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About Indian music

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There he is. Can you see him? This is my father.

There he is. Can you see him? This is my father. Look how he holds the pillow between his thighs, his body not fully stretched on the bed. See how he rests his head in his left hand supported by his arm, the elbow dug into the bed sheets. It is late at night and it is 1950. Do you notice how carefully he moves one of the knobs on the old radio with the thumb and only one finger of his right hand? The needle on the display moves millimeter by millimeter. Why is he doing this? Except echoes, distant and continued sounds of cracking, rattling like fired bullets you don’t hear anything else. But then millimeter after millimeter they gradually fade away.  Right at this moment he is moving the needle to some mysterious threshold and instantly the air in his room is filled with cosmic murmur and whispers. My father listens. Why is he doing this? No tune, no voice as yet. Perhaps he has moved the needle ultimately to the right place catching the air of his home town somewhere in India while he is breathing here in Lahore. Maybe he can listen to voices of his friends and colleagues or recognize the streets, gardens and corners of the beloved places acoustically. Maybe he can hear the wind passing through the corridors of the house where he saw my mother for the first time. He must have made some arrangements with his friends in India. Perhaps they also have been moving the needle of their radio simultaneously and cautiously until this specific cosmic sound of murmuring winds is tuned in connecting my father and his friends while all of them continue to hold the needle of their radio precisely in the correct position. This must be so. Do you see how my father has now moved his ear very close to the yellowish textile hiding the speakers in the wooden box of the radio? What is he listening to, what messages  are passed on to him by all these celestial whispers interrupted now and then by sudden whistling tunes, Morse signals sent from somewhere passed on to my father and then out into the endless space? I cannot see my fathers face now but I know he understands all these signs; they automatically enter his brain and are encoded there into some strange meaning. Of course you would think that my father would remain now in this position forever holding the knob, his head inclined towards the radio. But this is not true. Now you can clearly see how incredibly slowly he continues to turn the radio knob making the needle creep from left to right. How has he learnt to master a movement as slow as this? My father must be concentrating breathlessly. Maybe he is heading for some other town or place of his childhood. Oh now! Now I can hear a voice, can you also? How can this happen? Whose voice is this? It was there for a second, maybe even less und now again. It sounds as if someone is shaken vigorously while trying to say something one cannot understand. You heard some fragments of a word and then it diminished abruptly. Now again this voice, clear enough to understand. “All India” it said and was immediately covered by celestial winds. But then my father touched the knob again and the voice came back. The voice is announcing something followed by a sound like waves breaking at far away seashore. I can see my father falling back into his bed with a clear sigh of gratitude. Did you also hear that sigh? Well listen now. He calls my mother. Come now he says. That is all. The radio voice is fairly clear now, is talking to my father and probably also to all his friends. All of them are on air. So from now on we will have to keep uttermost silence, we are very near to discover what my father is really up to. The man in the radio tells my father and his friends that a Raga (strange unheard name) sung by someone (hard to understand) will follow soon. It is surely amazing how my father could succeed in communicating simultaneously with his friends and convince the man in the radio to broadcast he must have been longing for. Stand by me! You saw and heard it yourself. My father has now moved his pillow, his head is touching the pillow slightly, he is lying on his back and I can not see his eyes but I know he is expecting something to happen in a very short while. The part of his nightshirt covering his breast loosely is now moving up and down corresponding to some rhythm unknown to me. There is no sound audible except the beating of my heart. But then suddenly, it is almost frightening, a voice starts making sounds accompanied by strange string instruments and followed by another voice now shouting at the first voice. Or is it rather that both voices join together to sing if you can call it singing. Is this ? Can you understand my father? Of course you can’t. Almost two hours have already elapsed since this “” took over my father’s room. Just a few moments ago beating drums have started to encourage the voices to shout even lauder at each other. Meanwhile only once or twice I heard my father move in his bed, but nevertheless it is as if he was no more there and this frightens me. But fortunately now and then I hear him sigh. The sound of this sigh is still in the air although since then years have passed and thousands of Miles are still there between my father’s bedroom and where I sit now upright in my bed   waiting for sleep to come.  Sometimes when I long for my father in one of these warm and dark nights so rare here I slip out of my bed, go downstairs where I have access to the balcony. There I sit protected by the black cape of the night immersing my ear now into the west and then again into the east winds. I do this very cautiously as if I was moving the knob on my father’s radio almost as precisely as he did. And see now and then I can evaluate my father’s voice and hear him sigh.

There he is, my father, this is his bed, this is his pillow and this is his radio. Do you see all this? Of course you do. Do you think I could just enter his room and hug him? No, I know I could not do it.  He is somewhere in a world inaccessible to me, maybe far away in India, inhabited by strange friends of my father. All of them listening to this music, sighing now and then exactly as my father. Filling the air in my room with all these sighs, frightening me, telling me there is no one there who cares for me. I close my eyes imagining myself lying on my father’s bed between him and my mother? But this imagination prevails only for a short while and is shattered by the scary sound of the two men gurgling faster and louder as if someone were pressing hard on their throat. The “music” goes on and on. Sometimes it fades away, but never totally and whenever this happens my father touches the knob and it comes back again. This has already happened repeatedly and I feel I am not able to keep myself awake much longer.

In the very early morning hours I take care not to make any noise while opening the door to my father’s room, just a tiny bit. He is still asleep there beside my mother; his radio switched off. Of course no one would believe me if I told them what I saw and listened to night after night except you. Of course.

Months later I could hardly bear the thought that I may never be able to accompany my father on his nocturnal journeys sharing with him puzzling worlds like my mother so obviously did. This was the starting point when I began to think that my parents would not listen to this kind of “music” if it was not full of secrets still to be discovered and perhaps not totally out my reach.

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