Raining Ragas

Raga and time and raga and seasons, how can there possibly be a link?

It happened nine years ago, but I remember the day vividly. The second year of college had come to an end and I was back in Calcutta for the summer. The phone rang in the afternoon (being an efficient Bengali, I was taking a three-hour power nap). It was a friend from Delhi, frantically asking about a "misprint" on a CD jacket. "I am listening to a bandish by Kankana Banerjee that says Room jhoom badariya barse. The listing says its Gaud Sarang. Is it a misprint? Shouldn't it be some sort of a Malhar?" my friend asked. I asked him to play the bandish and hold the phone close to the speaker. Banerjee's robust voice travelled from Civil Lines in old Delhi to College Street in north Calcutta. I confirmed that it was indeed Gaud Sarang and there was no misprint. "So is it a monsoon composition or not?" asked my friend. "No it's not," I said. Gaud Sarang is a mid-day raga; it has nothing to do with the monsoon. There was no room for debate and I wanted to get back to sleep. But my friend's response jolted me awake. "How weird, yaar. Cheekh cheekh ke the words are talking about the rains and you are saying it's not a monsoon composition. What is so 'mid-day' about this composition?"

I didn't have an answer to his question then, I don't have one now. But this otherwise unexceptional track by Banerjee has remained a touchstone for me. As a student of Hindustani music, it prods me with the uncomfortable question, "What links the Malhars to the monsoon and the Sarangs to mid-day?" So when I was asked if I had anything to say about the intrinsic link between the rains and the ragas, I said that I do indeed. There cannot be an intrinsic link between a season and sets of notes. The link is manufactured. It has sat snugly for centuries amidst the many certitudes that inform Hindustani music. And like most things "traditional", it is now beyond the reach of rationale or discussion.

... contd.

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