We’d been to see Anoushka Shankar, me and my older son, the one who’s a musician. Anoushka, daughter of the great Ravi, was in stupendous form, playing sitar with a band that included tabla, the bigger double-ended drum called a mridanga, the flute called the bansuri, a drone and the reed instrument called the shenai that sounds like a woman wailing for her demon lover.
It was the sort of music that sets off fireworks in your head and makes non-musicians ache with jealously that they are not part of the conspiracy of those that makes music, for the pure joy of it and also for the opportunity to exchanges ardent glances at the end of a bar with the vixenish Anoushka.
Now we know how many strings it takes to fill the Albert Hall: up to 21 on a sitar. Anoushka and the boys created a sound that was unreachably ancient and as unavoidably current as right now. Sated with music, we made the journey back to Norfolk. Joseph would reach for his own sitar the following day: I must be content to remain a mere listener.
As we stepped from the car at 2.30 in the morning we heard another sound, sudden and startling like the intervention of the shenai into the established patterns of the music. It was a bird of course, singing from the marsh in the darkness, a Cetti’s warbler. Singing an ancient song that’s all about the living instant.