For some afternoons now, I have been listening to the Azaan. Its hauntingly beautiful melody floats over the houses, slips through the lanes to reach me. I don’t really know where it comes from; it doesn’t sound very near. But sound has a way of getting through. The muezzin seems to put all the power of his meditation into this: the act of calling the faithful to prayer. It’s the last fortnight of Ramzan, and this is perhaps the last namaaz before dusk. If this were Malaysia or Dhaka or even Lucknow, the whole city would be reverberating with the parallel strains.
Listening to the rhythm in the prayer reminds me of an evening long ago in Goa. At dusk, watching sea waves lapping a riverbank in that uniquely diverse landscape, we heard a bhajan that was so beautiful it was unearthly. As we listened, night came on. The next evening, there it was again, with the power, thepassion, and even, it seemed, the voice of Kumar Gandharva.
As we followed the sound, it seemed closer, louder but always that elusive step beyond. Before we knew it we had left the beach, the shacks, the neat bungalows and bakeries of Calangute behind, and entered a new faith line. Here were different looking houses, a tulsi before each home, women in nine yards looking curiously at us.
And the music was now louder than ever. Then, there it was, a traditional thatch roof hall, possibly an adjunct to the village temple, holding as many people as it could. Feeling like sore thumbs, we watched from the shelter of a tree. Nor that it would’ve mattered. The village people were so engrossed in the performance, so mesmerised, that they had eyes and ears only for him. And he, thin, somewhat grey, was holding together his audience within the ambit of his tanpura’s strings, eyes closed. He was a guru in the real sense of the word. The gods who were listening must have been as grateful as we were for this totally unexpected encounter with enchantment.
And like all magic, it vanished without explanation. As we retraced our steps the next morning, all we found were some ladies putting fresh rangolis for the Navatri festival. The unknown musician had moved on.
The blessing of that night re-echoes for me as I hear the muezzin today. I don’t know where he is; yet there is a chord within. Pulsing.
Lina Krishnan is based in Bangalore and writes on culture, cinema and the environment.