Tuesday, September 07, 2004


I think everyone of us has emotional connections with the world and our life, that are manifested through memories. These memories are made tangible through a myriad of things, but I think that some kind of deep artistic or intellectual interest serves to always greatly reinforce them. Many of these are formed during childhood and through school and college years. For me, the connection has been mainly through music, since it's my oldest interest. Hearing a particularly loved piece of music yesterday brought back a flood of images and memories, and it was then that I realised how much we owe to these emotional connections to make us who we are. The events and memories, though palpable and vivid, give a unique meaning to our personality and existence through their subtle and indescribable character. Some sound trivial but still endure. Others are profound and have shaped our thoughts and feelings through the years. A random sampling flashed through my mind:

1. The piece of music that I heard yesterday was 'Canon' by Pachelbel, one of my all time favourites. Whenever I listen to it, images of D-Day always come to my mind. These include lines from Cornelius Ryan's splendid book which I read as a child, the riveting impact of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on my mind, the movie The Longest Day, and most recently, Saving Private Ryan. If I focus hard enough on the piece, more often than not, my eyes are wet at the end, remembering the sacrifices, told and untold, of the countless soldiers and civilians who fought for honour and freedom.
I am reminded of the same things when I hear the theme music of 'October Sky', probably the most inspiring movie I have ever seen. The true story of the lone battle of a young kid against conventionalism in West Virginia represent another facet of our struggle to rise above our circumstances, and of our audacity in daring to dream.

2. Beethoven's 5th Symphony very strangely and comically brings back memories of the chapter on Thermodynamics which I had halfheartedly studied during high school. The only explanation I can think of for this bizarre connection is that I remember the night when I was studying that chapter. It was late, and just by chance, I also happened to listen to that harrowing, immortal piece of music for the first time. The symphony is such a classic work, that it left an irrevocable impact on my mind, and somehow, that boring chapter on Thermodynamics got pulled along in the fray, struggling and screaming I think. I so wish I had been reading something different that time...

3. Raj Kapoor's songs from old hits remind me of my oldest friend, for the simple reason that we have practised those songs countless number of times for shows and for recreation. Especially unforgettable will be the ones from 'Sree 420', 'Awara' and 'Anari', among others.

4. Bedrich Smetana's 'Die Moldau' reminds me of a popular book on Quantum Physics by Patrick Hey and Tony Walters. This was a magical introduction to the quantum world for me, and apparently I was entranced by the piece at the same time that I was entranced by the subject. I could never come to terms with the tehnicalities of the subject, but it has provided me much entertainment and information in a non-technical way. 'Die Moldau', however, has always endured as a most transperant and inseparable companion.

5. Mozart's 40th Symphony brings back a melting pot of childhood memories and feelings- school, my parents, and my insect collecting adventures on the fringes of the grasses in our school's campus. This was the first piece of classical music that I had heard.

6. Bhimsen Joshi's celebrated 'Abhangwani' always reminds me of Ratnagiri, my father's native place. We used to visit my uncle there often, and during the journey in the 'Ambassador' car in those hot summer days, when I was still a small kid, my father used to play these timeless classics. Hearing one of them especially reminds me of the Ghats of the Sahyadri mountains, the 'Bhajis' (Pakoras) that we used to eat on the top, admiring the landscapes beneath, and the monkeys who used to que up for their share of food from our hands.

7. Mozart's 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' again reminds me of Hitler's Germany. Especially the fourth and fifth movements cast a shadow of those times on my mind. Again, the most plausible reason is that I was reading 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' at the time.

8. The famous and enchanting Waltzes of Johann Strauss and especially the timeless 'Blue Danube Waltz' remind me, among other things, of biologist Edward Wilson's absolutely enchanting autobiography, his accounts of growing up in rural Alabama and Pensacola, his introduction to the magical world of nature, and his unique emotional connection with it. I especially remember, when on a vacation in Mahableshwar, I had sauntered up a hill alone with the book, and sat reading at the top of the remains of an ancient fortress. No other soul was there, and I could experience, almost first hand, Wilson's impassioned description of the beauty of the natural world, with the cliffs looking down (not literally!) on the lush greens, and the sparkling lake within distant sight.

9. G. F. Handel's 'Watermusic and Fireworksmusic' remind me, in a bitter sweet way, of the time when I was alone on New Year's eve and was 'supposed to study' for an important upcoming exam. Bitter because I was alone. Sweet, because I had fooled myself into thinking that I was in love, and completely deluded myself in thinking that my object of affection had reciprocated my ardent emotions!

10. A 'Tocatto and Fugue' by J. S. Bach always brings back memories of the most inspiring (although sounding somewhat elementary) science book I have read, called 'Giants of Science'. The book, long worn by constant use has been my constant companion, and was my first introduction to the lives of the great scientists, and their work which encompasses so much of the modern world and man's soul.

Deep and striking are the images and sounds that bind you to your life and culture. What are the imprints they leave on us? It's hard to say. But I think therein precisely lies their charm. The vague and subtle but exhilarting always touches us in hiterto unknown ways. Best of all, everytime we form the connection, we are reminded of who we are, changed as we may be by the people, landscapes and experiences that we have encountered. They provide a singular identity to us, percolating our being even when all conscious and purposeful thoughts and feelings have left our minds and hearts. For me, the aforementioned musical offerings will always provide a comforting enclave where all is fantasy, and no hope is lost.


Blogger Hirak said...

I still have to come to terms with Beethoven, but Bedrich Smetana's Moldau is amazing. Especially the intro of the pipes; it takes you in a moment to a boat on the river.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

True! Personally, I like the second movement more, melancholy yet peaceful. Also see if you can listen to Smetana's 'Bartered Bride' which is also very good.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Hirak said...

Heard parts of it. Bartered BRide is interesting cause for the the first time an Opera was written in Czech,language of the people and not Italian!

8:17 AM  
Blogger Nikhil K said...

Good post. BTW when u talk about bhajjis on ghats , are you referring to the highest point on Varanda ghat where the monkeys pester you? And where u reach after three harrowing consecutive hairpin bends?

10:51 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Yes Nikhil. That's exactly the place I am talking about. I guess they probably have added some embankments to the tortuous bends now, but when I used to travel that way as a child, it used to be bare and treacherous.

10:19 AM  

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