The musical strain

As a child, I witnessed my mother launch into flawless renditions of Tagore songs.

My mother has always been a very talented lady. She was a professor of English in Rani Birla College in Kolkata for 14 years, and what’s more, she was a Rabindra Sangeet prodigy to boot! As a child, I witnessed my mother launch into flawless renditions of Tagore songs.

I remember that “Amar bela je jay” and “Ami poth bhola ek pothik eshaycchi” were my favourites. As my mother sang, I often hummed along, as I had gotten used to the tunes. Soon my father began to claim that maybe the singing strain flowed through me too, and probably it was an untapped ability that needed to be cultivated.

As the years passed, circumstances changed. With my father passing away, these musical sessions with my mother at the helm, became few and far between. Having inherited my educational prowess from my mother, the years were devoted to that, principally. But somehow the dreams of my father lived on.

During college days, I frequently went on trips with my friends. Being a teetotaler, I was often asked to serenade my friends with Rabindra Sangeet in their hapless states of inebriation! They said that my singing voice was a gift, and not making use of it was foolhardy. Now the jury is still out, of course, whether they said this because they had more alcohol in them than a bunch of drunken sailors, or whether they were actually serious.

It nonetheless got me thinking. After my higher studies, I got settled down in Bengaluru. Once life gained a certain level of stability, my mother again initiated the process of singing sessions again. She managed to get hold of an infernal contraption called an electric tanpura and bestowed on me all the aspects of lyrics and tune that she could muster!

Unlike 20 years ago, when my Rabindra Sangeet arsenal consisted of just a couple of songs, now the quiver of tunes was considerably fuller. “Esho shyamalo sundaro”, “Bojro manik diyay gantha” and “Shei bhalo shei bhalo” came in. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. The rigours of corporate life and the day to day mundaneness meant that my mother could not subject me to her able tutelage on a regular basis.

An apprentice of Suchitra Mitra, my mother was an incredibly strict teacher. Any slight flaw in tune or in the pronunciation of Bengali words, she would pounce on it like a mountain lion. Such was the level of perfection she demanded.

These sessions with her always began with her tuning the electric tanpura, and it always was a source of amusement for me to mess up all the dials of the device as my mother tried vigorously to get the instrument in tune. But most importantly, it was a source of bonding for us – a time when the trivialities of everyday life seemed distant and meaningless.

In fact, my mother was so devout in her teaching that she even copied down the songs into a small notebook from her old, tattered Gitabitan. In what was a lump-in-the-throat moment, she said that I could refer to this compendium of songs in the future, when she would no longer be around.

As my thoughts go back a couple of decades and I think of my father’s hopes, that maybe I had inherited my mother’s singing talents, I think that I should take advantage of more singing sessions with her. Regardless of whether the musical strain runs through me or not, I sometimes wonder that there will come a time when my mother will no longer be around to impart this gifts.

More than a celebration of music and a bond between a mother and son, these moments also speak of the friendship that I share with my mother – priceless images that will last a lifetime!

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