Have you seen those jute Osho sandals? They are cool, eco friendly, and loved by all the white tourists who come to India. Not just the hippies, but also the normal tourist who wants to wear flipflops and "feel" India. I bought a pair in 2005, but this story is about 1992, when I had no idea where these beautiful jute sandals came from. In Banaras I had seen the white tourists wear these and a disturbing urge of flicking a pair from someone was rearing its ugly head inside my mind. Where do you have sandals lying unattended? Outside a temple, of course. And which temple do most of the tourists visit? Why, it is our very own Sankatmochan!
"Meghadoot da, have you heard Dil Gira Dafatan? It is from Dilli 6." Now, among my musically inclined friends, mentioning AR gets me brickbats. AR Rahman produces stereotypes, and makes music for the musically challenged masses of India. Remember Muqabla? Well, that's what he is capable of. Talk about music, they will insist. But I took a chance. I had to tell Meghadoot da about AR's music in Dilli 6. Although it is at times signature AR, it is beautiful and various. It has the smell of Dilli in it, it has Masakkali, it has fresh voices like Ash King's or Mohit Chauhan's... it definitely has the poetry of Prasoon Joshi (who IS this guy and how many women are running after him now?), and AR has poured out his best in this album. His soul is captured in this album.
"You know... there's something about the tempo of this song... the fast guitar in the background and the magically slow vocals by Ash King in the foreground... which creates a temporal confusion in your brain...that's akin to being stoned after quality pot... I feel stoned every time I listen to that track.
"I also listened to Lopamudra's Krishnakali right after that, but after a while, I switched to Dilli 6 again. Is it because I can't understand Tagore's music? Why doesn't it appeal to me?
And then he told me about how, if you are not a singer with a range like Lata or Asha, you can't do justice to all kinds of Tagore's songs. The different moods, the variation in the tempo according to the mood, the absolute melancholy in one song that aligns with your grief today and the fresh hope in the next, is what Tagore is all about. Unfortunately, the new generation of singers have not been able to grasp and render that same variety in their albums. There's a whole dimension missing, that of the depth. The emotional depth. If one fails to do that, one fails to grasp the attention of a potential listener like me.
"Remember Sankatmochan?" I remembered Sankatmochan. This old temple with an expansive courtyard hosts a classical music conference every year. It is nothing like your Dover Lane Music Conference in Calcutta. It has a charm that is known to have waylaid many lay persons and made music lovers out of them. It is free, and it has the best classical musicians performing every year.
Knowing I would find the nice Osho sandals there, I went with some other students one night to the Sankatmochan temple. It is about a kilometer from the university entrance and we went barefeet, determined to get nice sandals for ourselves from the piled up footwear outside the main hall. The mood of the place made me curious. There were families from villages who had come from long distances on their bullock carts and there were hundreds of European tourists among the thousands of Banarasis. They were waiting for the stalwarts to perform.
"Yes, I remember Sankatmochan. I distinctly remember Pt V.G. Jog and Mme Sisirkana perform, and I also remember how Pt Jasraj started late in the night and sang the raga bhairavi to usher in the morning. But did I tell you about this, Meghadoot da? I liked Sisirkana's violin recital a lot more than VG Jog's. She used a viola, five strings, and would sometimes play two strings in harmony with each other. That made her rendition a lot more soulful. I couldn't identify the raga, am a layman, but the soul of her music still reverberates within. It is gonna be there for a long time."
Meghadoot da doesn't know perhaps that I went to flick a pair of Osho sandals from a music conference. But he also doesn't know that I came back barefeet that year. And every year after that till 1995, a potential thief, waylaid.