Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ending the silence || Bolero

I first heard it in my cousin's home. They had a new "two-in-one" and a batch of new recordings. This was one of them. It was raining outside, that July rain in Bombay that comes down with the dedication of a Mumbaikar on a mission. I was heading back to Colaba and had a long bus-ride ahead. I simply could not leave the music behind so I taped it--I still have that cassette--and listened to it non-stop on the bus, looking at the rain and feeling the music sink into my soul.

I don't know much about Western classical music, but 'Bolero' to me is a feeling--sad, haunting and completely unsettling. There's always a vestige of it in my spirit, even when I have not listened to it in a long time.

In the last ten years, writing and talking about ending the silence about gender violence, I know exactly where I have heard that song before--Bolero.

Silence. Then, a lone, sad, quiet voice, almost absent so that you have to strain to hear. And then a couple of others. And then, a few more. The solos blend into a chorus, a brief harmony of many sections in the orchestra. A perfect musical moment, that then escalates into something angrier, more urgent. The movement gathers strength, new voices and momentum. It is unstoppable. There is just one message but it is delivered with ever-greater intensity. The beat is hard to ignore, and everyone starts to fall in line, walking, moving together. Insistent, assertive, buoyed by unity, the orchestra effaces the last vestiges of silence. Music speaks so loudly it dances on the brink of cacophony. You reach out to turn down the volume but the message has now entered every part of your consciousness. It is irresistible. It is becoming you. The instruments, so different from each other, are speaking with one voice. There is nothing else left. No other sound. No other thought. No other idea. The scale changes. Change is here. Now there is triumph where there was lonely anguish. We have overcome, as the music has taken us over.

Ravel's Bolero.

I have come to see this as the perfect soundtrack for all of us who want to end gender violence, and to end the silence and stigma that surround it. Every other year, we talk about getting someone to perform a 'flash-mob' dance and I suggest Bolero, but it is too long. Too long. Social change takes time. We cannot spare fifteen minutes for this composition to unfold. I understand. It remains the song of the struggle for me. I know that this journey too will gather its people--that is happening as I write--and that it will culminate in change--I can see that.

Here is Ravel playing his composition on the piano, a more mellow sound but taking nothing away from its beauty.