A Tabla Artist's recollection of his renowned Guru and his Gurukul
Insights from a Carnatic Music legend
Folk Spring Festivals
Celebrations that mark the beginning of the seasonCULTURAL VIBES OF INDIA Issue Spotlight Sudha Ragunathan
A Tabla Artist's recollection of his renowned Guru and his Gurukul
Insights from a Carnatic Music legend
Celebrations that mark the beginning of the seasonCULTURAL VIBES OF INDIA Issue Spotlight Sudha Ragunathan
What role do festivals play in our culture? Is there something beyond the food, fun, and frolic that we have come to relate with them? Beyond the holidays, the travels and binge shopping? Surely there is an unmissable coincidence between the festivals and the shifting beauty of mother nature around us. Whether the onset of the monsoon rains or the day of the equinox, each occurs with a festival that celebrates some cultural significance. Perhaps these festivals just celebrate the harmony of our existence in this place we inhabit and call home.
The tenth edition of Tarang comes packed with our love for these festivals and the usual servings of inspirational and some thought-provoking opinions. Feel all these vibes in a Tabla artist's tribute to his Guru. Read how the spring festivals are celebrated by different folk communities and villages uniquely, heralding the universal message of gratitude to mother nature. In the final piece of a 3-part series, we continue tracing through some of our cherished poets who have shaped our outlook through their words.
For the main course, we present an in-depth and insightful interview with Padma Bhushan awardee and Carnatic music legend Sudha Ragunathan, which will leave you with a booster dose of inspiration.
This edition serves as a beautiful reminder of the invisible cycle of life. As seasons come and seasons go, the wheel keeps churning. And are we glad that they do!
We hope this edition brings you something celebratory and refreshing from our glorious past and present. And till we see you again, keep enjoying this cycle and smile on!
62676 A MAGICAL NUMBER
A Tabla artist reminisces his student days in Varanasi with his Padma Vibhushan Guru
FOLK SPRING FESTIVALS OF INDIA
THE PASSAGE OF INDIAN POESY III
SWASTHY ATHE WAY TO WELLNESS
Ayurveda and Yoga to power one ' s journey to healthy body and mind.
FAGULI THE FESTIVAL OF MASKS
A flavour of how folk communities celebrate the onset of Spring Heart-to-heart with the Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee.
Tracing through the history of India's famous poets. The final article in a 3part series
A 800-year-old festival celebrating the victory of good over evil.
She first noticed him on a bus journey, but he had noticed her long before A short story on an unfulfilled meeting.
Anurag Anand Founder, We Tell a Folktale. Researcher and Curator for Parliament Museum.
Kalpana Dimri Sharma M.Sc in Physics and B.Ed.
I started writing during my journey of treatment for Cancer.
Dr. TLN Swamy Doctor by profession. Flutist by passion with a zeal for penning and painting.
Seeker, Ex-Editor of Saamagaana
The First Melody and Center for Soft Power. Researcher on topics related to Indian Arts and AI.
First Loves: Music, Ayurveda, Yoga.
Lakshmi Sanjanaa Bhavaraju MBA in Finance. Carnatic Singer and amateur Violinist.
Vineet Vyas Tabla Artist. Performer. Educator and Composer. www.vineetvyas.com
Check page 13 to see how you can contribute to our next edition.
62676. This was the landline phone number of Padma Vibhushan Pandit Kishan Maharaj in Varanasi in 1986 when my father called to inquire about the possibility of my studying with this great legendary Tabla master.
Guruji was always intrigued with number combinations that were divisible by the number 3. All the numbers associated with him - his birthday, home address, car license plate - all had a root of 3, and so did this landline number. The 3 features heavily in North Indian classical rhythmic phrases known as tihais, phrases which occur 3 times to land on the sum, the first beat of a Tala, a time cycle.
I had been studying Tabla growing up in Nova Scotia, and in 1986 (also divisible by 3), I discovered the magic of the stage. I was the youngest performer selected from across Canada to perform as part of the Canadian Heritage Festival as part of Expo ’86 – this was a World Fair held in Vancouver that drew over 22 million visitors - and I followed this up with a performance in Toronto accompanying spiritualist Shri Morari Bapu in front of an audience of 6000 people.
I was, therefore, keen to pursue my Tabla training more seriously. So, when my father, Shri Vijaya Vyas, offered me the opportunity to take a year off high school to go to India, I grabbed the opportunity, only half-realizing what a pivotal decision that would turn out to be.
My father had an LP of Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahib featuring Pt. Kishan Maharaj on Tabla. Listening to that album, I felt it epitomized the incredible complexity of Hindustani Classical music: the sheer beauty of how the sitar sang and how the tabla reciprocated with lyrical rhythmic flourishes. I felt that the artistry of both performers shone through like the sound of Temple bells on the Ganga River in Varanasi during the daily evening Aarti. The photo on the LP featured a picture of the man who would eventually become my Gurusuch a grandiose and towering image; he looked like a King, as his name suggested. The chance to learn from him seemed a golden and unique opportunity.
I arrived in New Delhi in September 1986 and stayed with Dad's elder brother, my Tauji, Prof Anand Prakash Vyas, who recently passed away.
My Dad phoned Guruji’s house, and Guruji told us we could meet him in Delhi as he was coming to Delhi for five days and would be performing with the vocalists Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra.
On the centenary of legendary Tabla Master Pandit Kishan Maharaj, I reflect on his legacy and my journey in learning the Tabla Drums.
Wearing black thick-rimmed glasses, Guruji sat on the floor at the Mishras’ residence, making his own paan – a sign of a man who controlled his destiny. I touched his feet and stood there. There was an aura about him, something I had never experienced before, and it compelled me to stay standing for more than 45 minutes just watching him as he meticulously prepared his paan for the day.
He was incredibly reserved and completely engrossed in what he was doing. When he glanced in my direction and saw me standing, he asked me, "Kya naam hai tumaara?" - what is your name? When I told him Vineet, he said "Baitho" – sit.
That was pretty much the extent of all he said to me over the next four days, as we met him twice every day. Literally, each day after we arrived, I would touch his feet, stand to the side, and whenever he noticed me standing, he would say, "Baitho."
On the third day, we saw him perform with Pts. Rajan and Sajan Mishra – I had never attended a live vocal concert prior to this. Tabla accompaniment for vocal music is in general, very limited but even when he played in the Ati Vilambit, slow speed, his approach, weight and execution of the Tala, the rhythmic cycle, exemplified an incredible command over laya - rhythm, with such beautiful embellishments, that all listeners felt that they too, were on that journey through the Ektaal cycle – a 12 beat journey - where a cycle almost encompassed one minute.
The patience required in these sections can only be executed when one internalizes the feel of the melody. When the chota khayal began, a faster tempo section and Guruji played his Uthaan, the whole audience erupted clapping when he finished with a mesmerizing tihai. The concert took me to another realm, and I realized then, and there that I needed to learn from this legendary artist. But when my father told Guruji "Isko seekhne ka bada shaukh hai" – He is very fond of learning. Guruji’s response was "Lekin humko sikhaane ka shauk nahin" – I am not fond of teaching. Still, he agreed we could come to Varanasi, and I could live in his house, as per the traditional Guru-Shishya Parampara which would entail intense ‘riyaaz and seva,’ – practice and service under his guidance.
Before detailing what would be the most difficult yet rewarding part of my life, I would like to summarize a bit about my Guruji and how he was part of a generation who established the global presence of North Indian classical music.
