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        Volume 11 |Issue 19 | May 11, 2012 |


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Voices: A Velvet Vinaigrette

Rebecca Haque

Seven leagues across the seas in this buoyant Southern Hemisphere, it is the ides of April here, with the hint of winter still kept at bay for the next twenty or so odd days. After a rejuvenating weekend, I float toward wakefulness as the neurons inside the pulp of my skull surge and emit an electric blue glow irradiating my irises. My mental batteries are recharged. The luminous face of the table clock shows it is just past four o'clock in the dewy- darkness of this autumnal Monday morn. Eerily, alone in my room, with the light of sparkling crystals in the pewter sky framed by the square glass pane, I feel sublimely non-corporeal. The mind's voice asks, could this feeling be a natural magnetic response to earth, sky, and water? After all, I am Monday's child, my mother told me, born at this godly hour in Mitford Hospital, (then hardly five minutes by rickshaw from grandfather's house in Armanitola.) But I wish to discover a more plausible chemical, more pharmacological, rather than a paranormal, reason for this epiphany. The human body is all chemistry, and the juices provide the current to the brain, I tell myself in layman terms, languorously recalling the months I spent reading Gray's Anatomy and drawing every organ of the human body before my S.S.C. finals between the years 1968 to 1970 because my parents wanted me to become a physician.

Chicago skyline. Photo: Courtesy

The surreal health of my spirit may have been the result of a wealth of exhilarating auditory, tactile, and visual experiences imbibed over the weekend. On Sunday night, after a dinner of pure deshi food, which I had cooked in plentiful quantity on Saturday morning ( a working strategy to leave me two whole days for fun and frolic) -- the menu consisting of (obviously with steamed rice) tomato and egg-plant bhaji ( garnished lavishly with fresh green coriander), potato chicken-mince curry ( with two splotches of sweet-chilli sauce) and thick lentil soup (of course, as any Bangali would) with one full table-spoon of crinkling fried sticks of garlic thrown in while the pot is still hot -- I steeped in an hour of delightful quality-time with my daughter and son-in-law surrounded by the stereophonic voices of singers auditioning for the new Aussie televised competitive talent show, The Voice. This show is exceptional in that the selection is 'blind' – the four judges sit with their back to the stage and selection for the next round is solely on the basis of the quality of voice without the spectacle of the singer's looks, costume and make-up interfering in the assessment of the purity of the pitch and tonal variation in the vocal rendition. During Saturday night's audition, I was spellbound , as was all of Australia, by the rendition of Edith Piaf's haunting signature song, La Vie Rien, sung by an angelic seventeen-year old visually-impaired girl. All four judges –Seal, Delta Goodrem, Joel Madden, and Keith Urban – turned around to face her in silent admiration. The ingénue quietly spoke, “I am legally blind, and cannot tell if anyone has turned around.” (The defining rule of the competition is that any judge who believes the candidate's voice has great potential must turn around at some moment before the song ends. The judge who is not inspired will not swivel his chair around, spelling rejection.) . At Sunday night's auditions, a beautiful twenty- year-old girl sang a groovy, jazzy Peter Garrett number. Seal was immediately possessed. He started tapping with his neon nails on the metallic armchair with eyes closed, grooving with the music, and then got up to sinuously jive to the beat and the rhythm as he matched the girl's clear vocals and chivalrously romanced her into his team. My daughter and I were thrilled and our eyes sizzled.

Nagarkot, Photo: Courtesy

Earlier, on Saturday afternoon, I was out in the dazzling sunlight on Swanston Street , sauntering in the midst of hundreds from every race and tribe of this world, sharing the collective joy of music and dance and painting of the buskers on the street . And then, as I turned left on Bourke Street, the music of the Andes made me stop. An Inca flute player, Beta Chinguel, clothed in his traditional native multi-coloured woven jacket, was miming his own compositions digitally miked across the city square. Enraptured by visions of snowy-capped peaks my eyes beheld through the heavenly veil of Chinguel's breath upon the wooden instrument, I sat down to soak the sun and live the images of the South Amerindian landscape spontaneously flashing through my mind. As I sat on one of the wrought-iron benches, I simultaneously recalled the vision of the Sierra Nevada range and San Francisco Bay and Baja California and the blue Pacific I saw in 1995, as my aeroplane dipped to turn towards the east on my way back from UCLA. And , in harmony with this superimposed cinema of the mind, I heard John Denver serenading his beloved in Annie's Song, and I quietly sang, “ You fill up my senses like a night in the forest.” On the train ride home, joy in my heart brought memories of other similar private cinematic interludes. I stepped over John Grisham's name metalled on the pavement in his hometown on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennesseee, as I glided to the heavy husky dusky voices of the Blues. My breath came in soft sobs as I again heard Martin Luther King's sermon," I Have A Dream”, as I toured the motel where he was assassinated. Recuperating, at once, I time-travelled forward and saw myself loudly gasp again in an electric shock of thrill as the boat made a U-turn on Lake Michigan and I beheld the jewelled Chicago skyline one particular midnight. Now, in the train, this flashback was accompanied by the velvet voice of Andy Williams wooing the dynamic, heart-throbbing Windy.

Swanston Street, Melbourne. Photo: Courtesy

Slight slanting rain hits the window pane as the wind rises with the red rim of sunrise visible on the horizon this first week-day morning. I shall soon have to get up and cook a new menu to last another couple of days. The weather and the Kalboishaki mood is making me plan a feast of khichuri, egg-curry, and mustardy mashed potatoes. I am now salivating for some crunchy dal-puri, and as the chemicals in my empty stomach churn and growl, I quickly make a strong mug of sweet Lipton tea and bite into a crackling ginger biscuit. Scenes of a rainy evening at Nagarkot on Eid-ul-Fitr in 2010 surface as I gaze up at the clearing sky. I recall the intimate colonial tea-house on a ridge where I had puri ,aloor dom, dal with my spouse. Driving back to Kathmandu, for the entire duration until we reached the flatland, I had the thin sliver of the new crescent moon following me, with the car stereo soulfully offering me the melodious voices of Hementa Mukherjee, Lata Mangeshkar , Geeta Dutt, Talat Mahmood, Mohammad Rafi, and Mukesh, singing the unforgettable golden oldies. My own voice responded to this miracle of time, space, light, and sound. My breath undulated as my lips formed each word of the lovely lyrics. As we entered Thamel, mystical Tibetan Buddhist chants came over the airwaves from audio tapes, and I remembered the soothing harmonious voices of Gregorian chants.

Here, what I miss most is the early morning muezzin's call.


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