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Spring has Sprung!

by MANPREET KAUR
Palo Alto, California, U.S.A.

 

Having moved to the San Francisco Bay Area just nine months before, the thought of winter without snow seemed odd to me, a twenty-eight-year veteran of the snowiest of Canadian and Midwestern winters.  I was used to passing the years with all four seasons and the many western holidays that trademarked them. 

In my preoccupation with these norms, I had forgotten the core emotions that were evoked by the changing seasons, like the feelings of renewal at the dawn of spring, and the need for industry in the wake of fall after long summer days. 

My most recent journey began during the first few days of last summer, after I completed my residency training and was ready to start the next phase of my career in medicine. 

My choice was to move to California, with the hope of being closer to my family and community.  I am unsure if it was my Punjabi confidence or stubbornness that fueled me to complete this journey alone, but I relented despite concerns for my safety, packed up my car, and drove across the country to establish a new home in California. 

On the last leg of my trip, I crossed the Dumbarton Bridge to Palo Alto, and much to my delight, was greeted by a Sikh operating the bridge toll.  It was the first time I spoke to another human being after driving days in solitude. 

The encounter was simple and reassuring, with its familiarity leaving me feeling quite at home as I embarked on my new life. 

I felt a similar nostalgia when I went to the Basant Banquet 2008, recently hosted by Phulkari (Cultural wing of IIGS) and Punjab Lok Rang in Cupertino, California. 

The program was held to celebrate Basant, the Punjabi festival of spring and love.  Based on word of mouth, I was to expect an enchanting evening of Punjabi music, culture and community. 

Excited by the rare opportunity to wear fancy Punjabi attire, I dug deep into my closet and dusted off the latest style of salwar kameez I could find.  The final touch was to don a pair of jhanjhar I collected from my college days of Indian cultural dancing.  My preparations for the evening paralleled my anticipation that music would induce the usual feelings of renewal which accompany spring. 

My hope was that for one evening, I could transiently suspend my professional obligations, enjoy the companionship of the new friends I made in the area, and revel in the skills of my new dil ruba teacher, Dr. Dalbir Singh, who was expected to play the sitar among the instrumentalists.   

When I arrived at the Quinlan community center, there was a handsome crowd of Punjabis mingling with each other and having their pictures taken by the professional photographers hired to capture the bouquet of colors represented by everyone's attire. 

Platters of samosas and paneer tikkas were weaving through a gathering of introductions and re-acquaintances.  Wishing my family was by my side, I entered the hall, ornately decorated with floral centerpieces and votives, and admired the lush cushions arranged for the option of floor seating reminiscent of a king's court. 

If my father were with me, he would have admired the attention to the smallest of details by the organizers, while my mother would have found comfort in the friendly ambiance. 

As the musicians tuned their instruments on stage, I resigned myself in complete contentment with the notion that music would be my most cherished companion.

The evening began reverently with Guru Arjan's Aaj Hamaare Griha Basant, performed in the musical mode or raga inspired by the season.  The performers were an eclectic group of musicians who I'd never envision in the same contemporary room, let alone on the same stage. 

Their instruments were just as diverse, representing a wide range of sounds and historical origins, inclusive of a sitar, tabla, keyboard, violin, flute, rebab, dholak, surmandal, algoza and dhol.  Their composition was comprised of a series of synchronies and asynchronies, simultaneously showcasing their individual talents and their efforts to interact with each other, using the language of raga to communicate. 

Using the chorus melody as their foundation, the musicians filled my soul with love and playfulness. 

This definitive beginning was followed by mystical songs of the Sufis (Sufi kalaam, Heer), and folk songs originating from rural Punjab (Jhanjhar Wajdi Naa, Ni Ajj Koi Aaya Sadde Verhe, Tumba, Mahiya, Vaar, Mirza), each launched with the most articulate of introductions, by Jessi Kaur and Surinder Singh Dhanoa, and by the deft supervision of Arvind Singh. 

The historical context and poetic descriptions of the culture inspiring the songs authenticated them such that the songs felt almost incomplete without them.  These events, reminiscent of Punjabi folklore, were all well orchestrated, leaving any sympathetic soul with feelings of fulfillment and familiarity.

The evening concluded with a request that I capture the metaphysical experience I had at the Basant Banquet in words.  What's more, the individual who made the request was none other than the son of Sardar Ishar Singh, the man who gave me my first harmonium as a child. 

The request was as familiar as the songs, originating from generations of encouragement to be in touch with my musical center.  I entered this entire experience a stranger, and left it with an increased appreciation of the most personalized and "seasoned" aspects of my self. 

After a dormant winter without snow and a long hiatus from the feelings evoked by Punjabi classical and folk music, it appears that spring has finally sprung!

 

March 17, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Manjit Kaur (North Potomac, MD, U.S.A.), March 17, 2008, 1:24 PM.

A very beautiful article describing the "rut" of Basant Bahar which happens to be my favorite season too; and starting the evening with "Aaj Hamaare Griha Basant"! The most amazing thing about this article was that this evening took place in California and not in Punjab. We have definitely come a long way, and feels good to know that the next generation will be able to enjoy our culture wholeheartedly. Thank you, Manpreet, for enabling us to enjoy this season since it is still cold on the east coast.

2: Harinder (Banaglore, India), March 17, 2008, 8:29 PM.

Sounds so heavenly, divine, celestial.

3: Bhupinder Singh Ghai (New Delhi, India), March 18, 2008, 4:33 AM.

In blindly apeing western culture, have we not forgotten our own culture which is so rich and diverse? You guys are so lucky. I wish we had such evenings in India. This year, the Delhi SGPC organized a Basant Kirtan Darbar in Delhi, but that obvoisly had purely religious connotataions.

4: Baljeet Kaur (Riverside, CA, U.S.A.), March 18, 2008, 8:04 PM.

This is an excellent piece, reflecting a deep understanding of the melody of the Spring season (Basant Raga).

5: Rani (Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A.), April 05, 2008, 10:39 PM.

A beautiful account of the feelings that Basant evokes in the Punjaban soul!

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