Aa janhamamu saraga sashi
mo kanhu hatare padae khasi
These were not merely songs sung by Ma before putting me to sleep. They are childhood memories that stayed with me like a photograph. It was not about living life on the edge. It was all about celebrating life. Joy. Hope. It was about touching the sky. Or rather the sky, moon striking a chord. Kissing you in the stillness of night. Comforting you as you get lost in the world of dreams. Even now when I look at the moon from my balcony, the song comes back naturally to me. After all, it’s the same moon everywhere. And there is a timelessness quality about it.
These are the songs that I couldn’t erase from my memories. They were not part of my textbooks. No questions were asked about them in exams. There was no need to memorise them as no grades were attached to them. But even then they stayed in the mind for years to come. Long after I have forgotten what they taught me in that prison called classrooms, these songs have stayed with me.
For it was like living many layered life through the voices of my mother and grand-mother who took us into the magical world of happiness. In many ways that was the charm of our childhood when there was nothing called satellite television, no fast-food joint or for that matter coffee bars blaring out soulless remixes. These songs moulded us, kneaded us, baked us …. and in the end gave free spirits.
There was a song for every season, every festival, every occasion. The words came without any effort. If Kumar Purnima started with ‘kumar punei janha go….phula baula beni’, Raja festival started with ‘banaste dakila raja…”. The voices wafted through the banyan trees, through the meadows, the paddy fields.
Every time a story was told by Granny, it ended with a song.
“My story is finished,
The flowering trees is dead.
O flowering trees, why did you die?
The black cow ate me up.
O black cow, why did you up the tree?
The cowherd did not tie me up.
O cowherd, why didn’t you tie up the cow?
The eldest daughter-in-law did not give me rice.
O daughter-in-law why didn’t you give him rice?
My small child was crying?
O my small child, why were you crying?
The black ant bit me.
O black ant, why did you bite the baby?
I live on the ground….
And when I come across soft flesh, I just bite”
In strange ways the thread continued. The songs were meant to bring us back from that world of fantasy to the world of reality. As Granny sang those songs in her melodious voice, there was hunger for more. But then the end of the song meant coming back to the swing of life. To carry forward.
Should I end the story here? Will it be ‘the end’? Or end of the beginning?
It is a cold December night. The windows in the moving train bring heady images into the dimly lit compartment. Many Indias come together through those windows…. the magical, mystical, mythical. Urban. Not so urban. Beautiful. Not so beautiful. It is all about a journey that you take once in a year to renew contacts with your family members. To remind yourself that you are not rootless in this world. And you also have something called ‘Home’. Or to be precise ‘Back at home’. Where you know everybody from the postman to the milkman. And the moment you enter into the train compartment, you feel that you have almost entered Orissa. Even from a distance you can hear somebody talking in Oriya. Or some aunt taking out a dabba of ‘pithas’ and the aroma takes you to another surreal world. As the sun goes behind the horizon, the night really looks inviting. The moon is shining outside. And the clouds and the moon are seen chasing each other. But then now nobody dedicates a song to the gleaming moon.
Suddenly you find a young mother struggling to put her young son to sleep. No…. oriya lullabies sound alien in his hi-tech world. His mother puts the mobile to good use. And there comes the song ‘It’s time to disco.. it’s time to khisko’. Well, that lulls the little boy to sleep. He connects to the dreams on silver screen.
I don’t think Bollywood’s much sought after director Karan Johar will ever read this one. But he has arrived. From Mumbai’s ‘Fire ‘n’ Ice’ to the world of a small boy— he has conquered all. And he doesn’t need trade pundits to tell him so, I guess. But I really can’t say whether I am happy or sad.
The times are different. Neon-lit streets now speak of dollar dreams. And songs now mean flesh flash. And where does a granny or even an ageing mother figure in this world of money and instant nirvana?
But still then I am longing for the voices of that long forgotten Orissa i.e the soul of India.
(As the Chinese saying goes: Birds don’t sing because they have answers, birds sing because they have songs)
But where have all my songs gone?