A modern day fable - by Patrick Sanjiv Lal Ghose
To adapt a popular jazz song from the bebop era, “He bleeped when he should have bopped”.
Do you know the word that is used to describe the short, high sound that replaces a spoken word or words when it is, or they are, subjected to censorship and expunged from the sound track of a film or television program? Or even a song? BLEEP! You know it? I thought you did.
Well, this is about people who expunge themselves from life as you know it. No, they don’t die. They simply remove themselves, their entire beings, from life. BLEEP. Hence, bleepers. One moment, there they are! The next moment, where are they?
At this early stage in my narrative I will understand if a feeling of utter disbelief is beginning to overtake you, when you want to question not merely the validity of my statement, but my very sanity itself. Well, willingly suspend that disbelief as you might for the poets, and listen to what I have to tell you. You never know, you might be a bleeper yourself.
Sometime in your life you would have read, or heard of persons who disappear without a trace. Of these many million incidents, some recorded and officially enquired into, most unrecorded; twenty five percent would be suicides, fifteen percent those who run away to another place, another country for reasons criminal or personal, ten percent those who are being protected by the authorities for usually political or military reasons, still leaving you with fifty percent. Fifty percent who have completely and totally vanished!
Take it from me, those are the bleepers. They have willfully bleeped themselves out of this existence.
You never know it the first time. The realisation dawns many, many years later, and for want of a better word, I choose to call it bleeping. Tell me, how often have you thought: I wish I was elsewhere, doing something else, with someone else? How I wish I could live a different life, perhaps in a different time altogether? Am I right? Are these not thoughts which have run through your imagination at some time in your life? Many have attempted to achieve such an ambition by changing horses midstream, so to speak, but they have continued to live in this life of the here and now.
I am talking about not even being in the here and now, in this present existence, this current life. I am talking about simply vaporising into thin air, without undergoing some horrible or tragic death, and appearing at a time and place of your choosing to be what you think you want to be.
Let me illustrate.
In this life you are a salesperson in a firm that provides information technology solutions. After having spent some fifteen to eighteen years of your life getting an education, being technically qualified and pumped up with purpose and ambition, you have landed a well-paid job with excellent scope for growth selling a solution, when what you are better qualified to do is to engineer that solution.
Nevertheless, your initial reaction is ecstatic. The pay is good and the prospects so bright (that you’ve got to wear shades – Ray Ban no less!), that you even marry your sweetheart, buy a car, move to a bigger house and have a baby or more. A few years down the line and everything is so meaningless, so mundane, so…so sad. Music is your only consolation. You listen to your favourite songs whenever, wherever you can. The home theatre system you replaced your obsolete 5-in-1 with, has been replaced with the state-of-the-art car stereo. The iPod has gradually begun to assume first priority in your interest levels so that your music listening benefits from a superior technological experience. You seek out friends who are musicians, preferably of calibre, of taste, of aesthetic advancement. Yet there’s a part missing in all this. You search for this missing piece in the music you listen to. Your work and your job are routine as is your family life, and they offer you nothing when you start searching.
You narrow your search down to the music you hear, and you begin to focus on a certain genre that has remained a constant source of pleasure, of consolation, of satisfaction. Let’s say it is jazz. You have graduated in stages in your listening to this form of music. From the old New Orleans style, to bebop, cool, mainstream, modern, avant garde, to contemporary, fusion, acid, hip-hop, it’s been a roller coaster ride of sheer musical pleasure. Today’s global sounds have infused the jazz you love with strange yet exciting voices, rhythms and melodies. Ideas of what might be, what can be are spilling over from your imagination. Your knowledge base has widened beyond the normal listeners’ ken. You can relate to musicians talking amongst themselves when they do a postmortem of a concert they’ve just played, or a composition they’ve begun. Their ideas mesh with yours, kick off new ideas in your head. But you still don’t know how to play an instrument, or even sing one blessed, tuneful note. For reasons best known to you, you did not continue with those piano lessons in school, or learn the guitar when your best friend did. Today, it is your fashion statement when you tell some bored and drunken listener at an office party that your one regret in life is that you cannot play a musical instrument. Cheers to that, and let’s have another one, do!
Your listening to music is now accompanied by your extraordinary performance in thin air. Your fingers run over an imaginary keyboard, plucking out those notes just like Monk did, even filling in spaces with your own notes and chords. That figmentive saxophone is lovingly caressed in your hands as you copy bar for bar what Bird is blowing through the earphones of your iPod. And it hits you like a grand piano crushing your skull at the end of a ten-storey fall that this is what you were meant to be doing after all.
You were meant to be a jazz musician. Even better, an enormously successful musician in India, where the rich classical and folk idioms can so add to the new jazz that is in your head. You know for a fact that jazz is the only living, breathing, real music there is. It is the melting pot and what melts in it. It is music to live for, a sound to die for. Beyond this you know nothing else. Information technology solutions are the crassness of the human soul. There is no purity there; no magic, no pulsating organism; just digits, inorganic, binary coded non-matter. You further realise that this family you have purposefully put together, your spouse, your offspring, the obvious signs of social standing, are the totem poles of a tottering trauma that lie like an undertow in a monsoon-fattened river, ready to pull you down, drown you.
