Of Language and Love: An Indian Story
Bangla, in West Bengal
In 2017, I relocated back to my home city, Kolkata (capital of the Indian state of West Bengal) after a decade of living and working in the Netherlands. Both the city and I have changed irrevocably in the intervening time – hence, I find myself in something like a new relationship with an old lover! While I have taken most of what this new ‘relationship status’ entails in my stride, some aspects are difficult to accept. A reduced respect for diversity (both in the city and the state) is one of them.
|Shekhar's parents & elder brother, 1965.|
|Shekhar & me, Versailles, 2007.|
The Language of Love
|Air Mail from Shekhar, 1996.|
I just said I’m not sure in which language we have loved. That’s because there are two strong contenders for it: English and Hindi. Our pre-marital years were spent in long separations – continents apart – in which we wrote incessantly to each other. In English. I wrote entire writing-pad full of letters, in crispy pink and white paper; he replied in a lovely blue. But much as we shared our daily lives through the written word, the love and (especially) longing for each other was always conveyed through song. Hindi songs. I sent him customized collections of my favorites in 90-minute cassettes, through his friends (and sometimes, boss!); he gifted me rare editions of ‘classics’ when he came home for holiday in India.
|A Tagore bust: my late mother's most prized possession.|
I belong to a community who are fiercely proud of their literature; they are especially given to eulogizing ‘Rabindra-sangeet’ (songs written and composed by our greatest poet, the first Asian Nobel laureate, Rabindranat Tagore). It is said – and rightfully so – that there isn’t a human emotion or mood for which there isn’t a Tagore song. Of course, love (both for God and beloved, which often coalesce in many songs) features prominently in that repertoire, which I’d learnt for many years. Not just that. I was brought up in a very literary environment by a mother who taught Bengali literature and was herself a (closet) writer. And when I grew up, I chose to study English Literature. But the combined might of Bengali and English literature – all that celebrated poetry and song – was of no avail to me when it came to my love. Because Shekhar was equally ignorant of both and displayed little interest in either.
We had, however, one thing in common – a deep love of Hindi film songs, right from the 1950s upto the 80s (and beyond), when legendary singers and composers (many of them Bengalis), not to speak of lyricists (several of them Urdu poets, who wrote in Hindi-Urdu), ruled the industry. Just their names would fill up a blog-post, and their songs several books. Many have indeed been the subjects of detailed study.
Among the singers, there’s however one name that stands out when it comes to our romance: Kishore Kumar. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that we emotionally bonded over Kishore, an untrained musical genius, whose repertoire, too, covered an astonishing range of the varied moods of love. His songs have been an integral part of our lives.