Pandit Kishan Maharaj was born on September 3, 1923 in Varanasi – its anglicized name is Benares, and Guruji was born into a family of musicians associated with this name for the gharana or style of Tabla playing. Guruji began learning from his father, Pandit Hari Maharaj, but trained mostly with his uncle, Pandit Kanthe Maharaj, when his father passed away. When India achieved Independence in 1947, he accompanied many great artists abroad as the Indian government defined its global identity through the patronage of classical arts. Guruji was a close friend as well as an accompanist to the generation of artists who established the grandeur of Indian classical music.
He accompanied Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pt. Nikhil Banerjee, Sitara Deviji, Girja Deviji and many others. He was a contemporary of other Benares tabla stalwarts such as Pt. Anokhe Lal and Pt. Samta Prasad; these 3 men are regarded as the holy trinity of Benares Tabla playing. By the time he was 11 years old, Guruji was performing on stage.
When India achieved Independence in 1947, he accompanied many great artists abroad as the Indian government defined its global identity through the patronage of classical arts.
He could weave a completely different story by simply changing the emphasis from the downbeat to the offbeat. He was incredibly adept in working in time cycles featuring odd beats such as 11, 13, 15, 17 and 19.
The first live solo performance I heard while in Benares in 1987 was in what Guruji called Shikhar Taal of 19 beats. Witnessing his prowess and incredible performance ability at the very beginning of my stay in Benares, I realized that I was sitting at a fountain of knowledge and solidified that I needed to pursue his style of Tabla, regardless of how difficult or challenging it was.
When I first arrived in Benares in 1986 with my Dad, it seemed as though we had travelled back in time to a place where time stood still. (In fact, every time I went to Benares in subsequent years, I felt
The late Pandit
Maharaj ji standing in his Tabla Ghar (Museum) - a place of homage and reflection. Guru's of the past from the rich Benares style of Tabla playing are revered & remembered with affection. The third picture from the right on the wall is a painting of the founder of the Benares Gharana of Tabla, Pandit Ram Sahai ji.
Image and Caption Source - Facebook Channel dedicated to him.Kishan
I can still visualize the train slowly entering the station; from the train’s window seat, I saw bare platforms with only vendors and red-shirted Coolies eager to carry people’s suitcases. It was an incredible sight as people from the many compartments of the train scrambled to descend upon these platforms. For 5 or 10 minutes, it was complete mayhem. People rushed from the platform to the stairs in search of the station exit, where people then haggled for rickshaws to get to their destination. I had never seen such a frenzy until that point in my quiet Canadian upbringing.
My father and I stayed at Guruji’s residence in the Garden room - bagicha wale kamre mein. There were so many things which were different from living at home. I had never been subjected to so many mosquito bites when we slept, so much so that the following day even Guruji remarked as my whole face was covered with bites.
In the front area of the house, known as the baitka, the students would sit for practice – most of Guruji’s students at that time lived locally. On one of the first evenings, we were practicing the ‘Dhatirikite taka, Dhiredhirekitetaka’ Rela and its many variations. Guruji sat listening to each student’s sound production.
Then he stopped us and told me, "Tum sunao Canadian!" – you play for us Canadian! I started playing, then he told me to play double-speed. Then he stopped me, looked at the other students, and said, "What have you all been doing? He has been here less than a week, and sabse accha baja rahe hai" – he’s playing better than everyone else! That was the best moment for my father and me in that first stage of the trip.
Soon after, though, I found it challenging to memorize the famous Benares kayda, Dheeka dhina tirikita dhina, the very first Benares pattern I was taught. Guruji looked at my father and said, "Vyas, you said he has a very sharp memory. It seems his memory is quite weak." I had been learning the Delhi style of Tabla, which has more delicate finger work, while Guruji’s Benares style is very powerful, requiring more force and physical effort.
My father left to return to Canada, and I stayed on for the next nine months. I was most selfconscious that I never did anything wrong, both in terms of Tabla material but also in my behaviour in a joint family system. I was thrust into a scenario where everything a student does is scrutinized. Guruji would often imitate me, saying, "What, what?" There were many protocols with which I wasn’t familiar. For example, one could not open the tap after eating to wash their hands; someone else had to do it for them. I had never heard of ‘load shedding’ when the electricity is turned off each day for hours, and I had never known temperatures above 30 degrees. I had no appetite in the extreme heat and developed a fever often.
I would watch airplanes in the sky and think that I could be on one of them and return to the haven of my Canadian home – there were many moments when I wondered why I had chosen to leave the comforts of Canada and pursue this arduous experience.
When I returned home, my family was at the airport, and as my mother, Brij Bala Vyas saw the people arrive from the plane, she remarked that there was a young boy who looked like he was impoverished and malnourished. When she realized that boy was me, she broke down crying at seeing my emaciated physique.
However, that length of time at my Guruji’s house allowed me to understand the depth of the instrument and the spectrum of how it accompanied all facets of music –vocal, instrumental and dance. Nothing is taught or given to you – but you can imbibe and absorb what is before you.
The traditional system of living in one’s Guru’s house is to learn from watching his example, picking up nuances. One must be immersed in that world to become it.
This is the greatness of Indian classical music: nothing is written down but passed from one human to another.
I would not have achieved this understanding by attending a weekly class and in an environment outside India. It was necessary to experience especially the Benares style of playing in its place of origin.
It took many more trips and years of training before I started to see the fruits of my labour. My first experience accompanying Guruji in Benares was in a performance on Maha Shivratri with Kathak legend Pandit Birju Maharaj at Podar Andha Vidyalaya (a school for blind children) – I revisited this experience in the Bravo! Channel’s documentary ‘Fingers of Fire’ chronicling my journey to Benares.
I felt it all worth it when Guruji told me once after a performance in his Ganesh Kaksh (Ganesh Hall) – "Tumko sikhaana vyarth nahi gaya" – it wasn’t a waste to teach you. This was the extent of his compliments, but it was enough for me to erase the dark moments of my journey.
Guruji had a firebrand personality, but he also had a tremendous sense of humour. One can see his jovial spirit in his photos with fellow artists such as Pts. Rajan and Sajan Mishraji. He lived on his own terms, always espousing that Tabla artists were no less valuable in performance just because they were accompanists. He used to say, "When you sit on stage, you should forget who is in front of you and play like a king."
My quest as a Tabla artist has been to honour my Guruji’s style and spirit. My first solo album Taalworks tries to capture the spectrum of Benares Tabla repertoire. I had ceremoniously offered a copy of that CD to Guruji, and humbly said to Guruji "please accept this offering but do not listen to it."
The next time I saw him, he told me, "Humne sunna tumhaara CD" - I listened to your CD; I could not believe it and simply touched his feet again to seek his blessings. My second Solo Tabla album, The King of Dhamaar, pays tribute to how Guruji approached the rendition of this majestic rhythmic cycle of 14 beats. My latest album ‘Satyam’ brings to life many different rhythmic ideas in a narrative form through the classic love story of Savitri and Satyavan. This album has been nominated for a 2023 East Coast Music Award for Global Recording of the Year.
Pandit Kishan Maharaj passed away on May 4, 2008. He achieved unparalleled artistry, success, and greatness, and leaves an incredible legacy. There are many great artists carrying on the Benares tradition of Tabla, including his son Pandit Puran Maharaj, his grandson Shubh Maharaj, Pt. Kumar Bose and Sukhvinder Singh Namdhari. Throughout my journey with Tabla and Benares, I have felt incredibly blessed to have been accepted into that world. As a representative of his style of playing, I am honoured to say that along the way I became a member of his family as his disciple. The depth and beauty of this artform is so rich and expansive. Guruji’s teaching style was one where he made you realize that there were an infinite number of paths to explore with a given set of directions and it was up to you to forge your path ahead with what you heard and develop the ability to reflect and expand on what you understood.Album Cover Artwork by Kalashree Vyas
What inspires you about our culture, history, arts and music?
