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HOW SUNFLOWER SYNDROME DRIVES US

Nithya Rajendran

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I once noticed a picture of a vast field full of sunflowers, each one of them unerringly looking at the sun. It was a beautiful sight, not just visually but also symbolically, for we humans are no different. If they were sentient beings, one could imagine a thousand babies looking up at their mother with complete trust and earnestness.

I came across the very touching story of Nick Vujicic, an Australian man born with no limbs. Yes, no legs and no arms. His books, ‘Life Without Limits’ and ‘The Power of Unstoppable Faith’ took the world by storm, and to this day, he continues to travel the world inspiring millions to find meaning in life. His zest for life is infectious, and he speaks at length about how each life is precious no matter the challenges thrown in front of it.

Another example I can think of is of Nightbirde, a stage 4 cancer patient with a two percent chance of survival who powered through one of the most popular American reality shows ‘America’s Got Talent’ with her powerfully soulful rendition of ‘Its Ok’. This was a song she composed to support herself through her struggle with the disease and drove her to fight hard for her life. This is yet another testament to the zest for survival and the drive to find meaning that defines us as human beings.

We as human beings are not just biological organisms. We are souls who are bound by one purpose, to find meaning and purpose through our lives on earth, and by doing so hopefully, get closer to God. All of us are in constant pursuit of that powerful meaning, and our desire to not just survive but thrive and live through our worst times including the World Wars and most recently Covid is a testament to this powerful drive. We are like those sunflowers looking up at the sun for meaning and purpose.

In classical music, as performers, we elaborate a Raaga (a melodic scale) in such a way that all creative phrases lead up to a particular climax point note in that Raaga. Most often it is ‘Sa’ or the first note of the octave. While elaborating the phrases it can seem to the listener as if all the other notes in the Raaga behave like the sunflower—always looking to go towards Sa. Almost like the hidden life meaning that humans search for lies in that climax point ‘Sa’. It is the subliminal identification with this analogy that is the reason I believe classical music, when sung or heard, has the power to move us so powerfully. The Sunflower Syndrome, as I have now begun to call it, is a powerful force that drives us.

The similarity between the pursuit of Sa in Indian classical music and the ‘Sunflower Syndrome’ doesn’t end here. The life of a classical musician behooves him or her to develop all those attributes that are conducive to finding that powerful meaning, or the ‘Sun’. Endlessly pursuing ‘Sa’ through Riyaaz practices is one example. A life of dedication, work and sacrifice towards one single goal makes a person spiritually ready to find her or his ‘Sun’. A classical musician has to live that life every day and in return is gifted with the ability to find his life’s meaning symbolically through the perfection he or she achieves through the music.

No matter what else may differentiate and divide us, we will always be spiritually united like sunflowers in our pursuit of our Sun. And this fact can become as clear as day if we can immerse ourselves in the ocean of Indian Classical Music.

The writer is a vocalist of both Hindustani and Carnatic Classical music, with over three decades’ experience. She is also the founder of Music Vruksh, a venture to make classical accessible for its aesthetic and wellness benefits.

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