit his Grandpa as he often writes poem instead of repairing pipes. Grandpa has no doubts as he says-

A poem is what poets make..

Even if the poets do not know it themselves.

Poets and Poems-Illustrations from the book

After this Arthur goes to his beloved fish and apologizes that he hasn’t found a poem. But he does tell what he has come to know-

A poem is

when you have the sky in your mouth

It is hot like fresh bread,

when you eat it,

a little is always left over.

A poem

is when you hear

the heartbeat of a stone,

when words beat their wings .

It is a song sung in a cage.

A poem

is words turned upside down

and suddenly!

the world is new.

 

As he understood what a poem is , the world turned a lot more magical for Arthur and his little fish .With poetry Arthur could talk to his fish.

Leon opens one eye , then the other,

and for the first time in his life he speaks.

-Then I am a poet Arthur.

Oh…?

and my poem is my silence……….

Arthur flying away with his fish -Illustrations from the book

Poetry healed the fish and Arthur went on riding on the back of his little Leon, on the wings of his new found imagination.

For a truly heartwarming experience please go through this book which combines innocence, art and poetry to create magic.

 

BP

Kahlil Gibran on love and freedom – His ideal of a Marriage

Love one another, but make not a bond of love
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

...

To love and to be free is one of the life’s greatest ideals and victories.  To love freely and fully yet letting the recipient of the love be free is one of love’s greatest triumphs.  This is when love shines in all its resplendent glory. This is a true form of love and if I daresay the only form of true love that exists.

Love deals with the reality as well  the potential- what we are and what we can blossom into, what all we can be. Kahlil Gibran , the masterful poet and philosopher writes on this delicate balance of love, distance and space in his book The Prophet. This is a book which features dialogues between the residents of a village and their Prophet Almustafa. Kahlil Gibran provides deep philosophical insights into the nature of things which are a part of the fabric of our daily lives.

Lebanese American Poet- Kahlil Gibran

It calls to mind the Porcupine Theory which states that in winters, the porcupines come closer to share warmth and intimacy. However the moment they come very close , their spines start hurting their partners and they are in turn hurt by the sharp spines of others. So they once again move away. Yet the problem persists as they are no longer sharing heat. So they again seek to come close and yet again steer away when the pain of spines becomes unbearable.

This dilemma captures succinctly the dilemma of Human Intimacy. To truly enjoy and bask in warmth of human relations we need to have  spaces in our togetherness.

Kahlil Gibran inspires and moves our souls with his eloquent piece on love, intimacy,distance and everything in between.

Excerpt from the beauteous The Prophet , this is something that we must read and understand if we ever hope to do justice to the word love.

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Illustration by Ramya Sriram at The Tap

 

 

BP

A poetic ode to the essence of science and womanhood

A charming poem dedicated to the primeval scientists and the simplistic wonder, curiosity and observation which motivate us to pursue science

I have never been a believer in exclusion. For me awe and wonder often overlap and therein spring out various avenues of human genius. Science and art are both efforts to chronicle the wonder that we experience in our everyday lives. Poetry and science are therefore more similar than different. Both are present at the threshold of awe and find their way on the paths of curiosity.

A beautiful illustration uniting science and art

As civilization ensued we homo-sapiens could only make it in a harsh and ruthless world because of our underlying curiosity, acute observation and the deductions we made from them. Science is everywhere, and these basic scientific methods have not changed in the centuries that have passed.

Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing different avenues overlapping in their full glories; giving ,receiving, borrowing and lending meaning , expression and stimulation from each other.

The Mushroom Hunters is an ode to the originators of science. In its simplistic clarity it takes back science from congested , dusty, academic laboratories and libraries and returns it to its rightful place – the lives of common men and women . It is also a lovely and profound tale of the women who contributed to the growth of civilization and whose efforts often remain unacknowledged and unappreciated.

This is a beautiful tale told by Neil Gaiman which captures the essence of science and womanhood and how they evolved together.

THE MUSHROOM HUNTERS

Science, as you know, my little one, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe.
It’s based on observation, on experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe the facts revealed.

In the old times, they say, the men came already fitted with brains
designed to follow flesh-beasts at a run,
to hurdle blindly into the unknown,
and then to find their way back home when lost
with a slain antelope to carry between them.
Or, on bad hunting days, nothing.

The women, who did not need to run down prey,
had brains that spotted landmarks and made paths between them
left at the thorn bush and across the scree
and look down in the bole of the half-fallen tree,
because sometimes there are mushrooms.

Before the flint club, or flint butcher’s tools,
The first tool of all was a sling for the baby
to keep our hands free
and something to put the berries and the mushrooms in,
the roots and the good leaves, the seeds and the crawlers.
Then a flint pestle to smash, to crush, to grind or break.

And sometimes men chased the beasts
into the deep woods,
and never came back.

Some mushrooms will kill you,
while some will show you gods
and some will feed the hunger in our bellies. Identify.
Others will kill us if we eat them raw,
and kill us again if we cook them once,
but if we boil them up in spring water, and pour the water away,
and then boil them once more, and pour the water away,
only then can we eat them safely. Observe.

Observe childbirth, measure the swell of bellies and the shape of breasts,
and through experience discover how to bring babies safely into the world.

Observe everything.

And the mushroom hunters walk the ways they walk
and watch the world, and see what they observe.
And some of them would thrive and lick their lips,
While others clutched their stomachs and expired.
So laws are made and handed down on what is safe. Formulate.

The tools we make to build our lives:
our clothes, our food, our path home…
all these things we base on observation,
on experiment, on measurement, on truth.

And science, you remember, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe,
based on observation, experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe these facts.

The race continues. An early scientist
drew beasts upon the walls of caves
to show her children, now all fat on mushrooms
and on berries, what would be safe to hunt.

The men go running on after beasts.

The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill
and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.
They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,
freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms.

Painting by Jaimini Roy

 

BP