The eagerness in contemporary society to return to their roots and the quest for ethnic identities, such as "Who am I?' might have its answer in ancient Folklore. Folktales and festivals, their wisdom time-tested through the years, form the most important part of their tradition. This article gives you a flavour of folk festivals marking the onset of Spring, which are less known compared to the festivals that are prevalent due to palace paradigm culture.
Chapchar Kut is celebrated among the Mizos as their new year, at the end of March or the beginning of April. All Mizo tribes and clans claim in their folk legends that Sinlung was the cradle of the Mizos Sinlung refers to "enclosed with a rock " The present Indian state of Mizoram was historically called the Lushai Hills. Precoloniali i i i i h f ll d h i i i i hi h he tribes b ar Kut was obs from harm du stival was cel men would d ring a Vakiria er cutting
The longest celebration of Chapchar Kut known in the history of the Mizo, after the great migration of the Mizo into Mizoram in the year 1700 A.D., was held in the villages of Chawngtui and Ruallung They were so engrossed in their pleasure that they did not know when to stop, until the end of October! It was only when parrots flew into their village carrying ears of paddy from neighbouring villages that they came to their senses and realized their error. It was too late to have jhums for that year and this apparently resulted in the breaking up and dispersal of the village
Today, the festival is observed in the February end or early March when the trees and bamboo are felled for jhum and the shifting cultivators have time to relax and enjoy
Baha Parab is the flower festival of the Santals of Jharkhand and Bihar, celebrated at the beginning of spring. The festival celebrates man's communion with nature and the celebration of its beauty BAHA means 'flower' in Santhali It is the second biggest festival of the Santals after SORHAI, the harvest festival, and is celebrated in the Bengali month of Falgun (Feb-March) every year. This is when most common trees, like Mohuwa, Palash, Neem, Sal, and Muringa bear new leaves, flowers, and fruits. Santals believe that when the trees are in this cycle, one should not disturb their body and soul by plucking or cutting off their flowers, leaves, or branches. Therefore, Santals only pluck or eat flowers or fruits after celebrating Baha.
After celebrating the Magh-mura festival in the previous month of Magh, the paddy stubble (Landha) is carried into the village.Image Credit: Malati Marandi BAHA PARAB
This symbolizes the end of the year in the Santal calendar. Santals usually begin to repair their thatch roofs from the month of Falgun because thereafter, the seasons of Bapla- Bhanḍan (marriage and death rites) start. However, for Naeke (village priest), it's done only after celebrating Baha and making a hut for Jaher Era, at Jaher Than, the principal spirit of the sacred grove and the village's protector.
The Santal religion, essentially a tribal matter, has helped to strengthen social unity and quicken the sense of social responsibility This concept of righteousness is bound up with their social/tribal consciousness.
One of the lesser-known Harvest festivals is Aran, practiced by the Adi tribe during March-April every year. The Adi (meaning 'hill' or 'mountain') is a major collective tribe living in the Himalayan hills of Arunachal Pradesh They are found in the temperate and sub-tropical regions within East Siang, Upper Siang, West Siang and Lower Dibang Valley, and Lohit.Image Source:JournalsofIndia
A few days before the festival begins, male members of the village go out hunting and fishing. The female members prepare rice and apong. With the return of the males from hunting, the Dogin Yume, or the preparatory evening starts. Every family offers apong and dopak (pickle) to various deities with prayers, followed by drinking the apong and merry-making.
The next morning, called the Dorep ro or Campudorep, buffaloes, pigs, and fowls are sacrificed. Meat and apong are prepared in every house, and villagers invite each other. Children go around the village singing and dancing, shouting 'yagio-yagjo'. On the evening of the fourth or fifthday, housewives offer apong, ginger, eggs, dried squirrels, etc., for the pleasure of Agung-Agam (god of animals) while chanting incantations The following morning, villagers bring branches and leaves of tan, sinkang trees, and ekkam leaves from the jungle and tie them to the entrance post where buffaloes and pigs are kept This brings the celebration of the Aran to a close.
Sarhul is a spring festival of the Uraons in the Indian state of Jharkhand The festival is celebrated for three days, from the 3rd day of Chaitra month in Sukla Paksha to Chaitra Purnima. The locals dance, holding flowers from the sal tree. It is a symbol of the commencement of the new year.
The Uraons are an aboriginal tribe of Dravidian stock concentrated in the western half of Chota Nagpur in Central India.Image Source:Unknown Image Source:GaonConnection
Sarhul falls a month after Phagua festival and has a double significance. In one way, it is a "vegetation" ceremony-an act of rejoicing in the jungle which has already come to flower On the other hand, it is a "fecundity" ceremony- a marriage of the earth with the sun on the assumption that the soil is ready to be quickened. As it were, the fertility of the jungle is used to stimulate the fertility of the fields. From one point of view, therefore, the appearance of blossoms on the sal trees is an indispensable prerequisite of the festival On the other, a vital preliminary is that the plowed fields should be bare to the sun for a month before the festival. Finally, rejoicing involves drinking and dancing.
The ritual commences with ceremonial baths and the stacking of some selected rice in winnowing baskets. A mimic marriage is then gone through -the pahan representing the sun and his wife the earth, while the mahto (village headman) officiates it by putting oil and scarlet powder on their heads Rice beer is then offered by the headman to the village ancestors, and later some of the stacked rice is sanctified by the priest and put aside for use at sowing. There is then a procession to the village sarna or sacred grove, where fowls are sacrificed to the village ghosts &
the Sun God asking to bless the Sarhul, make it merry, and grant prosperity to the village in the coming year. There is a men's feast in the grove composed of rice and the sacrificial fowls followed by a women's feast in the pahan's house, and the night passes in general drinking and dancing!
The common thread that runs through all these harvest festivals with different names during different times of the year is food, drinks, dance and fashion. From another perspective, all these harvest festivals bring out the true nature of folk India which is a sense of togetherness and belongingness with nature and its surroundings. These festivals portray the coexistence of humans and nature and how harmonic it still is in the ever-expanding era of technological advancement and its colonialisation over the geographical regions where these folk festivals are still practised. The folk songs performed in these festivals tell stories of the harmony of existence and provide us with the answers to contemporary questions and show us ways to deal with situations.
Read the first Article in this three-part series here.
Read the Second Article here.
The passage of Indian Poesy took a distinct turn in the second millennium of C.E. If the primary language of Poetry was Sanskrit mostly in the first millennium, Poets turned to vernacular languages more like Hindi, Awadhi, Braja, etc. Though literary works in Dravidian languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and other regional languages started their journey in the first millennium and flourished further in the second millennium.
As the prominence of Sanskrit started to come down, many of its offspring languages started emerging as the medium of poetic expression. In the era of life filled with uncertainties when the rest of the world in the west was busy conquering and confiscating, India was lost in its literary and philosophical conquest and was caught off-guard by the invading West Asian nations and surrendered itself.
With the foreign rulers came the foreign culture and languages whose wedding with the Indian languages resulted in the birth of beautiful offspring such as Urdu It is virtually impossible to cite each of the myriads of Indian poets. Let us reminisce just a few of the top and greatest Indian poets who shaped and peaked medieval Indian literature to its pinnacle.
Image Source: India Discovered
Oh, Khusrow, love is like a river flowing in reverse One who dives in it drowns; the one who drowns gets across.
