Songs, Hope and the Last Friday of Ramzan

Music fills a two-women household with memories of happier times and fuller lives. A time when being or not being a Muslim was not a part of ever-present awareness.

My mother asked me if I had some henna powder at home. I didn’t, so she sent the maid to the market to get a packet. It’s the last Friday of Ramzan and applying henna to your palms is supposed to bring you blessings.

My mother is 84, her hands show her age. She lives with me now, in Delhi NCR. My lifestyle choices have squeezed out space for connecting with Ramzan or the elaborate and breathless preparations that would go into celebrating Eid. Her childlike zeal for Alvida Jumma took me back to another age, another me, another way of life – when every occasion had a song.

For me, songs are indelibly linked with hope. My taste in music, like in everything else in life, is eclectic to the point of being random. I can listen to anything from ‘gore gore mukhde pe kaala kaala chashma’ to ‘nirbhay nirgun gun re gaoonga’. From Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda to Mozart and Beethoven symphonies and what have you. My ears seem to have cultivated different pleasure zones which get activated according to my moods – so the same song which touches my soul one hour, may bore me to death the next day.

There was a time when my day would start with qawwalis. My professional writing hours or housework would alternate between 80’s Govinda and random symphonies. The night would invite Faiz and Ghalib to hover by my bedside while I ticked off the day’s ‘to do’ list in my diary.

And then I lost music from my life. It’s hard to pinpoint when – before the last election or around it? Or was it a personal setback which stole my songs? However, I truly realised that I had lost it when I found myself singing so loudly that my mother, who is severely hard of hearing, knocked on the bathroom door and said, ‘Have you swallowed the radio?’

Also watch: Celebrating Being Queer and Muslim During Ramzan

Sometimes life experiences take your breath away and sometimes, your songs. For me, the political and the personal, wrapped in a wrestling grip, were dragging each other down. With every rock bottom that the world and I would hit, the ground would open up further. Words are the clips that hold music to the strings of my heart, now happy songs had stopped tuning into the rhythm of my hopes and sad songs were driving me deeper into the bottomless abyss of my fears and anxieties. I took a conscious decision to stay away from lyrics. My selection, when I did listen to music, was usually a platter full of instrumental fare available on YouTube: ‘de-stressing music, music for morning energy, music for relaxation and sleep’.

Now, all of a sudden, lyrics are back in my life. My bathroom singing days – they have been the bane of existence for my siblings, hostel room-mates, spouse, daughter and friends – anyone who has had the misfortune of sharing a room with an attached bath with me. I sing at a volume which comes less from my throat and more from my heart.

And I don’t know who to thank for this return of the music…  My friends, parents, my pet parrot, the Indian voters or the newly elected government. The sheer force of hitting the bottom of an abyss does make you bounce back. The silence of acceptance, after the election results, has brought some calm. One is settling down for the long haul, making friends with patience and perseverance – the two essential fellow travellers for any long and meaningful road trip, personal or political. And what’s a road trip without a song in your heart.

Hello and welcome back dear songs, let’s get going – the road to hope beckons.

My current top ten list

‘Ye Hosla Kaise Jhuke’ (Dor, 2005): My all-time pick-up anthem.

‘Jamuna Kinare Mora Gaon’ (by Prabha Atre): The song is on the list for its sheer longing and passion.

‘Ud Jayega Hans Akela’ (Kabir’s words, song by Kumar Gandharva): ‘Jag darshan ka mela…’ puts all personal and self-indulgent bottomless pits in perspective.

‘Kaun Mera, Kya Tu Laage’ (Special 26)

‘Allah Tero Naam’ (Hum Dono): In memory of Gandhi ji and for what he stands in my mind – love, respect, truth, self-inquiry and sheer grit of non-violence. As a human being, he may have his failings, but from the time I read about Gandhi in my growing years, I recognise him as a set of values that make us more human.

‘Baawra Mann Dekhne Chala Ek Sapna’

‘Tumhe Ho na Ho Mujhko Toh Itna Yakeen Hai’ (Gharaonda, 1977): For its sheer energy and my cheeky address to an apolitical situation.

‘Hum Dekhenge’ (Written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, sung by Iqbal Bano): Several generations later, we are still waiting to see some dreams realised, but why not.

‘Kanhaiya Yaad Hai Kuch Bhi Hamari’ (Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad): Khusro, Kanahiya and Qawwali in one seductive wrap rendered by the descendant of the first followers of Khusro.

‘Arziyan’ (A.R. Rahman): Eid is around the corner, my mother is applying henna on her palms because it is Alvida Jumma and you earn sawaab if you apply henna on the last Friday of Ramzan.

It’s religion for her, culture for me. And this qawwali – beseeching for hope – fills our two-women household with memories of happier times and fuller lives. A time when being or not being a Muslim was not a part of ever-present awareness. May patience, perseverance, hope and songs live on and flourish in every life this Eid. Happy Eid.

Sehba Imam is a media professional, associated with popular shows like ‘Galli Galli Sim Sim’ and ‘Gustakhi Maaf’. She is also the co-author of the book Ocean to Ocean.