“The Discovery of India” (From “Gandhi”)

This is one of my favorite things to watch on YouTube, partly because the music is no longer in print and never made the transition to CDs, let alone mp3s, and so YouTube is the only place I can see it easily; and partly because the images that go along with the music are so beautiful.

It’s from the movie Gandhi which came out in 1982. It’s two and a half minutes of instrumental music. Gandhi is traveling across India after having spent the last 20 years in South Africa. He’s accompanied on his train rides by his wife and an English clergyman.

So many things I love about this. Let me count the ways:

— The steady, simple beat is, I think, very accessible to the Western ear. Not to say I don’t enjoy the more usual Indian beat on the dhols that’s reminiscent of a reggae-ton groove; but for my pop-rock sensibilities, that sharp and simple beat sounds great.

— But it’s not all Western: you’ve got that sitar doing amazing things, which blew me away when I watched the movie for the first time last year. I then had a Richard Feynman moment of “aesthetic comprehension” when, during the end credits, I saw that the soundtrack featured Ravi Shankar. “Ohhhhhhhhh, now I know why this music sounded so good!”

— As great as the sitar is, it’s that violin-like instrument that really gets me every time. There’s something so mournful and sublime in its sound that it can bring tears to my eyes.

— And then there are the images and sounds accompanying all this. The film editors masterfully wove in the sounds of the train whistles and pistons in just the right places. I wouldn’t want those taken out for anything. And as for the images: so many amazing, beautiful shots.

Incidentally, it’s amazing to think that the rural India of 1982 really doesn’t look much different from the rural India of 1915. Probably the filmmakers had to cut out some anachronistically modern vehicles that rolled into their shots; but I’ll bet they didn’t have to do so all that often.

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