An album by Arko Mukhaerjee
The Lion and the Hamster - a modern day fairy tale, told through a set of eight instrumental pieces.
Each piece has a tale weaved around it alongside a hand drawn illustration. It is an attempt to correlate image-music-text as a medium for storytelling. In spite of being complete in itself, all the eight tales are linked to form one fable, independent of space-time continuum. Perhaps a figment of imagination curated inside a restless mind, attempting to escape a reality, too difficult to accept or believe in.
Tracks and instruments used
- Hard to get, Hard to keep, Hard to forget (Ukulele, Mandolin)
- A wet January evening (Ukulele, Guitar)
- Ode to a Hamster (Ukulele, Nylon String Guitar, Mandolin)
- The Birthday Party (Ukulele, Guitar)
- Voyage to Aslan's Country (Ukulele, Guitar, Mandolin)
- Dilemma (Ukulele, Nylon String Guitar, Violin)
- Manouche Wisdom (Ukulele, Guitar, Kazoo)
- Where it all started (Voice)
01Hard to get, Hard to keep, Hard to forget
Listen to the Track:
Once upon a time, there lived a lonely Lion, preoccupied with memories and images of an eventful past. Everyday, a new memory would present itself as a broken image of his past. One day the Lion decided to spin a little story, from some of those random memories and pictures inside his mind. “Memories” he thought, were just like love, “Hard to get, hard to keep, hard to forget.” He had an enchanting diary, which was otherwise blank, kept in front of a wall full of pictures, on a table which also had an old fashioned sewing machine and a cup of herbal infusion. As the Lion drank from the cup and spun the wheel, the diary flipped a few pages on it's own and fixed itself on a page where a colorful hand drawn image appeared.
02A Wet January evening
Listen to the track:
The first memory was of a January evening inside a tropical jungle café. It was the regular hangout of the Lion and his friends. Every evening, he would play a broken old guitar, which belonged to the café for centuries. Together with his friend, a happy Hippopotamus on percussion, he would roar out jungle songs from around the world. It was one of those wet, winter evenings when the café's warmth was refuge to many animals from the jungle, a Fox and a Hamster entered the café. They looked like they had come from the distant woods of a faraway land. Sitting a little farther from the Lion's den, they seemed to have taken interest in the music. As the Lion finished playing, one of them came up to him and said, “Hello I am Hamster. My friend Mr Fox and I are musicians too. Would you mind if he plays a song? ” The Lion hesitated. The jungle was his territory. However, out of courtesy, he nodded and passed on the guitar to the Fox, who picked up the broken old instrument and played a mystic nomadic melody. The beauty of the piece had taken the Lion and his friends by surprise. Before he could ask the whereabouts of the two, the Hamster strummed the guitar and sang a song. As you all might have understood by now, the song was beautiful too, and the voice, gentle, deep and warm, rekindled every little sense of romance within the Lion's heart. There was something strange in the affect with which she sang. It was difficult to figure out where the Hamster came from, irrespective of her impeccable articulation in the way she spoke or sang. Her warm expressions and gaze were not so distant after all.
03Ode to a Hamster
Listen to the track:
The Lion flipped a few more pages from his book of memories to an ancient forest path surrounded by tropical hills. It had been a while since their first meeting, and the Lion had come to visit the Hamster in her temporary abode in the tropics. It was a bright late afternoon full of warm sunshine. The sound of the birds filled the air. The Hamster and the Lion were strolling down a rocky path. A milestone along the edge of the hill read Sahyadri. “It's beautiful, innit?” said Ham as the Lion casually nodded and whistled an oriental tune. “How do u do that?” asked Ham smiling. The Lion smiled back, lifted his front paws to tackle his curly mane and said proudly “I get it from my father. I can whistle almost all that I can sing.” They smiled at each other as the Hamster said excitedly “Have you heard the song Sahoundra? It is a song I learnt in Madagascar!” and sang the song effortlessly. It was sheer poetry! The vibrations in her voice, the relentless cry of birds, the welcoming warm breeze, created a feeling the Lion had never felt before. As if every rustle of the leaves, every hustle of the wind, every little stone underneath him, were singing an ode. An Ode to a Hamster. A Hamster, more beautiful than anything that had happened to him.
