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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 1, March 2019

Geetashree Chatterjee
Delhi, India

Baul Song

Prayer time, in Bengal, is always mesmerizing. Our daily routine of blowing the conch shell during morning and evening prayers is what we cannot do without.

I pick up our conch shell – its cold, pristine body soothing to touch. Every household has a shell of its own of varying size – small, medium, large. As morning creeps in and evening falls, the sound of conchs from every hearth criss-crosses the sky in varying decibels, reminding God of his devout.

“I wonder why do we have to blow the conch shell during prayers,” I ask grandma, “Communion with God is supposed to be in silence, isn’t it?”

“It is auspicious," she replies.

But as with the Muezzin’s call, loud and clear, tearing the sky, from the Mosque at different hours of the day or the cry of the Sufis with their high strung songs, traversing the third octave effortlessly, blowing the conch shell in the twilight hours of day and night is like having a conversation with God in code language.

If we are lucky, we may have a Village Baul – a Sufis of the East, knocking at the door, begging for alms – his anklets dying to burst into a pirouette and his one-string instrument, the ektara, thirsting to tingle with a soul searching rendition, again a one-to-one communion with his Lord. My sister would demand a song first before we fill his cloth bag, hanging by his shoulder, with food. He would not need much coaxing - his sonorous lilt reaches up to the clouds and his ankles twirl involuntarily in cosmic rhythm.

But a village Baul is a rarity in our city. Here, only the sound of the conch is so inherently associated with prayer bells and devotional songs, and lacking that sound, prayer time seems deprived of soul.

After my mother’s surgery, I asked the attending oncologist, “Will she be now able to blow the conch shell during prayers?” She was frail and weak after the operation. We were worried whether her lungs, prone to bronchitis, would be able to sustain the pressure from blowing the conch shell.

Unfortunately, though an intrinsic part of our prayers, none of us siblings had picked up the art of blowing the conch shell. Whenever we would try, it would sound horribly out of tune. And now without the melody of the conch, our prayers would appear bereft of its essence.

The doctor looked mildly surprised. He belonged to the Northern part of the country where the rituals were different. Would he know about the music of the conch shell and what it meant to our ears, heart and soul? We waited with bated breath to hear what he had to say.

His reply came like a swish of fresh breath, “Oh yes!” he said, “It’s good exercise for the lungs.”

baul song
his high notes strung
to his anklets

Editor’s Note: I thought readers might enjoy hearing some of the sounds depicted in this haibun.



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