The countdown begins >>>

This is the countdown we are all moving towards- some fear it, some dread it, some accept it resignedly, some with equanimity and some with peace. I do not yet know where I stand on this spectrum. Perhaps just somewhere from where all these options seems recognizable. This is the countdown towards reaching the culmination of our earthly journey.

In many a  post, such as this, or this , or that,  in these past few months I have been writing about my dogs, in particular Raga. This post is just a round-up of today and unlike many other days when I write blogposts in the evening or late evening, this is rank afternoon. My computer clock is showing 2:03pm. This is not the time for blogs entries!

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As I write this post Raga is sitting right behind me, and the backyard is behind her

But this is. For today is the day that the final end is staring loud and clear- not that it was not earlier. But I do not want to mourn her passage- i want to write a note to myself for the morrow when she would really not be there, and I would be crying around. To tell myself of the future, how much I loved my baby…i need to write this down, while she is still breathing right behind me.

Last week, I had to take her to a vet in Noida- as she could not pass urine. It got me very worked up, because all these months she is not able to get up on her own as it is and every act of her bowel and bladder involves my role in cleaning up after her or washing her sheets etc. So in two days when I saw no wetness anywhere I just knew it was something serious. She was made to pee through a catheter. She had accumulated 2 and a quarter liters inside her. For a bladder capacity of 150ml that female german shepherds have an accumulation of 2.3 liters is too much. I shudder to think of the toxicity. The doctor was quite expensive and forcibly saddled me with a dog food packet having formulation for urinary issues. I came home lighter with an empty bladder of the girl and my own pocket of Rs.3000/- That is a lot of money for me.

Two days later I had no success and the same point came- she needed another catheterization. I was frantic. Taking her to Noida with my own spine not yet healed and paying an expensive veterinary doctor, notwithstanding how good he may be, is never an easy option. I called up the local chap (who is good enough only for small issues I figured, for he never seems to rise up to the occasion) and he said he was down with fever and at a clinic himself!! His assistant said he would come, only to tell me two hours later that he cannot manage a catheter with a female dog! My two hours had gone, and anxiety was building rapidly. Raga had not peed again in more than 48 hours.

I called another local vet, who is right here in our sector- he turned out to be an a***hole. Refused to deal with the issue, because another vet had already started the treatment! I never thought vets could be lacking in ethics, but having that encounter was an eye-opener for sure.

A blind fluke of a chance and I landed up in sector 19 market, at the reference of a local chemist- who I buy my canine medicines from occasionally. I met this vet for the first time only on Saturday-29th July 2017. He managed the insert the catheter with great difficulty and told me to unfasten her tail…let the wound dry. I did that yesterday. Even in his clinic there was a bladder output of over two liters! Today is the third day…for after coming back day before yesterday, there was no bladder movement again, while the bowel movement continues as normal.

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In the veterinary operation theater today morning

All this while I did not have a diagnosis for Raga. This vet wrote down- quadriplegic and paralyzed. My heart just shuddered to read it- my baby was so severely crippled that I did not even see it so. But of course I faced its outcome everyday…

Her kidneys are filtering yet the nerves that have to send a signal to the brain. The vet used the term degenerative myelopathy. There is nothing to be done, but support the animal till the last stages- however long one can handle that. My baby is so quiet…ever so gentle, still ready to bark at others especially the outside dogs who come into our compound to eat every morning, and on mornings when I have carried her up to the front lawn she can amuse herself by looking at them – eating right under her nose.

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Right in front of her

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The five outsiders eat their morning meal

Life is a great journey, which is so deeply enriched by the presence of animals , so much so that I cannot imagine what it could have been without them.

So today when I took her for another round of catheterization, the vet saw her tail and told me it had gangrene. Already in the morning i had a teary breakdown while talking to Andre, about Raga and to hear the gangrene word…i was jolted. I immediately requested him for surgery. Could it be possible without general anasthesia, the one thing I am so afraid of for Raga, for I fear she will not revive after it. He calmly told me to let him get over with the bladder issue.

While managing that he told me, that her tail can be numbed in two or three different spots and that way the amputation can be handled. the time for the surgery is 8pm. I will teach my students of music and then leave home around 7:30. It is a sigh of relief- though i know it is a sign of the end. My baby is getting ready to go and this, all this, whatever I am doing right now is basically my own preparation- to accept that she must; or else I end up prolonging her misery.

