Thank You Rabi Shankar
Rabi Shankar Died this week. For those of you who don’t recognize this name, he was a very well known sitar player from India who played with the Beatles and introduce an entire generation to Indian music.
I just listened to a show on public radio that played some of his music and interviewed people who he influenced in their music career and life. I was brought back to my first trip to Bangladesh and I feel like I want to put some of my thoughts down so I will remember them. In some ways this blog is my journal.
In the mid eighties, I was doing a product demonstration for some people in Vermont. During the demonstration, of a braille embosser, someone asked me if I knew anyone who might be interested in going to Bangladesh to help set up a small braille production system. I have no idea why but I said I would do it without missing a beet. That demonstration would change my life. I really had not done much traveling at this point in my life. I had a tax refund that I felt I could use to buy my ticket. No one offered to pay my way but room and board was offered.
I could tell so many stories about this trip and who knows; maybe I will come back to it another time. For right now I want to talk about a music experience. There is something about listening to music from that part of the world that just pulls you back and tugs at your heart.
I spent two weeks in Bangladesh. Most of it was spent waiting to get an embosser out of customs so I could set it up, install Duxbury and get them up and running. Lots of great distractions were arranged to fill my time. One day I was driven a very long way out of town to visit a school for the blind. I remember being so hot in the back seat of that car I thought I would be sick. Eventually the driver stopped and got me a green coconut, a hole was put into the shell and a straw inserted. That green coconut water may have saved my life or at least it felt that way.
I have been to a lot of schools for the blind both here in the US and in other parts of the world. If you are blind people really want you to see their local school and kind of use you as show and tell. I don’t remember a lot that made this school different than others in very rural and poor surroundings. However, one amazing experience will always bring this day back to me.
Three or 4 lovely boys stayed with me for the entire tour. They were kind of a combination of guides and shadows. The fact that I was a blind woman from the US really amazed them. At the end of the tour we all sat down in a dirt court yard. One of the boys brought out an instrument that I saw everywhere on that trip. I think it was called a harmonium. It was kind of a portable, table top, organ like instrument. I think at least two of the boys could play it quite well.
They really wanted to sing for me. The eastern music was haunting and their voices were so beautiful. I could have listened for hours.
Then, of course, they wanted me to sing something.
I can’t sing, not a note that ever lands on key. Trust me on this one.
They would not give up.
Finally they said they would sing with me.
Here was my out. I said, I won’t know any of your songs.
I was so wrong.
In lovely full voices, clear English, they belted out WE SHALL OVER COME.
I couldn’t help my self, I sang out right with them.
We attracted quite a crowd of teachers and other students and soon we were all singing.
It brings tears to my eyes just to think of it.
Thank you Rabi.
I did make two more trips to Bangladesh and music filled all of them.