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Writer's block

Great music is not only the body, but more importantly, it's the soul, writes Sunil Lala.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2005 11:06 IST

I was frantic. No, that's not the right word. I was in panic. The Boston Diary

deadline was fast approaching. I had just come back from what was supposed to be a "mind clearing" trip to Iceland.

The idea was to get away from it all - from the maddening Boston commute, from the monotony of my day-to-day software consulting job, and from an extremely bleak Hollywood season. Unfortunately, the hours that we spent soaking in the Blue Lagoon and in the natural spring baths of Reykjavik did their job a bit too well. We came back really refreshed. And I came back with a completely blank mind and a frustrating writer's block.

To make matters worse, there was not a whole lot happening in Boston. The foliage was way behind schedule, our Mayor was refusing to debate his challenger, and the Red Sox were out of the playoffs.

In India, things were not much better, from a writer's point of view. Yes, Greg Chappell was blowing hot and cold, Sonia was firing letters to Congress leaders and ministers, and three-year-old kids were being forced to go to psychiatrists because of all the "interview pressure" they were facing. But hey - that's just vintage India. The more it changes, the more it remains the same.

So, what was I to do? In desperation, I turned to my friends for suggestions. And I got a lot of good ones. I could write about the ten days of non-stop rains and flooding in the Northeast, I could write about the Indian Society of Worcester organising free clinics for Indians without health insurance, I could write about how teenagers in India are trying to ape what they mistakenly think happens here in the US, or I could write about how well the Indian community in Boston was doing.

You know, the usual - Indians making millions, Indians running for local elections, Indians conquering the world with their brilliance. Oh, and how about my two crazy women friends who, just the other day, left a perfectly good party half way, to rush to a dandia dance being organised by the local Gujarati community in the nearby town of Marlborough? Surely, that would make a good story?

But then a funny thing happened. A good friend of mine, a pulmonary doctor in the town of Raynham, invited us over for an evening of, as he put it, "dinner and music".

I was skeptical at first, to say the least. Surely, there was some hard-sell going on here, I told myself. But, they're good friends, and so we went. A pleasant surprise awaited us.

These folks had set up a shamiyana, right in the centre of their yard, with delicious Indian dishes waiting to be devoured.

However, the best part was yet to come - Karaoke! A gentleman, who is an attorney by profession, had come over with his karaoke box, a collection of some of the best CDs from yesteryears, and a golden voice. He enthralled us all with melodies old and new, and a few of us pretenders joined in as well.

Not long after the evening was over, I found myself asking a question - what was the difference between "good" music and "great" music? What was it that separated the merely nice from the wonderful, the wannabes from the maestros, and the boys from the men?

Surely, the songs that come out of Bollywood these days are pretty darn good. Right? I mean, they are digitally recorded, have foot tapping beats, and rhythms that make you want to dance. So what is it about those old songs recorded with basic, traditional instruments, that makes one want to hear them over and over and over again? And therein lies the secret.

"Nice" music is exactly what Bollywood occasionally produces nowadays. Top of the line electronic instruments, top of the line recording, top of the line beats. That's good music for you in a nutshell - music that makes your body move to its rhythms, music that makes your feet dance to its tune. Alas, that is pretty much it. All body and no soul! Like a beautiful woman who lacks grace. Unremarkable, and completely forgettable.

Great music, on the other hand, is that which makes your heart skip a few beats. Great music is that which gives you goose bumps and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Great music has the ability to give you a feeling of unrestrained joy, a lump in your throat, and of helpless intoxication - all at the same time.

Great music is melody, it's structure, it's rhythm and it's lyrics. It's the body, yes, but more importantly, it's the soul.

Great music is that which transports you to your teenage years in India, while you sit in front of a crackling fireplace on a cold, snowy night in Boston. It's the music that reminds you of lost love, of things that were, of times gone by. It's the kind of music which, when you close your eyes and listen, transports you instantly to worlds unknown. It's the kind of music that makes you one with God.

Great music is Kishore Kumar's soft crooning, Rafi's lovelorn melancholy voice, and Asha Bhonsle's naughty songs. It is the strains of Beethoven's Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, and Mozart's Requiem.

Great music is eternal. It never ages and it never loses its charm. Great music is that which will be around long after its creators and its composers are gone, and long after we are gone. And as I write this, I realise that great music is something whose glory will never be captured in an article, or through a string of mere words and sentences.

And so, I will let it be. I will resist the temptation of typing more adjectives on paper in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to define the indefinable. I will let it be. For I have important work to do.

The deadline for my column is fast approaching.

First Published: Oct 17, 2005 20:46 IST