An intuition of time is at the core of Indian art music. Not ‘ordinary’ time: of the bus coming late, the pressure cooker's second whistle, or rain interruption at a cricket match. Snatches of a raag floating in from a distant radio, along with slanting afternoon light from the balcony, can move us across a perceptual threshold—from hustle and transitoriness to languor, out of digital and into analog time, into flow, the sort we experience from a train window. It's an altogether different aesthesis of passage, which even a garden variety ustad summons up. With a fully realised sage, an Amir Khan, a Kesarbai or a Bhimsen, the effect is more radical. What is finally only a piece of structured sound, living and moving 'in time', somehow slips out of its grid, almost into an alternate state of atemporality. The music seems to mutate and extinguish time—holding the fleeting moment perfectly still, elongating it, cracking it open, showing it to be nothing but empty duration.
(It’s not necessarily a pleasant sensation—we prefer our time ‘filled’. That's why the basal response to classical music—from all of us who find a 45-second wait at a traffic light intolerable and immediately flip on 98.3 FM—contains an element of something that approaches fright.)