Monday, August 1, 2011

Kirtan that is Mine


Sa. The first note on my harmonium (an instrument used in traditional Indian and devotional music of the Sikh religion: kirtan). Sa. The very first key I touched as a beginning 7-year-old kirtan student. The first note I sing as a 17-year-old Indian classical music student. Sa. Straight from the core of my heart, bringing tears to my eyes, a smile to my lips, a sense of belonging, and immeasurable peace. Sa. Heaven. Bliss. Love. Passion. Longing. Desire. Sorrow. Happiness. My breath. My life. My universe. Sa.

My journey in the world of Indian music began more than ten years ago. Yes, I was curious, my harmonium was intriguing, beautiful, exotic, but it was merely another object I was forced to put to use. Mom told me to practice; I escaped to the bathroom. Dad asked me to perform for him; I remembered incomplete or nonexistent homework. Nothing. The diamond of tranquility meant nothing. Harmonium classes were a weekly routine for more than five years—practice, practice, practice, perform. Sheer boredom.  Sheer obligation. Bhai Hushiar Singh Ji, a harmonium instructor, claimed that I had potential and asked the program coordinator that I be allowed to advance by two levels. I became his student. From him, I began to learn and discover within myself a hidden love and talent for music—especially kirtan. “Student of the Year.” Top amongst all students in my kirtan class.

Now, Mom reminds me of my chores; I plead for more practice time. Dad asks me if all my homework is complete; I promise to start it soon. They tell me I have learned enough, it is time for me to quit and focus on other tasks. They say it is time that I began to devote my time to more worthwhile activities. The two hours of daily practice, the vocal exercises involved in learning raag—the most complicated of Indian music forms—are an exhilarating challenge. Practice, perform, practice, perform—nothing could pacify my
soul as much as this simple routine. How can I quit learning the lessons that open the doors to every world imaginable?

Every single note on the harmonium has been woven into the strings of my heart with such permanence, that to attempt a partition of the two would require the murder of my soul. Every breath I take is a song. Every step I take is “taal,” rhythm. In silence, my ears ring with melodies that swing my heart with joy. Cherished are those days that I can research the origins and classifications of raag, analyze the notations of each tune recorded in my memory, challenge myself in complicating the simple tunes that I learned as a beginner, interweave my own compositions into those of renowned musicians. Cherished are those days that allow me five hours of peace in my practice room, sitting, listening to, and replicating symphonies that refuse to leave my mind until I am able to run them through my own fingers and lips. Cherished are those days that allow me time for composing my own tunes, quenching my never-ending thirst to feel the vibrations of every different tune. Cherished are those days that let me perform in front of hundreds, even thousands of people and tune them into the currents of my harmonium, into the words and notes that seem to emanate from heaven itself. Cherished are those moments in which I get lost in celestial resonance.

My fingers glide over the cool, smooth, black and pearl-colored wooden keys in intricate and indiscernible patterns. They learn, they practice, they remember. They touch a note and within moments, engrave it upon my soul.

Sa. Re. Ga. Ma. Pa. Dha. Ni. And again, Sa. The final note on my harmonium scale.  The hymn ends. I close my harmonium. The vibrations forever resound in me. Sa.  Knowledge is music; the beat that forever reverberates and eases open the door to the expansive universe. Sa. I smile to think that I had once planned to quit on the subject that has so captured my soul. Now, no force on Earth could withhold me from it. Music never ends. Knowledge never ends. Why should I end when there is eternity to answer to? Sa. It plays silently forever, forever, and forever. Sa. Sa. Sa.