Hameed Zahran – a requiem for another mother’s son..

Hameed Zahran – a requiem for another mother’s son..

I didn’t know there was space in my heart for another mother’s son but there was.

Hameed Zahran was my son’s batch mate from law school – I never saw him face to face but his zest for life, music and fellowship flowed through my son’s mentions many times. I learnt, between work, cooking and a hundred other things we do in a home, that he loved composing his own music, sang often, carried his guitar with him and loved to travel.

And that he was the soul and the sound of almost every singing competition. That he could sing in Sinhala and English too. That he sang with gusto and fervour, a young man whose talent was more than a measure of his capacity to give of himself to others.

When on Thursday the 02nd of March, one day after Lent started, my son suddenly burst in on me and told me that his friend had died, the shock of it just took my tiredness at the end of a long work day, away.

How? I wanted to know. What happened? How does a lively 22 year old die like that?

To cut a long story short, he just happened to be at the beach side, accompanying two other friends looking for cardboard boxes for an event, when along comes two policemen who choose to frisk him on the rail tracks. Hameed hands the policemen his wallet and the phone and the next nano second, a train comes along and hits him in the back.

He dies 24 hours later in hospital. After an operation in which doctors fought hard to save his life – but could not. His body was damaged too much by the train hitting him at that speed, at that distance.

I try to hold back tears. But they flow freely, as freely as they did when my father passed away almost four years ago.

A son from another mother. His memory stares back at me, his cheerful eyes lighting up the photo on his Facebook wall.

I can’t even bring myself to think of his grieving parents. I heard about the parents having to wash his body before burial as the Moslem custom requires them to. What struck me like a thunder was what his mother would have felt, washing him in death, as she did in life as a little boy.

I could feel the beat of her heart, being torn apart, muscle by muscle, vein by vein.

No mother would want to go through such pain. It was not just unbearable. It was unneccesary ; and in vain.

One more conversation, one more song from his carefree style of singing, his hair flowing, his eyes glowing , one more moment of living a vibrant life, one he was snatched so soon from.

His friends remember Hameed the patient listener, the wandering free spirit, the friend who always had a smile. And a song. And a word of comfort.

A gracious soul, vivacious in life.

Grief has no words. It does have a place, one that squeezes everything out of you.

As I write this, I try to hold back the tears. I never knew him – I only knew him through my son’s words. Yet his spirit reached out and touched me, a young man whose zest for life, for music and for friendship descended through it all.

Who was responsible for his death? Why did he have to go so early?

Those are the questions his friends, as would-be lawyers are asking. They will undoutbtedly  find their answers.

Until then, goodbye sweet prince – may the turf lie gently over you.

You live up there, in the clouds, where you would serenade Heaven with your music.

Down here,  your friends will always miss you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Danno Budunge, Hymn for Sri Lanka & Opera

Of Danno Budunge, Hymn for Sri Lanka & Opera

The perfect delivery of the much loved Danno Budunge in operatic style was done with both aplomb and finesse by Kishani Jayasinghe, a soprano whom we should all be proud to call a fellow Sri Lankan.

The story that goes even further, despite the ire of many social media users, is that the original melody of the Danno Budunge was the beloved Hymn for Sri Lanka, penned by Rev. W.S Senior back in the early part of the 20th century. The hymn is still sung in churches throughout Sri Lanka. Rev Senior was an educator in the style of pioneer men and women from Europe and USA who went out to the world – he was the Vice Principal of Trinity College Kandy and contributed immensely to that school.

This, really, is not about Rev Senior, the Hymn for Sri Lanka, Danno Budunge or the stellar reputation Kishani has as a soprano whose voice and talent has put Sri Lanka on the map. It is more about who we are as a nation, where we are and where we are going. About what values we are passing on to our children and in which ways we can connect to the rest of the world.

For some of us, anything western is anathema – but migration to a western country is not. It’s perfectly ok to have children here at home in Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world who cannot pronounce Sinhala properly but it is not ok to sing a Sinhala song in any other style but the one it is sung in.

It’s ok to drink frizzy drinks and eat fast food – pay no heed to the mantra to return to healthier food and drinks of our forefathers. It’s perfectly acceptable to throw garbage and ruin the fragility of the scenic environment in Sri Lanka – or invite the dengue mosquitoes to breed with unclean drains and polluted environs.

But it is not acceptable for a Sinhala song to be sung in a different yet perfectly acceptable style loved by half or more of the world out there.

The list goes on – and the list is full of hypocrisy and phobias. After some 2,500 years we are supposed to be proud of – I recently came back from a visit to Polonnaruwa during which I took my 9 year old daughter around the ruins and we both fell swelled in our chests about the feats of our ancestors – we are more inward looking and insecure than we were during the days of kings.

The world runs on innovation. That’s the buzz word for economic, business, social and personal success. Granted we must be proud of our heritage and who we are – but we also must emerge as capable and relevant in the world of today. The ostrich mentality will only serve to sink us further – like some truck stuck in the sands of time unable to get its wheels out of the mire.

