Monday, September 28, 2015

Free Hugs: The story behind what inspired my song

In mid 2007, my work with an I.T. firm took me to the city of Seattle, USA.This is a city that has been home to some of the greatest music acts the world has ever known. From bands like Nirvana that introduced the world to grunge music to alternative acts like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and more recently Macklemore & Ryan LewisSeattle is a city that has inspired many a musician. Here I was, a fledgling singer, wide-eyed and excited, scouring the city for my next musical inspiration. I had chosen to live in the city and not in the suburbs like most of my other Indian co-workers, because I felt the city was more alive with street performers at every corner, a buzzing nightlife and vibrant markets.

One evening as I was walking home after work, I noticed an old man sitting by himself. Bright balloons and a teddy bear, surrounded him and he held a cardboard sign. I squinted and read the colourful letters aloud  Free Hugs.” ‘Free Hugs? How does that work? Intrigued, I went up to the old man and initiated a conversation.
Hi there! Whats Free Hugs? What are you doing this for?I asked.
Hello young lady! I give free hugs to whoever wants one. Im just an old man who wants to spread a little love and sunshine in this world. The world is a dark place, it needs more people that care I come here everyday at this time.

Thats such a beautiful thing to do! How long have you been doing this?

Oh for many years now! After my children left, Ive led a lonely life. I know there are a lot of other lonely people in the world as well who could use a hug. Sometimes people have had a bad day and theres no one to go to. Its the least I can do to help people break the walls that surround them and reach out to one another.

And you dont get paid for this I guess?

Only in smiles,he said with a toothy grin.

With a smile, I extended my arms out for a hug. It was a nice, warm friendly hug in the middle of a crowded street. I felt pure joy at being a part of this simple act of kindness from a  stranger. In this world where money and time are a priority, here was someone whose only agenda was to spread sunshine.

There was a Starbucks nearby and I hopped over to buy both of us a coffee. The least I could do on that cold day was warm the hands of the man who had spent most of his life warming so many hearts.
I was so inspired by this man and his story, that I wrote a blues song,Free Hugs that made it to my debut album. Heres what it went like

Free Hugs
Alone I stand on the corner street,
Expressionless passing eyes,
I bare my heart and soul to you,
I'm wearing no!
Won't ask you any questions,
Won't offer you no advice,
My heart is open to anyone,
This is real, no device.

Free hugs, nothing in return
You may be brown, black or white
Where it's dark and some hearts burn,
Lets all spread a little light.

Did your old man leave you?
A broken heart to mend?
Do you need a shoulder to cry on ?
Or the comfort of a friend?
I ask not where you come from,
I ask not where you go,
The glimmer of sadness in your eyes,
Speaks all there is to know

Free hugs, nothing in return
You may be brown, black or white
Where it's dark and some hearts burn,
Lets all spread a little light.

The frowns turn upside down,
The teardrops disappear,
As your hand reaches out for mine,
The dark skies start to clear.
Our hearts heal together,
Shadows creep away,
Heaven's arms are open,
The dark lord starts to fray...

Free hugs, nothing in return
You may be brown, black or white
Where it's dark and some hearts burn,
Lets all spread a little light.

The story didnt end there. On returning to India a year later, some friends and I organised a Free Hugs campaign in Pune, the city I lived in at that point. This was post the Mumbai terror attacks and it was our way of passing forward the message of love and hope.

Its been over 5 years since I met the old man from Seattle and yet, every time I sing my song  Free Hugson stage, I see his face with that toothy grin, holding the old cardboard sign endearingly asking,A free hug for you today sir?

**Note: Article first written for and published by Happy Tripping ( I am a guest writer with them). Read the article on the Happy tripping website here 

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