So finally it is all about coming to terms with our losses…our un-fill-able losses. Our animals are parts of our souls, as much as we are their’s. And this is the time for me to get ready to accept that my baby, my littlest one, who came to me as a 45 days old puppy, the daughter of Pepper and Ranger (and I saw them both) will soon be gone. This is my time to love her the most, to hug her what I can- to clean her body with the nice spray I bought for her, because she has not had a bath since April for I find her so weak. She does not smell in the least…and still I want to comb her, wash her nails and toes. My Raga- you were my music and the music must live.

I have tears streaming down as I write these last lines, yet I look back at our lives together- our interwoven tapestry is a beautiful one, and Raga has been through so much of it- thank you life for giving me such beautiful dogs and letting me love them and live for them, till as long as we had to share the road. Perhaps the next post will be my farewell post to her.

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The arrow of the ‘Bani’

The late nineties were a period of intense suffering for me. There was the suffering of the bipolar, which had made me a social outcast, and there was the suffering rather search for myself, via my musical self; which had to appear much later in life, at a philosophical and experiential level. One of the sources of this suffering was an uncertainty about the musical ‘knowledge’ (if I may use this word about it) I had. It felt, and was inadequate, half-baked, shallow, hazy and botched up, to say the least. The need for a guru, to lead me out of this darkness, was acute- rather desperate.

It was not the internet age. One did not know how to find a guru, the world was not so seamlessly connected and neither was one exposed to a lot of musicians in an average Indian, Punjabi household more so.

1998, saw me at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya (GMV) in Delhi- taking the bus, walking the long sunny path, hiding behind the shadows of the UGC building at ITO, taking the footpath from the bus-stop till the school, climbing the stairs to enter the classroom, of hopeful ladies wanting to learn classical music from a reluctant-to-teach guruji (who in fact was more keen to get private students from the public ‘pool’).

Six months in the 7th year (Master’s) class there and I was done with it! The search began all over again- this time it brought me to two teachers together- two men, with different worldviews, but both saying the same thing- they would not charge me for teaching anything, once they were certain I was the right ‘disciple’! Both had different roots and different methods. With one I lasted but a few months, and found him to be one of the most rotten encounters of my life. The other was A guru who molded my mind, and raised my musical consciousness- the first among the wise teachers who would teach me.

Dasgupta-ji was unlike any music teacher one would ever meet. You entered into his small living room, where there was a high diwaan and two chairs on the side, and an adjacent kitchen. My parents had accidentally met him in the house of a common friend, and had offered to drop him home, as they were all coming back in the same direction. Upon discovering that he was a music teacher, they got curious as they had a musically curious and eligible student in the form of their own daughter (me) as a point of reference. On the way back home, the music teacher shared all about his musical pedigree and the parents were sufficiently convinced that this was someone who their daughter should be sent to.

At the same time, the daughter-me, had encountered the other musician- Hari Charan Verma, who was very gifted as an artist, introduced by the tabla- accompanist of the GMV 7th year class. I was taken in by his singing and knew that I had found my guru. It was a tussle for awhile…but I paid heed to my parents in a few months and decided to meet Dasgupta-ji.

The Guru with a Quirk

Imagine meeting a music teacher who has the following conditions-

  1. I will not take any money for teaching you;
  2. You have to learn with me three days a week!
  3. It will be the way I want it- and possibly over two hours at a time!

Perhaps the average music student would be thrilled with such a prospect. So was I! what better than a guru so generous…until one really got down to it.

So the training began- two and a half hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the week. The first half hour was devoted to singing the pancham- by the clock too. Guruji would put his wrist watch on the harmonium in front and we would both get down to singing the ‘Pa’. The next hour hour was devoted to ga-ma-pa-dha; also by the clock. I do not remember what would happen after the first hour…but I do recall that I would be looking forward to the Marie biscuits and tea that aunty would bring forward, somewhere along the course of this. That was the sole bright spot of the whole singing- the Green Label Tea with its light aroma, and always the same taste- which I love till date.

But what a thing. Hours of singing and no musical ragas, no compositions, no fast paced actions, nothing- all at a century old pace, a leisurely dip in one note at a time for a youth (I was 25) who was so restless (thanks to psychotropic drugs), anecdotes from the lives of his gurus- Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan and Ustad Ishtiaq Hussain Khan, comments on the popular musicians of the day- which I hardly bothered about, and musical ideas that his gurus had handed down to him. I would be angry at times at the rebuff- he would stop me from singing so many times, and insist I slow down, I sing more precisely, more accurately. I was 15 years of a trained student, not a novice, and this was nothing but an insult for me. But I kept taking it- because he was never mean about it. He would explain to me, the significance of the ‘shuddh bani’. For the first time I heard it from him and understood the meaning of bani- and then I understood there were other ‘banis’ also going around- Dagar bani, Khandhar bani and one more (whose name I forget).

