Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Music in my voice, music in my hands, music in my heart!

Vidya Rao
     Listening to eminent singer Vidya Rao performing Bhakti songs in the Thumri form was enthralling, to say the least. For somebody who understands neither form, she patiently explained what she was doing and why. She applied the form of Thumri, which became popular only in the 19th century, to Sufi music, which begins around the 13th century. She had chosen every song for a purpose and with an understanding of the difference it created.
     She began with Amir Khusro, a 13th century Qawwali poet, followed by Kabir's 'Jo khuda masjid vasath'. Choosing Kabir's song for its secularism, she says, god does not reside in a temple or a mosque, but rather in the hearts of humans. God, then, is not a collective notion, but a personal, intimate relationship. She went on to raise questions of the body using Mirabai's 'Ma Giridhar rang rachi re'. Rao notes that while first few lines of the song can be construed as giving the universe to Giridhar, a more poetic and sweet notion, it could also mean giving the body to him, a more sensual idea. With this song Vidya Rao believes that the idea of Mirabai as a 'sweet' singer can be changed.
     She followed this song by another Mira-bhajan, 'Man chaakar rakho ji'. A song that became popular after Gandhi's movement and usually sung with an air of submissiveness to Giridhar, Rao attempted to bring in folk elements that mingled an aspect of command as well. The first line which usually means 'Please make my heart your servant', is sung as 'Mhane chaakar rakho ji' with a tone that implies 'You better keep me as your servant'. Though there is an heirarchised relationship, even in that relation the submissive one possesses an element of agency, a little bit of command over the master. Vidya Rao explored these contexts of agency through the song.
     She spoke of religion, she spoke of the body, and she spoke of agency, and then she spoke about breaking the barriers of language, and the other barriers that get broken as well. Speaking again of Khusro's music, she says that the poet sang a combination of Farsi and Hindavi. Farsi is more formal, a language of the courts. It is usually sung in such a manner that it represents a male addressing a female. However, Hindavi was the language of the home and the intimacy that comes with the home, and it was mostly sung by a female voice addressing a male beloved. By combining both languages, Rao believes, Khusro collapses the spaces between the court and the home, and even between the male and the female.
    After the Sufi song, she moved on to a Milad-un-Nabi ('Ek raaj dulhara aavat hai') or a celebration of the birth of the Prophet. But, she said, the song could also just be a paidaish or the birth of a child, thus attempting to break the notions of greatness, where the ordinary child is also considered great. Finally, Vidya Rao performed a ghazal by Mah Laqa Bai (Chanda Bibi), an 18th century Urdu poet who was the first female poet to obtain a diwan or a 'collection of poems'. She referred in passing to the song which is usually sung by a male voice to a beloved and she wondered what gendered notions were broken when a woman sang these songs.
     But transcending all these questions of religion, class and gendered bodies Vidya Rao enthralled, captivated, held her audience spell-bound by her music. Her voice was soft and calm, yet beneath that quiet surface, one could see the excitement and enthusiasm bubbling in her words, pouring out in her music, subsuming the auditorium in her world of blissful song. And the music was not just in the words. It was in the way her hands and eyes and smile danced with her words. Each line evoked a commanding finger pointing out to the person sung to (usually the 'beloved' of Sufi music), it would curl into a soft flower-mudra that understood the beauty and complexity of the song and the words, it would call out to the audience to join her in the music. At the beginning of the play she quoted her teacher, Nainaji: "Sangeet sangat hai" (I would translate that, with my haphazard knowledge of Hindi as: "Music is in the collective"). And indeed, that is what she did. Though she sat on a dais, far away from her audiences, she managed to reach out to everyone 'out there', tapping them light-heartedly on the shoulder, and gesticulating to them to join her in the sheer joy of it all. There was music in her voice. In her hands. In her heart.

Note: Unaware of exact meanings for most of the lyrics, I have provided a rough translation that might not do justice to the words. If there are better translators out there, exact meanings to the songs, words etc. would be much appreciated.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Which character would you choose to have a prolonged interaction with?

     Based on an interesting conversation held with a friend, I began to wonder whether I could come up with a set of fascinating male characters that I would like to interact with if I got to meet them in real life. (Of course, if it is a fantasy story, I would then be situated in the world that the fantasy occurs in). It could be any film, tv-show, book, graphic novel etc.- basically, anything fictitious. Though I usually dislike the question regarding who my 'favourite' character is, I thought this identification of which character I would enjoy interacting with was a slightly different question. I believe that I (and this is a very personal notion, I guess) would enjoy interacting only with someone who is
a. sweet, kind, and basically cheerful
b. intelligent and smart.

     This is my preference list, of course, and it would probably vary from person to person. Yet, my friend and I, based on the above two ideas, wondered which characters would fit this description. But, to narrow the base, we were wondering if we could find men characters in this regard. So, we were mainly looking at
a. human men (as opposed to dragons, centaurs, fishes, pandas, ogres and other such characters)
b. not boys (so people above the age of 18 years, at least)

     Before going into the very minimal list we formed, we were also looking at a lot of women characters that we found fascinating. Some of them included- Arya Stark and Danaerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones), Jo (Little Women), Alice (Alice in Wonderland), all the women from Firefly, Kate Beckett (Castle) etc. There were many more, but I am not including a complete list.
     But we found ourselves getting stuck when it came to the male characters. We dismissed Gregory House, Sherlock (played by Benedict Cumberbacht, but also the book Holmes, and definitely also the Downey Jr. version) and even Wolverine as anti-social, Castle as over-the-top and we started wondering. These are characters we love on screen. Yet, when it comes to a face-to-face, we find them annoying or people we would not be able to interact with. Why is it that the grumpy or arrogant man is considered protagonist-worthy in today's world? When we did find sociable men, they were usually flirtatious, if not outright sexist. Very few characters were kindhearted and intelligent at the same time. We wondered whether Mal (from Firefly) would have ever read a book (could he have been patient enough?!). Even Jon Snow (who in the book is below 18 years, though) would have been amongst the grumpier characters.
     What we did find interesting was that the side-kick was usually more pleasant, and we tended to place them over the protagonist- especially when we considered associating with them. For instance, Wilson (from House), Watson (from Sherlock), Samwell Tarly (Jon Snow's friend from GoT) etc.
     These were some vague ponderings over a walk of three hours. I wonder whether you can come up with a list of ten protagonists who do fit the "if you were to have a prolonged association with a fictional male character, who would they include?". Some of ours included:
1. Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird (though not a protagonist, he does play a lead role. Personally, I think he is perfect. Brilliant, smart, kind, filled with panache! I doubt I would be able to speak confidently if ever I met him, but I would hold him in awe.)
2. Ged, from the Earthsea series (Ged is more quiet than grumpy, I felt. He is contemplative, but kind and also does interact with the other. He, too, is somebody who, when I meet, would be spell-bound by).
3. Leopold, from Kate and Leopold (because he is just too charming)
4. The Three Musketeers (because all of them are a lot of fun, though I guess Arthos (if I'm not mistaken) is a little serious)
5. Radagast, from Lord of the Rings (because he can talk to animals, but again, not a protagonist) and Tom Bombadil also
So, if you guys have an interesting list, do add on...