I am trained in an Indian classical music form called Carnatic Music. I am fairly good at it because I inherited a good singing voice from my late grandmother (neither my mom nor dad could hold a tune to save themselves). By the time I was in high school, I was performing in a small scale. When I was in college, I gave a few concerts in the Indian radio. Within the family, I was the goto person when there was any singing requirement. There haven’t been many weddings in my extended family that didn’t feature yours-truly during the swing ceremony. Heck, I even sang for my own swing ceremony. Until recently, I taught my daughter and a bunch of neighbourhood kids, the basics of carnatic music (watch this for cuteness overload).
For all my supposed insertion into music, I am not a great listener of music. My daughter, for example, finds music to be her sanctuary whenever she is troubled, happy, sad, worried, angry and what not, just like her father. Most of my friends resorted to music too for their emotional needs.
All my life, I have felt guilty about my indifference to music. I have found myself wanting in culture and finesse. I have always believed that I am not drawn to music because I am unsentimental, unromantic, and cold. The puzzling thing to me was that I understood music, unlike my uncle who was clueless about any aspect of music – in fact, being trained, I can understand more than a layman would – I may be one of the few who can differentiate between Nayaki and Durbar . Yet, I avoid listening to music. How uncultured could one get?
During my youth, I tried hard to fit in – I listened to the music my friends listened to – ABBA, BoneyM, Beatles, Madonna, The Carpenters, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, George Michael, Michel Jackson, Pink Floyd, Metallica – I may be missing a lot more, and to satisfy my family, I listened to MSS, Semmangudi, Ramnad Krishnan, DKP, MLV – the stalwarts of yesteryears. I occasionally listened in stealth to Ilayaraja because I liked some of his songs – stealth because my family disapproved of film music. But I listened to music only to conform and not because I wanted to.
Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I am indifferent to music not because I am insensitive but because I am hyper-sensitive. Music does not calm me – it exacerbates the existing emotion a hundred times over. Last evening, in a rare moment of melancholia, I decided to borrow my daughter’s iPod to listen to some Madonna. The very first song made me cry when she croons “how would they hear the beating of my heart” – not the lyrics, but the tune and the tone of that bit. I returned the iPod and went about my life.The (for want of a better word) vibrations that I feel when the tune resonates with me, makes me cry and crying makes me feel naked and vulnerable. Loud music scares me, and when I am scared I am vulnerable. Bad music makes me angry, and anger is a sign of vulnerability too.
This explains a lot of weird things about me. I had a roommate in Maryland many many years ago, who, every Sunday, would blast Metallica in the living room as she cooked shrimp. I would get palpitations from Saturday evening, in fear of the auditory (and olfactory – boiling shrimp is no walk in the garden) violence I would be subjected to the next day. Needless to say, we weren’t roomies for too long. My better half is into Western classical and always listens to it at home. While I can tolerate concertos, trios, quartets, quintets and sonatas, symphonies and opera overwhelm me. I begin to hyperventilate after five minutes and feel the urgent need to leave the room.
When I see my kid listening to music when she is studying, I am puzzled. I cannot have music around me when I am working or studying or doing any work that needs my concentration because music distracts me. I cannot sleep when there is music because my concentration gets focused on the music and I can’t relax. If I must listen to music, I would rather just sit and listen to it as a task in itself. I don’t do that because I don’t have the patience to sit in one place long enough to listen. My better-half and kid, who listen to music at every wakeful moment, cannot understand how someone cannot be interested in music. I used to feel guilty about it, and would force myself to try and work amidst their music, but I have now learned that I don’t have to. I politely walk out of a room with music when I have to work. Or sleep.
What is my sanctuary then? Words. Not including my blogs and my job-related writing, I could have easily written trillions of words in my life – the stringing of words in my head, on paper, in the computer has always been my identity, my home. Yesterday, after the near melt-down with Madonna, I yearned for my sanctuary – an airy, bright room for myself, a comfortable chair to sit in, complete silence, a glass of Chianti classic and my laptop to write. Just the visualisation calmed me instantly.
I am probably not uncultured after all. I feel kinder towards myself already.