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Omar Chowdhury
1 April, 2005

We are probably all, in varying degrees, prone to different kinds of self-deception. One of the more outrageous of which, to my mind, is to convince ourselves in a high flight of imagination, that we possess that most magical of talents : the art of singing.

A real social menace is the exuberant person who, alone in a bathroom, assumes the mantle of a great tenor (for example Caruso) and bursts into vocal refrain. I have lived in countless hotels in several countries of the world, and have sometimes suffered moments of audial agony and embarrassment, listening to the lamentable efforts of bathroom songsters to grapple with the canons of melody and harmony, piercing the walls of neighbouring bathrooms, disturbing residents wihin earshot. It is all very well to be a torture to oneself, but why inflict the insult of your voice on helpless victims? These bathroom bores are sometimes carried away to such extremes of abandonment that they may even clap their hands in self applause, although they may actually be only slapping sagging thighs, or bulging buttocks!

Then there is the Party Baritone an otherwise gentle and amiable creature, whom one has always thought of as shy and inoffensive, but get a pretty damsel to cajole him into “giving us a song”, add to this a little alcoholic persuasion, and with a mighty clearing of his throat he will announce :

“I would like to render” (render meaning to tear apart) “The Song Of The Volga Boatmen”.

It is a grave mistake on these occasions to give way to good manners, and make the room reverberate with wholly insincere cries of : “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” This may erroneously lead him to believe that he is being asked for an encore!

Coleridge summed up the whole matter succinctly when, after leaving an opera House, he poetically remarked :

“Swans sing before they die,
‘Twere no bad thing,
Should certain persons die
Before they sing”.

Such apparently were the effects of a shrill Soprano on his vulnerable eardrums!

But in a democratic society (such as ours, for example) one should be entitled, I dare say, to freedom of song, just as one is supposed to be entitle to freedom of speech. But that should not mean that we can license ourselves to bestow on the vibrant air our incapacities in the art of singing.

I must confess in conclusion that I fall into the category of bathroom songsters. Once under a shower I let myself go. An aria or two from Mozart or Verdi, or perhaps snatches of a kheyal or thumri, and I am lost to the world, heedless of the cruelty I may be inflicting on invisible and shocked auditors.


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