Theme: Culture

Music Between East and West

As the Breisgau-train dashes in the Black Forest,
Between Elztal and Freiburg,
I am with my thoughts in South Asia.

I hear the melodious cry of the vendors:
'Pan, bidi, cigarette,'
Interspersed with 'garam chai! Garam chai!'
The sound of samosas bubbling in vegetable oil,
The rat-ta-tat of onions, garlic and salad
Being rhythmically chopped in the kitchen,
Mingled with the ritual songs of the Hindus.
The voices of uncles, aunts, cousins
Debating, discussing, gesticulating, grimacing
In Nepali, English, Newari, Hindi and Sindhi.

I head for Swayambhu,
The hill of the Self-Existent One.
Om mane padme hum stirs in the air,
As a lama passes by.
I'm greeted by cries of Rhesus monkeys,
Pigeons, mynahs, crows,
And the cracks of automatic guns of the Royal Army.

There's a brodelndes Miteinander,
Different sounds, natural sounds,
Musical sounds.
I hear Papa listening to classical ragas.
We, his sons and daughters,
Dancing the twist, rock n' roll, jive to Cool Britania,
The afternoon programme of the BBC.
Catchy Bollywood wechsel rhythms,
Sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle,
Rafi, Mukesh and Kishor Kumar.
In the evenings after Radio Nepal's External Service,
Radio Colombo's light Anglo-American melodies:
Dean Martin's drunken schmaltz,
Billy Fury, Cliff Richards, Rickey Nelson,
And Sir Swivel-hip, Elvis Presley
Wailing 'You ain't nothin' but a hound dog.'

Out in the streets the songs of the beggars,
'Amai, paisa deo,
Babai khanu chaina,'
Overwhelmed by the cacophony
Of the obligatory marriage brass-band,
Wearing shocking green and red uniforms.
A tourist wired for sound walks by,
With a tortured smile on his face,
An acoustic agitation for an i-Pod listener,
Who prefers his own canned music.

From a side street you discern the tune
Of 'Rajamati kumati' rendered by a group
Of Jyapoo traditional musicians,
After a hard day's work,
In the wet paddy fields of Kathmandu.
Near the Mahabaoudha temple you see
Young Sherpas, Thakalis, Tamangs, Newars
Listening, hip-hopping and break-dancing
To their imported ghetto-blasters:
Michael Jackson's catchy tunes,
Eminem, 2 Pac, Madonna, 50 Cents.

Everyone hears music, everyone makes music,
With or without music instruments,
Humming the latest Bollywood tunes,
Drumming on the tables, wooden walls,
Boxes, crates, thalis, saucers and pans.
Everyone's engaged in singing and dancing.
The older people chanting bhajans and Vedic songs,
Buddhist monks reciting from the sutras in sonorous voices,
When someone dies in the neighborhood.
Entire nights of prayers for the departed soul.

The whole world is full of music,
Making it, feasting on it,
Dancing and nodding to it.
I remember the old village dalit,
From the caste of the untouchables,
Who'd come and beat his big drum,
Before he proclaimed the decision of the five village elders,
The panchayat.

I remember the beautiful music from the streets of Bombay,
Where I spent the winters during my school-days.
Or was it musical noise?
Unruhe, panic and flight for some,
It was the music of life for me in that tumultuous, exciting city.
When the sea of humanity was too much for me,
I could escape by train to the Marine Drive,
And see and hear the music of the breakers,
The waves of the Arabian Sea splashing and thrashing
Along the coast of Mumbai.
Your muscles flex, the nerves flatter, the heart gallops,
As you feel how puny you are,
Among all those incessant and powerful waves.

Music has left its cultural confines.
You hear the strings of a sitar
Mingling with big band sounds.
Percussions from Africa
Accompanying ragas from Nepal.
A never-ending performance of musicians
From all over the world.
Bollywood dancing workshops at L'rrach,
Slam poetry at Freiburg's Atlantic inn.
A didgeridoo accompanying Japanese drums
At the Zeltmusik festival.
Tabla and tanpura involved in a musical dialogue,
With trumpet and saxophone,
Argentinean tango and Caribbean salsa,
Fiery Flamenco dancers dancing
With classical Bharta Natyam dancers,
Mani Rimdu masked-dancers accompanied
By a Tibetan monastery orchestra,
And shrill Swiss piccolo flute tunes and drummers.

I reach my destination
With the green and white Breisgaubahn,
Get off at Z'hringen-Freiburg.
The Black Forest looks ravishing,
For it's Springtime.

As I walk past the Caf' Bueb, the Metzgerei,
The St. Blasius church bells begin to chime.
I see Annette's tiny garden with red, yellow and white tulips,
'Hallochen!' she says with a broad, blonde smile.
I walk on and admire Frau Bender's cherry-blossom tree,
Her pensioned husband nods back at me.
And in the distance, a view of the Schwarzwald.

As I approach my residence at the end of the Pochgasse,
I hear the sound of Schumann's sonate number 3,
Played by Vladimir Horowitz.
That's harmony for the heart.

I know
I'm home abroad.


More By  :  Satis Shroff

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