He would repeatedly tell me, ” Just learn the shuddh bani from me, and then sing whatever you want to sing. Sing classical, bhajan, ghazal or anything- but sing it in shuddh bani. Your voice will never become hoarse- you will sing the same into your old age, you will never go off-key.” Half the time, as i stood on the bus-stop later to take the never-to-appear bus home, I would tell myself I am not going to come back here again. But two days later I would still come back.

My stint with him did not last long- only for about a year or a little over. But it was enough to drop the seed in my head- the seed of the shuddh bani and then began my search, which would take me to many a guru and style, until I would come within and integrate them all.

When I would press him to know which musicians sang the Shuddh bani that he advocated so much, he would only name Mehdi Hassan and possibly Lata Mangeshkar. Among the classical musicians he was not willing to name any! It is not proper to name all the musicians he could find faults with- for this is a public medium and in India we hold musicians so ‘sacred’. But the fact of the matter is that, forget about Raga interpretation, even on the count of ‘swara’ musicians could find faults with one another. I have a lot of memories in my head about the family of Ustad Mushtaq Hussain that guruji shared with me- in particular how Khan sa’ab was so dismissive about most of his family and extended relatives. The only person guruji told me, who had any merit among Khan Sa’ab’s sons after Ustad Ishtiaq Hussain was Ghulam Taqi- but I think he also died early.

There were two people who I went to meet with guruji, on two separate occasions. One was Smt. Sumati Mutatkar- who was then into her eighties and the other was Ghulam Hussain, possibly a son of Khan sa’ab, or his son in law (I forget). The former lived in the Asiad Village and the latter in Zakir Nagar, Okhla. She had retired as the Dean of the Music Faculty, of the Delhi University, while he was a radio artist if I can recall correctly. And later guruji would have told me how Khan saheb had refused to teach either of them! But that is life.

When a tree becomes big, many can see it and reach out to it, to touch it and take cover under its umbrella and claim it to be a relationship, just because they have been close to the tree- regardless of whether the tree acknowledges that or not. In India, the musical learning tradition has no clear-cut pathways and anyone can claim to be anyone’s disciple (the way a certain big musician claims to be the disciple of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, without even meeting him!). Delhi was full of musicians once upon a time who wanted to learn with Ustad Mushtaq Hussain, and Khan sa’ab would shoo everyone away or just while their time away, because he could see an ardent disciple from the ones who just came after his name.

He had after all seen Dasgupta-ji’s passion for a long time and tested him out, before taking me on as a student, but not before he himself had turned 93!

Mummy also stepped in

My mother has a strange relationship with some of my ‘people’- friends, teachers and gurus. With Dasgupta-ji also this happened- may be because mummy and papa had first met him, and not me. But mom got both guruji and his wife, a senior citizen’s pension, because she knew the local counselor of Kalkaji, who gave them the status of senior citizens. Guruji’s wife was very happy as for the first time in her life, she got money in her own name.

I learnt with guruji not more than a year, I think- but he got the pension from the government till the end of his life. I may not have paid him directly, but my mother ensured them some money for the rest of their lives. I feel proud of my mother for this, as also gratitude that she would do such things for people who had little connection with her in a direct way.

Today I remember Guruji, with gratitude that he raised my musical consciousness to that level where I could understand the different aspects of rendition and what makes a music touching as opposed to a musical wrestling, jostling or ‘smartness’. A deeper musician does not need to be smart at all, you just need to be simple and your music will speak to the heart of another directly- you don’t have to worry about impressions at all!

Last week brought a surprise…

A few days ago, a former student of Dasgupta-ji connected with me, thanks to the intricate web of the internet from somewhere in the US, and we got ‘talking’ (on email) about so many things- largely about our guru in common. But the uncanny thing was, that he said that he wanted to make a donation in the memory of our common guru, to Hansadhwani Foundation as a support for the work we are doing.

I am just thinking> money has a strange way of going around and coming around! This universe is so full of mystery, that it baffles me what all can happen. I am touched and humbled at the same time. The mysteries continue to unravel. Is this a blessing from guruji, by any chance? Is this an acknowledgement from the universe that I am on the right path- where without even me asking anyone someone is stepping forward to offer support? Is this a mystery or is it logical?

