So the other day I found myself in an antique gift shop tucked away in the corner of probably the least crowded shopping mall in my city. I was done with my shopping and had some time to kill. What better place than one filled with beautiful counterfeits of relics from the past, right?
Decked up on the shelves on one side of the room were, wooden tribal masks, idols capturing the essence of spirituality among various religions (of which Buddhism featured prominently) and rustic Indian paintings. This, however, was in sharp contrast to the plastic toys, key-chains based on cartoon characters and other modern day gift items settled neatly on the other side of the room. Considering that the name and the theme of the shop promised it’s visitors ‘something old’, it was clearly out of place.
I felt cheated initially, but then I reminded myself that it was India, and here, people were more likely to be surprised if a gift shop, whatever the name, did not sell a key chain. Everything sells, everywhere.
I kept my thoughts to myself and decided to linger around for a while more, marvelling the effort taken to reproduce the mysterious and ancient artefacts.
Apart from the items on the shelves, hung from the ceiling were wind chimes. I held up my hand and reached for the weight dangling from each of them, just to hear them chime. There is something utterly romantic about the way the metal rods strike each other to create chance-based music. I moved from one to another, creating enough noise to draw the shopkeeper’s attention. He directed what was an ‘Are-you-going-to-get-anything?’ look at me, which I pretended not to understand and moved along.
Just as I was reaching the door, my eyes fell upon a very oddly structured wind chime. The bells were placed distinctively far apart so that they wouldn’t strike each other, no matter how hard the wind blew. Tied to a single rope, the bells looked crude, like something someone would make without putting a lot of thought into it. The clappers were made of wood and I couldn’t imagine what horrible noise it would make upon being struck. I reached for the end of the thread, that had no decorative weights attached whatsoever, and gave it a tug.
What I heard next, got instantly downloaded into my memory jukebox, labelled the ‘Best-Wind-Chime-Ever.’ Only, it wasn’t just random chimes, it sounded almost like an orchestrated ringing of bells.You know that feeling when you hear a really good song for the first time, and you instantly know it’s going to be one of your all time favorites? That was me, at a gift shop, staring at a wind chime!
And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t a wind chime made of bells, it WAS a bell.
What followed for the next half hour involved me irritating the owner of the shop with all sorts of questions about the bell (the only thing he knew for sure was that they were hand-made bells originating from a North-Western Indian village), me gawking at him absurdly when I heard how expensive it was, and me feeling guilty and worried at the thought of justifying my purchase to my husband dearest.
Later that night I discovered, thanks to my friend Google, that those were the very famous Noah Bells, a collection of authentic Indian Khadki bells, made in monasteries across the country.They are hand-crafted, usually a combination of iron, copper and bronze, and finish with a carved wooded clapper. However, what was truly unique was that no two bells could create the same music when rung, be it the deep, resonant notes of the larger bells at the top, or the high, brittle pitch created by the tiny ones dangling towards the end of the rope. And maybe, it was that particular feature that compelled me to splurge this once for a an odd-looking bell. The sound, it was nothing like I had ever heard before.
It was loud, yet not disturbing. It contained within itself a prayer from yesterday and a call-out for tomorrow. The more I listened to it, the more it felt like it did not belong to this time or age, like someone bottled up a little past into these casts of metal and wood. And yes, it was peaceful. As if placed there in that moment to counter the ripples of chaos surrounding it.
The bell now hangs beautifully in my room. My son adores it.Every morning, he wakes up and jumps out of the bed to go give it a ring. I honestly don’t know what I enjoy more, the excitement on the face of my three-year-old while ringing an ancient bell, or the first waves of energy the bell transcends down to me. I lie with my eyes closed for a few more seconds, basking in the feeling of happiness and positivity that it fills my room with. An energy, that I hope to carry with me till the end of the day.
And I can’t help but feel that the bell had been waiting for me all along, in that shop, tucked away in the corner. Now, it’s home.
“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
– Alfred Lord Tennyson