Friday, March 4, 2011

Music and perfume...

It is strange that the mind will forget so much and yet keep alive a memory of flowers that have been dead for thirty years or more.
Garden fresh gardenias, fragrant, pristine and white.
You could not help falling in love with its delicate fragrance as it spread across the room while I played the piano and my father stood and watched, listening to what I hoped was music. Ah, but it was, he loved whatever tuneless thing we played. He always said that when he would turn old, he would lie in bed and listen to the twinkling of the piano as we played in the next room. In his dreams the piano twinkled merrily undaunted by the fact that my pianist skills were abysmal.I did not know then, that the music he heard, had nothing to do with the movement of my fingers on the keys, it came from his heart...had I known, maybe I would've paid more attention to my piano lessons!!!!!!
Baba loved music and flowers. In the garden and on our terrace, we had every kind of flower and these were not only the pretty yellows, oranges and pinks, although we had a lot of those too. The flowers of my childhood were those that assaulted your senses: there was the innocuous yellow champak, spreading its bitter sweet tang in the air, the hashnuhana, also called queen of the night as it bloomed at night with its heady and intoxicating smell; the white lotus that dared call out to the girl in me so sometimes yes, even I, would give in to its charms and weave a necklace out of its tiny stars; the night jasmine, heralding the autumn after the rains, one whiff and you knew that the air was going to go cooler and the holidays were approaching. My childhood is a cacophony of colours, sounds and smells. I used to love going for a walk in the night, the fragrances teased us into our dreams and stayed with us when we grew up, so much so that now I cannot pass a white lotus tree without being assailed by memories…….memories that tumble like snakes from a jar , memories vivid and dear. Its funny how smell plays such an important part in our lives, the smell of fresh bread, the smell of lamb roasting, the smell of wet earth, the smell of warm sun drenched skin, the smell of a cigar lingering in the night sky, the smell of golden mango blossoms and cinnamon and of course the smell of night flowers. Baba loved gardening, a passion unfortunately I did not share. He personally saw to each plant, each errant strand of ivy and spent his holidays trimming, fertilizing and loving his plants. He hated tuberoses and the smell of incense, it reminded him of death. And yes, it’s a smell even I associate with death. But we learn as we grow that death is as much a part of life as anything it is with incense and tuberoses.
Have you ever swum in a pond or a lake on a golden evening when the sun was just turning into a sunny-side-up orange and a pinkish glow was beginning to take hold of the sky? You sink under the water just to cover your ears and hear the sound of silence, of stillness that has no beginning, of vacuum that has no end. And when you emerge the singing of the crickets can take hold of your senses, even as the wind blows the trees into a restless rustle. The sounds of a fire crackling on a chilly night, the quiet splash of a fish as it lazily turns in the water, the sounds of the birds calling from the thickets, the sound a lonely crow trying to claw its way into our lunch, the silence of the stars on a moonless night, these were the songs of my childhood.
Only I did not recognize the music then, I hankered for walkmans and the radio, I failed to hear the whistle of a full moon as it called from between the clouds. Now sometimes we go on a holiday and I am amazed by the luster and shimmer of these sounds, sitting on a hill in Pune, or on a terrace in Tinchuley, or on a beach in Puri the songs of the full moon fill my mind ending in a crescendo that fills the sky leaving a wail in the air. A sunset on the hills or at sea can burst like a fugue upon my senses and there is something so plainly refreshing in the golden adagio of a sunrise……….
Having appreciated these subtleties of my childhood so late in life, I am of course trying to inculcate a love for the same in my immediate family. My husband frankly thinks I am crazy; I once managed to get him to accompany me for a swim in a pond in a full moon night but he is immune to the charms of a magnolia calling in the night. Surprisingly some of it seems to have rubbed off, for last year I saw him taking impossible-to-capture pictures of the full moon as it played hide and seek between the clouds on a full moon night on his cell phone!!!! I decided not to say anything….after all there’s no point in pushing your luck. As for the girls, I drag them out of bed at odd hours, only to see a half moon galleon singing in the sky luring the stars like a ghostly siren….I wake them in the cold and tell them to just pull a blanket or they’ll miss the whiplash of the rising sun, I call them out to listen to the minuet of the summer evening, to smell the white jasmine to embrace the call of the twilight.
As I get older I realize there is so much I still have to share with them, yes I may have all the time in the world to do it but then again when you think about it, one never really has enough time. As it is, today, holidays are short, too short, often it is spent in a concrete jungle rather than a place where the briar grows dry and mottled and the owls hoot in unison with the crescent moon. And there are barely any gardens where a soul can wander free and unfettered in the shadows of the palm trees waving in the sun.
So will my daughters be able to see these, hear these and treasure the fragrances, or shall they grow to be immune to the opera around them…shall I let them be deadened by school work and studies and responsibilities or can they too enjoy the glow of a lamp quietly reflected on the water in front of them? Shall they know the joys of sleeping under the stars in the open breeze or shall they forever be lulled by the drone of an air conditioner? Shall they ever learn that once you drown out the shrill of voices and noise, there is music in your heart.....and you only have to listen?
I don’t know, but at least I will have tried.

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