04The Birthday Party
Listen to the track:
Pondering over this beautiful memory was not a wise idea the Lion thought. He looked at an empty blue wall in his room and sipped on the herbal potion. Meditation had taught him to observe and be aware of memories. It taught him, not to rest on a single memory for too long. Especially, if it was too beautiful to forget. He thought, this next one was funny, when he remembered the contorted face of Gean the Crow. She had screamed out to little Lemur “Do not turn the lights on Lim! It's my nest and electricity costs!!” The whole family had taken refuge at Gean the Crow's for a month or two! The Hamster was homeless. Gean the Crow was an old friend of hers. The Lemur was her smallest child. And while they thought Gean's offer to let them stay in her expensive nest would be purely out of the goodness of her heart, reality painted a different picture. The story started, as the second child of the Hamster, a white Chimpanzee with blue eyes had been gruesomely attacked by a bunch of Gorillas in the dark forest. The white Chimp was the apple of the Hamster's eye. A very loving monkey, the Chimp was deluded by the thought that he was a wild black Gorilla and was consumed by the will to prove his prowess and identity. How could the Hamster stay away from her own beloved Chimp? A mother after all. She would not permit the Chimp to stay any further in the Gorilla invaded jungle. And there they were, bestowing their faith and trust on a selfish Crow obsessed by money, social status, dresses, jewelry, painfully consumed by her pride. She had secretly asked for four hundred twigs a month as rent from the Hamster and made her do all the washing & cleaning inside her shining nest. They would sleep on the cold floor with the heating tactfully shut down at night. The Lion was heartbroken at the sight when he had first arrived in the cold woods of Stroud in the middle of March to see her beloved Ham and her two little ones in such agony. The Chimp would revolt every night asking his mother to let him go. But where would she let him go? Amidst all the grimness and anxieties, the only wonderful occasion to cheer them up was the upcoming birthday of the Hamster. The Lion thought, it would be the best opportunity to bring the whole family together. The Hamster had unconditionally loved him. It was high time she was made to feel how special she was. The ones invited to the party were Mama Cuddles the Loopy, an eccentric funny Hen who also happened to be the Hamster's mother along with Beaver the Free, Ham's beloved oldest son. As they all got busy planning surprises, the most unexpected response came from the Chimp who said proudly “I'll make the Fatoush Salad for mumma”. “What a family!” the Lion thought. The world's quirkiest gathering, wasn't it? A Hamster, a Lion, a Beaver, a Chimpanzee and a Lemur! Amidst all the plans and excitement, the only creature who looked unhappy was Gean. The Crow sat on the top of the nest making envious remarks and began to exercise authority in every way possible. The day finally arrived. Everything was going according to the plan. The Hamster was moved to tears, to find out the beautiful Beaver as the final surprise in her birthday treasure hunt. By the time it was sundown the controlling nature of the dazzling Crow had turned rather funny for the inhabitants enabling the white Chimp to discover angry gestures in the air as soon as she would leave the kitchen. Mama Cuddle would tactfully avoid the situation saying that she needed a glass of water and then pecked away to glory. Finally when the cake arrived, the Lemur lit up a few lamps in excitement for his mother to be able to look at the beautiful handmade cake. And just when the wishes were being made and the cake was heading for a blissful destiny, they all heard a sharp loud voice. “Electricity costs in my nest”, as if they were all in a primary school. What followed were the pecky movements of a Hen followed by a weird rotation of her eye balls as if she was about to have a dyslexic fit, unique funny gestures and newly invented signs from the Chimp that should be included in the book of abusive semiotics, and everyone shouting out together completely ignoring the Crow, “Happy Birthday”.
