Delhi Diaries: Some Idle Spring Reveries

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Yes, I can smell its presence in the lemony fragrance of the morning air, I can hear its call in the first tender aubades piped by the robin at daybreak, I can already feel it in the jingle of the wind that is lazing around and playing with the crisp leaves of the Amaltas as the sun dozes off and takes an afternoon siesta on my old carpet and the wind chimes tinkle faintly with the moody gusts of the idle wind – spring is almost here! I feel it as I sit on my old easy chair on the terrace, watching the dreamy ‘spring haze’ of the sun as eagles soar in the deep ocean of the blue sky and the tender violet buds on the beanstalk open softly. Yes, spring gypsies are about to arrive with their caravan; they will be camping here for a few months with their sweet Phaguns and Chaitis, and their dazzling colors!
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So, what are you planning this spring – why not, to begin with, take a day off to prepare for greeting them? Well, I have taken a day off today and it is already afternoon. Winter afternoons, I have always felt, are the ideal time for listening to the restless songs of the warm and idle wind. And today, I am hearing them again – inside me and everywhere near and far. I know these songs so well; I have known them since my childhood – since those days when my little sister and I used to run breathlessly after the wind-swept flowers of the bougainvillea as they would go whirling and rolling in the sun at my grandma’s house. All that is but a memory now, but what is spring if not the time to recall our good old memories. So why not begin with some songs of spring that have traveled through the decades with us. Here is my selection – a mixed playlist of my favorite spring songs:
  1. It Might as Well be Spring: Sinatra and Strings

  2. April Come She Will: Simon & Garfunkel

Delhi is always awesome in spring. Sadly, few have an eye for this. Beyond the skyscrapers and the sky-high towers of this heartless city lies a past that is still beyond the reach of time. At the heart of this plundered city of Ghalib and Meer, there still lives untouched an unapproachable spirit that is too strong, too old, and too big for our century. So, here is a list of my favorite spring haunts in Delhi. I plan to visit them again this spring, and if you have not been here in a while, do consider including them in your list:
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  • The secluded sun-splashed backyard of the Qutub complex, which has an old well, a verandah nearby for prayers and huge Peepal trees. It is a perfect place for sitting with a novel or a notebook.

  • The sunlit sloping grounds near the quiet back walls of the Hauz Khas complex. The song of the Peepal here is simply bewitching.

  • The secluded verandah under the thick canopy of huge old trees in front of Nizamuddin Auliya’s study room, which lies at the farthest end of the Humayun’s tomb. It is said that it was the saint’s favorite study retreat.

  • And, yes, you will not forget, I hope, the lawns and quiet backyards of the Lodi Garden and the Red Fort, the secluded lemon grove of the Purana Quila and the Mughal Gardens.

  • Last but not the least, take a day off, say goodbye to your vehicle, and take a leisurely stroll along the flower-decked Shanti Path!

This small list of my favorite spring haunts in Delhi calls for some spring songs that communicate the spirit and the mood of these old haunts! Here are two timeless ghazals and a qawwali not to be missed this season:
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3. Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-nau-bahaar chale: written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and sung by Mehendi Hasan

4. Gulshan gulshan shola-e-gul ki zulf-e-saba ki baat chali: written by Asghar Saleem’s and sung by Mehndi Hasan.

5.Kaliyan sang karat hai rangraliyan (a bandish in Raag Bahaar): recital by Ustad Farid Ayaz and Ustad Abu Muhammad Qawwal and party. This Qawwali is a must-listen because it blends the soul of Amir Khusrau and the grandeur of spring ragas in a composition that is simply intoxicating.

6. Raag Hamir Bahar: Ustad Bismillah Khan (Shehnai). If you have an ear for the Indian classical, check out this composition, which has no parallel, to the best of my knowledge.

To celebrate spring is to celebrate the renewal of life and this lovely season communicates it the most through its colors. If you want to experience it, do visit the National Gallery of Modern Art for paintings that have captured the soul of the Indian spring and its riot of colors. The paintings here by Shailoz Mukherjee, K.K. Hebbar and Amrita Shergill are simply awesome.
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As I sit writing, I watch:  the ‘gold’ in the afternoon air is getting thicker with hours; it feels right now, as if you could cup your hands together and scoop up the sun.  It is truly a golden afternoon. Red-throated bulbuls are chirping outside. They are dreaming of the nests that they would be weaving this spring on trees that are busy singing their age-old afternoon ditties that few notice now. But I have come to love these songs so deeply that one note on the string anywhere and I can tell what it is about. My grandma knew them too; she knew so many of them. What a happy woman she was! She passed away, and with her passed away all the songs she knew and loved. Well, who has time for all that now?  It is a busy and complicated world, my friends! So here’s to the spring and its simple joys – a list of some of the best golden oldies of the Hindi Cinema in memory of the good old days:
  1. Ye din kya aaye lage phool hansane: Chhoti si Baat

  2. Gunguna rahe hain bhanvare, khil rahi hai kali-kali: Aradhana

And here are a couple of songs from the nineties and the twenties:

  1. Rang de basanti: Rang de Basanti

  2. Ye mausam ka jadu hai mitawaa: Hum Apke hain Kaun

Beyond this golden green silence of the afternoon in my room, I know, lies a busy day that does not understand and respect tenderness. Yes, while birds build their nests and trees sing on this beautiful day, a whole world – completely oblivious of all this – is busy running a race which has no end. And I know, this world will never know life and its renewal; it will never know its songs of joy and rejuvenation. But I have decided to listen to them, to listen to all of them, and live my life with simplicity and grace in their honor.
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