Warning: Slightly monstrous post as per recent standards. If you have time to kill and at least 7 minutes to listen to the music, read on.
I'm not the most Carnatic person. Even less of a Hindustani one. But some Raags are universal. Some Raags are undemanding of technical knowledge. And some Raags transcend the Carnatic-Hindustani divide. The Hamsadhwani is my favourite (I love the Chaurasia version but can't find it on Youtube, so I'm putting in the next best rendition I could find). The first time I heard it, it was because a friend said "This is the Raag I love. Listen to it." And I did. More for him than for the Raag and people, it is true. This Raag deserves love. Adulation even. (I'd say worship but I don't want to be called a drama queen.) The thing about Hamsadhwani is that she reminds me of feminism. (Yes, really). Wait, not feminism necessarily as it is, but feminism like I've always pictured it as, known it should be. The ideal that we all strive for (by we all I mean feminists, not persons of other persuasions) and which is so hard to reach. I was blog-lifting for ideas the other day (I've been feeling particularly uninspired) and from the fessor's place, I went to this one. And from there to this article. Keeping that in mind, we shall move on (it all comes together in the end, promise).
To today. I've been sick (yes, I've noticed the lack of awwws in the commentspace. I seem to have cornered the hard-hearted bit of the blog-reading-public) and so I've been staying home. But this evening, bravely (and from a desire to feel like I'm awake as opposed to an indivisible part of my bed), I decided to go for a run. It's been a while (I've been slack) and every runner knows the (for want of a better word) bliss of returning to the road. Of finding your rhythm. I always imagine that's how bikers must feel when they get back on their bikes after a hiatus (can't bike to save my life, so I haven't personally experienced it, but I'm pretty sure this is how it feels). I saw the most beautiful sunset, did my little work out routine. Got all flushed and happy. And because it felt like I couldn't stay away from the outside, I came back home and sat on my balcony, reading Roth until there was so little light that I couldn't differentiate the letters from the page. My iPod was still with me, so I hooked it up to the speakers and voila Hariprasad Chaurasia playing the Hamsadhwani (see how it all came together?). I've been on indie rock overload for the past couple of months and to suddenly hear a Raag, and the Hamsadhwani at that. I decided it was fate. And (true story) while I was deciding this, a yellow leaf on the tree right next to my balcony dropped off its branch and drifted down to the ground. If that isn't significant I honestly don't know what is (Right? I'm not being dramatic, am I? A single yellow leaf. And the stars in the sky. And the flute in the background. It was outta a movie!).
So, I'm looking at that leaf falling and listening to the music and it hits me. The Hamsadhwani is a piece of music that captures the spirit of feminism like nothing else I've heard before. It should be the anthem or something. It's not just the way it starts off, tentatively inquisitive, reaching out a singly sensual finger of interrogation. Or the way it maintains throughout this firmness of tone. Like an insistent knowledge of its rightness, its right to be heard, to be admired, to be listened to even if not agreed with. Not even the unexpected lilting curlicues that leap out at you in the most charming manner, reaching so confidently for all that is fancifully idealistic in the world. Admittedly the finish is perfect, ending on a note of not assertion or arrogance but a quiet confidence (though not in this version, try to get your hands on the Chaurasia). But none of this embodies the feminism in my mind as much as the tabla in the background. The warmly human sound of fingers on skin, not the metallic thumping rhythm of stick on metal (the ghatam in the version on this post is a little overdone, in my opinion, but that's just my opinion). The empathetic, grounding baseline throughout the melody. The little innovations serving to attract attention but in such an understated way. Not because it needs attention but because it is so happy, so confident in just being there. It doesn't need justification or validation. And isn't that what we all want, more than anything to feel? As feminists? As women? As girls?
Being that calm, that powerful and that happy inside out. I wonder how it feels. I think I've found my calling. If I'm actually born again I want to be born as the Hamsadhwani.