We had been in the wilderness for a week, walking through wet, deep palm laden forests of West Bengal, dancing shadows and skipping brooks- youth amid an antique forest.
We were young, running down trails, racing village children.
When we slept, we heard the river beat against the stones, that morphed into circular pebbles: water makes soft edges. When we awoke, we could hear the Whistling Duck wheezing its seasick, love-struck calls. They migrate to Darjeeling in the winter, courting with their mates, gregarious and splashing.
We dreamed of days that we too would be able to migrate-- days with late summer nights in Paris and foggy winters in Delhi.
Falling in love--and staying in love--across an ocean is traveling love. Its the kind of love that dreams itself up, the kind of love that exists in three places simultaneously.
And just when it seems that the ocean is indeed too whimsical, the tide is too high, the stars irrational and unconstant, there is the music-- to call it out, to repeat itself, to bind it together in continuity and to make that invisible connection between countries just through a sound.
He was visiting from Paris, where he plays jazz, and this was us meeting after many months in waiting, in the tea estates and toy trains, places that made sure we’d accumulate nostalgias.
We spent that week in a cloud, we were far away from a city and we didn't care that we were tiny beside the Kanchenjunga range. We were larger than life for each other.
With the Duck’s whistles reverberating in our ears, we returned to Delhi for a night before he left for Paris. It was a Sunday evening, the sun was setting and as we sipped a last beer on a terrace bar, we were quiet – after a week of activity, we were preparing ourselves for the onslaught of another separation, we created an inertia before it happened.
We didn’t expect our state of movement to slide into stillness in such an abrupt way, but we certainly didn’t expect what happened next: our stillness was churned into movement: we heard music, first a whistling duck beside the reservoir below, then jazz, and our ears perked up. We were drifters, and the trio's name was Drift. It seemed oddly synchronous.
Their first piece, appropriately, was John Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice, which drifted into their own piece, Quantime. We were taken, imaginatively, to a big warehouse converted into a bar, that we happened upon in Paris, where John Coltrane of the early years played from the radio, and the ceilings were high and we plotted our futures. On maps.
Jazz as a genre reflects a dream of uniting over oceans, it has traveled from America, through the Europes and more recently, in India since the late 30's. Several eminent jazz musicians traveled through India, playing here, leaving new ideas and new aesthetics behind to explore. The medium itself contains the structure of travel: the set Standards allow for Improvisation. A duo, trio, a quartet, a quintet, however many they are, will play together, sometime without eye contact, but the invisible musical waves speaking between them, and each will, for a point in time, break into a solo. Such is traveling love too, an experience is simultaneously shared and internal. Here we were, in those three worlds simultaneously, still displaced, listening to Jazz by a group that alters the harmonics of older classics to evoke its bebop, blues melodies, and create tunes of their own that leave you counting time-- sometimes nostalgic, sometimes in sync with a ticking clock and other times at a tempo that stirs in the future.
The trio ended with a tune by Avishai Cohen’s El Capitan and the ship at sea, but without the original keyboards, saxophone and trumpet. Their’s is spare: a beautiful double bass, a drum set and a guitar create a visual and aural experience that evokes the expanse of the waters and the melodic rhythm of the waves as they lap against a shore—when a ship sets sail or docks its return.
He left the next day, traveling love, with the bond of two mating whistling ducks or a double bass, with the knowledge that though the oceans separate, they also connect, and that perhaps one day Paris and Delhi will no longer be music, but two notes that form a composition, with a slow overture, like a river chiseling a pebble, then a triumphant orchestra, like village children following behind, and a moment of quiet to celebrate the switch, before the music starts again.
Himali Singh Soin is a writer living in Delhi.
Drift consists of Reuben Narain on Drums, Sahil Warsi on the Double Bass and
Pranai Gurung on Guitars. They are all >40.