Music, that is jazz, is your only escape, your only release. You want a life where you can play jazz always. But at forty seven? Is it possible? To go through another thirty years of merely imbibing, imitating and regurgitating the greats, till you at last arrive in your own, carve your niche? Where is the time? The money? The circumstances? And you deeply, sincerely, almost religiously wish that you were a jazz musician, born in a family of musicians, learning from all those musicians you respect and worship, till you at last have the ability, confidence, training and the requisite standard of creativity to play your own music. And earn some respect and accolades yourself. That’s important to your wish too.
BLEEP! Your wish has been granted. You suddenly realise, or more correctly become aware, that you are six years old; standing beside an old battered piano being sweetly played by a dark, curly-headed man you unwittingly know is your father. Another jolly looking man, his cheeks puffed out with his blowing, eyes popping as he coaxes out a mean piece from the cornet he is gripping along with a handkerchief, stands alongside. And you know, somehow or the other, that Satchmo is your father’s friend.
Elation knows no bounds. And you also know that your prior life, the one before, is still part of your consciousness. This is what you had wanted. Again for reasons best known to yourself you decide not to share this revelation with your present family. So you grow, you train, you inculcate, you are influenced by the great ones, the musicians you had idolized then, and continue to worship now. Over the years you find your place in the sun that shines on the jazz world, your footprints embedded on the blue moon that so inspires you and your ilk.
But you always know you are from the future, from India, another country, another mélange of cultures. You had been an information technology solutions provider then, and now you are a jazz musician in an age when the language of Trane’s horn is all the information you need, and the way Dizzy uses that mute all the technology you want. And the solution to it all is when you hear Mingus and gang do their thing.
Because you had on that first occasion wished yourself into this day and age, this space and time, you have now grown into an icon of jazz in the era of Information Technology. Techies freely offer you their feats of micro-engineering, their end results of using technology to beget even more sophisticated technology. And you allow your music to adapt to this new environment, to find meaning in the alphanumeric mumbo-jumbo, where electricity, digitisation and the things you can do with them are as crazy, if not more so, than the mind altering substances you took before to find that lost chord, that perfect piece of music.
Then again you come to the realisation that perhaps this is not what you want, this technological marvellousness, this precise mathematical computation, permutation and combination of your music which emanates from your soul, is the beloved child of your muse. And you seek. You search once more. This time the search returns you to India, the land of your previous birth, the one you are still conscious of. Many things have faded. The previous family are wisps of smoke, nameless, faceless; a life that was. Yet you remember the one thing you do – your passionate desire to be a jazz musician. Because that’s when you bleeped.
Once more, at this juncture of my telling, you find yourself unwilling to suspend disbelief any longer, and damn the poets! Your credulousness is turning in, and feelings of doing violence to this writer are overwhelming you. But I say hold a while! Don’t you want to know if you are a bleeper? Don’t you wish you were one? I’m quite positive you do. Shall I tell you why? Because you too have such desires. You too wish you were in another life, that you were someone else doing something else. And how do I know? Aah, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
Well, it’s like this then. That tale I just recounted? That jazz musician’s soul hiding inside an IT solutions salesperson’s body? Truth to tell, that’s me. Yes, me. And now whether you believe it or not, it’s the whole truth and nothing but. So, you might as well hear the rest of it, the last of it.
A pretty, astute young sub-editor flirted with me at a party in Mumbai where I had just finished guest playing a small set with a local jazz band. The musicians knew me only as an American jazz player who was quite something. They were unaware of my reputation or fame, nor did I say anything to enlighten them, enjoying this wary yet free moment of being incognito. But the sub-editor, though young, was a true jazz aficionado, and had recognised me. She dug around in the host’s collection and found an album of mine. You might recall, for a while then, I was hot property on the Page 3s of all the newspapers. Learning that I had come to India for good had resulted in sponsors suddenly taking up cudgels for jazz. In a snowballing effect, and as you can witness for yourself, jazz has become the flavour of the day for film music, pop music, and the varied urban music of India. Record companies, never slack when it comes to sniffing out instant profits, have released more jazz recordings into the Indian market in one year than they have ever released in the West in the last millennium. I’m sort of glad to say many of those recordings are mine.
That sub-editor, now promoted to Senior Features Editor, approached me to write a three-part series of articles for her publication on my music, my roots, my influences, my life. If you are still reading this, then you have in all likelihood read the other two pieces that have already been published in this periodical you hold. Those two articles give the publisher what he wanted. This one tells the whole truth.
I bleeped once without knowing it and look where I am! I have in these two conscious lifetimes understood what I want from my existence here on this earth. I want music, more specifically jazz, to replace the blood in my veins. It is said the conscious decisions you make now determine the trend your life takes. This is my conscious decision. I wish to go further, deeper into the music and I am quickly losing patience. In fifty years from now, technology, and indeed the very nature of music will have changed. I want to be there then. Now. I wish to be part of that change, that revolution today.
Remember not everyone will be a bleeper, but anyone can try. If you want something really, truly, badly enough, and if you wish for it in your heart, with all your mind and spirit, you too could be a bleeper.
Till then, bleep! bleep! See you whenever I do.
Editor’s Note: The mortal remains of the author have never been found. The combined efforts of Indian and US investigating agencies to do so have been in vain. However the author’s claimed antecedents bear out from what we have been able to verify and does include two families in two countries who have a mysteriously missing relative. Recording companies of course, are releasing previously unreleased material by the author-musician, reissuing old titles, repackaging them and making a killing. We are not doing too badly ourselves. Look out for our upcoming series of investigative articles on the bleeping phenomenon. May the author-musician bleep in peace!