Rain in August: Tansen’s Megh Malhar ragas and Hesse’s Siddhartha

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Photos : Dreamstime.com

NEW YORK – August, with bright sunlight and sparkling sunflowers, came into my window, light-footed this year, with the scent of rain on grass, bouquets of hibiscus, tinged in purple and their green foliage, drenched in dew.

And, if longing had a color, it would, perhaps, be lilac. Not blue, not purple, certainly not pink, but a wistful lilac in shades undefined. All blended with the dance of blue chicory flowers on the roadside.

A constant reminder of how much humanity has to leave behind and forget in life. Banish the memories of cherry blossom in spring for the Rose of Sharon to bloom in summer.

So, too, with the pink sunrises over russet oceans, old latticed houses and Victorian turrets, ruins of history straddling on cliffs to shut the doors of the heart’s unease to simply get along with life.

To me, this thin music of longing is embodied in its quintessence in the ghostly medieval fortress of valiant Chittor in Rajasthan; the soft singing of minstrels that still lingers in reminiscence of the Saint Mirabai in the old quarters.  Or the stillness that lurks over the palace of Rani Padmini on the lake for over last thousand years.

Once in Nova Scotia, I stood across the looming pre-historic cliffs of Bay of Fundy, which had witnessed the rolling tides of the sea, eroding its earthen body. In gradual persuasion, the sea had uncovered the cliff’s skeleton fused with 300- million-year old aboriginal trees, fossilized in the exact position they had rested so many numberless eons ago.

And even as it inexorably continues to rip away in the dark shoreline figures of a pre-historic dawn, unscrupulous governments, in dramatic irreverence, sell away those sacred, natural moments for a tourist’s dollar.

Or they contemplate churning these invaluable footprints of history into fossil fuels in the steely rush of corporate greed.

But that apart, here as I write, the light of the sun has lost its way down to the sodden earth in between the gathering dark clouds and the brooding smell of pine tufts.

The few narrow rays that have escaped, unbridled in space, bejewel these overcast days with a luminous spray. Days like these seem to glow from within the secret caverns of the universe.

And if sunlight were music on a rainy day, the missing dazzle would be the fugue, the pause between the melodies.

So much of the world can be translated into a song if we only yielded ourselves to the sounds of its silver melodies.

The weather reminds me of how in Emperor Akbar’s court at Fatehpur Sikri, Tansen’s legendary Megh Malhar ragas compelled the rains in thunderbolts even on cloudless days.

And then we have the other classic figure from literature, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, who learns quiescence of his tempestuous desires from the ferryman, Vasudeva, through a silent listening of the river as it gurgles its way through the village.

“I have often listened to it, gazed at it, and I have always learned something from it,” Vasudeva tells Siddhartha, sowing the seed for his transfiguration.

But no matter how closely beauty surrounds and beckons us at every step, I am far too aware that I cannot bridge the blurry distance between where I sit upon the columned porch, watching the falling rain, and the brush of foggy mist framed in smoky blue over the woods.

Thin walls of longing irrevocably separate my world of grids and straight lines from that of the blue-green mystical orbs of the forests. If only I could be in the midst of that trembling beauty of aquamarines.

Deep into the forests, the leafy vines of the tall tulip poplars and gigantic maple are canopied in absorbed conversation, wrapped in the star bubbles of the pouring rain.

Not a speck of light skips through. It seems the forests are conniving to guard its deep secret, hidden in its bed to keep man away.

Before long, the cold will be upon its searing, yellowing branches and summer’s ghost will be seen walking upon the fallen leaves.

On days like these, I often wish I could steal away the scent of the ineffable rain on the leaves and wild clover in a capsule and store it for days when magic seems elusive from life.

I remember an old Chinese saying: “Even if you are poor, you can’t exchange the fragrance of plum for money”—so delicate and immense is nature’s gift.

Yes, it hides its enigmas in ways that Confucius writes about the fragile orchid.

“With a fragrance fit for princes, why are you buried among common weeds?”

Everywhere in open sight lies scattered the confetti of the heavens. But humanity cannot keep away from the gold lying in its midst. It must slave it, thresh it, ride it and loot it to build its own marble palace. Talk about gilding the gold or painting the lily or throwing a perfume on the violet, as the old Elizabethan bard said.

But if that world of bulldozers, ugly racism, reeling skyscrapers and malls, is real so too is that tiny dog violet, peeking its efflorescence through the billowy reeds.

A new dawn and a new day too for the speckled fawn frisking in the green.  Or the dragonfly flitting between the yellow cupped flowers. And that morning glory looped on the tall weed, swaying with the whistling wind.

“Oh, when creation and life displays so much beauty in every vein, how beautiful must then not the Source itself be, the eternally clear,” I remember in the falling patter of languid rain, a Swedish hymn used extensively by Ingmar Bergman in the movie, Wild Strawberries.

As the evening sets in the midst of pouring rain, the clouds clear for a while and I see the stars stream out in the sky – pilgrims of light, coasting across the richness of the night. And they throb with the melancholic music of worlds left behind.

(Poppy Mookerjee is a journalist and a writer for more than a decade with American and Indian publications)

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