Amir Khusrow, often referred to as “Tuti-e- Hind” (Parrot of India), has been called the “Father of Urdu literature,” who also introduced the “Ghazal” style of songs. A Sufi singer himself, Khusrow is a musician par excellence as much as a poet and a scholar A Mystic and a spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, he influenced the essential cultural tradition of India, the Hindustan reeling under the rule of the Islamic sultanate resulting in a transformed music system of India in the form of Hindustani music, the Ghazal and Qawwali traditions.
Khusrow was born in 1253 in Patiali in the Kasganj district of modern-day Uttar Pradesh to a Turkic father who was a fief in the Delhi sultanate and a native Indian mother. Khusrow became proficient in Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Urdu languages He started with poetry at 9, just a year after his father’s death He enjoyed the patroonship of many Sultans of the Delhi sultanate, including the Mamulks, and the Khaljis, who gave him the title of Aamir and the Tughlaqs. Khusrow’s ghazals were set to music and were sung every night before the Sultan In his late 50s, Khusrow became a disciple of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya He started the “Qawwali” tradition, singing a fusion of Persian and Indian music. Auliya’s tomb in Nizamuddin dargah in Delhi has his favourite disciple next to him after his death in 1325 C EKhusro dariya prem ka, Ulti waaki dhaar Jo utra so doob gaya, Jo dooba so paar
“Kal kare so aaj kar aaj kare so ab, Pal mein pralay hoeigi, bahuri karoge kab”
Tomorrow’s work, do today, today’s work, do now Any moment catastrophe can strike, then the work will be done how
“Bada hua to kya hua, Jaise ped Khajoor Panthi ko Chaya nahin, Phal laage ati door”
What is the point in growing, Like a Date tree which Neither provides shade to a traveller, Nor the fruits are within reach
Kabir Das was a 15th-century mystic poet and Saint who influenced the Bhakti movement of Hindustan. His verses found a place in the holy script of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib. Despite being critical of organized religions condemning the unfair practices of all religions, he was hated and threatened initially by staunch Hindus and Muslims alike for his truthful views. Still, he was later embraced and owned after realizing the truth. Born in 1398 C.E. at Varanasi, Kabir was believed to have lived for about 120 years before he died in 1518. His Muslim connection and name are attributed to his foster parents, Neeru and Neema, Muslim weavers. They found the abandoned child at Lahartana lake in Varanasi. He is believed to have become a disciple of Bhakti poet Saint Swami Ramanand of Vaishnavism.
“Maaya mari na Man mara, Mar mar gaye shareer
Aasha Trishna na mare, Kah gaye Das Kabir.”
Neither Illusion nor mind has died; bodies kept dying
Hope and Passion are still alive, Goes so Kabir saying
Kabir’s poems cover various aspects of life and devotion to God. Being in vernacular Hindi, they became prevalent among the ordinary and elite public alike, earning him many disciples and followers known as Kabir Panthies. Kabir Panth is a religious community continuing its legacy as their founder Saint Kabir seems to have lived in Kabir Khana in Varanasi, where the Kabir math still celebrates his legacy.
Kabir’s ideas are believed to have influenced Saint Guru Nanak, who was raised as a Hindu and went on to found Sikhism in the 15th century. Some of the verses of Kabir were incorporated into the Adi Granth scripture of Sikhism.
Tulsidas, a Vaishnava Hindu Saint believed to have lived for 112 years from 1511 to 1623 C.E. A very popular poet and author of the Hanuman Chalisa and Ram Charita Manas in Awadhi language. He was born in Soron town of Kasganj district in U.P and died in Varanasi, similar to Kabir das. An ardent devotee of Sriram, he spent most of his life in Rama’s Ayodhya and Varanasi.
He is acclaimed as one of the greatest poets in Hindi. Tulsidas was said to have not cried after birth but uttered the word ‘Ram,’ so he was named “Ram bola” by his parents, who had abandoned him just on the 4th day of his birth due to some inauspicious incidents after his birth. A female servant of his mother raised him for about five years before she died; he was then adopted by his Guru Naraharidas, who named him Tulsidas.
He narrated the story of Ramayana many times during his childhood motivating him to translate the scholarly Sanskrit epic into the vernacular Awadhi language. Tulsidas later moved to Varanasi and studied Hindu philosophy before becoming a wandering Saint. Besides writing Ram Charitra Manas, which still exists in the Tulsi ghat of Varanasi, where he lived and wrote it, he also wrote many works in Sanskrit and Braja languages. Many of his odes are popular as bhajans, such as...
“Srirama Chandra kripalu bhajamana Harana bhava bhaya dhaarunam”
“Tulsi kaya khet hai, Mansa bhayou kisaan
punya dou beej hai, buvai so lunai nidaan”
Body is the field, Mind is the farmer
Bad and good deeds are the two seeds; whichever you sow reap you so
Mirza Ghalib (1797 to 1868 C.E.) wrote in Urdu and Persian. He was born in Agra to a family of Mughals who migrated from Samarkand, present-day Uzbekistan, during the reign of Ahmed Shah. Ghalib lost his father in early childhood and was raised by his uncle, who died when he was barely nine. At about 13, he married Umrao Begum and moved to Delhi. None of his seven children survived, probably depressing him to describe life as a continuous painful struggle and imprisonment.
In contrast, marriage is a second imprisonment, which is a recurring theme in his poetry. He was a courtier in the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar who bestowed him the title of Mirza. When the British kept the emperor under surveillance, Ghalib had to travel to Calcutta to petition the British Governor General to reinstate his abolished pension. This travel to the ‘City of Joy’ helped him be exposed to the literary circles of Calcutta and established further as a renowned poet. During his stay there, he wrote many poems in Urdu and Persian.
His Ghazals touching upon various aspects of life and sorrow, have touched the hearts of many a common person.
Image Source: Unknown
He wrote many letters in Urdu, creating a new trend of letter writing with informal simplicity absorbing the reader’s attention and getting acclaimed as one of the best prose writers in Urdu. Ghalib died in 1868 and was buried in Hazrat Nizamuddin near Nizamuddin Auliya, next to the father of Urdu poetry, Amir Khusrow. Renowned for his short couplets of Urdu Shayari, Goes so Ghalib ka Sheyr…
“Manjil milegi bhatak kar hi sahi
Gumrah to wo hai jo ghar se nikle hi nahi”
Destination will be reached by those who wander
The real Strays are those who don’t leave home at all
Thus far, poetry had been more traditional, grammatical and generally metrical. Still, with the advent of Modern poets and particularly after the influence of the English language imposed by British rule, the modern trends started creeping into the Indian poets who began writing in English as well.
One such iconic poet of India who brought the very first Nobel prize to India in literature was Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore from Bengal for his poem Gitanjali A prolific writer in Bengali, Tagore was like an epilogue to traditional Indian literature who carried its legacy into the modern era and acclaimed to be the “Vishwakavi”(Universal Poet).
In a multilinguistic country like India, Poetry has increased in hundreds of its regional languages taking inspiration from the rich literary culture of their parental languages like Sanskrit, Dravid and many a mixture of both. A countless number of regional poets contributed to the vast ocean of Indian literature, instating India on top of the world with the most extensive literary works produced so far. Indeed it needs many lifetimes to even glimpse through all the glorious Poesy of India.
A true reader knows how to tread its passage, enjoying the odic aromas en route and often halting for a sumptuous feast whenever encountered.
This is a tale of the mystic, masked dancers of Faguli, who prance and dance through several villages while singing songs rife with curses.
Absolutely yes, everyone present at this festival is subjected to abuse. We'll go into more detail about this below.
