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With both Rhyme and Reason
A page of prose is difficult to recall, whereas even long poems are easily remembered and recited. Poems are remembered for a lifetime. During our morning walks, a few of us music lovers challenge each other, to sing very old songs, even from early 30s or 40s.

When the song is on the tip of my tongue, but just doesn’t come out, I start humming the tune. Mysteriously, I remember the song somewhere from the middle and get going.

Finally, I sing the song right from the beginning. This is a universal phenomenon. But today’s film songs cannot be recalled even after a fortnight, because mostly they have neither Reason nor Rhyme!

It is so easy for me to remember, that it was in 1492 that Columbus had set out on his historical voyage, simply because my daughter had been taught the following rhyme in school:

‘In fourteen hundred and ninety two,

Columbus sailed the ocean blue’.

We Indians are very good at doing mental calculations. By the time a German colleague took out his slide rule, I would have jotted down the answer. This is true for most of us. What is common in all these examples, is the fact that human mind is most relaxed and receptive when inputs are in certain rhythms.

As children we learnt our multiplication tables (‘paharas’, we called them in Hindi). We were taught to recite these tables in a sing song way - the best way to learn tables, not only of whole numbers but of fractions, too! Toddlers pick up Nursery ‘Rhymes’ easily, compared to what they would have learnt, if they were told the same thing as a narrative.

As children, our grandmother did not serve our breakfast, unless we had recited a few ‘chaupais’ of Tulsi Ramayana. We sat in a row on our mats and kept our copies of the epic on a folding wooden stand and recited with her. The ‘chaupais’ are to be recited with a certain rhythm and cadence. To this was added another very vital element. While reciting we were swaying our bodies back and forth. This added yet another element of rhythm and receptivity.

In ‘madarsa’s also, we see children having their Koran Sharif on a folding stand and swaying back and forth while reciting. All religions and ancient cultures had understood this body-mind nexus and it is evident in chants of all religions.

A swami’s ‘pravachan’ or a sermon from the pulpit is less remembered, but the essence of the theme if set to music, stays with us forever. After the day’s work was over, our house helps and gardener, would sit under the tree and sing long ballads about heroism of Rana Pratap, Jhansi ki Rani or Ramayana, all because they had heard these in ‘song’.

Balladeers have existed in all parts of the world, who sing of the valour and exploits of their mythical or historical heroes. The ability of Rajasthani bhopas to recall and recite poems thousands of lines long captivates the author William Dalrymple.The ability of Rajasthani bhopas to recall and recite poems thousands of lines long captivates the author William Dalrymple.

In communist USSR, yoga was banned and even people doing simple ‘asanas’ were jailed. That was for the public. The total reality was something different. During the bitter Cold War, the West learnt that very secretly Russians were carrying out intense research on not only Hatha Yoga, but also on meditative practices, Raj Yoga and Tantra etc. They were looking for keys to breed ‘supermen’, to outdo the American prowess.

Volumes have now been written about this, after Gorbachev’s glasnost. Much before that, risking their lives two American researchers stole into Russia and Romania. In 60’s I picked up two books by them on secret research being done by a Romanian scientist.

Here I will confine myself only to Learning and Memory. The classroom ambiance was important: in dimly lit room, in the background was classical instrumental music played with very low volume, so as not to distract the student and the seats were like any class seat, except that it was a rocking chair. The students learnt to sway their chair to the beat of the music subconsciously.

In a neurologist’s language, this combination generates Alpha waves in the student’s right hemisphere - a condition in which student’s body and mind was most relaxed and receptive to the academic inputs and etched in their memory. It enhanced creativity, too. A new subject was assimilated by the students much faster than any known method. This came in handy for training spies in short time, to learn and speak alien languages, without accent.

They were made familiar with hotel menus and newspapers etc, so that they could easily be mistaken as locals. All depending on which country they were assigned. At the end of one of these books was a list of readily available records of music, which go well when studying.

In Indian Classical music the recommendations were for ‘alaaps’ of certain Ragas. And in Western Classical music it was ‘Largo’. Both have slow movements. These days fusion meditation music is also recommended. It is generally accepted by scholars, that Rig Veda is by far the earliest speculation of the humans, about the nature of our existence and its creation.

For thousands of years the Vedas and other literature has been orally transmitted from master to the disciple. When books were not prevalent, if orally transmitted body of work was to survive, then it had to be flawlessly memorised. They discovered that their thoughts had to be expressed with certain cadence and rhythm. Chanting of ‘shlokas’, was the only way to preserve our rich heritage.

So, there is a Reason to Rhyme, for stowing knowledge over the long haul!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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