This essay won the SJU Prize for the Personal Essay 2023 in the school category. The theme was Songs I’ve Forgotten. The judge, noted writer and journalist, CK Meena had this to say: “Shreya Jorapur’s essay conveys the introspective quality of a thoughtful young mind on the cusp of adulthood, analysing her emotions, experiences and relationships. Self-examination, particularly during one’s teenage years, can result in a mere assemblage of opinions and philosophical statements, a standard format much favoured by those who hold school essay-writing contests. Shreya’s essay, despite its many linguistic imperfections, is rife with personal experiences and memories which she narrates with disarming candour, measuring her own growth through her musical journey.”
The pre-teen version of myself clad in plaid flannels and a precocious flair never would’ve predicted that most repeatedly played songs on my Spotify account now are adult standard and serenades. The ‘allergic to romance’ attitude, fueled by angst-ridden hardcore music, would’ve disapproved of such taste in an instant.
My quadruple family of music enthusiasts set off on road trips quite frequently, be it towards the maternal native, Hubli or a recreational short trip destination. Bluetooth-enabled car speakers are undoubtedly our favourite innovation. The first few hours of the chilly mornings would be soundtracked by my sister and I’s playlists, with our amateur dancing skills replacing their music videos (in a dethroning manner, surely). Early 2000’s Bollywood and nostalgic Western tunes truly were my undefeatable preferences at the time, with a little undistinguishable rap thrown in by my persuasive friend- peer pressure.
After having an elaborate discourse on what our memorable, deserving closing song would be, I’d begin unfolding my cats-and-dogs blanket to put myself to sleep; solely because I knew my father’s turn to be DJ was approaching. His collection consisted dominantly the likes of Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, and such. These names ignite fondness and admiration in me now, but just a few years ago, all they provoked was a vexed expression and a long nap.
A couple years ago, the four of us sat reclined in our living room, watching Indian Idol past 10PM- a lockdown weekend ritual. The episode happened to be a Kishore Kumar special. I had an intuition that I knew these songs from somewhere, or some time. But I didn’t realize the familiarity until my father began singing along to them word-for-word, and hummed the chorus flawlessly. I was taken back to those afternoons on the highways, with him wearing his sunglasses and keeping loose change at hand for the tolls. Having re-acquired a passion for poetry, the lyrics of each track struck me and left me irreversibly in awe of them. Kishore Kumar’s voice in symphony with R D Burman’s composition and Gulzar’s lyrics evoked an intense epiphany in me, made tangible by my watering eyes. Then came Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Mukesh, Udit Narayan and more, forever altering what made music so very essential to me.
The instance made me ponder extensively about how I was so sure in the past that I had my personality and persona all figured out, how I was rigidly adamant that my self-expressive tastes would remain the same. I was so unaware of my conceit and partial knowledge. Looking back in retrospect now, it amuses me how much my sensibilities have changed. Even the music that I only began appreciating recently carries endless memories and reminders. There’s definitely embarrassment and shame knocking on my conscience when I think about 12 year old Shreya and her follies. But most of all, it is amazement at how even despite all the changes, I’m still her, just upgraded. Who knew music could morph into existential philosophy? Who knew I’d have a Socrates-like discussion in my mind regarding the doubtfulness about being authentic and genuine when life induces such dramatic shifts? Symbolism is a default in all my interpretations, and that night of reality TV triggered it towards new heights. All credit to a song that I’d forgotten, but oh-so-fortunately, re-discovered.
There are songs which my cousins and I blasted in the car and sung along to enthusiastically while roaming around Puducherry. There are songs which we swayed to in the back of the Innova while travelling to Sakleshpur. And there are songs which replayed on the 9XM music channel in the background while I sat reading novels atop the windowsill in my aunt’s house in Pune. I possess not the faintest guess of which songs those are, or their artists. But perhaps if someday I remember, I’ll have a flashback to what I was thinking at the exact moment a lyric came on, or what monument we spotted while humming the lyrics we couldn’t pronounce.
There are mountains of memory and oceans of depth hidden beneath the simple scales of a song. That is precisely why the ones etched in my memory feel safe and peaceful – I know the implications they bear and the personal nudges they declare. What I’m afraid of are the songs that I can’t recall, for in them lies the power to unlock the unknown. In them breed the inconsistencies of my remembrance, a sure way to introduce uncertainty in my precarious certainty.
