Sunday, May 14, 2006
We hoped that the full moon of Buddha would charge the atmospherics and enrich our evening. We hoped that the heavy “pre-monsoon” showers which inundated the day would not continue in the evening.
Man proposes, god disposes is a convenient adage to use even for the die-hard non-believer.
Buddha Purnima gave us a fleeting glimpse of her rare beauty before she was smudged from our sight by the rain clouds. As soon as that happened, it began to rain, the one thing we desperately hoped would not.
But Gour Khyapa had spoken to the skies, and it did stop after a brief downpour. The rains may have wet the floor, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of music lovers congregated on the rooftop of one of south Calcutta’s best known landmarks. There were barely twenty people when it was time to start, and there were a hundred when Gour was in full voice.
An enchanted evening was had by all is putting it mildly, even diplomatically. Gour perhaps, is not in full form these days due to his ill-health. Yet he sang, he danced, he made witticisms, and passed often politically incorrect comments; and those who have seen him perform when he was at his peak were reminded of those days of yore. Whatever it was, Gour can still entrance like few performers can.
When I’m at great music shows, I cannot but recall Stevie Wonder’s lyrics from his song ‘Sir Duke’: “Music is a world within itself / It’s a language we all understand”. Gour sang in Bangla, but what did that matter to a large part of last evening’s audience who didn’t know the Bengali language, yet sat there mesmerised? They were captivated by the language of music and that was enough.
Requests poured in from listeners who had heard him perform twenty years ago and would never forget his songs. There were others who sat at his feet and sang every word along with him. A friend, a very able blues harp player who had never heard Gour before, was moved enough to take his harmonica out at one point and jam with the mad Baul. I swear there was a crackle in the air and it had nothing to do with the lightning that scarred the overcast skies!
For those who may not know (and I include my own ignorance), Baul geet is significantly influenced by Hindusthani classical raags and raaginis. However, because of their free ranging spirit and their open minds, Bauls merge one or more raags to create a tune and feel of their own, and add a distinctive flavour that is not possible if one sticks to the classical tradition. Gour is one of those very few learned Bauls who knows the raags or raaginis his songs are based on, and later, after the show, he discussed this aspect at some length with a classically trained musician who had been one of his enchanted audience.
I find it necessary to describe the setting for the show. It perfectly suited the ideas we have about what we would like to do in our interactive project with folk and ethnic musicians.
The stage was the open rooftop of a popular market building flanked by a constantly buzzing flyover that spans the crossroads of the busiest locality of south Calcutta - Gariahat. Our neighbour was the police thana. In addition to us, the silent spectators of the show were a multitude of beautifully nurtured potted plants, the angular steel structures of giant billboards, a cellular phone tower, the slatted façade of a huge AC cooling tower, and the squat ugly boxes of smaller air conditioners. Random sacks of cement and stacks of new bricks were unintentional art installations which enhanced the sculpted setting. It was as urban an ambience as you could get.
The audience was urbane, most comfortable when speaking English. The performer was a man from rural Bengal, who in the first few moments gauged his listeners, peeped into our souls with his vast experience, his understanding from the philosophy he lives, and then sang for us because we wanted to listen.
When Gour Khyapa sings even the gods pause to listen.
Once it stopped raining at 8 we had no rain till midnight, and then we had to regretfully pack up amongst protests, requests, and promises for future shows.
The first two photos are by Santayan. My sincere thanks to him.