I first heard of MS from an aeronautical engineer from India at Purdue University in 1973, where I was doing my PhD: “Child, your education is sorely neglected if you don’t know MS.” I went to Chicago’s Indian store and bought a 78 rpm record of Meera bhajans.
I wrote my first ever poem also by that name. The engineer saw a translation of Meera’s words in my poem. Indian English as translation, indeed!
Came the Emergency, and I was in India healing wounds dealt me by America. I came down from the Tibetan Library, Dharamsala, for medical treatment to find the euphoric Delhi intelligentsia celebrating the lifting of the Emergency.
Subbulakshmi was to sing that night. JB Kripalani was to be in the audience. No tickets. Late-coming rasiks would be accommodated for Rs 5 on the stage, right next to the diva.
I was in white; my soft hair falling over my eyes to hide my tears. There is a medicine in homoeopathy for those who weep at music. I did not know of it then.
All the IAS Delhi crowd wondered at this weeping wonder. MS saw and smiled gently. She had seen the world by then. She understood me instantly. Her diamond nose-stud flashed like my mother’s in the dark. Her voice seemed to come from another star. She asked for encore-requests: “Meera!” “Meera!” I clamoured. “Main gaoongi! Main zaroor gaoongi” she pacified me. Did she sing then! Boy, did I weep! Then she went and touched her husband’s feet.
MS Subbulakshmi Sings Meera
You have bodied ecstasy
Who will find the singer in the song
Or ever sift you from the seer?
Your voice of Meera
Centuries subdues and opens hearts
Here to linger long and long
You are the peacock, the nightingale
The gentle river and small rain
The lotus and the fish
That sported with a lord
Ringing like the bell on his anklet
Shining like the pearl on his breast
You are all the restlessness
That pulls me to my rest
You are the song
That captures and frees
You are the stream
That empties his seas and then returns…
My eyes like suns
My two lips as petals
My temple as the dawn
He renews silently
You have voiced in spirit the body— 1973, rewritten 2016, Purdue / Hyderabad
Captured and freed but effortlessly
Hoshang Merchant’s My Sunset Marriage: One Hundred and One Poems, selected and introduced by fellow-poet Kazim Ali, will be published by Navayana in October 2016.