Melody, Memory, Meaning

By Shekhar Shastri

(Editor’s note: This is part four of a five-part series on In Search of the Source of Melody by Shekhar Shastri.)

 ‘Twas only a glimpse

So long ago that

I remember not your face

Yet you are all I search for.

Raga Basanta by Amar Singha

I had been quietly humming a tune for three days last month, it was haunting me day and night; I thought I would write it down, but it had already made a home in me. But now, it’s gone and I can’t trace it.

Melody is like fragrance – in its presence one is consumed by it. Once forgotten, it is a challenge to find a way back to it – unless you have a thread to it.

In Indian music, Raga is indeed such a thread to the heart of a melody – literally, it translates into affection, longing, and passion. Once you get mastery over its organic elements, you can swim in it; you can play in it; you can lose yourself in its embrace; and in its absence, desire forlornly for its visit.

Can a beloved ever be that interesting, that you can lose yourself forever in her arms?

Raga Sree Malinisree by Amar Singha

But, who is the beloved? Is it the physical form that you once fell in love with?

Or is it the presence, beyond the form, the intangible fragrance of a person?

Like the musical raga, this fragrance has no beginning, and keeps glowing eternally like the self-effulgent musical notes, ‘svara’.

Now I remember, it was right after a snowstorm; I was reluctantly shoveling snow and lost the melody somewhere. At times, even the eternal collapses in face of the mundane. The subtle threads of presence vanish and bondage dominates.

According to Natyasastra, an aesthetic re-enactment even of the painful emotions can lead to transcendence from the mundane into freedom. For example, listening to a song of separation and pathos can be a beautiful experience, allowing us to see our mundane predicament as a drama.

I knew it once

But now it appears forgotten

I shall recognize it though

Because I know it’s here

Thus I seek it in this moment.

Music untangles the present moment from the jungle of space-time. The meaning of it all can either be debated and deduced – or be simply experienced by breathing in this moment fully to continue our journey home.

To be continued …

(Shekhar Shastri is a poet-musician and producer of Rāga-Rang, where Indian Classical Music meets cutting-edge melodies.)

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