If Music Be the Food of Love, ‘Limelight’ theme composed by Chaplin, : Lang Lang -- Träumerei (Kinderszenen, Op. 15 No. 7), Schumann, Kaandiya akoolhoilaam, Yo Yo ma, vocal: Bobby McFerrin, violin: Mark O’Connor and contra bass: Edgar Meyer, Leonard Cohen Suzanne

If Music Be the Food of Love, ‘Limelight’ theme composed by Chaplin, : Lang Lang -- Träumerei (Kinderszenen, Op. 15 No. 7), Schumann, Kaandiya akoolhoilaam, Yo Yo ma, vocal: Bobby McFerrin, violin: Mark O’Connor and contra bass: Edgar Meyer, Leonard Cohen Suzanne

If Music Be the Food of Love

Walter Benjamin, in his essay on Baudelaire, discusses that smell is the most powerful among man’s sensory perceptions. Any experience which is associated with smell suffers minimum data-loss as it finds a place in the brain, the storehouse of memory. An encounter with the same smell, no matter how many years after the first encounter, is most likely to bring back the earlier experience by an act of recollection, as Benjamin says, in a crisis-proof form.

Walter Benjamin, in his essay on Baudelaire, discusses that smell is the most powerful among man’s sensory perceptions. Any experience which is associated with smell suffers minimum data-loss as it finds a place in the brain, the storehouse of memory. An encounter with the same smell, no matter how many years after the first encounter, is most likely to bring back the earlier experience by an act of recollection, as Benjamin says, in a crisis-proof form. The self will experience something like what the French people would say, ‘déjà vu’. For me, music does a similar function. Time and again I found out that listening to songs that I heard many, many years ago bring back memories associated with those songs in a very vivid manner. If I chance upon a tune that I heard, say in my childhood and which I thought I had forgotten completely I am able to relive that long-lost moment when I heard the tune for the first time. All events associated with that experience come alive once again for me.

Let me give an example. During my childhood, in those good old Doordarshan days they showed a series of films by great masters. I saw Chaplin’s ‘Limelight’ among some other classics in that series. I could not have been more than 10-12 years old then. Years later I was to do a Quiz for Uttar Siksha Sadan. To use in the audio round I was looking for some rare audio files. I was rummaging through my collection. I chanced upon this album called ‘The Lonely Shepherd’ by Gheorghe Zamfir, the master of pan flute. In that album he plays the ‘Limelight’ theme composed by Chaplin. The moment I heard the track my long lost memory came back in an instant. I could vividly visualise the scene – me, my elder sister and my dad watching the film together. While my didi and I were crying profusely during the end of the film my father was desperately trying to hide his tears. I kept on listening to the Zamfir track over and over again; tears rolling down my eyes all the while.

‘Limelight’ theme composed by Chaplin

When I was in college all I wanted to be was a copywriter for an ad-agency. I, therefore, used to watch ads very closely that were aired on TV. There was this series of ads; ‘Raymond – the Complete Man.’ It had a piano composition for the background score – somewhat like a signature tune. The tune seemed serene and classy. I thought it might be a take on some work by some composer from the world of western classical music. It could really be one famous composition. But my knowledge of western classical music at that time was next to nothing. (It is in a similar state even today; but that is beside the point.) During those days there was no internet. So I could not possibly Google it and garner the necessary info. But, the tune found a place in my heart. Long after, just a year or so back, I went to visit my friend’s place in Kolkata. Her teen-aged daughter learns piano in the Calcutta School of Music. With much enthusiasm the child started to play the pieces she had learned recently. She also kept on saying how her ambition was to become a great pianist like Lang Lang. She started to play one virtuoso performance of Lang Lang for me. God, I immediately recognized the tune! Yes, it was unmistakably the ‘Raymond – the Complete Man’!  I became happy like a child. The little girl brought back the golden years of my long-lost youth for me. Life ‘completed’ at least one cycle for me. That tune turned out to be, after all, one famous composition by the famous nineteenth century German composer and music critic,Robert Schumann. Here is that beautiful piece for you: Lang Lang — Träumerei (Kinderszenen, Op. 15 No. 7), Schumann .

