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I think my love for music is fairly well known in my circles as also the fact that when I do chores around the house my favorite tracks play in the background. What is a well kept secret (not from the neighbors, though) is the fact that most of the time I sing along to the music and sometimes even without music. While washing the rice, loading the dishwasher, folding clothes, stirring the vegetables either of these two things are happening.

There is of course a third option and that is songs made up on the spur of the moment whose lyrics talk of Luci, her antics, her toys (by name), her parents, how she is their darling. Once made up these are sung in a repetitive manner, fit to drive any human in the vicinity up the proverbial wall. But, not to worry. There is no danger of that ever happening since I sing ONLY when the house has emptied itself of human occupants. The canines/felines who come into my life have no choice and have to suck it up. After all the songs are about THEM! Ha.

Once upon a time, I used to be a prolific bathroom singer. But that sort of vanished altogether when I moved to my in-laws’ house after marriage. For one there was always someone around the house (Yeah, haven’t I told you how I HATE joint families?) and for another I was too nervous in my new surroundings, as most women end up being in a household which prides itself on calling the new entrant their ‘bahu’ but will not lift a finger to make her feel at home.

Anyways, made to feel at home anywhere or not, I have never been comfortable enough to sing in the presence of *others* whoever they may be, right from childhood. I should of course leave out that part of my childhood when I was about two years old and used to climb on top of a metal trunk (the heroine Vyjayanthimala stands on a rock at the beginning of the song and yes, I had been taken to watch the movie), hold the tip of my frock in one hand like the heroine her dupatta, and go ‘Aaja re pardesi…’. (you can watch the song here). Unfortunately I myself have no memories of those performances and am relying heavily on what my parents have passed on. Back then too I am sure, I had been performing for my own joy and they just happened to catch me at it.

One of my cousins once tried to persuade me to sing, and this was while I was in school. Tape recorders were still a novelty back then and he was trying out recording. But I refused to open my mouth and say a word that day, let alone sing, which made my mother exclaim, “Good God! Are you really my daughter?!”

In my first year in college after practice for the coming Onam celebrations, some of us assembled in a senior’s room. Someone suggested that we sing a song each, something like, ‘let’s find out who are the ones who can sing’. Much, to my own surprise, I agreed when it was my turn. When I finished, there was a rather surprised pause followed by appreciative comments, and I promtply burst into tears. True story. There are a few of them around to vouchsafe this. They thought it was the lyrics of the song that brought it on, but only I knew that I was overwhelmed by it all, the attention, the accolade. Anyway, right about then I decided: Never Again. Some people can and want to sing in front of others and be appreciated. Some others want only to sing. I belonged to the latter. So why try to be the former?

In the shower, the illusion that you are alone is heightened. So singing in the shower it was for me, until my children came along. Like most mothers, I sang for them. Lullabies came naturally. On their part, they insisted I sing them to sleep even if I had a sore throat. A mother’s croak also feels like music to a child’s ears I suppose. With time they outgrew lullabies, but I continued singing while working around a house devoid of humans.

The high point of my singing *career* came a few years back. My neighbor was vacating the apartment adjacent to mine. We had spent quite a few happy hours together. Our kitchen windows were only a few feet apart and almost every day in between cooking we snatched a few minutes to chat. Just before leaving, after the usual goodbyes said and promises to keep in touch were made, she paused and then said, “I have something to tell you.” I wondered what it could be. “You sing awfully well. In the one and a half year I have stayed here, I never mentioned it because I was afraid it would make you self-conscious and you’d stop singing with the same abandon. If that happened, I would have been the loser then, right? So, though I wanted many times to tell you, I refrained. Now that I am leaving, I feel it is okay. Keep singing, Chechi!”

She was much younger to me and I found that quite perceptive. I have known dear and near ones who have shut me up by teasing me in a good-natured way (and sometimes in not so good-natured way) if/when they have chanced upon me singing. But here was someone insightful enough to understand the person behind the singing, leave her alone and only listen and enjoy. Today I remembered her, and hence this post.

©Shail Mohan 2015

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