The Faguli, known as the Festival of Masks, primarily observed in Jibhi, Tirthan Valley, Kullu, and some parts of Himachal, is named for the twelfth month of the Indian calendar. Falgun occurs between the middle of February and March, announcing the start of spring.
The victory of good over evil is, in essence, the principal subject. The festival emphasizes community over individualism, and the vibe is vibrant and energetic.
And this year, the celebration was held in the Tirthan Valley from February 13 to 15.
This celebration focuses on men, and the dancers are young men from the community selected by the village elders.
These masked dancers wear a floral cap, a bright shawl, and a handwoven Chola, a long, heavy skirt that extends to the ankles and is made of the native wild grass sharuli.
Masks belonging to some of the families from many generations are only worn on this occasion to cover the faces of the dancers. Each mask contains a strong and mysterious emotion of the craftsman who developed and made it, and the designs differ from village to village.
The gods and demons engaged in battle, so the story goes. Men dressed as demons perform the Himachali folk dance "Nati" throughout the day, and taunts are thrown at them. In the valley, obscene remarks are not seen as a bad omen because they are part of the Fagli festival, which is intended to chase evil spirits out of the village.
On Yak Hair-draped palanquin, 'Narayan Devta' dances alongside the masked men symbolizing the fight between the deity and demons. The community maintains a high level of energy through playing various musical instruments, including the Dhol, Nagada, and Shehnai, as a devotion to Lord Vishnu.
After all of the villagers have done dancing and having a good time, the significant "Beeth" ceremony will begin. A "Beeth" is an inter-village ritual gathering that alternates between two or more villages and is made of grass and flowers. The ground is crowded with hundreds of people trying to get a hold of this lucky bundle of flowers, which is said to bring happiness into the person's life. Those fortunate enough to catch this particular Beeth in this event must provide meals for their entire village on the same day.
People light wooden sticks on fire at night, dancing and chanting, believing that fire expels evil energies while attracting positive ones and spreading the blessings of their beloved deity. And therefore, in a true festival sense, this is a celebration of the victory of good over evil.Narayan Devta Palaquin Beeth made of grass and flowers A young man in traditional attire Himachali folk dance -Nati Image source : banjara.house Image source : Jibhi Adventure Image source : banjara.house Image source : Anuraag
The pandemic has indeed had a tremendous impact on our lives and how we lead them. For many, this period of global and inner turmoil has awakened an urge to explore our own Indian methods and approaches to healthy living. Coupled with the surge of online content, people have started exploring Sadhana / practice rituals prescribed by “influencers” or devising their own techniques by flipping through ancient texts and translations. But can this lead us to our goal?
Sure, one can broaden one’s perspective and become aware of Indian knowledge texts through these efforts But the ultimate inner transformation, the goal of all Sadhana, requires a deeper understanding and therefore remains elusive to many.
Ayurveda and Yoga, ancient Indian sciences, have become extremely popular during this pandemic As quintessential texts of Indian thought and philosophies on well-being, these branches have a significant history and literature. Yet it can be difficult for the layperson to interpret, absorb and internalise them all on their own. Finding a good Guru or Teacher can enable one to follow the right path. As Shri Vasudev Killada, an international yoga teacher and certified Ayurveda counsellor, emphasizes, the power of daily practice is critical He quotes Rishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra,
Satkara-asevito dirdha bhumih
“One must cultivate one’s practice over a long period of time; it must be steady, without gaps, and must be done correctly for then a firm foundation is laid”
This daily practice, with the right guidance, can ensure the overall wellbeing of the individual.
The Sanskrit word Swasthya is a central concept to both Ayurveda and Yoga Swasthya implies health by being true to one’s self. This automatically rejects any artificial distinction or separation between the mind and body, which are both subtly united by the Breath Yet, how does one go about being true to one’s self if there is no agreement on what comprises the self?
The term Swasthya gives us this understanding and represents a holistic approach to health and well-being and encompasses physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. It involves achieving personalized regimens in Ayurveda and physical and mental practices in Yoga, aiming for inner harmony and optimal well-being
Shri Vasudev adds, “In Ayurveda, achieving ‘swasthya’ involves following a personalized diet and lifestyle regimen based on an individual's unique constitution or ‘dosha’ to achieve a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. In Yoga, achieving ‘swasthya’ involves practicing physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation to cultivate balance and harmony in the body, mind, and spirit. The concept of ‘swasthya’ emphasizes living in harmony with one's nature and recognizing that true health and well-being come from inner harmony.”
The distinction between the outer and inner self is not exclusive and instead is a mirroring of the human body with the outer world. The Yajurveda talks about the microcosm being in the macrocosm and the macrocosm being in the microcosm The Sanskrit phrase "Yadha Brahmandam Tadha Pindam,” which reflects this concept in Indian philosophy and spirituality, suggests that the individual is a reflection of the larger universe and that the laws that govern the universe also apply to the individual. The individual is seen as a reflection of the larger natural order of the universe, and imbalances in the individual can be corrected by aligning with the larger natural order.
The concept of Panchamahabuthas (five elements) and Trigunas (three qualities) helps in understanding individual health by explaining the interplay between the material and nonmaterial components of the body and mind. According to this concept, the human body is made up of five elements - earth, water, fire, air, and space - which are reflected in the physical material component of the body The Trigunas, on the other hand, are three qualities that reflect the non-material component of the body and mind - Sattva (purity), Rajas (activity), and Tamas (inertia) The imbalance of these elements and qualities can lead to physical and mental health issues. The macro and microcosms are integrally involved and a mere reflection of one another.
Ayurveda believes that the poorva rupa of most physical ailments will have a mental component. The right ayurvedic practice addresses both the physical and mental components of an individual's health.
To complement this, It is necessary to ensure yoga practices for every individual are customised. These practices should help in calming the mind, reducing stress and anxiety, and improving overall mental well-being. The aim is to address the root cause of disease including the mental component, by promoting a body-mind harmony.
Arogyam is also a common term used for health in our texts for this disease-free state of well-being What kind of a yoga practice can help achieve this? What does a sadhaka need to do or abstain from to achieve this?
Shri Vasudev says arogyam is a term used in Ayurveda/Yoga to refer to a state of optimal health and well-being. “To achieve this state, a sadhaka should incorporate a regular yoga practice that includes various techniques such as asanas, pranayama, meditation, and yoga nidra. A healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and avoiding unhealthy habits, as well as Ayurvedic practices such as Abhyanga (self-massage) and shatkarmas/Panchakarma (detoxification), can also be helpful. Overall, achieving arogyam requires a holistic approach to health that addresses both physical and mental well-being ”B K S Iyengar, A proponent of Yoga in Natarajasana Pose
The Charakasamhita, one of the three great triads of Indian medicine, tells us Yoga yokes us to our inner selves and is a path to liberation, and Ayurveda prepares us for Yoga. Ayurveda helps prepare the body and mind for Yoga practice by addressing imbalances and promoting physical and mental health through various therapies and practices Ayurveda also provides a framework for understanding the physical and mental aspects of the body and emphasizes the importance of maintaining balance in all areas of life
Yoga, on the other hand, focuses on the integration of the mind, body, and spirit through various practices such as asanas, pranayama, and meditation When used together, Ayurveda and Yoga can help individuals achieve a deeper level of self-awareness and spiritual growth. Ayurveda can help prepare the body and mind for yoga practice by addressing imbalances and promoting overall health and vitality. Yoga, in turn, can help deepen one's understanding of the self and provide a path to spiritual liberation.