Lang Lang — Träumerei (Kinderszenen, Op. 15 No. 7), Schumann 

As far as music is concerned I just love going for the wild goose chase. Some months back, a friend and colleague in my department, a fellow-traveller in my musical journey, herself an accomplishedRabindrasangit-singer, asked me if I knew anything about the folk-singer whose singing features in RitwikGhatak’s film, ‘Meghey Dhaka Tara’. She told me that the singer’s name, the title card says, is RanenRoychoudhury. With that bit of information I began my search. As I was struggling to find any significant lead, Rishida, (Rishi Barua, professor, sculpture department, Kala Bhavana) came to my rescue. He gave me a CD of baul songs and from its inlay card I got a contact number of the organization which was instrumental in the production. This number led me to get in touch with Sanchita Roychoudhury – Ranenbabu’s daughter, an active member of that group. Sanchitadi helped me get all the information. She even invited me to spend an entire day in Tamaltala, Joydev where we had a fantastic time with the bauls in their akhraa. But that is another story which I hope to narrate some other time. I, however, got hold of some recordings of Ranenbabu, including the song which he sang in ‘Meghey Dhaka Tara’.  The song is the extremely haunting one, “Kaandiya akoolhoilaam”.

It is really amazing how in my life the discovery of one great musician or a great piece of music has led me to another master; from one goldmine to another. Once I fell for the title track of ‘Peepli Live’, a film made by Amir Khan. I came to know that this folksy, earthy song was done by a group called ‘Indian Ocean’, one of India’s oldest bands. I began to search for their music like crazy. During my search I stumbled upon the Indian Ocean classic, ‘Kandisa‘.

Kandisa – Indian Ocean 

I was completely bowled over!  I ended up collecting all their works including one full-length documentary named ‘Leaving Home.’ From that documentary I learnt that Susmit and Rahul are keen to collaborate with YoYo Ma. Now, who is this Yo Yo Ma? Is he a singer? Does he play any instrument?  YouTube came to my rescue. Yo Yo Ma is a virtuoso cellist. Please listen to the gem that I found as I was trying to get a taste of the kind of music that Yo Yo Ma does. It is a delightful jazz jamming by four musicians (cello: Yo Yo ma, vocal: Bobby McFerrin, violin: Mark O’Connor and contra bass: Edgar Meyer). Trust me the sunny-spirit of this track can perk you up no matter how down and out you feel.

Hush Little Baby

Suman Chattopadhyaya aka Kabir Suman, during my university days, was a musical icon for me. I was deeply impressed by the singing-songwriting talent of this man, who for many was a ‘one-man band’. I also looked up to him as a great teacher of music who helped me to discover the music of some great names from the world of music; both Indian and western. Through his songs he introduced me to the poetry of the greaturban-baul, Leonard Cohen. I discovered ‘Suzanne’.

Leonard Cohen – Suzanne

With Cohen I too began my search for Suzanne with whom “you want to travel blind”. Kabir Suman made me aware of the delightful music that somebody named Himangshu Dutta used to write. When I got to hear Dutta’s music it hit me like a thunderbolt. Here is one of his many delightful compositions, sung by Shyamal Mitra, the man with the golden voice: “Tomaree patho-paane chaahi.”

Tomaree patho-paane Chaahi sung by Shyamal Mitra

Music is the only medicine for my troubled soul and to me it is the greatest metaphor for the enigma called ‘life’! Nobody can make me realize the effects of these dual aspects of music within my consciousness better than the great man himself.  I shall refer to only one song in the present context. It is song number 75 from ‘Prem Parjaay’: “Jokhon esechhiley”.

I am sure that all my life I shall keep trying to comprehend the full significance of expressions like “tomaaytobey jenechhilem onubhobey” and “bujhechhilem onumaaney e konthohaar diley kaakey”.  The rest of my life, I know for sure, will be a never-ending journey from ‘onubhob’ to ‘onumaan’.

Dipankar Roy
Dipankar Roy

Dipankar teaches at the department of English, Visva-Bharati. His doctoral dissertation, In Tagore’s Own Country, was published in 2015. His essays on subjects ranging from Bengal Renaissance to Rudyard Kipling’s Kim have come out in reputed national/international journals and books.