From the Himalayan orogeny to the crystalline Appalachians

Tired out by the daily flood of predictability and insanity in the news, it was a pleasure to come across Mahedra Rathod’s refreshed appreciation of Deepika Padukone.

Rewatching some of her later films, I looked for Chennai Express, but couldn’t find it. Netflix had some of SRKs’ earliest movies, though, and so today was a block of solid masala films.

Masala is a form that hides deep values behind its ebullient layers: things like love, persistence in the face of adversity, loyalty to family and friends (with loyalty to self as the basis for all other loyalties), generosity, playfulness, cleverness, and honesty.

Lost in the story and sound of SRK’s voice, I was surprised when a song rose up in me during Kabhi Haa Kabhi Naa. It was the sound and words of Oh Shenandoah. I tried to sing it, but realized I wasn’t sure of the lyrics. It turns out that because it’s an old, old song, it comes in several versions.

The performance shared here is sung, a capella, by Peter Hollens, in a video set in the country on a wet, snowy day.

The song’s simplicity, the celebration in its melody, and the longing repeated in each of its verses, express something that I also sense in masala movies, and the culture that makes them: a deep sense of place, and a parallel separation that results from social stressors like famine, invasion or war, as well as people’s curiosity, courage, and urge to wander.

That same sense of excitement, challenge, and homeliness is what makes me feel connected to the Himalayan orogeny and its many cultures and histories.

I feel that, living in the Catskills, a northern branch of the crystalline Appalachians, the setting of the Shendandoah River and its Valley, I’m somehow also tied to ancient lives and ways, in the Karakorum, the Kashmir Valley, the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush, Ladakh, the Himalayan foothills, and the orogeny’s watershed valleys.

It’s that connection that pulled Oh Shenandoah from a past usually weighed down by a sentimentality that I resist, to the front of my mind, where it showed me that that sentimentality is nothing more than a throw-away sketch of a genuine, more profound, reality.

People who traveled the subcontinent through the eons, especially when they moved through steep highlands and other difficult terrains, including the Himalayan region, made music with glorious yet simple sounds.

That is similar to what I hear in Oh Shenandoah.

Songs of leaving and coming home, being away and longing to return, supported the rhythms of feet, bodies and trekking animals’ strides, as people moved here and there. What beauty, in human wandering. What poetry, courage and caring, what hardships and love.

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