I’ve had a strange relationship with music.
I remember listening to Winds of change by the Scorpions on my walkman, lying between bundles of sheets and clothes in a corner bedroom. I remember that I was wearing a pair of corduroys that seemed to be the most comfortable and yet appropriate garb for the occasion. My grandfather was dead and his body, laid out in the main hall. We had returned from the hospital a few hours earlier and were waiting for the funeral arrangements to be made. The menfolk were out making arrangements while the women, exhausted from the chest-beating and crying had subsided and wilted in various corners of the house. I remember a sense of blankness settle over me like a white blanket, with nothing left to feel, no pain, no tears, no surprise, no relief, no anxiety, no patience. I think that is one of my strongest memories of what I sometimes associated with peace. Waiting without anticipation. This is the first memory that comes to mind each time I hear the song, not the image itself as much as that feeling.
To this day, I can’t listen to Berlin’s Take my breath away without feeling my smile droop. With time, I’ve learnt to do this inside my head only and not let it show, but happen it does. Why? Because the love of my life/ex-best friend once told me that the first time he kissed his first love, this song was playing in the background. Even though I had more of him, I never really had him the way she did. I felt like a replacement, a bad replacement for her. So this song feels alien to me, like I’ve stumbled into someone else’s love story by mistake.
I realised there were some songs I used to sing so often, I could probably render them from any point within the song (this isn’t as simple as it sounds). I never even hum these songs inside my head now. These are Bairi piya from Devdas and Aa bhi ja from Sur. At least these stand out while I know there are a lot more but I’ve just hidden them away so carefully even I’ve forgotten where the key to them is. The abusive ex– liked these, particularly these two and I was made to sing them over and over on repeat. Made to sing I say, but those were the good moments, the rare ones in an otherwise very dark, destructive relationship. But to bring those songs to life with music again would be to acknowledge him as human and not the monster I last remember. I’m not in that place yet, I’m not ready to quite forgive him that much.
Speaking of singing, I have indeed had a strange association with music. I did the mandatory Carnatic music routine as a child, one I hated. All I can remember is the painful knees from being made to sit cross-legged. My one other memory is being forced, much, much against my will to parade my voice at family gatherings, strangers apparently family, ordering me to sing this and that, telling me I had potential and may one day even sing as well as my mother, expressing their disappointment that I couldn’t read the prayer books in Tamil. I hated, hated, hated it. When I was old enough I rebelled and stayed away from the spotlight.
It was a good ten years later, that I took to the stage again, all the way in post-graduate college. And then I realised I loved it. There were many, many experiences…of winning, of losing, of personal glories and defeats. And then abruptly it stopped. It wasn’t that clear to me back then but looking back I can see it clearly. The same relationship, the stain on my naivete, started when he walked out of a quiz he was watching to follow a voice he heard coming through the windows – mine, as I was performing on the stage below. I think somewhere it scared me out of the spotlight, the idea that being out there could bring out the worst kind of predators to hunt me down. I never really pursued the stage again.
It wasn’t till two years later, when I received an iPod for a birthday gift, that I felt able to touch music again. Should I say that he ruined music for me? It isn’t that. Music has never been about a collection of lovely sounds for me. It is a blinder, less mindful experience, more to be sensed with the heart and closed eyes than listened to with the ears and understood with the mind. It is who I was with and what I was doing and feeling when I heard that song. This is not necessarily the first time I heard the song but perhaps, the most poignant experience I ever had when I was listening to the song. It creates the world of the song for me and thereafter listening to the song for me, is experiencing that world all over again.
When love and hate collide makes me choke up every time I heard it. Def Leppard were crooning on the speakers of the car when we rode past the seaface at Bandra one night, the ex-love/ex-best friend after four years and other people. Our banter had ceased, each of us in our private thoughts when he suddenly broke in with, “You know, this song always reminds me of us”. I looked at him, wondering if I had heard him right and then summoning up every drop of my courage, asked, “Having second thoughts?” And he said “Yes”. The love of my life did come back to me and for a brief while entertained the notion of returning to me. He thought about it. He got engaged two months later to the girl he had been seeing. But in that brief window of solitude, us, the possibility of us was alive. ‘When the truth is like a stranger, hits you right between the eyes’. I swear it hits me every damn time I listen to it. If there hadn’t been that brief window of hope, one I didn’t take, I think I’d just have let him subside and pass out of my system like the other boyfriends did. But this song keeps alive the question of “What if I had said yes?”
There are of course the renewed joys of singing or listening to a song that has been a personal jewel.
Na Jaane Kyon brings to mind the accolades but also a rare moment of being recognized for the way I was actually feeling in that moment.
And our batch’s personal anthem and me, its singer.
The unbearable beauty of Dire Straits’ Romeo & Juliet which has been my callertune for four years and is always on my favorites list…how can I explain this? I’d just quote, “You promised me everything, you promised me thick & thin, now you just say Oh Romeo, I used to have a scene with him”. It reminds me of…love in its entirety, love as I’ve known it.
The most recent memory, a song I’ve always enjoyed but now listen to with a bittersweet longing of nostalgia. I saw The Lion King on my sixteenth birthday. And thirteen years later, I found someone who reminded me so much of the song that I personalized his phone number with it as his callertune. Each time he called me, which was at least once or twice a day, it was a serenade with Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight. I never told him and now that the relationship has been laid to rest, there seems to be no point in doing so. The heart of this star-struck voyager doesn’t beat in time with his anymore, but the song still reminds me of him.
Simon & Garfunkle’s Homeward Bound only (and yes I know this only ever makes sense to me) because of the line “..and all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity, like emptiness and harmony..” Why? Because my name means harmony and that song is metaphorical for how I feel about the way the world receives me.
Yes, I do have a strange relationship with music. You would too, if it was like being dropped into a strange world, one that has never completely been discovered or overcome. Memory is a tricky place to get lost in.