Kindness that leaves one speechless

On 25th June, I wrote a post on this blog,  in which I mentioned about Deepak Raja and his new book- Raga-ness of Ragas. Since he had invited me for a promotional lecture about the book, via a WhatsApp message, I thanked him and promised to give it an honest effort. (now of course with the changed situation of my spine, which is getting better and I am gaining in confidence, due to the treatment, I may be able to go) But just to be on the safer side, I kept my doors open, and I told him so. Also the traffic situation in Delhi is quite tedious in the evenings- I have stopped going out at all in the evenings! But that is also characteristic of me- for I prefer my own home, my writing, books, music and reading over mingling with people in the evenings, or on some occasions riyaaz as well.

So anyhow, out of curiosity I thought I would take a look at the contents of the book, since I would not want to remain totally ignorant of what is happening in the world around. So when I opened the publisher’s link I found many interesting things, and this was my response to Deepak-ji at that point.

Prateeksha Sharma

25 Jun (8 days ago)

to Deepak
Dear Deepak-ji
Coming from you, this is heartening to say the least. But alas ghazal is not the genre I dabble in these days- only khayal. Since I never made any recordings of my khyal music, this was the only thing I though of sharing upon a whim.
If you read this piece of writing, which has my music also embedded in it, it may give you insights as to how the ghazal came about in the first place. But of course reading may be a little tedious considering you must be reading so much else as well.
Just out of curiosity I looked at the index of the new book and I am feeling very keen to buy it, though it is so steeply priced. These days a lot of my expenditure is in the direction of my phd books. But lo and behold I find another compelling reason here- you are doing a point by point analysis of bandishes and taans and whatnot. 
Just last week I was working very ‘profusely’ in Durga. I worked on a bandish whose lyrics came from Bhatkhande’ s book, yet music was my own. then I worked out a song for little children (between 5-8 years) and then on another tarana, all in Durga. Concomitantly, I learnt three or four bandishes with my own guru. I am still learning, as my learning has never been continuous thanks for a very unpredictable life. Anyhow, things are much more settled now and therefore this gush of musical compositions, in this or that raga.
I think it is only a matter of time that I will buy the book- am hoping they would come out with a paperback as well.
warmest regards
In response came this mail from Deepak ji (26th June 2017)
Dear Prateeksha:
I am sending herewith the manuscript of my book on Raga-ness. I hope you find it interesting. 
Regards. Deepak 
And lo and behold, the book manuscript comes into my computer!!!
The gentleman took 15 years to write the book or however we see it…and I cannot imagine his generosity and kindness in simply sending the manuscript to me- just because I said I cannot buy it immediately. But of course i have to buy the book, there is no option to that, not even for a moment, in my mind.
My response to him-  (26th June 2017)
Dear Deepak-ji
This is extremely kind of you. I am honored and so touched by the gesture. 
I will make do with the manuscript for now ( I have no words to express my elation). It is only a matter of time that I will buy it, because reading a hard copy has no substitute, as of course the sense of seeing the book in print and holding it in your hand. I value books immensely and therefore buying one that I deeply value is only a matter of time for me, and juggling a bit of resources- but I usually get what I want. 
I also value the fact that you took a long time to write the book, so if I take a little time to buy it, there is no loss. In the interim I have the manuscript to refer back to. I have many books that I want in both versions, because each form has its own place in our hearts and our reference systems. This is one of those precious ones.
Someday I will get my copy of the book autographed by you. I will read the book and come back to you slowly, because there is so much to learn in every direction. I am just planning a research article for a journal, which has recently accepted my abstract for a forthcoming special issue.
I wish you more books and scholarship ahead, and may the world be enriched by your knowledge.
In gratitude
And this is the letter I received in response-

Deepak Raja

26 Jun (7 days ago)

to me
You are welcome. Prateeksha. 
A reader of your caliber is a privilege.
Regards. Deepak
In my life I have seen and interacted with many a person and musician. The only thing that comes to mind from my interaction with Deepak-ji is that here is a musician who is a human being first. It is not easy to find humans among musicians– they are musicians first and last and their musical egos live on giant mountains. To interact with a person who has a great acuity of ideas, in addition to musical knowledge, language and expression is a matter of great fortune, nothing short of it. I know in my lifetime I would have met some fine minds and I am grateful for it.
The book is a real treasure for a person like me, and having seen it in the manuscript form I am only too excited to order and get my copy as soon as I can.