By Shekhar Shastri
(Editor’s note: This is part two of a five-part series on In Search of the Source of Melody by Shekhar Shastri)
LEXINGTON, MA–Today, the frigid winter brought forth a bright sunny day – ideal for a nature walk.
Making my way through the snow-covered woods, I come across a pond, where a small patch in the frozen waters is glistening with the sun’s reflection. The rays from the waters appear brighter than the sun itself.
One night not too long ago, I was sitting next to a lake wondering at the moon shining in the water.
Why are reflections more interesting than the actual object?
Clouds drifting through the blue skies can be engaging; but their reflection in the water or in a picture is more captivating.
What is it that grips us in a reflection?
Is it because we know that the reflections are transient, ephemeral – so more of a need to capture the image in our inner camera?
Is it because, we cannot see ourselves, but only as a reflection?
Much of art is a reflection of nature and whatever else we experience in life. We do not really seek the exact likeness of nature. Rather, an unusual perspective, incompleteness, and roughness of the image add to the fascination – launching a relentless quest to uncover the fullness.
Once I was sitting in a music room tuning a tanpura, while a couple of other tanpuras were hanging at a distance. A little later, my tanpura appeared to be tuned and ready. As I started strumming the drone instrument, I heard sounds emanating from another tanpura from across the room. I thought it was an illusion; I stopped and started strumming again, and again heard sounds from the distant tanpura. I was a bit taken aback and then rationalized it as ‘sympathetic resonance’. When vibrations are in alignment, there is resonance – sitar, with its sympathetic strings, is a good example; but that resonance can occur even at a distance, was perplexing.
There is reference in musicology literature that the human body is like a Veena; is that why we resonate when listening to music? Poets have written endlessly, of ‘romance as resonance’ – harmonious communication at a distance. One poet says, ‘What plays in my heart is received and played back silently by my beloved’.
Is aesthetic delight also a romance of a kind? As I listen to an old recording of a long gone musician, my mundane existence has evaporated and instead I seem to be hovering over an ethereal valley of flowers. I didn’t know the musician, I don’t understand the technical intricacy of the composition, and I am sitting alone with no Juliette in sight, yet it feels like romance; many times greater than earthly love – as if I have been released from the bondage of my body and I am floating in eternal freedom.
Who am I in love with? There is no object, except for an old vinyl spinning. What is romance then, when there is no beloved ‘out there’?
Do the reflections remind me of the real task I am here for?
And is the artist’s task to deliver us across the paradox, to our own invisible existence?
To be continued …
(Shekhar Shastri, is a poet-musician and producer of Rāga-Rang, where Indian Classical Music meets cutting-edge melodies.)