Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Flight of the trapped bumblebee

"Do you know that the famous song 'Itna na mujh se tu pyar jata' is based on Symphony number 40 by Mozart?", a colleague asked me.

"Really? Are you serious? But it is Salil Choudhary's music!", I doubted that such a revered musician will base a song on someone else's tune.

Like most Indians, my knowledge of western music was limited (it still is to a large extent). This is how one by one I learnt about symphonies and songs. It turned out that I knew most of the melodies as inspired Hindi songs, but not the original pieces. 'O my darling Clementine' for 'Ai dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan' or 'if it's tuesday, this must be Belgium' for 'Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko' and that 'dil tadap tadap ke keh raha hai aa bhi ja' was based on a Polish folk song 'szla dzieweczka', were pleasant revelations.

It is always fun when you learn something new that helps you fit in. I was trying to belong to the English speaking and thinking advertising crowd. It is difficult enough for me to think in Hindi, translate it in my head and then speak in English. I had no time for finer aspects of the language.

One day Ivan Arthur (our national Creative director then who loved to use classical symphonies in his presentations) asked me to prepare a tape with 'Beethoven's symphony no. 5' and 'Flight of the Bumblebee by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov' in it for a meeting.

Even though I was hearing it for the first time, symphony no 5 sounded familiar. I had heard it many times in the climax scenes of Hindi movies. Indian audience is actually quite well versed with western classical music. They simply don't know it.

Flight of the Bumblebee caught my attention. I thought it would be a piece about liberation and free spirit. But it felt as if the bumblebee was trapped in a soda-bottle with a rolling marble stopper. (you can hear it after 15 seconds in the following video)

I wondered why a music piece so flamboyant to the heart felt so inert to the body. It was conflicting. I didn't think much about it and prepared the tape.

Sometime later in life I read 'The Diving Bell & the Butterfly' by Jean Dominique Bauby. It is about how he felt when he was suffering from the locked-in syndrome. He had an agile mind in an immobile body. I remembered the flight of the bumblebee. Again, these were just thoughts so I let them pass.

Last week I saw a gem in a museum. A pendant in the shape of a Honey Bee. Eleven precious stones studded in gold. It belonged to the 15th century Vijayanagar empire in Hampi. Secured with two tiny iron nails for display. It reminded me of the flight of the bumblebee again. Trapped.

This time I didn't want the thought to just let by. Why did I always feel that it was in captivity. Why does a grand theatrical piece of music make me stand inanimate while the heart flutters to its beats. What was it about its rhythm that seeps into the soul but the body remains untouched?

I think the Bumblebee represents the ever restless nature of our mind. You can only feel it. You can't see it because it flies far and wide and comes back in a second. No physical state can match that. It crosses continents in the blink of an eye. It reaches the moon and back in a single breath. What business does the body have with the flight of the Bumblebee? So it surrenders. Stands still while the mind makes a winged trip around the world in a snap.

Funny how that turned. In reality, a Bumblebee is supposed to be aerodynamically incapable of flight due to small wings but it still flies! Just like our mind which ignores the shackles of the limited form.


  1. Thanks :) I like your Utopian world too.

  2. Actually Mussorgsky's Flight of the Bumblebee was meant to be a physical experience rather than an intellectual one. It's program music that creates the physical image of a bumblebee. It takes the sensitivity and insight of a Vandana to go to the moon and back. And that will happen with more than just musical stimuli. The sight of a flower, a painting or a bent old lady for that matter will take your mind on journeys. That' because you are who you are. Loved your piece. -- Ivan


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