05Voyage to Aslan's Country
Listen to the track:
The Lion had spun the sewing machine wheel and travelled through woods, alleys, jungle brasseries and pubs, hilly paths, wooden dens, sunflower fields, cobbled streets and unknown river beds sometimes stopping for seconds on images of the west country wild ciders, mosaics of fish and birds, tree houses, frosty full moon nights, falling stars, alpacas, an amateur jungle choir being trained to sing by a big white bear until it stopped on a bright sunny summer morning. They were finally going. The Big boat had been repaired. The rusted name plate read Berlingo. It was the Hamster's old steamboat. They had finally managed to put the damaged pieces together and were all set to visit the Promised Land. While getting up on the boat, the Hamster smiled at the Lion and said “Oh Leon!! Such an amazing adventure awaits us!”. The Lion smiled back and replied, “One day we'll be old, sitting in our little home in Aslan's country, looking back at these adventures”. Aslan's wisdom had beckoned them. The Lion had read in the ancient book of wisdom about the philosopher's stone that would enable access between the worlds at a mere wish. They had to acquire it in their journey to ensure they could reach out to the Lemur, the Chimp and the Beaver, using the magical portal the stone provided. He knew it was the only way. Their love was too powerful to be contained in a society crammed with definitions. They were destined to be in the beautiful country of Aslan, the wise. He had read of never ending lush green pastures surrounded by forests filled with wild berries and sweet water springs. They knew that they had to go a long way to sail through the seas of time, the storms of age, the waves of envy and the enchanted islands. But they had music. Sitting by the edge of the cabin they sang together “Can't you see what love has done to me? ”
Listen to the track:
It was a bright clear morning. After months and years of sailing, through the tidal waves and islands of enchanted spells, the warmth of the sea breeze and a blue sky above was more than joyous. They had mastered hunger, nausea and a never-ending whiff of salt. They were used to storms, giant waves, and sea monsters. Nothing surprised them anymore. Infact a beautiful clear breezy day was so unexpected, that they found it hard to get up. Curled up against each other they had gone off to sleep on the deck itself. A few days back they had been glorious in reviving the stone from the enchanted islands. Now all they had to do was to take it to Aslan. He would surely help them break the enchantments of the stone. The Hamster slept under a blanket. The Lion got up and looked around. He saw the messages sent by the Lemur in the little magical box. It was a port key, a device used for magical communication. He was secretly in touch with the Lemur and the Chimp through the box, all the while. Before he could go through the messages, his attention was caught by a dazzling golden light that came from the east. He first thought it was the sun, having not seen it for days. But he soon realized, it was coming from a far away island. Glowing in the golden sunlight, was Aslan's Country! They had made it! He rushed to the edge of the deck to have a closer look. It was an extraordinary sight. Green meadows and hills, stretch of palms and a golden tower shining in the centre. Cair Paravel!! He shouted “Ham! Get up! We have made it!” He had to wake her up to congratulate her. “Haaaaam!!! We did it!” He went jumping & whistling to the sleeping Hamster and shook the blanket in excitement. What he saw made him loose his balance for a moment. It was a little rag doll inside. The Hamster was gone. There was a letter tied carefully to the doll's hair. It read “Dear Leon. I have seen you struggle all these months & years trying to make my life perfect. I have seen you fall miserably ill. I can't let you do all that any more.
I know you will find it hard to believe that I have left so abruptly. My true priorities lie with my little Lemur and I can't have you responsible for us any more. My father had left me and my mother before I was born. I can't leave my children. We are deeply grateful for what you have done for us by bringing us together. But it is my family and I will be taking care of it until things stabilize. If destiny permits, one day you and I shall be together. Lots of Love. Your Ham”.
Oh Ham, honorable, it sounds indeed. Like in fables and fairy tales. Where years of suffering can pass with a swift turn of a page. But in reality? Or was it a fairy tale too?
Listen to the track:
“Too long my friend!” said the voice inside the Lion's head. He was back in his room and the magic wheel was still. “Do you really think you can revisit it all? Do you really think that you still have the same reasons to go through it all? Isn't the agony of those memories precious enough to be saved for longer? They are fading my friend.” He looked at the wall in front. Some of the images had changed. He smiled, gulped down the remaining bit of the potion and gave one final spin to the wheel. The pages of the diary flipped again. And finally he fixed his eyes on a picture of himself sitting on a cliff with a strange looking creature resembling a human, wearing a three piece suit, sitting with a guitar. A deformity in his left hand suggested that the third & the little finger was severely burnt and joined together. It was hard to believe that this creature could actually play music. But what he played was like a melody that would usually come out of a violin or a Persian kamancheh, a little bowing instrument. The melody was perfectly melodramatic bearing heaps of passion and pain, yet felt so emotionally complete as if telling the Lion's entire story to himself. He had never heard such strange vibratos. It dug deep into his heart bringing out every inch of mourning he had in store. He didn't realise how long it went on until he felt the sea breeze blowing into his nostrils and everything had gone silent.
