As a previously-divorced, later-married but childless-by-circumstance woman in her mid-40s, life’s melody has given me both dissonant and consonant chords. I know it’s a mouthful but that best encapsulates my journey so far. It has been a blend of sharp and flat notes, forcing me, very often, to go off-key—and sometimes even out of breath.
But when “all the world’s a stage”, there are only two choices—give up, or just grab the mic, get over the “stage fright” and sing your song. It’s when you choose the latter (and you must) that you know you have finally found the courage to embrace and own up to mistakes. The best part: Sometimes some extraordinary people will join you in the chorus. The solo part, or the “aria” as it’s called in opera, will always be your responsibility, however.
My Christmas miracle, then, has been music—lots of it. While work on Ishq Hai, my second original with Mumbai-based music producer Anurag Mishra, is under way, making it a warm, lyrical festive gift, my debut, Panaahon Mein—a song of love, longing and hope—released a few months ago on streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music. The confidence to work on music professionally in the past one year has clearly been a work of Santa.
A few months ago, I shared the stage with Susmit Sen, co-founder of the band Indian Ocean, singing some of his best compositions. As part of his new music venture, Susmit Sen Trio—a collaboration with The Trialogue Company, a leading name in Indian theatre—Sen encourages young and upcoming artists to perform with him on stage. The experience of our jam sessions before the final performance taught me the value of surrendering on stage and practising with patience.
In the past two years, I have witnessed the miracles of melody aplenty, in the lives of others as well. A child’s face lights up when I teach her a new song, reassuring her on a not-so-good-day that music will never let her down or leave her feeling lonely. A former student, a software professional based in Australia, says music allows her to experience “me time”—when she ceases to be a wife, a mother—and allows her to embrace the childhood dream of “always wanting to sing”.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word “miracle” as “an unusual and mysterious event that is thought to have been caused by a god because it does not follow the usual laws of nature”. Yet another definition of miracle is “a very lucky event that is surprising and unexpected”. Isn’t music just that? When lyrics, notes and beats come together to create a synergy, it is akin to finally understanding the chatter of your mind, the unsteady emotions, all the experiences that have affected you, either positively or adversely. Each of these is finally strung to notes and keys, giving you those important silences and intervals, to reintroduce you to the person that you are or want to be.
Whether it’s learning the shabad kirtan from my guru, Baljit Singh Namdhari, or picking up a thumri in which every word of the bandish, as my Guruma, Indra Mukherjee, says, “can be sung in a thousand different ways”, the simple act of sitting down, taking a deep breath, closing my eyes and strumming the tanpura allows for a strange calmness. The emotional battles may continue in my head but in those moments of riyaaz, it’s all quiet.
I read somewhere that music is “melody in exhalation”. No wonder it has healing power—a fact backed by enough research showing why it’s used as part of therapy in illnesses, physical and mental. The evidence of this lies in my life experiences as well. I remember singing a medley of Jagjit and Chitra Singh’s ghazals at Dignity Foundation, a not-for-profit for the elderly, which took a lady in her mid-60s back to the evening when her beloved sang the songs to her. At such moments, I wonder if a line of poetry, or a piece of melody, becomes an invisible hand that wipes away your tears.
I watch a septuagenarian take to the dance floor on his 50th wedding anniversary celebrations to Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu, excitedly telling me later how he was declared the best dancer in college when he danced to this number. Or, when I performed at the Kasauli Literature Festival some years ago as part of a book reading passage, and later in Delhi for a book club, or even during some intimate at-home concerts, I think of how important it is for the elderly to find solace in songs and why we need more of these house concerts for deeper connections to unfold.
Whether I see life through music or music through life’s moments is tough to decipher. But I do see the power of connection, of a community that stands with one another, transcending the barriers of caste, religion, gender, and any other economic or social differences. Every Sunday evening, for instance, our vocal choir meets at MuzicEdu, the Western vocal school where I have been training with my incredible teachers for three-four years, coming together with the purpose of spreading joy and happiness through music. Many of us have walked through the door of the school following rough days—from the tension of pre-board exams to nursing a heartbreak, from battling a divorce to getting the pink slip or even losing loved ones to illnesses—but just the call, “let’s sing”, is enough to ensure everyone goes home feeling lighter and happier.
What, then, does music mean for a childless-by-circumstance woman—a concept rarely understood by people in India? In my case, both music and writing are my two babies that I have found joy in nurturing and loving. Is melody, then, a miracle or miracle, well, melody? You decide.
Abhilasha Ojha is a Delhi-based writer.