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.



Ugich Konitari said...

Great post ! Thank fully, no one forced me to sing, probably concerned about their own wellbeing, but I went through things like Bharat Natyam followed by violin followed by Sitar tuitions at home. The last one (Sitar) lasted the longest, and was fairly rewarding. Getting me a photo mention in a very very conservative old-style Femina(the same magazine that has become ultra glam modern today) feature, and it (the playing of the Sitar, not the magazine) proved to be the thing that turned a schol decision in my favour, when they (Altrusa International) had all the candidates over for an evening dinner meeting , during my grad school days in the US. Ever since then, I've always felt, that listening to your folks , helps :-)

Anonymous said...

The post rewind memory when the sound of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni the early morning hours I have to hear through the upstairs window And a pretty girl practicing.

I didn't played any because we were not financial well - can't afford the same but yes, the wish was is till-date to learn piano or synthesizer. Maybe one day.

Kavi said...

i used to play the Casio for some time. i couldnt hold a guitar for the life of me ! But yes, the Casio, i did play !

until ofcourse, i thought i could make other kinds of music !

Anonymous said...

I used to play the Veena. I took it up during a semester break, while I was in college. The teacher who tried to teach me carnatic music while I was growing up, had agreed to give me lessons for the same. I learnt to play a few Keethanams. But my left hand fingers had almost become unusable. Veena though gives out mild music, is an incredibly difficult instrument to play. This I painfully realized!

Swaram said...

Aww such a sweet post. Sis and me used to play harmonium too.
Have one @ home even now - but husband plays it most of the time. Wonder y I hv not laid my hands on it for quite some time now :)

seana said...

I think it's been awhile since girls in the U.S. were expected to wow their suitors with their musical accomplishments.

I guess I can count my blessings, as I feel sure I wouldn't have lured many men my way with the squeaks and squawks of my clarinet.

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dr.antony said...

I liked this post.It has an important message.
Music is in your genes,like any other form of art.It can be taught,but you won't become a musician.Often parents do this kind of mistake of trying to teach children tasks,which thy are not interested in.
There was a harmonium in my home from the times I could remember.By the time I left school,I could play it reasonably well. I won the first place for music in the State youth festival when I was 12 years old.My eldest brother,who retired as a Commander in the Navy,could make musical instruments himself and sell them to make money during those days of hardship.
I was fond of violin.So I did the mistake of trying to teach my son.Three years and he reached no where.He was interested in percussion,and I didn't think it was good enough!

RGB said...

Loved the post. I got to learn to play the guitar, but unfortunately didn't master at it, bcoz my parents wanted me to concentrate on my studies rather than play in a band (had to turned down an opportunity to be a part of a band because of my board exams!). But no regrets. I guess everything's got a reason:)

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Enjoyed the visit to your blog after a long time. In response to the question posted at the end of the story, I'd say: 'Fortunately nothing.'

Interestingly, in your case, as you have said, something good resulted from a bout of chicken pox. We really don't know what pleasant reliefs might be waiting behind dark clouds! Am going through a bad patch at the moment. Your story gives me hope.