Josna Rege

370. Pre-dawn Raga

In 1970s, blogs and blogging, India, Music, Stories, writing on April 20, 2016 at 3:17 am


Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy

PI have never been what they call “a morning person.” At least an hour and a half must elapse between when I wake up and when I start my working day, and it’s not until I’m on my second cup of tea in the morning that I can safely engage with another person without the risk of biting their head off. On one particular occasion, though, my behavior was quite out of character, thanks to the power of a pre-dawn raga.

For a time during our twenties, when we were living in the cabin on White Pond in Concord, Andrew had a job driving a truck for NEFCO, our regional food co-op federation. As I recall, he had to drive in to the wholesale market in Chelsea, pick up the week’s supply of cheese, and deliver it to the co-op warehouse in North Cambridge. He had to leave the house early in order to complete the circuit on time, but that was not a problem, since, unlike me, Andrew is a morning person.

On this morning, Andrew happened to over-sleep, and by the time he woke up, it was already past the time he normally left the house. I awoke, bleary-eyed, to find him in a state of high anxiety and near-despair, feeling that he had made an irreparable mistake and that it was too late for him to fix it. When he gets into that mood, he tends to get stuck in it for some time, shutting himself down and others out. But somehow, that morning, I mobilized in record time and managed to turn his self-defeating mood around.

I love Indian classical music, although I have never studied it formally. (Our local public radio station irritates me to no end when it uses the term “classical music” to refer to European classical music, as if that is all there is.) I love the way it starts quietly, just establishing the mood, and then builds gradually, taking a long time to warm up. A raga, or raag, is a basic melody form (here’s Anoushka Shankar explaining) and there are ragas for every time of day, even the time when I am not at my best.

Ali Akbar Khan (US., c. 1970) Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Ali Akbar Khan (US., c. 1970) Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It just so happened that we had picked up an album by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the virtuoso sarod player, called Pre-dawn to Sunrise Ragas (1967). Although we had gone to see Ali Akbar Khan in concert at least twice by then, I had never properly listened to this album, and certainly not at the proper time of day, but as I threw on my clothes and scrambled to prepare breakfast, I had the bright idea of putting it on. As soon as the needle settled into the grooves of the disc and the first benign tones of raag bairagi began to pervade the atmosphere, something shifted into an open, expectant mode. By the time the raga was over, we were getting ready to jump into the truck and make for Chelsea; but in that short twenty minutes, Andrew’s mood had neutralized and the dark cloud had begun to lift. The sun rose, the pick-up and delivery went smoothly, and all was well with the world again.

Don’t take my word for it; try it yourself, the next time you’re up early and a bit out of sorts. Begin the day with joy.

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Chronological Table of Contents

  1. I will try it in tomorrow morning. I should find one for night time to listen to before I go to sleep.

  2. My mother, brought up in India through the 20s, 30s and 40s, was somewhat dismissive of Indian classical music, especially when I told her I’d enjoyed a concert by Ravi Shankar in the late 60s. ‘That damn twanging sound!’ she complained (or words to that effect) in her distinctive Anglo-Indian accents. A pre-dawn raga was clearly anything but calming to her spirits, added to ‘the damn humidity!’ and the insect life that had consumed the best silk scarf which had dropped to the ground below her hammock.

    Must get a CD or two to replace the Shankar CD that has disappeared in our recent move …

    • Ha! My mother complained similarly about the endless Rabindrasangeet (songs by Rabindranath Tagore) we had to listen to at the various events we attended (since we lived in West Bengal). And the scales that the girl next door used to practice day in, day used to drive Mum crazy!
      What an image, of your poor mother’s silk scarf getting consumed. (Silk–made by an insect, devoured by one.)
      I too attended a Ravi Shankar concert around that time–at the Albert Hall, 1971!

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