Integrating Ayurveda and Yoga, practitioners can learn how to tailor their yoga practice to their unique Ayurvedic constitution, or dosha, and how to use Ayurvedic principles to promote overall health and well-being They may also learn about the spiritual aspects of Yoga and how it can be used as a tool for self-discovery and transformation. Eventually, arriving at a balanced diet and lifestyle, herbal remedies, and other self-care practices based on an individual's dosha and imbalances.
Ahara and daily bodily processes provide guidelines for maintaining optimal health and well-being throughout the year, even in regions with more extreme seasonal variations. Infact Ayurveda as a cautionary science offers practices that are very helpful in extreme weathers when the body is vulnerable as a prognosis for future diseases.
When done rightfully, Ayurveda and Yoga promote values of self-awareness, selfimprovement, compassion and a holistic approach to health and well-being. Vasudeva mentions, “As a student or teacher of yoga and Ayurveda, it is important to cultivate a deep understanding and respect for these values and to practice them in daily life. This includes a commitment to ongoing learning, personal growth, and self-care, as well as a willingness to share knowledge and support the well-being of others. Ultimately, the goal of yoga and Ayurveda is to promote greater health, happiness, and spiritual fulfillment for all beings,”
remembering the artisans
Jaimini Roy's quest was threefold: to capture the essence of simplicity embodied in the life of the folk people; to make art accessible to a wider section of people; and to give Indian art its own identity.
who crafted our heritage
A Padma Bhushan awardee, Jaimini Roy realized that he needed to draw inspiration, not from Western traditions, but from his own culture, and so he looked to the living folk and tribal art for inspiration. He was most influenced by the Kalighat Pat (Kalighat painting), which was a style of art with bold sweeping brush-strokes.
An interview with Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee
Image source: Unknown
As a student of Dr. ML Vasanthakumari, you were up close with one of the finest Carnatic musicians. Can you elaborate on what it was like to learn from her?
I learnt from MLV amma for 13 years and those perhaps were the best years of my life! Being alongside her for most parts of the day, I picked up so much, apart from music. It was with her that the actual grooming and chiselling happened, to shape me into the professional Sudha Ragunathan that I am today. Here, the teaching was totally different – in fact there was no teaching at all. It was just keen listening and absorbing. Much of it was from her old records that I would listen and notate and the rest was while watching her singing live. There were only two songs that Amma actually sat down and taught me. Even today if I go down memory lane and relive how I had absorbed and learnt so many kritis, am unable to fathom how that ever really had happened. Her style of teaching was a real challenge. MLV amma’s music was creative music, on the spot! She always kept you on tenterhooks and made you hang on to her and learn every drop of music that came from her. That was how she learnt from her guru Shri GN Balasubramanian and she wanted to pass on the same style of teaching to her disciples as well. In a way it equipped me with a kind of a grasping capability and alertness that gave me the confidence that I could learn anything anytime with a focus and determination.
Amma has been an inspiration in many ways. For her what takes prime place is courteousness towards the audience. A person of tremendous grit, she took on every challenge unflinchingly and simply rose above them. Meticulously planned cutcheris (concerts) were her hallmark and stage presence was very much a part of the presentation. All these are the gems I gathered in her association and tutelage.
During our times, there were a lot of doubts and trepidations on opting for music as a career with regard to sustenance. While we learnt, giving it our all, there were no real means of marketing ourselves and we had to take each day as it came. The students of today have a far more amenable platform for learning and performing. Moreover, they are quite bold, adventurous and an immensely talented lot. They are courageous enough to take a decision on making music a profession. They have the internet and technology at the click of a button, gurus, referral material, and research methodologies are all so much more accessible so there is more freedom and they are more equipped to learn even if it has to be at their pace! During my time, I would just hang on to every word of my guru and then search for books and tapes to learn further.
As someone regularly attending the Tyagaraja Aradhana, do you feel Carnatic music has hit a wall regarding fresh compositions?
This question is actually a redundant one. The main goal of the Aradhana is to have more attendees learn more new compositions to sing it at the samadhi. Thyagayya has composed countless kritis and we still have not done justice to them. There are a host of solo performances post the pancharatna group singing that offers the artist the podium to sing as many Thyagaraja kritis as they are able to. I too perform solo concerts here every year and include new Thyagaraja kritis each time. So where is the question of the Aradhana ‘hitting a wall’? Carnatic music can never hit the wall –the volume and repository of music that we have as compositions, ragas and talas that have been handed down from ages – from past composers, present composers and those who will rise in the future…. it will always have a blend of the old and new and there will be no dearth ever!
How do you prepare for a concert? What goes into the planning, preparation, and execution of a concert? How do you choose the songs/raga?
Firstly, healthy eating, yoga and meditation are primordial! That is to bring in the balance and composure at all times. And then lots of silence the day before the concert, with limited conversations.
While I do plan a format and choice of compositions/ragas bearing in mind what I sang the previous year and try avoiding a repeat of the repertoire, many times it is a spontaneous rendition. Feeling the pulse of that particular audience and understanding their expectations, performances are on the spot. Yes, of course during such times there are repeats but then one has to oblige as they are audience requests, coming from sincere music lovers who appreciate my style of rendition of that particular kriti.
An experienced artiste can judge by the way the audience reacts; like the nod of the head, the expression on the face, or by the applause. If I am singing for the same banner repeatedly, then I plan the songs. If I have to sing in a temple then naturally, I sing songs pertaining to the deity of that temple or if I am asked to sing at a wedding, then I see the music background of the family and accordingly sing. But otherwise, I don't plan my concerts. That is the advantage of the MLV style. My songs are spontaneous.
An experienced artiste can judge by the way the audience reacts; like the nod of the head, the expression on the face, or by the applause.
Do you have any pointers for Carnatic music learners who may struggle to render compositions well despite being disciplined and practicing regularly?
I think youngsters need to get to the bottom of the kriti, understand the emotions involved in the lyrics, listen to various legends singing the same raga so that they get an idea of the direction they need to tread on while singing the raga. Finally, it is a question of confidence…how much one internalises the composition. My guru MLV amma would always say that a kriti needs to be sung several dozen times before performing, to ensure it comes out pitch and picture perfect. All of this together will help younger musicians to render compositions with greater confidence.
What have you seen work well to engage the younger audience to attend and listen to Carnatic Music?
Being more casual, attempting to bring in a newness to bring in cheer into the music - maybe a bit of casual conversation with them, depending on where and which kind of an audience you are performing for. This gets them more involved. For eg at IIT – M at Chennai where I performed for SPICMACAY, I was trying to get them into the groove by giving them more details on the raga and a background on the composer – these things do help to bring the audience who are on the edge into the space where we are. Drawing them into the circle by sharing brief insights about the composer or the raga or relevance of the kritis familiarises them to the actual format and presentation. It then evokes an interest wherein they start asking questions and engage more post the concert.
How would you describe the relationship between an artist and her audience?
Every audience is different and one cannot actually put them into slots. Singing in 12 cities in the US or in India, every audience is different. It is not practical for you as a performer to exactly understand what their preferences are – it is a very unknown path that you tread on but somewhere a connect happens as you begin performing. As the concert progresses, then you understand the direction that you need to take. In over an hour or so there is a kind of unwritten pact that happens and an invisible relationship is formed!
As the concert progresses, then you understand the direction that you need to take. In over an hour or so there is a kind of unwritten pact that happens and an invisible relationship (with the audience) is formed!
For someone who has accomplished so much in music, are there still areas of learning and sadhana?
