Like all gifted singers Osman Mir sings as if he is privy to magnificent sounds and captivating visions in the universe that elude the lesser mortals among us. I suppose that is in keeping with India’s great bhakti tradition. Very often bhakti singing is not about musical perfection but about infusing imperfections with pure devotion to whatever the singer is singing to. Of course, Mir hits no wrong notes here at all.
Serendipity, especially that results from technology, has been a favorite experience for me. Two sources which have led me to most serendipitous discoveries in recent years are YouTube and the Google Art Project. Last night after somehow dragging Saturday through the ennui street I was playing Gujarati singer Ismail Valera’s enduring bhajan ‘Mara vhala ne vadhi ne’. This particular bhajan, although a missive to Krishna, has since my childhood heralded the promise of a new dawn. Valera’s a disembodied voice singing this particular bhajan on the radio and occasionally at concerts was a predominant sound. It was while listening to that on YouTube that I saw in the menu on the margin Osman Mir’s ‘Madi tarun kanku.” One knew the lyrics instantly because it was also one of those enduring compositions heard frequently. It was written and composed by Avinash Vyas.
The lyrics may sound a bit overwrought but in the context they exist they work well. In fact, the opening line is strikingly visual. The flaming red powder (Kanku), whose chemical composition I used to know once upon a time, is a signature offering to Madi or Amba, the preeminent Hindu goddess. The idea that the red flaming powder trickles down and the sun (suraj) rises (ugyo) is fraught with a brilliant dissolve in the league of David Lean’s defining cut in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ when Peter O’Toole blows off the flaming match and is cut to a desert sunrise. Oh, it is so easy to distract me.
Back to Osman Mir and his arresting rendition of the song. I think the original was sung by the redoubtable Asha Bhosle. Mir surpasses her rendition from the moment he opens his mouth. It is inspired singing by someone who is in complete command of his artistry and, more importantly, someone who thoroughly enjoys himself. Mir has the advantage of live performance in that he can engage in vocal assertions of the kind that a studio-recorded version does not always allow.
It turns out Mir is a highly popular presence at religious/cultural events in Gujarat and elsewhere and enjoys a very strong following. I think this particular performance took place at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mumbai. The reason this one stands out is because Mir sings it as if he was already singing for himself and we happened to intrude. That’s the thing with all gifted singers. They always seem to be in a perpetual rhythm and melody. It is their default temperament.
Let me point out something for the benefit of some of my non-Indian readers, who may not be familiar with audience members showering performers with hard cash other than at strip joints. It is a longstanding tradition in India and Pakistan where patrons express their appreciation for great singing or any other performance in the form of hard cash. Making it rain is a perfectly acceptable form of art appreciation at such semi-classical and pop concerts. It may be crass but at least it has the merit of helping the performer quantify how well he or she has been received. Of course, this rain of cash is separate from whatever performance fee that the musicians get paid.
So here is to Osman Mir. My penury precludes making it rain but let this post be a token of my appreciation for his obvious singing talents.