Maiden Bhajan

Bhajan is not the only way to please gods, making people laugh also would.

Long ago when I was around twenty, a lean, crusty visitor to my sister’s place in Calcutta resembling the wispy S D Burman  commanded me to attend a bhajan at his residence. I accepted the offer having had no participation in such mass musical satsang before—though I would have preferred a Gina Lollobrigida  movie that evening instead.  

The sprawling hall was covered with a bright coloured sheet. A double reed harmonium was at the centre and several pairs of  brass cymbals to make the clashing sound for verve and  rhythm. He made his appearance from the puja room smelling of scented vibhuti. As if it were a signal, invitees bunched in different rooms converged and squatted in a circle. His gaze landed on me standing listlessly. He beckoned me to sit by his side.

Working on the keys of the harmonium, he started the first invocation song, his voice guttural and quivering, like that of one who had emerged after taking a icy cold shower in peak winter. The group joined him, after giving him a head start, the cymbals clashing in a furious staccato.

During the next piece that followed, he realised I was sitting without the cymbals in hand. In one swift movement he picked up a spare pair of cymbals and thrust it into my hands. Never before had I touched a pair of cymbals nor had played them on in accompaniment to such a chorus, clinging and clanging in rhythmic unison. My tentative attempts sounded awry and unmusical even to my untrained ears.

Continuing his rendition, he directed a look which if I had caught would have turned me into a pillar of salt. I edged away from him still banging the pair of pieces in my own way, sure he may at any time sharply rap my head at the top with his knuckle, as I had seen irate nadaswaram vidwans do if the boy, deployed to do the tala slipped in marking time. Instead, he thrust a gnarled  hand in my direction and grabbed the cymbals with brutal force to the subdued  merriment of the young girls around.

I looked at the picture of Lord Ganesha  with pleading eyes. He seemed to smile at me indulgently conveying a message, ‘Don’t you worry, bhajan is not the only way that would please we gods. Making people laugh also would.’ I relaxed then. Immensely  more, when I was not invited for the bhajan next evening.

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