My mum was a music buff – she even composed songs which got published in highbrow Bengali journals, she played the esraj (kind of like the sarangi); the esraj looks like this:
My mom had a huge knowledge of Hindustani classical music. She would go off to concerts in Kolkata – there were these marathon ‘music conferences’ lasting some 4 or 5 days, held during winter. Many were legendary – like the Park Circus Music Conference, the Dover Lane Music Conference, et al. She would go off at some 8 in the evening and fetch up back home at 6 in the morning, all glowing with the nippy air, and the great music served up by the likes of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Omkarnath Thakur, Ali Akbar, Ravi Shankar, Bismillah and others.
As a kid in my pre and early teens, I was sometimes dragged off by her to one of these concerts, and I recall that I slept through most of them. But I do remember one concert by MS through which I did stay awake. I have no memory of what she sang. But I do remember that very soon afterwards, my uncle played me a LP of MS singing Meera’s bhajans. He still has the LP and I finally found the CD after some years of search.
That LP was a key part of my growing up. I could hardly understand Hindi, and I had the vaguest idea of who or what Meera was. But it didn’t matter in the slightest. I was captivated by the dark contralto of MS’s voice, and her passion in each song. As I still am, years after MS is gone to meet Meera. (This is a pic of MS as Meera in the movie – I don’t know who owns the rights to the pic, but thanks for this wonderful picture):
The next great event happened soon thereafter – my uncle bought another bunch of LPs – this time of MS performing at the UN. Another event which did a lot to remove cobwebs from my ears, and open up my mind. I had not heard Carnatic music before – and to me these LPs were nothing to do with proper classification, but to do with the reality that great music does not need pigeon holes – in fact, they defy pigeon holes. I don’t care if these performances are pristine in following the dictats of form, tonalities, etc of the received wisdom of Carnatic music; in any case, I know nothing about these things. These LPs are everything to do with having a hotline to the source of inspiration – call it Saraswati, Krishna, whatever. I still listen to this music (on CDs now) about once a year, and I am still an awestruck teenager completely enraptured by her voice, her invention, her warmth and her passion. And of course the flower stuck in her hair, her gorgeous sari, and her beautiful face.
Flash forward to the mid eighties, when my wife and my parents went to listen to MS; she was performing to raise funds for the Shankar Nethralaya (I think). At the end of her performance, my dad walked up onto the stage. A word or two about my dad – he never bowed his head to anybody, no boss, no superior, nobody. Period. My dad went up to MS on stage and touched her feet before anybody could do anything about it.
I understood why he had done so – there is this line in wikipedia about her – “MS does not sing, she makes divinity manifest.”