What may happen if I remember the song that my second grade bench mate was obsessed with? Will the tune he hummed constantly gift me an unwanted sadness? I am consistently caught between that dilemma of insatiable curiosity and sickening ignorance. My cousin asked me to play one of those children’s hand-claps and sugar-snaps games a few weeks ago. It took me back to how my friends and I in third grade played it every afternoon, singing the names of chocolate brands with a pinch of mischief and innocence. That small game with my cousin reminded me of how I grew apart from those friends, and how I wish we could share our lunches with the same sweet simplicity again.
A similar occurrence took place once again a couple years ago. While shuffling through my liked songs on Spotify, a Linkin Park track played aloud, almost making me time-travel to seventh grade and its teenage tragedies. I couldn’t help but let out a subtle chuckle when I recalled that I had promised to listen to that song each day and lament the relatable agony that I felt. Time and music helping me zoom out and assess my past personalities is a humbling experience that I don’t quite think I’ll escape throughout the course of my life. I may never completely grasp how an inexplicable intensity about something transforms into lighthearted reminiscence… but the role music plays in those anecdotes will soothe me, like always.
Attachment is one of the most powerful emotional experiences we undergo. Attachment to places, to materialistic entities, but mostly, to people. The merging of music and meaningful connections is an inevitable one, for the urge to dedicate a song to a person or associate them with it is a consuming one. The songs my family sings together when enjoying Karaoke will forever be linked to them. The songs that my classmates screamed out loud on the bus on the way to our field trip will always echo their voices. There are endless comparisons like these, and it is a beautifully practice that human beings are drawn towards. The closeness in these relations heighten the warmth of such musical similes, but on the unfortunate flip side, that one song can possibly lose all of its specialty and poignancy. Ceased relationships and unfulfilled expectations can severely alter the bond we have with those songs, from one of togetherness to one of separation. The songs I listened to past midnight with perfect lyrics become distant and just a longing. The songs my friends declared ‘our friendship songs’ wear away into indifference. The very masterpieces that made banalities feel like miracles now turn banal themselves. Time withers them away, but the soul never lets us forget. We may be transient with our reminiscence, but a single indication sparks the stories buried within us, withstanding and ingrained.
I still yearn to remember every song I’ve listened to, still yearn to re-live the sentiments that accompanied the moment, despite the ironically pleasant turmoil that follows. I like to think of these forgotten songs, familiar perfume fragrances, and identical colours of people’s eyes as indications by fate to never undermine the inescapability of our past. Whether that is a blessing or a curse is something we must opt to believe for ourselves. A verse and a voice can let out more than detailed descriptions can. Forgetfulness guises itself in countless ways, each of its redemptions precious in their own way.
Our family visits a temple in a town called Yalgur once every year. Multiple years’ worth of recollections make their presence known just by the sound of the devotional songs chanted over there. Nostalgia becomes tactile as I remember the heat, the calming mantras, and the resonant bells- all amidst the intricate paintings visually narrating epic tales. The weekly Saturday ‘Pooja’ at our house makes me think about the music-memory correlation yet again. The words of the prayers that I didn’t intentionally memorize come naturally to me, like signals from something poetic.
Like Mohammad Rafi soulfully sings in Hindi in ‘Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar’,
“In the path of life,
In the passions and desires of young hearts
A great many challenges shall arise
Which shall relentlessly test us
Please don’t misunderstand me;
This is love, not reproach”
Forgotten songs which stumble in are just like those challenges – may they bring affection or agony, their purpose is always love. Love for the past, or love for the present. Above all, love for oneself amidst all trickles of time.
Perhaps songs are metaphors for the milestones of our lives. Perhaps one day our lifetime will be encompassed into that one piece of musical art. “Play this song at my funeral”, show the world how all my significance can rest housed within an artist’s creative endeavor.
The songs I’ve forgotten are the ones which echo the longest. The songs I’ve forgotten are the ones which plague me with the urge to revert to a past time, or with the gratitude of having gotten past it, simultaneously.
My life is a story narrated by the clefs on the black and white sheets of music notes. It is the medley played on the keys of white and black on a keyboard. It is a musical broadcasted on a black and white TV screen; scattered with vintage songs and coy gestures. A venture marked not only by indelible and memorable songs, but the forgotten ones too.