Something of a film noir-esque opening – like a spy drifting, all suave, into the folds of a foreign city – introduces itself. A shy shimmer of cymbals and the nonchalance of a bass line that’s really too cool to care, follow, before the saxophone erupts in a cocktail of delicacy, nostalgia, and mirth devoid of adulteration. This current existence of solitude, as it turns out, has a soundtrack.
In my hometown of Pune (officially; though I prefer Poona), as I flit between moments of existential anxiousness and a more prevalent mood of soulfulness within a chosen sanctuary, John Coltrane is never too far away. The American jazz hero and his saxophone are accents on most days – peppering a conversation with the quiet murmur of a guest at a party; infusing life into interludes of silence; injecting sharp bursts of drama and expectancy into such life-changing predicaments as “Do we have enough bread?” and yes, serving as the genesis to words, whether written or imagined.
The song usually playing the role of catalyst in all this is Acknowledgement– Part 1 of Coltrane’s delicious manna of faith and deliverance, A Love Supreme. Within the nearly eight minutes of Acknowledgement, life flourishes. It’s tender, it’s forceful; it’s stylish, it’s sober; it captures the meditative spirit of being in the here and now with the ease of a monk who knows the scripts by heart… mostly though, it evokes lands in the topography of its language – the curves of desire in a measured treble; the immensity of the Sahara in a flattened fifth – arousing in me horizons and far-off flavours that are currently mere figments of longing.
Perhaps it’s the song’s all-embracing stillness that weds it to the life anchored. Hell, the title itself is a sort of Buddhist teaching. I accept. I acknowledge. I allow. A Love Supreme and the days ally their cadences. With my writing, whether dancing with poetry or struggling to rescue a piece of fiction from the edges of nowhere, the words flow too in the lingua of jazz riotousness – a stanza framed to perfection; a stanza torn asunder; a character left flailing in the wind for love and other mirages.
If I may be allowed a cheat, it’s Coltrane’s India – performed live at the Village Vanguard, New York –
that raises its hand. In the wildness of its textures and in the cacophony of its perfections, it reminds me of how my land was, and perhaps always will be yet.
And that’s what jazz is, so vital to this surreal point in history – an invitation to dream, to believe, a prayer for the rapture that is life.
Perhaps all of this is acknowledgement enough.
Siddharth Dasgupta is a poet and novelist. He is currently finessing two completed books –
a novel, anchored to the act of memory; and a collection of poetry.
Read the other articles in The Art of Solitude series here.