I have a hammer, reveals folk music icon Pete Seeger

Sunday, 2 February 2014 - 11:35am IST | Agency: DNA
In the week of his passing, Malavika Sangghvi writes a personal thank you to folk music icon Pete Seeger
  • Uday Mohite DNA

Goodbye Pete Seeger,
Your songs were the anthems of my youth, your music was the background score of my childhood.

Goodbye Pete Seeger, I did not know it then, but you were born in the same year as my father. Like him, you’d been attracted to the Communist movement, had signed up for the membership of its party and become disillusioned with Stalinism in the Forties.

By the time me and my siblings came on the scene, you were a folk hero not only for the millions of poor disfranchised oppressed workers of America but also for a left-leaning liberal documentary filmmaker who happened to be my father, all the way in Mumbai. Those were the days when India was not even on the map, as far as international trade and travel were concerned; there was no Internet, no access to recordings, no international radio stations and hardly any record stores.

 How did my father and his friends become so familiar with your music?

Perhaps my father had heard your songs on his brief trips to Moscow and England? Perhaps someone from his group of artists, directors and poets had procured a few albums and passed them around to like-minded souls?

Perhaps he had had memorised your songs and sung them into our memory? I can hear him singing Swanee River in his deep baritone even now.

Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away…

Whatever it was, your songs were a constant companion at our home in Juhu. When we were happy we trilled If I was a hammer, when we were wistful we’d croon Where have all the flowers gone? and when we were particularly despondent and frightened, hand on my heart, I kid thee not, we’d link our arms together, mother, father and three kids and sing We shall overcome into the dark cricket–filled nights.

 I am not saying we got our idealism from you Pete Seeger. Even if we hadn’t heard Little Boxes (And the people in the houses /All went to the university /Where they were put in boxes /And they came out all the same /And there’s doctors and lawyers/And business executives /And they’re all made out of ticky tacky/And they all look just the same), we’d have still inherited our unease for status quo and establishment.

We’d have still been anti-war pacifists whether or not we’d heard Waist deep in the Muddy.

And of course, given our family’s ideological leanings, we would have still been committed to the cause of justice and equality, whether or not you’d written If I had a hammer (If I had a hammer /I’d hammer in the morning /I’d hammer in the evening /All over this land /I’d hammer out danger/I’d hammer out a warning/I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters/All over this land).

Goodbye Pete Seeger. By the time I’d reached my teens, other folk heros had already replaced you: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan Donovan and Bruce Springsteen. We sang their songs. We worshiped at their altars. We kind of forgot about you. It was only last week, when you died, that I realised how much of an influence you’d been, not only to my own folk heroes, but also to us — a little struggling family growing up in Juhu, which often felt alone and adrift in a cruel world.

Goodbye Pete Seeger. Goodnight, goodbye and yes, thank you for the music.

Yours sincerely etc

Malavika Sangghvi
The writer believes in the art of letter writing


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