Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chants in the key of life (and death...)

Now that the Pranayama course is over (I'm still breathing...) I am spending time at home during the day. My desk is situated beside the small balcony's double doors, which are open to to the street and its sounds below.

This place is rich in vibration. Life is teeming from every direction. Voices rise and fall, motor bikes start with a loud clatter and drive away, leaving quiet in their exhaust. Jets seem to fall from the sky, aiming for the airport nearby. Sounds seem to mirror how temporary and changing everything is, even life, which comes like breath across the vocal cords, vibrates through melody and tones before ending into at least a moment of silence.

There are men whose job is chanting, sort of. They have a mantra particular to their wares which they pull, push, or ride down the middle of this cozy residential street. So far, there has been a tailor who pushes a sewing machine (!) and has a particularly nasal call, in Tamil, the most common language spoken here. There is the coconut man whose cart sits upon a three wheeled bike. His call is more irregular, but louder. There is a vegetable man and another "salesman" with a cart baring what looks like sorted garbage. Possibly, this is the Chennai version of recycling. One man chants clearly, some word I do not know, a long call on every breath. You can count time to it and the sound is clear, piercing almost, and sounds like a spiritual practice. These voices come and go.

When I am not here studying or chanting myself, I go to the Mandiram for private chanting lessons. I have a new teacher, named Kala. My other teacher was sadly called away, as her brother fell while embarking on a train. He bumped his head on the metal step and died immediately, like a song abruptly ended.

I think about her every day. And I think about one particular chant, called the mahamrtyunjaya. It was a chant I left on the CD player in my sister's room while she lay in a coma for three weeks. It is about immortality. And how when the moment is perfect for wisdom, for leaving the body, for returning to the body, for anything...it is like the cucumber, perfectly ripe, that falls naturally off the vine without effort. Death can be like that. So can life. Just like a tune that spills off the tongue into song, or a call to a loved one, a curbside jingle or a final good-bye.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful images of life in Chennai - you paint them so vividly!So sorry to hear of your teacher's loss - it really makes you realize how tenuous it all is.
    I can also hear the poetry coming through, along with your wistful thoughts of home. Your room is waiting for you still, just so you know, and I'm going to cook a huge meal for you when you get back.