This morning, I was exploring Indian classical music on YouTube, and stumbled on Bhimsen Joshi’s Majhe maher pandhari. It’s one of his famous devotional songs, though I’m not personally familiar with it. As I listened to the circular rhythm of the tabla and the sweetly clanging small cymbals that are used for temple bhajans, childhood memories tumbled out, scampering across the landscape like children running out on the last day of school.
When I was a kid, a large part of my summer vacations were spent at my maushi’s little chawl flat in Parbhani. Every morning, with the dawn, she would plonk her Phillips transistor radio in the small window facing out to the chawl and Aakashwani would belt out feel-good bhajans. The auspicious sounds woke up the neighbourhood, cheerily prodding the residents to awaken to the newborn day. Soon, the bicycle bell of the milkman would swing in, ringing a call to mothers to bring out their milk vessels. From somewhere, a voice called out for little Pintya to get ready for school, but Pintya just pinched his eyes tighter and pulled the sheet over his head. Elsewhere, a grandmother circumambulated the tulsi plant that sat in the center of the shared courtyard, purifying the air with muttered shlokas.
These summers were not spent doing anything. Anything consciously planned, I mean. No, my summers were unscripted and directionless, open vessels that did not know what was to fill them up. On a blank slate, I picked up the cadence in Marathi as it is spoken in that part of Maharashtra. I watched girls and women haul water from the public tap at the appointed morning and evening hours; often, I participated, grudgingly, as my aunt pointedly reminded me that I was not a guest but family, and family shared in the daily chores.
At the same time, I also know the fun there used to be in following the day wherever it wanted to go. In Parbhani (and the other small towns and villages I went to during the long summer), 4 o’clock heralded a rebooting of the day. Faces were washed afresh, clothes changed, hair braids become untidy were unwoven and then woven back. Fresh jasmine garlands were pinned on. I never had long hair, so it was a challenge for everyone as to where I could pin my jasmines. I was stubborn, I wanted to wear them too, even if it was a waste of money. After failing to convince me my hair was too short, my aunt would, in defeat, cut a full garland into a small strip for me, and stick it on top of my head. It fell to the side quite ungracefully, but I would be very pleased. I didn’t care what I looked like, I had jasmines in my hair. After that, my cousins and I would go to the public park, play made-up games, and before realizing it, the night would have descended, gently nudging us to make our way home.
I’m amazed at the intensity of experience that has blown back from the hidden nooks of my mind. Nothing eventful, yet so impactful in shaping my bond to family and homeland. All because of an old bhajan that streamed this morning.