The world of today is not limited by race, creed, caste or religion. It combines it all, making a perfectly stirred pot of all nationalities that strengthens and reinforces the hope of humanity. The lyrics of the Hymn for Sri Lanka are penned by a clergyman who loved this land like his own and is buried here, and is set to lilting music by Deva Surya Sena, who pioneered the style of local and traditional singing of Sinhala hymns. The same melody is then transformed into the beauty of Danno Budunge and has enthralled generations with its simple yet profoundly sweet melody.

In a nutshell, this melody connects the nation at many different levels. To me,it embodies the spirit of Sri Lanka as we are – Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem. The true spirit of a nation in which we all share the common space to grow, to work, to gather together to worship our God or gods.

When Kishani Jayasinghe sang Danno Budunge on 68th Independence Day, it was not the first time. She sang it last year, at a concert titled Kishani Sings With Friends – her rendition of Amazing Grace and Danno Budunge were applauded with gusto. But it took a post of her singing going viral to generate the kind of contempt that can only come from a deep sense of insecurity ingrained with a false sense of pride which is contrastingly different from the real love one feels for one’s heritage and identity.

For the generation of today who connect seamlessly via social media and the internet, the world is their oyster. They can relate to all kinds of music, which for them transcends all barriers.

Let us learn a lesson here from the young ones. And they surely have plenty to teach us.

 

 

 

 

The Eagle that landed..

The Eagle that landed..

Growing up in the Seventies was a lot of things to a lot of people. AM Radio, bellbottoms, tight shirts and afro hair dos – and of course, great music. Music that has left its own indelible mark in the hall of fame, sealing its status forever. Seventies music. Sweet to the soul.

Music in the Seventies was also about many bands – but one stood out. The Eagles.

I still remember listening for the first time, to Hotel California and the New Kid in Town. The lyrics, some forty five years later, are still crystal clear in my head. The tunes stayed there too. For always.I would come home after school and still in my school uniform, take out my song book (we actually had song books then) and belt it out.

The legendary Eagle was Glenn Frey upfront – the man with the guitar. Of course, the others were there including Don Henley whose duet with Patti Smyth “Sometimes Love Ain’t Enough” was in itself a great hit but Frey stood out for his incredible talent and skill. The world is unlikely, in the opinion of a Sixties born woman who grew up during the Seventies, to see such talent again.

The Eagles marked a historic entry into music for me and my generation. Hotel California and the New Kid in Town were more than songs for us – they symbolized an era, they were anthems we sang in the shower and at home and believed in. We wore denim bell bottoms, rocked our hair, chewed gum and drank Coca Cola, moving with the rhythm. Those were the days without internet, smart phones and YouTube. The only music was heard on the Radio or on the vinyl or the cassettes. But we didn’t mind – the music was too great to complain about anything else.

When hell froze over and The Eagles returned to stage once again in their much celebrated reunion concert during the Nineties, it was a long Oh-my-Gosh-I-can’t-believe-it’s-real moment for the likes of me. They were back and they were The Band as far as it went. I would always watch re-runs of the CD, now hacked, of the line up playing Hotel California – Glenn and Don leading. What a moment it was.

They were and are strictly Seventies men. They didn’t do metrosexual appeal – they had plenty of talent to compensate for. And we loved them for it. The power of Glenn Frey’s voice, the strum of his guitar would forever be etched in our minds as the icons of an era during which the world heard some of the best music created ever.

Today, a generation later, my soon-to-be eighteen year old son, a product of the internet generation with all of the world’s music at his feet, chooses to play Hotel California with his friends. Will always carry The Eagles on his whatever- he- loads- his- music- on- to – the smart phone , the computer or the iPod.Frey on guitar. Nothing else would do because nothing else can even come closer.

It thrills me to know that my son’s generation can still appreciate and understand good music – despite all the noise that passes for music today. That when choosing tracks to play, they would still get drawn by the hauntingly beautiful melodies that rocked the world – from Hotel California to Take It Easy, Tequila Sunrise, Lyin’ Eyes, One of These Nights and many others. Oh, what music and what talent.

I remember the Glenn Frey track of “The Heat is On” from the Beverly Hills Cop during the Eighties. I remember picking up the vinyl from a record store in Bonn, where I was living at the time. Eighties were still great for music but it took a maestro like Frey to bring out a cutting edge hit – in a music scene dominated at the time by the likes of Madonna, Cindy Lauper and Spandau Ballet.

So, Glenn, what an inning it has been – for a talented young man from the Motor City whose life changed in 1970 – and in turn, he changed the flavour of music as we have known it, not just for one generation but many that followed.

Tonight, as the world mourns the landing of an Eagle, rest in peace, Glenn. May the turf lie gently over you as your legacy survives into many generations to come.