Why music bleeds melancholy

The underlying trait of music is gloominess


Suresh Pattali

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Published: Fri 6 Oct 2023, 12:46 PM

“What’s your latest impulse buy?” Seems like Dr Arun was waiting to poke fun at me. “The last buy, I remember, was a property, the fifth one you bought and sold until there was no roof left over your head.”

“A Bose Soundbar,” I put on an awkward smile. Dr Arun had the right to probe because he’s a physician treating my anxiety disorder.

“Did it make any difference to your life? Did it make you happy?”

I wasn’t sure if he knew the enormity of the questions that he just threw at me, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to answer him in a casual yes or no. How do I convince a medical officer that music and poetry never make one happy? How do I tell him no one bursts into laughter reading Eliot, Dickinson, Frost et al?

“No, it didn’t.” I said emphatically.

“So, two grants down the drain?”

I wanted to yell a big NO. “Do you watch the sunset? Isn’t it so beautiful? But it bleeds sorrow as it gets ruddier? It’s the same with music.” I kept myself calm.

The doctor leaned back in his chair as if he was ready to listen to my sermon. I said I wanted music back in my life, but that does not mean I was a singer once upon a time. Like any fellow human, I loved music and music loved me back as ardently as I did. Back in the day, the only two sources of music were the transistor radio and the loudspeakers that families rented for events like weddings. I chose to do all the boring house chores in the afternoon when Radio Ceylon’s Indian musical programme pepped up my spirits. And the radio remained a showpiece on the dining table when there was no money to buy battery.

I grew up in the company of music. As friends who were blessed with the talent sang for me, music with all its intricacies bewildered me. That’s when I began to envy the singing breed. It took half of my life to pull myself from the maelstrom of misery and transform the envy to respect, and later to worship.

And it took the other half of my life to understand music doesn’t exist to make anyone happy. It’s a spiritual journey for both the musician and the music lover. Music is just a means of communication between the two travellers.

Music has no genre. Nor does it have a language. It’s an emotion that transcends all minds. It’s a devotion that elevates you to an inner experience and helps discover yourself. Music is a pilgrimage to the true you.

The world ceases to exist for me when I am plugged in. Tears roll down when I immerse myself in music. They purify my soul. I slip into trance and tranquillity as I traverse all the nuances of music to enter a world of placidity. I have been to a pub in Singapore where music is more intoxicating than the drinks they serve. No one in the joint talks but listens to a Filipino band who sings like a whisper. It’s not just music unplugged; it’s the universe unplugged.

The underlying trait of music is melancholy. When the last fermata fades into a niente and I switch off the AirPods, what overpowers me is a sense of loss. I feel as if I don’t belong to the people around me. I pity people who offer a standing ovation at the end of a grand concert. As an odd man out, I stay frozen in my seat, unable to shake myself off the overwhelming profundity.

No doctor, music doesn’t make me happy. In many ways, it makes me sad.


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