One of my earliest, most treasured memories is that of my father and mother unintentionally introducing me to the world of ghazal. This must be about 25 years ago, a time when an old, odd-shaped cassette player would be the eldest member of an average Indian family. Similarly, in my house, my parents had made a habit of starting their day with their customized collections on the old fart while sipping on their morning chai. Ah. An early morning doze of what felt like the most circular, endless (I know they called some of those songs “timeless”, but it so meant something else entirely) ultra-motion whirlwind of melancholy. And that was their jam – “Kisko aati hai maseehayi, kise aawaaz du.n? Bol ae khoonkhaar tanhayi, kise aawaaz du.n?” Every morning?! I mean talk about the dark age. In all fairness, they celebrated the works of their favourite singers, composers as well as writers every single day and that’s worth something. Every “waah!” that echoed out of that room every morning sent an inexplicable energy down to those iconic sources themselves, irrespective of where they were – a songwriter’s dream! And these shayar and funkaar truly changed time and headlined a decade in Indian music and deserved all the early morning waahs from different corners of the country.
Anyway, little did my parents know that despite the obvious inability to comprehend what those songs were truly saying, taking it all in from the next room would be a 5 year-old version of me, all dressed up in my tidy chequered KG-II uniform, as I waited for my school bus to arrive. Sitting there, I remember feeling this burden on me – I didn’t know why or what it was, but I did pay attention to those voices on those cassettes and it clearly sounded like they were hurting from something, and that was making me drag my feet. In the bus, I’d often think extensively on why those voices were moaning like that and how the world must be so scary that it could cause people to be that way. More than anything else, in the back of my mind as a score for this thought process were those tunes from my parent’s collections. Sigh. Good times.
It affected me strongly, and it is hard to explain how that works. But let the effect that a space of music identified by its emphasis on a blend between simple and complex Urdu lyrics had on a 5-year old kid, who had not yet developed an ability to comprehend them, be the example of the true power of music. I truly believe these grey-ish mornings were when the seed was sown, and if you listen carefully, you’d hear some of these influences every now and then in my own music, purely unintended as they are.