The Heartbeat of the Mind: Conversation with the Tabla Maestro Pandit Bickram Ghosh by Dr Sanjukta Ghosh (SSAI)
by Dr Sanjukta Ghosh (SSAI)
Faced with the pandemic, and likened to a war-like situation, the present scenario takes us back to the dialogues on mental health started a century ago in the trenches of the First World War. Not only did the flu affect healthy bodies in 1918, but the war-wounded soldiers also turned to regular music sessions for stabilising their mental health. Mental health is viewed in the media as the frontier of struggle in the post-COVID-19 decades of the 21st century. The pandemic has, consequently, advanced the societal and cultural conversations on mental health, removing the taboo and discrimination associated with the victim’s candid expressions. The event co-chaired by the founding Director of Sangeet Foundation, for example, brought out the personal anguish of coming to terms with the diagnosis of a close family member, who incidentally benefitted from drumming as a musical activity. Although music and mental health remain an open conversation and subject to conjectures, many artists working on the principle of music as a universal panacea are viewing their roles in the wider context of professional functionality.
Bickram Ghosh is renowned for his experimental music and has a fan following among the youth in India, known globally for his command over the state-of-the-art fusion. He reflects on his ability to navigate the indigenous percussion instrument of Tabla with an acquired sense of rhythm supremely charged with cosmic synergies.
The cyclic nature of the Indian tala linked to the rotation of the earth is known to be macro-cosmic, but he turns to the microcosmic rhythm, looking more closely to the familiar patterns of the pulse and heartbeats. Knowledge about the physical micro rhythm and its consciousness is part and parcel of the human evolution, as we see in the responses of a new-born baby. This natural proclivity means we can adapt rhythm more effectively in daily lives and through interpersonal communication. Bickram Ghosh talks at length on the language of the tabla as an effective aid to understand the pace and speed around us. Using the mechanism of storytelling, he turns to the repetitious nature of oral cultures of the world that has informed the practices of a percussionist. The language of percussion breaks down barriers, teaches us the force of modulation and accent for effective and affective communication.
The language of drumming is onomatopoeic — the sound echoes the sense. Speaking of the syllables of drumming, Bickram is reminded of the childhood stories that attracted him to the tabla. In the conversation, one gets a glimpse of the Indian household, where the daily language of joy is imbued with rhythmic qualities. The deployment of stories in Bickram’s tabla tukda is imaginative and creative; the idiom suiting the Indian milieu draws upon the analogy of the non-human in folk and mythical imaginaries. Through the medium of familiar storytelling in the Tabla tukdas, a wholly immersive world can be constructed which is liberated from an agenda-based communication. He says, ‘Words judge but tabla language has no agenda’. Attracted to the fluid tabla language, Vikram creates the vocabulary of a soundscape which is intrinsically connected to people’s sense of nostalgia, memory, high energy, and long-term synergies of a community.
Drawn to English literature and the contemporary turn to prosody, Vikram’s percussion is attentive to tone for impactful sensory interventions. As music is about frequencies and playing with percussion rhythm, he sees the route into the parts of the emotional brain – happiness points to vibrate on. Relating to the cyclic nature of the Indian tala, he points to the importance of rhythmic language, phonetic changes, and frequency of sound as tools to detach from the fractional self, and as means of union with the universal cosmic rhythm. Such a projection of the soundscape, evident from his works such as Dance of Shiva, he can connect his tabla to a larger vision. Dance of Shiva exemplifies the transition from the technical and localising potential of rhythm to the ramifications of music. Music is seen as a portal to help mental health, whereby the musician is simply the conduit but the consumer needs to understand how the mechanics of body and mind can work with the rhythms the musician creates and disseminates.
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