Alignment – The way she perceives

The experience of alignment by Bombay Jayashri Ramnath

Untrained voices often produce haunting music

As I was tuning the tamburas, and trying to align my mind to the sruti (pitch), this thought crossed my mind — alignment can be in the moment, alignment can be an experience. My mind went back to the Mumbai suburban trains.

Travelling in the Mumbai suburban train, there used to be a group of singers, led by a blind man belting out bhajans and film songs from the 50’s and 60’s, to the accompaniment of an antique harmonium that seemed to have been out of tune for ages. Never mind that. They were in perfect unison, spirit.

The singer could not see his audience, but heard the response of the listeners, mingled with the hustle of the trains that passed by. The group had struck a strange but beautiful relationship with the listeners.

The fragile rope around his neck that carried his wooden harmonium made him bow down, but that did not lessen the impact his music made on the listeners. Accompanying him were two more singers, one of them around 15.

This was at around two in the afternoon, the Kurla-VT local train. On some days, the voice of the singer wafted from another compartment and by the time the singer reached mine through the vestibule, I would be getting off the train. No formal training. In fact the youngest of the band would start with just walking behind, humming a line or two, and then finally lead the group.

The music would haunt me for long hours until something more compelling took up my mind space.

On weekends, especially on Sundays, the gaddhiwala (mattress-maker) would do his early morning rounds. His sharp strong voice would reach our ears even on the third floor, the twang on the string instrument waking me up, as though a bee were humming round my ear.

The high pitch and propensity of his voice intrigued me.

A group of women sowing seeds in the paddy fields of Kerala singing the song together in perfect harmony. And at the same time ensuring that the seedlings are in a perfect row.

Dhobighat in south Mumbai has the menfolk singing to the rhythm of clothes being beaten on the wash stone being their rhythmic companion.

All in the same swinging motion. Each of the above is alignment.

And there is more to the experience of alignment.

Alignment to the music, the lyrics, the emotion, the situation and the purpose — all of these and more.

On one of my visits to Hyderabad, I got to hear a group of qawwals. The audience was just a few of us, but the full throated, spirited performance made me feel as though I was sharing the music with a thousand people. For them it was just one more evening of singing, but to me it seemed like they were singing as though there was no tomorrow.

The musicians were drawing energy from each other, taking inspiration from the previous note.

Under open skies, this music seemed to be soaring to the heavens.

In a remote temple in Tamil Nadu, a group of about twenty musicians were singing, all of them with closed eyes, oblivious to the surroundings and the occasional passerby. Striking a chord of harmony with their Mentor.

The writer is a leading Carnatic musician, who engages with children.

The Hindu – March 17, 2017