Monday, August 23, 2010

Rabindra Sangeet for the Non-literate

I grew up in Bihar. Aspiring to learn Rabindra Sangeet (pronounced Rōbindrō Shongit), like all Bengali girls who belonged to “cultured” families. If nothing else, it would add to my equity in the marriage market when my parents were looking out for a groom for me.

My Mum who was herself a good singer (but untrained after the initial few years), even got me a teacher. I was just about 10 then. A stick-thin lady in her 40s. I would describe Gaaner Didi (I did not understand why I had to call her Didi {Bengali for elder sister} when she was older than my Mum) as a confirmed spinster with librarian glasses, very oily, braided hair, reaching down to her waist. The braid was left untied at the end, leaving behind three permanently separated rat-tail like portions of hair.

She had thin, almost man-like fingers. Darkened at the tips, probably from playing the harmonium for years. She had thin lips which would purse together when she would sing. She never wore any lipstick like my Mother. Her lips were dark, I guessed from drinking too much tea. She never smiled either, even when my Mum paid her two hundred rupees as fee for my music lessons.

harmonium I was to go for my music lessons four times a month. Every Friday evening at five. The neighborhood rickshaw wala Kanhai was “fixed”. He would drop me to my new teacher’s house and wait there till I’d finish my lessons, then bring me home.

rickshaw My music lesson started with touching the music teacher’s feet, a ritual I had to repeat before leaving “class”. She did not touch my head or kiss my forehead to give “ashirwaad” (blessing), like my Dida did. I thought maybe it was only Grandmothers who showered those affections. 

We sat cross-legged on cotton rugs spread across my music teacher’s living room. We, here are her and me only. I felt special. Didi’s living room was dark, in spite of a light bulb glowing. The walls had framed pictures of old men and women hanging. The photographs were in black and white, but looked yellow. Among the pictures I also saw and identified the old man with long flowing beard. I knew he was Rabindranath Tagore.

rabindranath-tagore He looks like a Bengali Santa Claus I had once joked with my kid sister, who in turn had tattled it to my Mother.

My first day started with gola porishkaar literally meaning I had to tune my voice. The notes from Classical Indian music kicked in, and I had to sing along Sa re ga ma…with Didi. I was already learning some Indian Classical music in the convent school I went to. Sister Roseline and her Kerala accent were just perfectly tuned to my ears. The Bengali version of the same sounded alien to me.

A month passed by and I was still doing Sa re ga ma…with very little enthusiasm.

My fingers were itching to touch my music teacher’s harmonium. Sometimes, when she would leave me alone to open the door to let her domestic help in or make herself some tea, I would sneakily press a key on the harmonium or “hand pump” its bellow.

My Mum intervened one weekend. From the next Friday, I started learning my first Rabindra Sangeet. I hated it instantly. I did not understand a word. I flustered when I was asked to repeat the line my music teacher had just sung.

The next Friday, Didi asked me to open my brand new notebook and write the lyrics down. I was finally looking at some hope.

She said the first line of the song, I started writing it in the Roman script. She peeped into my copybook, scowled and cringed at the same time and said, “E ki tumi Bangla likhte paaro na?” Figuratively speaking -  You are illiterate!

I felt a lump in my throat and fought back tears. Even 10-year-olds had some self-respect. I shook my head, and did not look at her. I continued to press the nib of my fountain pen on the paper. The blue ink spread onto my index finger and thumb. My fingers and my soul were paining. Even my pen was bleeding!

The next Friday I faked a tummy ache and even missed my Mum’s Mutton Biryani for dinner. By Wednesday, I was already hatching a plan. But nothing worked. I was sent packing to Didi’s “music” chamber again. But I left my copybook and pen at home! Wicked clever.

I kept singing for the next one hour – Posto toder daak diyeche and wondered what if poppy seeds could really talk! Very poetic. Maybe they would tell my Mum exactly how much to add to her Chingri recipe.

My Rabindra Sangeet lessons were gradually coming to an end, with more and more gaps in between each class. Exams in school were on, and marks over music were any day more priority. Then Spring break happened. I stopped going completely.

Many years later, I rekindled my liking for Rabindra Sangeet and set out searching for Tagore’s gems on YouTube and found something which brought a little laugh and eked out the pain of being illiterate when it came to the Bengali language.

This song, which I had mis-learnt, mispronounced and in the end never learnt in all those months of going to a teacher!