“Who are you?” asked the Lion. “My dear friend, in different worlds people call me by different names,” the man replied.
But isn't this Aslan's Country?
This is. Indeed.
Where is Aslan? The wisest of us animals.
My friend, in the fables told in your country, Aslan surely is a Lion. That is how you imagined him to be. But in this place, nothing, not even an imagination is restful. It is constantly wandering. Like imagination should be. Like the wind and the falling leaves. Only the wind knows where the leaf would fall. Wasn't your voyage meant to find you an imaginary land??
Yes! But, I don't know who you are… or rather what you are.
Once upon a time in your imagination I was Aslan. A Lion, wisest of your kin, wisest of all. Today they call me Django, the Manouche.
Dear Django, How do I find peace?
My beautiful friend, I will tell you something an imaginary friend of mine called Jalal had once told me several years ago, before I was born. Do not ask me how. That is for you to imagine. My friend had predicted that many years after my birth, I would burn my fingers one day and lose my beloved forever. He said, “My dear Django. The wound is where the light enters you”.
The Lion stared into Django's eyes. They were warm, yet empty. Someone whispered into his ears “Wake up my beautiful Leon”. For a moment, he thought it was the Hamster. But before he could think or reply, everything around him started changing. The voice of the Hamster was slowly turning harsher. The picture dissolved into a vast cesspool of thoughts. The Lion tried to come out from the book of his memories. He could not. The herbal potion had finished. He realized that it was the only way to come back.
08Where it all started
Listen to the Track:
It was a gloomy monsoon night in Calcutta. A young man was lying on the street corner. The place stunk of piss and cheap liquor. A little further away was a jasmine seller trying to sell a bunch of garlands to a young couple, heading home in a cycle rickshaw. A rag picker was walking down the alley with a big sack of rags on his back.
The young man looked down at his walking shoes, lit a cigarette and smiled. He adjusted his mane like hair, whistled a black American ghetto tune he had learnt from his Anglo-Indian friends, and moved on.
I am deeply thankful to all my dear friends and the wonderful musicians, sound engineers and technicians who have helped me tell this tale. The images were hand drawn by Avirup Basu, a friend and an extraordinary artist, to whom I am eternally grateful for bringing my imagination into reality. I would like to earnestly thank Neel Dutt for his unconditional help in editing the text of the entire story. My thanking list also includes Arinjoy Sarkar (Tatum) and Koustav Dey (Tapuli) for being there, morally and musically during the entire time of the album's making and Mr Amyt Datta for being a musical guide to me and many other musicians in my city. Finally, I would like to show my heartiest gratitude to Grinning Tree for all the care they have taken in designing the CD.
List of Musicians
Arinjoy Sarkar – Acoustic Arch Top Guitar, Nylon String Guitar
Diptanshu Roy – Mandolin
Koustav Dey – Acoustic Guitar
Nishad Pandey – Nylon String Guitar
Jonathan Dreyfus – Violin
Emmanuel Simon - Percussion
Arko Mukhaerjee – Ukulele, Kazoo, Voice
The pieces were all composed by Arko Mukhaerjee and mostly recorded at Aural Workstation, Kolkata by Anindit Roy and Adeep Singh Manki apart from the particular piece called Dilemma which was partly recorded at Kusum Studio, Kolkata. The entire album was mixed and mastered by Sayan Ghosh at Studio Outboard. It was tape mastered by Michael Angel, USA. The cover illustration has been done by Bidhan Baidya of Grinning Tree.
This album is dedicated to an elderly accordion player who used to play on the little cobbled street near the Exeter Cathedral, beside a tea bar known as Tea on the Green.
Digitally available exclusively on soundcloud
Physical copies exclusively available at First Flush Gariahat, Golpark.
21/2, Gariahat Rd, Ballygunge Gardens, Gariahat, Kolkata, West Bengal 700019