I have been living in Norway for abouat six months now. Its cold summer weather, chilly open waters, and infinite beauty are all alluring, but new. I traveled here from a hot summer in central India, where we were between dry rivers and a possible drought. The anxiety and expectation of an abundant monsoon, my checking of the satellite images of clouds – anti-climaxed into cold weather and occasional light rain. An unexpected end to a tropical summer. When I came here, I found a song by Abhisheki, that had me listening to it for weeks thereafter – Kashi Tuja Samajavu saang.
One line that really got me was here-
‘Hasyahuni madhu rusava- Hemanti ushna hava. Sandhyecha saaj nava‘.
‘Playful frowning is sweeter sometimes than laughing – like the hot loo in midsummer, the new beauty of a balmy evening’.
I am no stranger to extreme emotional reaction from song. But here I really want to think about what we bring to our relationships from geography? An overhead sun heating to a fifty degrees, setting into pink and purple colours. How do we search for satiation in this heat? Clay pots to cool water, and the sweet taste of the cooling leaves of khus (vetiver), how do we make peace with our loved ones and conflict in the same way that we make peace with heat. There is no way that this song is not tropical. It also screams of the time it was written in. A time when you had to live through the heat, instead of using electricity to bypass it, when you experienced the seasons intimately.
The only truth in a season is that it ends, and another desirable period comes by and that desire for the next is as temporary as the season itself.
Other marathi poems refer to ‘madhu chandane‘, honey moonlight – which is impossible to think of in the norwegian autumn – the harsh night is no relief outdoors. There are references to ‘sharad raat‘, which would be an outdoors nightmare in this part of the world. Stating the obvious – but how are our relationships like the climate we physically respond to each and every day. How pleased should sun make me? What is a ‘nice day’?
Indian music is entirely full of openly referencing to the season, as well as the time, anyway. Some of it is thought of as an convenient way to suit the state of the vocal chords and the ease of singing intervals at different times of the day, putting for example flat intervals for early mornings when the vocal mechanism is not yet ready. It sometimes is also the ‘mood’ of the raag itself. In Marathi, we refer to twilight as katarvel, ‘tremble-time’. My grandmother and i used to sit at our verandah, waiting for the evening tremble-time to pass us by – and she used to explain to me how the air gets cooler and does not move freely. How our feelings clutch us during twilight – and refuse to breathe.
The practice of adhering to these prescribed times makes the symbology of raga so iconic that its correspondence to a season slowly becomes second nature. It is impossible to hear malhar and think about anything other than the rain, when you grow up associating the poetry of the raag and the nature of it.
When you leave the country though – it is not clear what the times of the day signify. Twilight is sometimes at 3 pm. Or 1 am. What should I be singing?
I wish i felt a malhaar feeling in the autumn rains of Oslo. See – rains are not respite when you are not tropical. I could not find relief without a serious downpour of several milimetres in an hour. I have to settle for general moisture and a few drops. Cold is not comforting when it turns stormy and biting. Weather wise, we want what we do not have – and is there even any point in translating songs?
Our music and poetry is our bodies. Our bodies are our geographies and climate.