Every art form has a dual purpose: it must allow the creator to express a narrative and the receiver to put that narrative into a social construct.
As an art form, music is generically purported to have entertaining connotations, unless there is an element of culture attached to it. Creating a narrative, musically, is rare, but welcome to a ‘woke’ generation, as recently experienced by the listeners of Leela, Meesha Shafi’s new single.
Besides being mellifluous musically and euphonic lyrically, Leela, has deeper layers than most songs, since it is contrived in a shell of simplistic lyrics and a core of complex social realities, with an empowering narration. The lyrical concept is one of a monologue – quite Shakespearian, at that. It starts off with self-doubt and inertia but ends in self-realisation. The song’s title, derived from Sanskrit, means play. In Arabic, lail or laila means, night. However, the word play here, is not what would bring to mind children or some sort of sports. The play here is a play of words, a play of narratives, which are obvious, and yet obscure. The Laila (night) reference is displayed through the imagery and graphics of the theatric quality of the video.
Leela, the song, is divided into five tercets – that is, three-lined stanzas — and two quatrains, four-lined stanzas. Each tercet reflects a different mood and objective of the woman in the ballad. Meesha starts off, addressing the Moon, an out-of-this-world object, which cannot answer her directly, but is the most ubiquitously infinite object not only empowering the screen, burning bright right behind Meesha herself but also outshining an otherwise glimmering singer, dressed in white and glitter. The Moon, the listener is aware, is the teller of time and looked up to for hope and guidance when all else is dark. The conversation begins and the Moon is asked to be the tell-all. The curiosity of the woman, is explicitly boundless — she desires to know how the universe works, nothing less.
Meesha sings in a soft tone, breaking apart the syllables of each word so accurately that the listener can count them, taa-ray; kha-mo-shi. The undertone is resounding submission — to the burden of the magnificent questions. The woman, in the lyrical ballad, and the singer become one once the first three lines are sung. The tempo is raised a little, when Meesha lays down the conditions of the conversational relationship with the Moon: show me the stars – like one would ask for wisps to lead the way. It is noticeable, she does not ask for the stars, without mentioning the word, “all”. She has an express desire to understand the working of the universe, and have access to all the hope in the world, through the stars she wants not just in her vision but also in her heart. That would not be possible, until the Moon opens up the sky. Asking for the sky to open up, is asking for benignity. It is also asking for clearing out of the clouds of confusion or doubt.
True to the title of the song, the play on words continues: the sky is the limit and Meesha has already started off with the limitless – talking to the Moon, keeping the stars burning bright in her heart and then demanding an open sky, in an otherwise claustrophobic world.
It is an even more remarkable set of demands, from here on. Meesha demands to be lifted up above the sky, so the illusions might be erased forever, since the stars, the guides she has been seeking for, must be in the collective form – a galaxy of hope, something she never runs out of, as opposed to the stars she had been looking for earlier. Noticeably, the Moon is asked for favours, but not without setting her own terms, in her own voice. However, once she asks to be lifted above, one cannot help but hear melancholy. From there on, the voice is imploring — she requests the Moon — or the ubiquitous being to tell her quietly all that is going on: a secret maybe, a hush-hush? The submissiveness is noteworthy. She implores further, if not silently, then maybe someone should answer her questions in a murmur, about what all the space is for. The word used for ‘space’ is a play again, on the listener: the space is the cosmos as well as the distance between her and the world she is trying to make sense of. The note on which she ends, khalaa, is one of despair, growing into silence just as the tercet ends.
The musical instruments play a metallic groove as Meesha ascends into the air. While this is floating like an ethereal unearthly form it is also being human without any ground to stand on, a play on the senses. A lonely Meesha suspended in thin air, feeling around the space with her bare hands, learns how to float, transcends and sings. The fact is not avoidable, that the softness of the score transcends quickly into an impulsive one, with Meesha finally hitting the crescendo, that we know her for – singing in the high notes. The questions finally get an answer, not from the Moon but the one asking them, right after she was alone, not one with the Earth or with the Moon, but somewhere in the middle, away from them both, able to look at things from a clearer perspective, detached from everything else and learning to stride.
Thus, the perspective she had been looking for, comes to her!
Meesha starts answering her questions, herself. The surroundings begin to make sense – Meesha realises, it has been her all along — the universe that has been terrifying her, is a mere extension of her being; she realises she is not just a star but holds the light and hope of an entire galaxy within herself. However, the questions of the inquisitive mind are not over yet. She asks again, who do you believe in and on who do you doubt? As if to make a farce of her own question, she answers, “You are Timeless, yet formed out of me!” Meesha goes silent as suddenly as she had hit the crescendos. The chorus – male voices – resound – you are the sky, repeatedly – and it does not escape one, that the voices of the people started off as murmurs, supportive murmurs, for a woman, questioning her being and realising her potential. Gradually, the murmurs turn stronger: You are the Limit, the chorus echoes louder every second. While Meesha whispers continually into the microphone – You – You – You, addressing not only herself but everyone who found their answers with her, forming a collective liberating narrative.
For what is liberation if it is meant for a singular entity?