Playing in the Band

Yesterday, the boy who lives next door to Govinda dai’s house had his bartan, which is kind of like a Hindu Bar Mitzvah (except different).  In the evening, there was a bajan, drums and cymbols and chanting that create the most gorgeous and hypnotic devotional music you’ve ever heard.  So after dinner, around 9pm, Kaushik and I went over to listen.  I was actually tired and didn’t feel like heading out, but I knew that Govinda would be playing in the bajan and I didn’t want to let him down.

As we walked up the road, Govinda’s kids Sulo and Sudir came running towards us, and the sound of music followed soon after – driving, jubilant.  We turned in to the yard, which had been covered by a tarp.  Two men, one of them with a huge belly, were twirling with their hands in the air, amid a crowd of adults wrapped in shawls and children up past their bed time sitting on the ground.  The sparkle and joy of it washed over us and my heart lifted.

I sat near the bajan for a while with my recorder.  Govinda was on the symbols.  I have been coveting a recording of this wonderful music with its surrender and elation and praise all wrapped together.  Of course, Kaushik and I were both invited to dance.  But a lot of the time I was just listening, the night time around us, Sulo leaning on my bent shins and my arm across her chest, like Bishnu and I used to sit.

During a break, Govinda left his cymbols lying on the ground next to me.  I picked them up and started tinkering.  I tried to be discreet but in order to really play devotional cymbols, you just have to go for it; they don’t have a volume control and the physical movement of the hands only works out rhythmically if you play without restraint.

So soon I was just playing the cymbols while people chatted and rested around me.  But the sound started attracting attention, and them some smiles, and then a woman who’d joined the bajan picked up her cymbols too and matched my chime.  So the drummer started, and the next thing I knew, I was playing in the bajan.  I was a part of it.  The other pieces came up around me like a garden, and until I had to hand the little chimes back over a minute later, the music was coming right from me.


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