Songs of the Wandering Minstrel - The New Indian Express

Songs of the Wandering Minstrel

Published: 09th March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 08th March 2014 06:15 PM

She travels the world in a whirl. Minimalism is Parvathy Baul’s only jewel, love songs her language, her voice and feet, the vehicles of spirituality; sounds of the ektara, duggi and nupur, her dialogue with the “beloved” and her hair, the reminders of her journey as a Baul. Having done 10 concerts a month since August last year, she was recently in Delhi to perform at the National Festival of Creative Arts. She would take a pause before she travels to Bangladesh. She says, “It’s strange that this will my first performance in Bangladesh.”

Parvathy celebrates the natural urge to travel. “As a child, I would rush out of the house and travel with the fishermen. I was very curious. Other kids would be too scared to enter a ‘haunted’ house, but I would barge in, despite sweating and shivering from fear.” Travel has strengthened her music and brought it the “purity”. “Knowledge” is “information”. “I have too much of information owing to the travels. I learn from the rhythms heard in Pakistan and Japan and at a Flamenco performance.” Though she doesn’t describe the distance “travelled” in physical, musical and spiritual terms, its extent is evident in the different compositions she sings, the different disciplines of arts she practices, and the thoughts she dabbles with. “I am trying to enhance my technique to follow the tradition and to become transparent with the music. No pretention, and I am not trying to copy. Initially, I was trying to “perform”. I was trying to attain sahajawastha, the spontaneity, with ease. To arrive at that moment, it takes a lot of improvisation now.”

Parvathy had left Bengal to live in Kerala more than a decade ago. She wanted to “distance” herself from Bengal and “practise” what she had learnt. “It was like vanvaas. I wanted to prepare my body to be able to sing and dance. My master was giving me complete lessons in music, but there was no analytical point of view involved. However, I had to understand body movement, how to place the feet, how to make my body light. I wanted to search for the body language. I practised yoga and understood the nuances of Kalaripayattu and other arts,” she adds.

She looks back at her training with immense clarity. “I think training was basically ‘memorising’. It was more about completing the song, maintaining the dignity of the tradition and not trying to improvise, not to put my own mind projections to the song.” Singing compositions does bring the “fatigue”. But bringing melodic, lyrical and rhythmic variations into performance regularly prevents her from “sitting on the edge”. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in the first 15 seconds of improvising. But you don’t want to slip, either with the breath, or with the melody. It’s like keeping a vigil.” Travelling for concerts tires her. But performance gives her the joy of putting before the audience “a thousand days of practice.” Change is the only constant and husband Ravi Gopalan Nair, a well-known puppeteer, the inspiration. “I really want to bring new sound, but not too much sound. I don't want to dilute the art. When I met Ravi, I was young and wanted to try too many things. He taught me how to uphold tradition. I have learnt more music from other people than musicians. I would observe how he made his puppets. The lucid movement of his fingers while he made the puppets would inspire me to sing. His art taught me how to balance the body and keep the focus and begin the performance and end it with the same energy.”

“The path of Baul is “sahaj yoga”. She says, “But actually, it’s not sahaj (she laughs). It is hard to maintain the minimalism in the world where everybody wants to be a star.” This spirituality makes our musicians go on.

Parvathy’s  Wishlist

■ Collecting songs of Guru Sanatan Das Baul and documenting them.

■ A concert scenario that doesn't require her to perform throughout the year.

■ More time to spend on writing, wood print carving (gives her a ‘Hawk’s view of art from the top’) and being with her husband.

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