Musical Musings

The busyness of living had taken over the days, and I felt a little soulful pondering and meandering was in order. I listened to an uplifting album of Anoushka Shankar as I went about the chores in the home after a long week of deadlines, and never-ending demands on my time physically and emotionally.

The children gave me indulgent looks, and nodded approvingly. They had been telling me to get my head out into the clouds for some time now.

I peeked out the window and saw a breeze flutter though the pine tree outside, and resisted no more. I picked up the beautiful children’s book, A Violin for Elva by Mary Lyn Ray, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa.

Fresh from reading Musicophilia – Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, I found myself analyzing the music in our lives. In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks writes about musicians who don’t read music, but get to listen to the music in their heads as they read the sheets. I imagined the neurons in their brains reacting like those little piano keys – bobbing up and down.

Who remembers Tom & Jerry Piano Concerto? Here it is for those of you requiring a refresher.

The music teachers at our school had been blessed by the muses themselves. I remember many a morning assembly being mesmerized by our piano teacher’s musical notes wafting from her swift hands flying across the piano. The band master and the Indian music teachers were just as talented and gifted. 

How could one man teach the saxophone and the bugle, just as marvelously as the drums?

How could one person teach the harmonium, sitar and the tabla? 

I have always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument. It is probably why I never tire of seeing Anoushka Shankar’s hand leap up and down the sitar producing marvelous music. The harp player must be harnessing a power of the gods, and no wonder the goddess of learning in Hindu mythology holds the Veena.

I sat by the rose bushes reading. A gentle breeze accompanied the birdsong outside. I watched mesmerized as the breeze rippled through the luscious pines generating green soothing waves. Well, I may not know how to play a musical instrument, but I am lucky indeed to be able to enjoy the music.

I opened the book, A Violin for Elva, and was soon so happy with the choice of book. The book talks of Elva listening to music wherever she went. She imagines herself playing the violin, and asks her parents for one, but she doesn’t get one. She goes about imagining her toothbrush, tennis racket and anything else to be her violin. The whimsical illustrations are a joy to behold.

Life passes her by, and in her working years, the faint whiff of her love of music is there, but she is too busy in the busyness of living. 

Finally, after her years of working, she gets herself a violin to teach herself, but finds it very hard. She then goes for music lessons and when she gives her first concert, the sense of accomplishment, the much-delayed gratification she receives is amazing. It is also a reminder to those of us waiting to do what we love that though it is never too late to take up what we love. It is also pointless to let life pass us by. 

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 

Annie Dillard

Elva’s story reminded me of Mary Oliver’s essay on the three distinct selves within each of us:

  • The Child Self
  • The Social Self &
  • The Eternal Self.

Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self. 

  • The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 
  • The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer. 
  • Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. This is the self that needs nurturing.

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.”

Mary Oliver

It was a chastening thought to enjoy those things that sustain us, and in doing so make our lives meaningful and joyful.

What would you like to nurture?

The Roundabout Tom-Tom

We are back after what felt like a short vacation. It was, in fact, just right. Like a good cup of coffee that wakes and rejuvenates you, yet leaves you thirsting for more. I hadn’t met the brother in three years (the bane of multi-national families) and I was like a happy child in anticipation for a good three months before the trip. We visited London, then drove on to Wales and finished up at Ireland. After a hectic day sight-seeing around London, I was quite glad of the opportunity to pile into the car and make for the famous English countryside. I do like cities for a spot of sight seeing, but give me a forest or the fields any day and I will be a happier camper.

The plan was to leave London in an orderly manner in two cars, one following the other, and drive to Wales, stopping in Oxford and Birmingham on the way. The brother set the destination on the TomTom, a name I found hilarious. Well, it should have been Tom-Jerry since we were playing catch with the brother’s car ahead of us most of the time, and he like Jerry the mouse was quick at turning at the right turnoffs, while we…well, read on.

Tom-Tom or Tom-Jerry
Tom-Tom or Tom-Jerry

The relations between UK and US maybe perfectly cordial, but they insist on doing everything opposite. The flushes are on the right, the toilet paper is on the left,  toilets here have half hearted doors, while they go all the way in the UK.  (brother’s blog here when he visited the USA)

More importantly it is left hand driving there while it is right hand driving in the US. This, in and of itself, was confusing enough without adding roundabouts, turnabouts, Tom-Toms and the lot.

The Tom-Tom did what most GPS-es do. It kept telling us what to do, and when we did not listen, stopped just short of sighing. One time, I did hear something that sounded like “Chee! Not there – Turn around when possible

There is something else one must know about the Tom-Tom: It was either surprisingly good at Mathematics or gapingly poor at it. One minute, it would be saying , in quarter a mile, take left on the round-about, and third exit towards A-56648.

The next minute, it’d say, in 200 yards, take left on the round-about and fourth exit towards A-56648

Now, we are all for good-natured fun at our expense, but really! How was one to figure out whether:

(a) There was a round-about at 200 yards and another round-about at quarter of a mile.

(b) 200 yards is approximately equal to quarter of a mile.

(c) Since they don’t use miles, does it really mean kilometers?

(d) To take the fourth exit or the third exit to A-56648

New Delhi had a similar menace too and I remember writing about it 9 years ago here:

All highly muddlacious and confusional. The result being that the brother would be waiting at our rendezvous point twiddling his thumbs (read, running after his over-active toddler happy to be released from his carseat) when we’d tumble into the scene mildly cursing the Tom-Tom. The husband quite often blurred the lines between the Tom-Tom and his faithful wife who directed him with a firmer voice than the Tom-Tom. When asked who he was cursing, he’d use his charming smile and say, a tad too quickly for comfort, that it was the Tom-Tom.

The Roundabout Charkrayuga
The Roundabout Charkrayuga

The night we reached Birmingham, we could easily have reached Manchester, for there was a round-about that spindled out like a spider in seven or eight different directions. Having muddled up the previous round-about with just three turns and going away after some pretty deer in the countryside before turning around, we were really scared about this one. We managed though and generally tottered out towards our hotel like sheep lost for a day and a half on the pastures by the stile.

After the fifth muddle-tum-misseoso, the brother took things firmly in his hand, and sent his wife in our car to direct us. We’d have to say things were better, because we told her we will. But the truth was that the Tom-Tom just upped its ante when it realized that it had another person to misdirect. I don’t know whether I really trust folks when they say that inanimate objects have no feelings. I could not shake off the feeling that the Tom-Tom sat up with glee at the additional person in the car and laughed its way through the countryside. One time, the b’s wife said, “I am absolutely sure – you turn here” and then, the Tom-Tom chuckled and said, “Chuckle Chuckle Grin Grin, Turn around when possible and take right on the roundabout and fourth exit.”

Really, what is wrong with good old fashioned signals I ask you. Why can’t you have crossroads that say, Turn Right on signal to go to Birmingham and Left to go to London? Why have people go merrily round and round a roundabout? Not that it got us in anyway because we had all the time in the world. We were driving through the countryside with breath-taking views and any sense of purpose seemed wasted. Miles and miles of farmland with sheep and lambs spotting the hills. Any time, we took a wrong turn, we simply released some giggles from our giggle pots and carried on.

rush hour in wales
rush hour in wales – our fridge magnet

Till the last day when we had a ferry to catch, but that is an another blog for another day.

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