Forgive me Gurudev, for I had sinned. I chose a wrong teacher and never asked any questions.


sumana said...

this is hilarious and also a bit sad. reminded me of a similar yet diff experience i had with my 'gaan-dida'--an ex-principal of a large girl's school in Mujaffarpur. My mother called her 'mashi--but they weren't related. Ma is Brahmo and Dida was Christian and I was supposed to learn to play the piano and sing yet another Rabindrasngeet, "Rim jhim ghono ghono rey" a rain song.
Your story makes me want to write mine. Good work!

GB said...

My music teacher used to have huge, heavy diamond earrings in her had stretched the skin so much that the holes were like ovals and her ear-lobes used to swing in a wild dance when she used to lead the "riyaaz"! Very distracting. I don't remember her name, but those ear-lobes are seared in my memory forever! Lovely post (loved the earlier post too, and all your gorgeous nooks at home!!)

I can also relate to that "you-don't know how to write in bengali embarrassment you felt)--I was raised all over India and as a result didn't really learn to read or write in punjabi and have been chastised by a certain elderly relative!! :( Not a pleasant feeling at all!!!-in fact it only strengthened my resolve to never learn it (yes, just to spite her!--I was a very headstrong kid!)

sanghamitra said...

Lovely write up Preet....
Even i had similar experiences, not with a single "didimoni"...but several of the "gurujis and didimonis"....however thankfully i never grew any aversion for my mother tongue...but yes i did dislike getting the lessons, so eventually the classes stopped as i succeeded in convincing my mom that studies were more important than the extra curricular activities!!!
But after so many years, in this foreign land, i realized the richness of Bengali culture, especially the works of Gurudev,and now i'm infact planning to start my singing lessons afresh along with my three year old daughter, who has already started chanting "Ektuku choa laage"...."Aaami chini go chini tomare"...!!!

Pinku said...

got directed here by knife's praising of you and ur blog. and I can see that none of it was exaggerated at all.

Your post brought a smile...bengali obsession with culture and therefore naach gaan is everywhere.

My mom used to send me to learn bharatnatyam, classical music and painting as a kid. the only one I did like and was good at was the Karate classes. the others I squirmed out by faking tummy aches, sore throats and some such.

Though do feel a little guilty now in mid age and feel children should have these exposures apart from teh school curriculum.

And if i am not mistaken even you maybe planning some such stuff in your mind for the expected guest. isn't it? :)

Kamini said...

Funny stuff Pree...had me laughing out loud! Looks like we have all been thru similar experiences...mine was a tad different. My mom, an accomplished singer, started to teach me singing when I was about 7 or 8 I think. And I was quite enjoying was my paternal grandpa, who lived with us and who was an all out academician, who put a stop to it saying I should study Maths and Physics (he was a meterologsit) and be of some use when i was all grown up...what good would come out of singing and dancing???? So that was the beginning and the end of my music career :-(

PreeOccupied said...

Looks like this post of mine brought out memories from your own past tumbling down! Each of your comments is a beautiful story on its own. Thanks for sharing.

I do regret not doing so many things when I was a kid. Parents often want to live vicariously and make their kids do things they missed out on. I will try not to do it when my child grows up. Hopefully s/he should be able to find their own leanings.

But I surely will train him/her in the kitchen, just for self-sustenance. ;-)

Sutapa said...

This is so much true. Really, you brought out memories from my own past. It was a torture for me as well to go to "ganer Mastarmashai" (yes! for me the teacher was Male)and bear his "sa re ga ma" for an hour. I checked all the walls, windows and specially the clock hundred times within that long, never ending one hour.I survived for three months only and sincerely thanked all the weekly tests, class tests of my school.

sulagna ™ said...

Pree this was hilarious !!! the posto part..till date i am corrected by my in laws who are Ghotis , about my accent and certain words blamed on being a Ghoti raised in Jahrkhand :) i pride myself on it none the same. Gopal is an ardent Gurudev fan and i love my gutar guta govinda style !

though i do hope Keya while growing up listens to Robindrosangeet, ABBA and Dire Straits !

Desi Bachelor's Kitchen said...

Great writing. It's like I am watching a black and white movie. Please keep writing.

Sonali Bhaumik said...

Great Rabindra Sangeet songs on the occassion of Holi. Please like our Rabindra sangeet and subscribe my channel