Sunday, February 10, 2008

Blind Singers of Nagpur: Truth in Music

In his memoir of his time running a free medical clinic in one of India’s largest slums, Gregory Roberts recalls the time he first heard the Blind Singers of Nagpur. Stumbling upon a late-closing nightspot on the outskirts of Bombay, he heard a choir of angelic voices singing in Urdu. He describes it this way:

"A gradual silence settled in the room, and then all of a sudden three men began
to sing in powerful, thrilling voices. It was a luscious sound—a layered
gorgeous music of passionate intensity. The men weren’t just singing, they
were crying and wailing in song. Real tears ran from their closed eyes and
dripped onto the chests. I was elated listening to it; and yet somehow I
felt ashamed. It was as if the singers had taken me into their deepest and
most intimate love and sorrow.”

Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram (Melbourne: Scribe Publishing, 2003).

Roberts then retells their sad story. While performing in a remote village, the traveling singers were caught up in a tribal battle and captured by marauding bandits. Along with twenty members of the village, they were captured, tortured, and had their eyes put out with bamboo rods.

Now they travel around India singing Urdu worship songs in nightclubs and cafes. Their effect is mesmerizing. While listening to their breathtaking performances Roberts remembers a local philosopher leaning out and whispering in his ear, “The truth is found more often in music than it is in books of philosophy.”

Source: Michael Frost, Exiles (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 22-23.

Dr. Geoff Pound.