I am not a singer. I realised early on that shower walls were to be my only listeners.
This acceptance becomes a million times harder when one comes from a family where everyone can sing. Growing up, I would often wake up to Maa and Baba singing on the balcony, the usual cups of tea in their hand, forming a silent listener. With little, wavering steps, rubbing my eyes, I would snuggle up to Maa and listen to their voices becoming one, sometimes high, and then dipping suddenly very low.
I was branded ‘the grandmother’ by everyone in my friend’s circle because of my innate love for Kishore Kumar. How was I to help when everyone hummed him on a daily basis, going about their work? So, while my friends grew up listening to a bevy of new singers with jazzy clothes and blingy lives, I resorted to saree-clad and kurta wearing singers whose voices reminded me of the happiness that came on long journeys with the windows down and wind blowing in my face.
As an adult, one can often find me with my overused, entangled earplugs trying desperately to find home in the world of Spotify when cassettes were my favourite gifts. As I sit staring out the window trying to choose a song from my oh-so-private playlists as views pass me by, I realise that the power songs hold over me come from the people I think of when listening to them.
For me ‘Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaye’ is not a Bollywood song about love but my Baba’s promise to Maa to support her even when they are at war with each other. I learnt the song before the national anthem as a kid, with Baba singing it to make up to Maa after every fight. No matter how hard she tried, a smile always broke on her face, causing Baba to break into laughter. Needless to say, my heart as an adult envies this, not having someone of my own to take care of it.
My first tap dance lessons came to the strains of ‘The House of Bamboo’ as my grandfather sang it in his boisterous voice. He had heard the song on the radio in his college days, not understanding the words under the weight of the heavy American accent. The beat nonetheless had survived. In house parties he would often burst into it, pulling me to dance with him, whirling around with my little hand held tightly in his grasp. The marble floor was our bamboo floor, making a world class stage.
For summer breaks, it was a tradition to pack up and go to Kolkata for a month. The tradition has long stopped since school but remains a secret desire every year as the month of June approaches. During those month-long trips, I would decide to wake later than usual, away from the prying eyes of my parents, in my personal Disneyland at Nani’s ghar. Yet every morning would see me out of bed by 6, listening intently to her timeless Rabindra sangeet from the old radio that sat atop the living room shelf. ‘Sokhi Bhabona Kahare Bole’ and ‘Bhalobeshe Sokhi’ were too hard for comprehension by my little mind, but in them my heart found a solace then, where now I find home. Drinking that big glass of milk became vastly easier under the spells of the songs that Nani used to lure me.
I listen to ‘Phir Le Aya Dil’ every day when I go out, in the hopes that maybe I will meet him at some cross-section in bustling Delhi, even if it is for a second. Do they not say that you can live a lifetime in a second? Maybe I’ll live mine there, suspended in the lyrics of the song. In the hopeful yearning of the song with pain interlaced, I find a reflection of the words I find too heavy to speak.
‘New York, New York’ reminds me of the plans my best friend and I made during math lectures of running away to this city and starting a new life adopting new names from the world of Harry Potter. ‘Mamo chitte’ reminds me of my maasi’s dance lessons during my first school function. She and I would twirl around on the roof of the house, often forgetting that the classes had a purpose. Yet some songs play in my ears as the rain falls, of old times that have faded, refreshed by each falling drop.
On the metro, I turn my phone away – my playlists continue to be my prized possessions. Away from prying eyes, I find solace in the songs that blast at different times of the day on my regular metro rides. I now look at the world with lyrics ringing in my mind. Who is to define what home is? Sometimes it is a song away, lost somewhere in my endless playlists, waiting to be rediscovered.
Tiyasha Saha is a literature student navigating life trying to find her true calling.