Ujjaini Roy‘s essay: Toeing Lines

“We live on a mountain

Right at the top

This beautiful view

From the top of the mountain

Every morning I walk towards the edge

And throw little things off

Like car parts, bottles and cutlery

Or whatever I find lying around

It’s become a habit, a way to start the day

I go through all this

Before you wake up

So I can feel happier

To be safe up here with you…”

That’s a random lift off from the underrated “Hyperballad”, a rendition by Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk. My encounter with the song was way back when I was a prudish school teacher and nothing but that. I am still a school teacher, but with the changing times and climes of this busy business (read ‘affair’) called education, I had to shed that school-mistressy cloak and wear loose fitting robes that allow way more perspectives and angles (given the soaring temperature of the NCR, this is both literal and figurative). “Hyperballad” came to me as quite a revolting piece of something. I did not even want to call it ‘music’ back then.

And then came that moment when I contemplated the piece from a faraway land, sung by a not-so-known vocalist who is as much into a psychedelic projection of her songs, as she evidently is, into the lyrics bit (a beautiful revelation that came after I listened to the song with extreme focus). The cliff she sings about is the ‘brink’ that our everyday life pushes us toward. It could be the conjugal cliff or the simple staying-alive cliff that beckons us early on in the day and makes us do something that purges out all the yester’s bitterness, inhibitions and misgivings. Just prior to letting our hair down, before we pull it up again and clip and clutch it to fall into neat ramparts of an organised and sorted demeanour, we do that bit of throwing things off the cliff. Pertinent, isn’t it? And let’s not also miss, *when* this little maddening occurrence takes place. It has to happen before the other/s is/are up and about. It is demanded of us that we do not let our vulnerabilities be seen, because if it’s seen and known, it is followed by the next big thing, the questions we start asking ourselves. Why are we doing it? Why does it not become a shared story? Why do we have to look sorted, anyway?

Broken-up skeletal bones set to some jarring, mind-numbing, but sense-booster of lyrics- that’s “Hyperballad”. Today I can easily (and with great aplomb) carry this music into a senior school classroom to discuss dark music that does not essentially sound dark. That one song can so splendidly become the food for some profound reflections on some of the greatest philosophical take on life- life as a dumb show or its perplexing absurdity. Life was never meant to be easy, but these new-generation songs can be such an easy means of taking discussions ahead. And once such discussions begin, stemming from the desired mind-space, there is just no stopping it. The labyrinthine alleys of open-ended discourse are beautiful, dark and deep.

Ujjaini Roy is an impulsive drifter and deep (over)thinker who knows just one thing somewhat well, and that’s teaching school children. Since they say experience matters a lot when it comes to this profession/vocation, it is relevant thus to mention that more than two and a half decade of teaching has made her a better learner, explorer and researcher, than a seasoned teacher. She is still trying to master the art of evolving as a facilitator and reads keenly, re-reads enthusiastically and is extremely proud of her TBR list. She loves Mehdi Hassan as much as she adores Papon and listens to Joni Mitchell, with as much awe as she tunes in to give Coldplay a ear and more. Born and brought up in Calcutta, she carries the south-of-the-city culture vibe in her veins and arteries and is quite a true-blue Bengali wherever she goes.

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