Malhar Monologue: Memories of Romance, Relief and Rains

Between the coming and going of monsoon is the interplay of light and darkness, two nishads, and a beautiful sense of pain, separation and love.

By Purbayan Chatterjee

I remember my childhood days. Air conditioning was not so affordable then. In the peak of summer, we would count days till the monsoon arrived. As the temperatures soared, it got more and more difficult to sleep at night and we would resort to innumerable showers to cool down.

Then, one day, the monsoon would arrive and the mercury would drop by five to six degrees. For me, the relief and joy it brought, was the essence of raag Desh. I was taught Desh when I was five years old and my father told me that Desh embodies the fundamental joy of Malhar. I was too young to understand the underlying pangs of separation, pathos and romance that Miya Ki Malhar had. As I grew up, I realised that the dark clouds across the horizon were always accompanied by a desire to be with the ones I loved. Poets and lyricists, since time immemorial, have conspired with Nature in celebrating Malhar through lyrics and phrases like “jiyara dar paawe“, where the damsel, distressed by the wrath of thunder and lightning, finds comfort in the arms of her lover.

I was brought up in a musical milieu. For me, Malhar signifies a deep sense of romance, where clouds are messengers and droplets of rain are Nature’s way of expressing pangs of separation.

My friend Dwayne, who lives in the British countryside, has a different perspective on romance. For him, spring and summer are the seasons for romance. “A host of golden daffodils, beside the lake, beneath the trees” seen by a “blithe spirit” are what make him long for his beloved.

And then, there is today’s “love on the weekend,” described as a “serotonin high”. The longing for your beloved can be quickly fixed on Whatsapp or over FaceTime.

Going back to the innocence of my teenage years, Malhar still reminds me of my days of waiting for the monsoon. The interplay between komal nishad and shuddha nishad still makes me wonder whether I will get the much desired relief from shadaj, or not. Malhar, for me, is travelling through time, to a space in technicolor, or even sepia. The bright and overwhelming visibility of summer is greyed out. All you see is black and white, and then, the resultant lush green.

Malhars are exactly that. There is the initial thrill, followed by a tense few moments of interplay between light and darkness, leading to a beautiful sense of relief, a kind of catharsis, derived, perhaps, from the acceptance that the one love you are waiting for is never going to be yours, so you might as well take as much pleasure as you can from your pain.



— The author is a well-known sitar maestro and composer. 

Featured image by Hojo.