Heavenly bliss is lying down on my sofa, eyes closed, late on a Sunday morning, the usual weekday noise – traffic, construction, the loud conversations of building maintenance staff – temporarily suspended and listening to music instead. Listening to my favourite musicians, submitting to the magic they never fail to recreate as soon as they begin to play.
B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy playing together on stage, the distinctive sound of each guitar now taking lead and then falling back, linking arms with the others: the sharp clear sound of King’s guitar, then the familiar riffs of Clapton, as unique as the rasp in his voice, and finally, Buddy Guy’s sweetly singing instrument.
With my eyes shut, I can see them, smiling at each other as they play, celebrating not just their own, but each other’s God given talent. Their sound, rooted in the Blues, takes me to many places: lonely highways of my childhood, cutting through brilliantly green plains, the only sound that of hidden birds calling out from copses along the road and of Clapton singing, Lay Down Sally.
They take me to places I have visited only in my imagination, the fields of Virginia and Tennessee, where groups of tired men and women gathered once to sing of their sorrows, creating that beautiful music called the Blues. Odd, how a music born from pain can bring so much joy;
perhaps, the articulation of the singers’ troubles, the sharing of their grief liberated them from its clutches, knowing they were not alone anymore. The first stirring notes of a Blues guitar certainly lift my heart, erasing all troubles, for the moment.
Another musician, singing in a different language, hailing from quite another place, also affords this same bliss. He is known variously as the Bard of the Brahmaputra, the Minstrel of the misty river valleys of Assam and in his extraordinary voice, he carries all the joy, the laughter, the pathos and the sorrow of his people. I speak of him in the present tense, although he passed away recently, for he will never die, like all great musicians.
Bhupen Hazarika’s lyrics are reminiscent of the Blues for he frequently sings of the sorrows and troubles of the common man; in words that effortlessly touch the heart, he sings of blossoming hope in the heart of a young man in love and then later, he sings of the heartbreak the young man goes through when that tender love is crushed.
He sings of the exhilarating beauty of spring, when the land stirs dressing itself in luscious green, decorating itself with the delicate mauve of the kopou, the fox-tail orchid. He sings of love and friendship, of a mother’s love for her children; he sings of sunrises and sunsets and he sings of misery the river brings with its annual floods. Listening to him is heavenly bliss, indeed
Jahnavi Barua is a writer based in Bangalore. Her first book, Next Door, a collection of short stories, was published by Penguin India in December 2008 to wide critical acclaim, and her second, Rebirth, a novel, was published by Penguin India in January 2011. This novel was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 and for the Commonwealth Book Prize 2012. Jahnavi’s short fiction has been widely anthologized and she also contributes essays and book reviews to various publications. In 2006, the British Council awarded her a Charles Wallace Trust fellowship for Creative Writing.