All India Radio broadcasts to Europe and the United Kingdom daily from 1745 to 2230 GMT on a frequency of 11,620 kHz. I listen to it almost everyday and I record as much music as I can. Sometimes reception is beautifully clear, and the chromatic splendours of the classical Karnatak style build palaces of sound all round me in my Fulham work-room. Swaying painted elephants and iridescent peacocks, chanting priests, multitudes of worshippers, solitary mystics and astronomers, saffron-veiled beauties and dancers with ankle bells glisten in the misty drizzle of the London night outside my window, all India vivid with my ignorance. Great wild eastern dawns and screaming birds rise where the red and green lights of the District Line wink to the passing of the golden windows rumbling townwards, rumbling homewards. Distant passengers, perhaps seen every day, perhaps never to be seen again, pass in the passing windows among the painted elephants and the clash of ankle bells, the marble and the filigrees. At other times the ionosphere is unfavouring: Shiva as Destroyer, Kali with her necklace of skulls, garish polychrome demons dance in my short wave receiver, roaring and crackling and filling the room with chaos which is, after all, to be expected; I accept it without complaint.

On the night of 18 January on 11,620 kHz there came across the more than four thousand miles of night air between Delhi and London in the General Overseas Service of All India Radio an illustrated talk devised, written, and presented by V. Petanjali: The Concept of Time in Indian Music. Having been pondering that very matter for the last year or so I wanted to hear what Mr Petanjali had to say but I was able to hear only a little; most of his talk was lost in the crackle and roar of the deities and demons of the air. Of the intelligible remainder much disappeared into the abyss between a dinner guest and my remembering to put a fresh tape cassette into the recorder. Some of his words, however, were not lost: while my wife and I and our friend ate sweet-and-sour spare ribs and drank red wine my Yaesu FRG-7000 communications receiver listened to Delhi and my Uher CR240 listened to the FRG-7000. The next morning when I played back the tape I had Mr Petanjali’s opening words. Here they are:

To talk about the time concept in Indian music I have to begin at the very beginning: in the rotation of planets, in the cycle of time, in the very cosmic design the ancient Indians discerned a fascinating rhythmic pattern. They felt proud about their knowledge, and in great reverence placed a drum, called damaru, in the hands of Lord Shiva, a god of their trinity.


The Modern Common Wind
Elias Canetti