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Finding Your Song

Mamlu Chatterjee | June 25, 2020
Finding Your Song

So many things coalesce to make a ‘good year’, which in my book is defined as a year that provides plenty of opportunities to rejoice, learn and rebuild where necessary, celebrate triumphs, recognise a series of moments that may, by themselves, be ordinary, but when pooled together, leave you with a satisfied sigh at the end of the year.

I had a pretty good 2016, but bringing it to its very end on 31st December, spending some hours with my husband and daughter, sharing our favourite ‘music memories’ was most certainly the high point of my year. We sang loudly and in unison, surprising ourselves when we remembered all the lyrics, drumbeats, and even the shimmies in between! It brought home, most definitely, how music impacts our mood, and thereby, our lives altogether.

When someone recently asked me if I have a song or poem that lifts me whenever I listen to it, I didn’t have to think too hard. I have my little collection of these and have always hummed them to myself if they weren’t playing loudly already. To anyone else, the list could seem silly, juvenile even, but every time I hear “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” by Annie, it just puts things in perspective for me. Yep, nothing is going to come to a standstill; life will carry on and the dark days will become history soon enough!

Another one was from the film Guddi that I had watched while I was still in school – and it made an impact on me that guides me till today. Here was Jaya Bachchan (Bhaduri in those days) in a school uniform, hair tightly plaited in loops, earnestly singing hum ko mann ki shakti dena at school assembly; the song says we need to win over ourselves first before we can win over anyone else and this resonates with me till today. Of course, I was mercilessly teased by friends when I shared my preachy song with them, but that made no difference to me.

Recently, I chanced upon a delightful video, that showed a group of teenage children, in all shapes and sizes and colours, joyously singing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” in perfect harmony. I stopped everything else and watched the video once, twice, thrice, not because they sang wonderfully (they did, indeed), not because they sang with their entire bodies, eyes, hands, heads moving in rhythm, (though that was mesmerizing) but also because this was another song I have often turned to, since my teenage years, whenever I was upset, dejected or off-kilter in any way.

Speaking to friends yielded a lot of results. Google is very knowledgeable; everyone knows that, yes? Out of mammoth essays and research papers on the subject, written by musicians, therapists, angsty teens, theology professors, life coaches, and several others, the one common fact that emerged was that, yes, music can alter and elevate our life state when we are low,sad or disappointed, in a way nothing else can. Almost everyone has a special ‘song’ or ‘chant’ or ‘hymn’ or ‘poem’ that they turn to when in times of trouble. Music taps into the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, and the parietal lobe, all of which are areas of the brain that deal with emotions and mood. The hippocampus is also responsible for the consolidation of new memories whereas the prefrontal cortex manages extreme impulses and emotions, enabling us to make acceptable decisions and keeping inappropriate behaviour under control.

Perhaps this is why experts often utilise music when they treat anxious or depressed patients. In fact, music has been used even for stroke and Alzheimer’s victims in an effort to remind them of happier times, by association.
Ask anybody, and chances are they will have a song, poem or hymn that they associate with their childhood, perhaps because it reminds them of their parents.

Two of my best friends from school spoke eloquently about a song and the chant that never fail to lift their spirits. Anuja Gupta, Founder and Executive Director, Rahi Foundation, spoke of memories of her mother singing nanhi kali sone chali, hawa dheere aana, from the 1959 film Sujata, as she patted her to sleep every night. Till date, whenever she is agitated or worried about something, just listening to this song calms her down, and gives her the sense that everything will be alright.

Talented and prolific artist Nina Das also has a favorite song that she turns to every time she faces disappointment. Que Sera Sera, the song immortalised by Doris Day, reminds her that whatever will be, will be and that one should enjoy the moment without worrying too much about the future.

Amita Prasad is a vice principal of one of Calcutta’s leading schools. She is passionate about working with high school students and Amita confessed that the song that keeps her going when she feels overwhelmed or lonely, is one from her youth – “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King. Listening to the beautiful lyrics make her feel she’s not alone and that the dark clouds will soon pass to reveal clear skies.

Anchita Ghatak, a women’s rights activist and a development professional says “I work on issues of women’s rights and gender equality and have many moments of doubt, unhappiness and despair. Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ provides inspiration, laughter and courage.” She also says that Lewis Carroll, Sukumar Ray and Ogden Nash never fail to cheer her up.

Shampa Chowdhury is a counsellor who admits she has used her ‘go-to’ song “I Have Confidence” from Sound of Music to boost several students suffering from exam anxiety, relationship issues or plain nervousness at the prospect of going out into the big bad world, always with excellent results.

Tagore’s songs feature very often in this list of songs that uplift, give succour, encourage, inspire, motivate; almost every third person I spoke to had a favorite Tagore song that they plugged into when they were at their lowest ebb. I’d need an entire article to feature all those and would probably still not do them justice.

So, what is the power a song wields over our emotions? They trigger an emotional response, often bringing up cherished memories, their lyrics, their melodies soothing, energising, rousing, bringing hope and appealing to us. The world over, babies are sung to, teenagers express themselves through song, and the elderly have music as their companion through their sunset years. An intrinsic part of our lives, we have the ability to remember lyrics from hundreds of songs we have learned, pulling out appropriate ones at required moments.

Hell, we even fall in love, thanks to a song! Ask any couple if they have a special song and at least six out of ten will share ‘their’ song with you in a heartbeat. In the film ‘Before We Go’, an old psychic tells a young man and woman, stranded in New York City for a night, about finding the love of his life. He met her one evening at a bar where she walked up to him as the jukebox played Moon River, practically dragging him to the dance floor despite the fact that he had no clue of how to dance. With a deep sigh, the old man says, “I’d have made an absolute fool of myself just to spend one minute with her. And I did. And it all started with a song.”

So, have you found your song? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Go, find your song!

Mamlu Chatterjee

Mamlu is a mom, mom-in-law, an editor, reader and writer who is currently learning about the secret life of cats, and re-learning how to make pickles and chutneys. She loves dogs, baby elephants and lives in a red cottage on a hill in the tea plantations of Malaysia.

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