Best two hours of 2013?

Anoushka Shankar: Wikimedia Commons
Often when I put pen to paper, it’s because I feel like visiting someplace new; or revisiting a particularly charming place. Today, I want to revisit the two hours I spent in Anoushka Shankar’s company, albeit two floors apart.

She sat there, graceful as a lotus, the sitar nestled in her able hands. And she might have been strumming the strings of our hearts, for all we knew. Because every sonorous twang felt like the resonance of a suppressed memory. When she played, I was no longer Ankita Shreeram, writer and resident of Bombay. I was just a throbbing being, kept alive and sculpted by the notes that danced around and into me. What is so intoxicating about losing all sense of identity? What is so right about not being who you are but just a bundle of uniquely-hued energy?

Her ‘voice of the moon’ might have made me cry but my soul was too busy celebrating. Perhaps it felt like it was finally receiving some attention – a rare treat – because all other times, I only fed my thoughts and my base senses.

To her right, there were the cross-legged, sedate shehnai (trumpet) and mridangam (South Indian percussion instrument) players. And to her left, was the Italian percussionist, the cello player with his hair tied back in a sleek bun and the slender African singer Ayana, whose luxurious voice made me weep to hear Norah Jones (sweet but not Ayana) in the original recordings. Western and Indian classical instruments came together in a joyous union that rode high upon choice Carnatic ragas.

Four days ago, it had been her father’s death anniversary. It had also been the date when the Delhi gang rape happened in 2012. “I poured all my darkness into this song – ‘In Jyoti’s name’,” Anoushka told us. It should have been ample warning of what was to come. But I was still deeply shaken and disturbed by the urgent, pained notes that ensued. It was just what it should have been but I couldn’t wait for it to stop.

But the other tracks from ‘Traces of you’ (her new album) – Metamorphosis and Lasya among them, helped me recover. But that would be unjust, because they did more than that. They inspired, soothed and uplifted. They made me feel truly blessed to be alive; to be there in that hall for those two glorious hours, and have the fortune of listening to such masterful melodies. This is living – my heart told me. And I believed it, choosing to forget for that moment the monotony that greets me every other day. But that’s not really true, is it? To breathe and to exist – in synchronicity with the Universe, is a blessing far too great to be clothed in the grey rags of monotony. Now when I revisit that beautiful place, I believe my heart’s whispers again. I believe that I am happy. And there was never any reason to be otherwise.

When the concert ended, with dazzling individual pieces by each of the supporting musicians, I was convinced that those had been the best two hours of 2013. But of course, it’s easy to be overwhelmed in the immediate aftermath of things. Now that the sheen has been dimmed by the unforgiving dust of time, I wonder if there might be other contenders for that title. It has been a pretty good year after all.