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Do, Re, Mi

By Nickunj Malik - May 03,2018 - Last updated at May 03,2018

Quite often in my home country India, you came across people singing loudly in public places. They were not necessarily street performers, though there was plenty of that variety too. However, these were standard ordinary folks who could be found queuing at a bus stop, waiting for an elevator, or just hanging about, doing nothing. Actively doing nothing was a favourite pastime of ours where we stood still and gazed at passersby and stared unblinkingly, into space. 

Such occurrences did not bother anybody but where singing was concerned the notes and enunciation could not be off-kilter otherwise someone was bound to correct you, instantly.

The Hindustani classical version of solmisation (a system of learning musical scales in Europe and North America, commonly known as Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La and Ti) was Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni. It is said that this practice of assigning syllables to different scales originated in India and was found in Vedic texts like the Upanishads that discussed them in great detail.

The seven notes, called the “Sargam” is the very foundation upon which all of Indian music was based. I should know — my music teacher drilled it into my head, at a very early age. Masterji Panch Kudi Hazra, was discovered by our father and brought home one fine day. Two things struck me when I saw him. First, that he was very old, I had never met anyone that elderly or emaciated before, and second, that he looked very hungry. It seemed like he had not had a decent meal in a long while. 

Our mother got some food organised quickly and my entire family sat around, watching him devour it in exquisite delight. I still remember that he poured the steaming tea from his cup onto the saucer and sipped it slowly, each mouthful followed by a resounding ‘Ah”.

We learnt that he had visited my father’s office, asking for a clerical job. Being two decades older than the official retirement age, my Dad could not hire him but after hearing his life-story, which was very sad, he asked him what else he could do. Apparently he could play the sitar and also teach vocal music. And so it was decided that my brother would learn the sitar and I would get training in the classical ragas, from Masterji. 

My sibling was gifted a violin by my grandfather and that was what he wanted to be taught but Masterji could not even hold a violin and his eyes clouded over with disappointment. It was then suggested that Masterji would play the tunes on the sitar and my brother copy them on the violin — a task as ominous as it sounds.

Our lessons started in earnest with several repetitions of the seven primal notes. The first syllable was “Sa” but Masterji pronounced it as “Sha”. I imitated him to perfection and could not understand why our mother kept glowering at us. In fact she even held back Masterji’s tray of snacks till he did not correct his diction.

“We have to be careful with Sha,” Masterji instructed. 

“It is difficult. In my mother tongue, Sa is Sha,” he confessed. 

“Masterji, teach us Do Re Mi instead,” my brother piped up. 

“Have you seen The Sound of Music?” he asked. 

“Doe a deer, a female deer,” I prompted. 

“Ray, a drop of golden shun,” Masterji crooned. 

“Sun!” my brother and I corrected, before our mother could intervene.

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Comments

It takes some writing skills to pick out a slice of life, one of the many practically insignificant but emotionally a pillar, slices that make life as beautiful as it is. Else life would have been such an ergonomically efficient aluminum and chrome plate but sterile structure.

And it takes a genius to weave in master strokes like the little pony tailed girl mastering "sha" dutifully and the generous but deeply annoyed matron holding on to the main protagonist of the story- the plateful of victuals, as she glowered on the hapless instructor struggling with the infamous syllable.

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