Of course – there is so much to learn… it is an ongoing process and never stops. The moment you get complacent, your profession gets sealed. We refer to music as an ocean - sagara - the more you swim into the waters, you will find more and more treasures! It is just impossible for anyone to think that they are done with it and have seen it all! It is an eternal process of learning and practise in my opinion
I get excited when students are totally in sync with me as the session progresses. When I sing a sangati/embellishment once and if they are able to immediately connect with that or further embellish it, it is motivating for me to watch them get creative! When I see students who are bright and intelligent and are able to absorb immediately, then it is like a shot in the arm for me and I get the urge teach them more…and sharing knowledge is a beautiful process. I had been postponing teaching for a long time on account of my extensive travel and commitments. But then I reorganized myself and in 2017 set up Sudhaarnava Academy of Musical Excellence where I conduct classes as often as I can. The Academy has 30 students on role who are regular attendees and learners.
Where do you seek inspiration from - are there fields outside of music that inspire and push you further?
Sometimes I shut myself off from music – when I feel the hues of my creativity – my vibgyorget reduced. Sometimes it is good to shut off from music and fill your life with lighter moments!
I do different things to distract myself meaningfully During the pandemic, many ideas emerged while sitting at home and being confined. A celebrity chat show, Expressions Espresso, which ended up having 40 plus eminent guests, was conceptualized
I also did some cooking videos bringing in music as well to make it refreshingly different I also visit surrounding places of my concert venues to soak in the landscape and lifestyles that give me varied perspectives! I try to keep exploring newer terrains.
Simply being still in meditation and silence often opens up a different space for creative thinking!
Many musicians straddle between performing pure Carnatic music and performing other genres, including film / light music as well. Is Carnatic Music a sustainable profession?
Yes, it is definitely a sustainable profession. However, it takes a long time and facing many challenges before you arrive at that point where you can confidently say that you can sustain! Dabbling with other genres makes it more varied and understandable by the audience world over. I have done it on many occasions - minimally. When you switch modes, there is a fun element to observe how the audience imbibes the presentation There are learnings and insights – and then you can always switch back to your core
How has your perception of Carnatic Music evolved and changed over the years?
Music definitely plays a large role in giving Indian arts its distinct identity. Carnatic music is one of the oldest forms of traditional Indian music and is the fulcrum for all musical endeavors to suit the changing taste of the audience. Change is good, needed and is progressive thinking.
Where Carnatic music is concerned, however, while there can never be a radical change as it has its own traditional format set by doyens, on a macro level, change can be made in the approach to the repertoire or the presentation. Expectations from the audience have changed. Today there are myriad audience profiles, and it is important to remember that what matters most is the reach - our focus should also be on simplifying music that reaches a greater section while upholding its intrinsic values.
During my travels across the world, I only see Carnatic music bringing together many minds and teachers and students of Indian music connect with each other across the globe in technologically advanced environments. This gives a reassurance that Indian classical music continues to be a unique identity of our land.
I have tried experimenting in many instances in the realm of Carnatic music. While global cultures are pervading, Indian classical music has its own identity and continues to draw an audience, in fact, in greater diversity. The innumerable workshops on music being conducted by our musicians both inside and outside of India, the research and papers, the ongoing lecture demonstrations, innovative attempts to showcase classical music, the jugal bandhis…all of these continue to keep our tradition alive, and I think we are in the right direction of ensuring that we are upholding our culture and values through music
Way back, I used to write a lot of poetry, though I can’t write a single line now I read a lot of books, both fiction and motivational. I think the latter genre is essential and helps one be elevated from within As a musician, I need to energise myself. When you are at peace with yourself, a peripheral sheen is added I cannot really be outside of music - I listen to a lot of film music and enjoy the old songs of MLV Amma and Illayaraja Sir. I also listen to A R Rahman’s melodies and numbers by Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Shreya, Chitra, Karthik and Chinmayi. I love travelling on vacation to lesser known/explored places and get very excited about adventure sports!
As someone who has achieved so much, what still drives you, and what do you have goals for your future?
There is so much more to achieve, and I think I have just come a quarter of the way! There is so much to do in all aspects It’s not just about performing the world over and winning awards! It is the acceptance and recognition that you gain that brings with it a certain amount of responsibility My contributions should be visible, seen, felt and acknowledged by everyone I consistently keep striving to achieve that endorsement. There are still many causes to work for and many out there who require support and aid. I aspire to bring music into the school’s curriculum, to work on music as a therapy in recouping, to build a strong legacy, and so much more!
What is Indian classical music's role in the society of the 21st century? We see a debate on inclusivity in Carnatic music that seeks to go beyond the divides of religion or caste. What are your thoughts?
Carnatic music can definitely not reach the masses as there is an element of complexity in the music One has to understand the science of the music to appreciate it fully and when it is taken to a larger forum, the complexity of the maodharma of music – the ragas, the neravals and the thani avartanams many a time baffles the audience.
From where it has been, Carnatic music is certainly now expanding its boundaries of reach, with many musicians working on various platforms to present it in a simpler form In my activities during the Joy of Giving week, I have sung at Corporation Schools, at Old Age Homes and even at the Puzhal Prison to a cross section of audience across age groups with virtually no knowledge of Carnatic music and it is immensely satisfying to have seen the acceptance. I am also working on projects that have a rural reach. Eventually, music is for all and it is up to us to work on various modalities to make it inclusive and also have a varied audience that can all enjoy and appreciate the nuances because of our simplifications
The upcoming group is a very bold, adventurous and immensely talented lot. They are courageous enough to take the decision to make music a profession During our times, there were a lot of doubts and trepidations about opting for music as a career with regard to sustenance. But now, youngsters know what they want and are very clear about their choices This is a welcome change and bent of mind Music today can be a bread-winning profession. Because of their talent, they can juggle academics, music, and their regular profession and aspire further. They don different hats and explore different avenues. The previous generation was very conservative about music and restricted to only singing But today’s generation has diversified on also working on aspects associated with music – like opening up e-stores for music, jamming, playback singing, creating merchandise related to music and conceptualizing different and novel ways to promote the art. While it brings more money to the table, it also throws up a host of challenges that the younger generation is quite capable of overcoming
Not really I believe I have been open to learning, exploring and trying out new things so it has been progressive all the while Many new endeavours bordering on music…that itself is being different. My musical identity gave me many opportunities to explore outside the space of concerts – I walked the ramp for Kanchipuram silks, did celebrity chat shows during the pandemic and after, launched my Samudhaaya Foundation and supported many causes and I keep looking for newer horizons. There is never an end to exploring!
Even today, the rain drops on the glass remind me of that journey, of that brief meeting, of that unsaid conversation…
As soon as Avantika boarded the bus, the passengers started staring at her. She started looking for a place to sit in the already packed bus. Seeing her a bit unsettled, the conductor asked her to sit wherever she could find a spot. She replied to him, “Bhaiya, I have already missed my first bus, which has my luggage. I need to catch a bus from Dehradun, and all my friends have already reached there”. She had come for a college trip to Mussoorie-Dhanaulti.
Avantika turned around to scan the bus for an empty seat and found 3 people seated in twin seats and four people occupying 3-seater seats. She then found a man occupying a window seat who was busy playing with the water droplets that had fallen on the bus window. On a twin seat, he was by himself and had placed his bag in the adjacent space. Seeing this, she asked the conductor, “that spot is empty,” to which the conductor retorted, “Madam, that man has purchased two tickets; I cannot say anything to him.”
She looked at her fellow passengers on the bus, who were still staring at her. Some were looking at her torn denims, others at her tattoo, others at her untidy curly hair and others at her stylish headphones. The cold weather had caused her face to turn red, and her blonde hair made her look like a European. She did not have any expectations from the passengers or the conductor.Avantika was unable to see that lone man’s whole face because he had covered a portion of it with a scarf. But because of his cap and jacket, he looked different from the rest of the passengers. She figured that he would be helpful.
