Thursday, September 9, 2010


A very familiar sound of my childhood, especially in the evenings, when we would all return home after a few hours of brisk and boisterous play, was the equally brisk and boisterous sound of young voices confidently, if rather unmelodiously, belting out Rabindrasangeet, all the while briskly and boisterously fanning the bellows of their harmonium.

The rather whining and petulant bellowing sound of the harmonium was considered an essential support to train fresh young voices when they learnt their musical basics (Sa-re-ga-ma) and the harmonium would also be an inevitable accompaniment when the singer, having mastered the scales, graduated to Rabindrasangeet... the highest-possible pinnacle of melody (according to all Bengalis).

We had a heirloom harmonium, an ebony rectangular contraption that belonged to my Barama (aunt). After her exertions, the harmonium had been vigorously flapped by both my cousins (Didia and Didibhai). Both of them sang rather well, and the harmonium was happy in their hands.

Unfortunately, I was/am a very pathetic singer, and I can well-imagine the venerable harmonium being absolutely horrified when I would bawl out "Aakash-bhara shurjo tara" (A sky ful of stars and suns - one of the first - and few - Rabindrasangeet I was forced to learn), all the while torturing the harmonium (and the ears of Kanudi - my suffering singing-teacher).

It was a rather painful phase of my growing up, but I (and the harmonium) was forced to undergo the tuneless indignity because of the misguided notion that all good and cultured Bengali girls must learn at least a dozen Rabindrasangeet if they wanted to impress prospective in-laws and marry a rich and handsome husband.

Fortunately however, better sense prevailed. And both the harmonium and I were spared further torture when, after a bout of chicken-pox, nobody suggested I resume my interrupted music classes. I sighed with relief and returned to my books and my badminton. And the grand and indignant harmonium returned to its heavy wooden box and rested for a few years till my Didia took it away, and put it to better and more melodious use.