As she moved her way to the back of the bus and made it to the prized seat, she mustered an innocent voice and asked him to move his bag so she could sit. But the man in question was wearing his headphones and likely did not hear her request. She grabbed his bag, and seeing her lift it, he gripped the luggage back and angrily said, “what is this misbehaviour? How dare you pick my bag!”.
“I am sorry…actually, you did not hear my request, so I decided to move your bag. I missed my earlier bus and am now on my way to Dehradun to reunite with my college friends. We came on a college trip and are now headed back.” In a single breath, she explained her entire situation.
Hearing this, the man stood up and gave her his window seat. It was now Avantika and his bag that occupied the two-seater. As the bus moved, he kept standing. Looking at this, she felt like asking him to sit next to her and place the bag below the seat. However, having been scolded for touching his bag earlier, she could not muster the courage to make this request. She started wondering what the valuable contents in that bag could be that he preferred to stand and let that bag sit.
Avantika started taking photos of the passing mountains and the valleys and, in the middle of taking pictures, would reply to her friends' text messages, the same friends who were waiting for her in Dehradun. She again felt like asking him to sit but quickly figured that he was uninterested in talking with her or having company. He was immersed in a song he was listening to and faintly humming the tune. She thought she heard the tune of ‘Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se.’ It did sound like that. His eyes were closed, and he was holding onto a pole and she decided it was better not to disturb him. She started looking out the window again.
The bus came to a sudden halt as the road had gotten damaged because of the rain. The passengers started getting irritable as the bus did not move. Her phone rang, this time with her friend asking about her location. Avantika replied, explaining that the road had gotten damaged and that it would take some time for the bus to move again. She expressed how she was feeling cold and felt like getting off the bus to grab a cup of tea…the person on the other end of the phone shot down her plan immediately and forcefully said, “you are not getting off the vehicle; you missed the last bus when traffic came to a halt, and you stepped out to take a photo, you remember right! As the traffic cleared, the driver had to move to avoid a jam. You cannot afford to make another mistake; stay seated!!”
As she remembered how she missed her last bus, she saw half the passengers deboard, which tempted her again to get off. Contemplating whether to stay or not, out of nowhere, a cup of tea in a Kulhad was offered to her, and it was by the same person whose seat she occupied. She replied with a big thank you and proceeded to start a conversation, only for him to plug his headphones back in and shut his eyes to the world.
The bus was empty, so he sat in the seat diagonally in front of her. She tried to see his face, clothes, shoes, and bags again and felt he was not a local. Perhaps he, too, had gone trekking. But by himself?
She was busy in her own thoughts when the bus started moving again. This time she gathered some courage and asked him if he would like to sit and place the bag below. Their eyes met for a moment, triggering a swarm of emotions in her. Her face went cold again, her cheeks turned red, and she felt the heat radiating from the cup of tea more than she had before. He smiled at her and started looking in the other direction. She could still not see his full face, but his intense eyes were drawing her towards him.
As the bus entered the Dehradun bus terminal, people started moving around to pull their luggage out. The commotion woke her up and she saw the conductor next to her. She asked him if they had reached Dehradun, and he replied, “yes madam, now rush so that you do not miss another bus.” As she got up to deboard, she saw that the bag and that stranger were no longer there. When and where did he get down? She got down from the bus and felt upset at falling asleep and not keeping track of his destination.
She felt like asking the conductor about his whereabouts but was interrupted by her friend Shefali, who ran towards her and on meeting her, asked to hurry for their college teacher was quite upset at her absence.
Both started walking briskly towards their college group, but Avantika’s eyes were searching the area for him. Thoughts like who he was, his name, and what was so precious in the bag preoccupied her. She snapped back to reality when her teacher's voice pierced through her ears – “Avantika, your carelessness has caused all of us this discomfort; now let’s go.” All of them boarded the bus, and shortly thereafter, it departed.
Avantika and Shefali sat beside each other, and Avantika started showing the photos she clicked during the bus ride. One photo was shot in a way in which it looked like Avantika was the only passenger on the bus, as the seat next to her looked empty. Seeing the image, Shefali remarked that Avantika was lucky to be able to travel with so much space, to which she replied that her fellow passenger was a bag and ended up narrating the whole journey.
As people settled into the bus ride, they slowly started falling asleep, and eventually, Shefali also dozed off. Avantika could not sleep and started browsing through her recent college trip photos. Deleting photos of the trek she did not like and forwarding others she liked. Finally, the day’s tiredness started catching up, and she started feeling sleepy, but suddenly a photo caught her attention. It was a photo in which she saw a bag that looked exactly like the bag that was beside her on the recent bus journey.
She looked at the photo again, confident it was the same bag. Sleep almost instantly vanished from her eyes. This prompted her to revisit all her photos, and to her surprise, she discovered the stranger’s cap, his jacket and his bag, but to her dismay, his face was not captured. She zoomed in on all group photos to see if any of them had that stranger in them, but she could not find him. It was only in her selfies that she could find a glimpse of his jacket or his cap.
1000 questions ran through her mind. Was it a coincidence or was he following her? She wondered if he was also in the first bus with her and when she missed it and boarded another one, then how was he already seated in it. If he was following her then why did he not engage with her when she tried to strike a conversation. He did not even ask my name, but when he offered her the cup of tea, he said Avantika and handed the cup. Oh shit, shit, shit, who was he, and how did he know my name.
With a spinning head, she woke Shefali up and told her about this new development. However, halfawake, Shefali did not pay attention and disinterestedly responded “let me sleep, no one was following you.”
She tried to wake up Shefali again but was unsuccessful. As the bus reached Delhi, Avantika repeated her findings again:
“He was following me, I cannot forget his eyes.”
“No one was following you. We were together the whole time, I would have surely remembered.”
“But, you saw the photos, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I saw them, but you are seated by yourself in your bus photos.”
“But I told you how the bag was in my adjacent seat, and the angle of the photo did not capture it.”
“Precisely, and that is what I am telling you, no one does this, where they stand and give their seat instead to the luggage. Besides, who gives up on the opportunity to sit next to a girl? Let it go, you have a wild imagination, no one is following you.”
“Then what about the photos from the trek where you can see someone walking behind me.”
“So many people came for that trek; it could be anyone and a total coincidence. During the entire trip, were we not together, how did neither of us spot this stranger? You must have dozed off in the bus and were dreaming this”
However, Avantika was not ready to believe it was all a dream or a concoction of her wild imagination. She suddenly remembered how he called her name when offering her the tea. Avantika had a habit of never littering and started looking for the empty cup in her bag. She then recalled how when she had boarded the bus, she only had her mobile phone and her luggage was in the bus that she missed.
Shefali on the other hand was quite familiar with Avantika’s interest in novels and quipped to say “get your head out of the world of books, there was no one, I have a feeling you have been reading a lot of crime stories and romantic novels.”
Avantika continued to grow uneasy and kept wondering how the stranger could be on the trek and in the bus too. The same bag, cap, jacket and was he singing ‘Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se’ for me?
Upon reaching their room in Delhi, Shefali hit the bed and dozed off, but Avantika’s thoughts were back to the mountains around Mussoorie. She was sure that it was not a product of her imagination. She wished that she had either asked his name or number; at least this way, she could have looked him up online and found him on Facebook.
It has been five years since that meeting, and till today, whenever she sees raindrops on the glass, she is reminded of him and that encounter. The intensity of his eyes, that sweet essence of the meeting, the warm cup of tea, the unfinished meeting, the unsaid conversation and the stranger…
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