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?

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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.

Shivmat Bhairav

From the start this has been a difficult year in terms of health. First it was the ‘breakdown’, then came the Phd admission, then the spinal problems and now the chikungunya. Wow! talking of living in a ‘poor’ country, one cannot but worry about how the average person lives here. Everyone seems to be sick in the city of Delhi/Faridabad. The government is giving out its own statistics, but the reality of life seems so different. In every family I am fiDSC00940nding people having fever, and body aches. I myself was suffering from immense body ache at present, and it seems as though the body has been hollowed out- without life in it.

Notwithstanding that I have been chipping away at my writing- the book on music, that is, and today I also plucked the courage to  start singing once again with my guru- Madhuriji. It must have been in March or April I did some learning with her. And after that long a gap- now. It always takes awhile to pick up a new raga with aunty, because she dislikes certain and then does not think all ragas need to be sung elaborately. I wanted to pick up either Anand Bhairava or Jogiya. But she said Anand Bhairava was only sung by Jitendra Abhisheki and nobody else! and Jogiya is a a raga for thumri, nothing else! So that made my choices somewhat limited. In any case eliminating made choosing easier as well. So between a number of ragas, since I wanted to learn something new, we settled for Shivmat Bhairav.  It belongs to the Bhairav family, having both gandhar , both nishad notes. It resembles Jogkauns somewhat. (That reminds me that I have to go over Jogkauns all over again as my illness seems to have obliterated the memory of that raga in my mind for now).

The world of Hindustani ragas is so vast and colourful it seems endless- there is so much to learn, to teach, to share, to write about, to create and whatnot. And here I am grappling with chikungunya- sleeping with body ache and lifelessly so- in my bed. The book is going around in my mind at most times. Yesterday I was writing about the folk songs of women of Garhwal and thinking about the role of folk music in the life of people. It is so deeply entrenched, yet so overshadowed by the popular reign of film music and other forms of music from the cities. There is a reason to be worried. I am writing this down in the book, because if a country does not preserve its folk art and music, it is sure to be lose its voice and identity.

What is diversity if not difference from the dominant prevalent culture which is handed down by civilizational leaders? Currently the leadership comes from the West to the rest. That leadership permeates every field- including artistic and musical traditions. Foolishly enough people in third world countries think they can and ought to follow the trail of the (Western) leaders because they are markers of civilization, advancement and development. In that self doubt and self conscious assessment, they marginalize their indigenous knowledge and traditions. It is happening all over the world and India is no exception. Even Indian music is not immune to such self conscious assessment. In part one has to hold the planning around art and culture responsible for this lack of self confidence and need to be accepted by the Westerner before we can accept ourselves.

And though I am delving into the deeper end of the current, in search of newer ragas and compositions, my heart is in pain to think of how the average person is so far removed from the immensity of experience that our music brings. In talking to many people for the writing, many points of view emerged- especially on the issue of whether our classical music is our real music or should it be some folk form of music. Ramakant-ji told me that this is a classical tussle in all traditional forms of knowledge, particularly in language and mathematics. So I do not have to dig the well again, but understand the work done by linguistics and mathematicians in the realm of finding a compromise between folk and classical traditions, rather than depriving the average child in the country of both!

The book is half way done. I mean I have written just over 20k words and I need to write equally as many. It is not the easiest of books to write, though when I had sent the proposal it did not look so confounding. It is a great learning and covers a big range of topics, yet the learning has come from most unexpected quarters for me- the fact that writing a book proposal is so different from executing it! Sometimes it is so easy to nail down a broad outline, but try filling up the outline and you know what a tough challenge it can be. I have only learnt this now. Of course writing the first book was a different sort of challenge- something that I am about to embark on once again! Of course, nobody needs to do that if you find a publisher at the outset. But since I want to change the entire book, it is asking me for that sort of effort.

The PhD does not budge

If anyone asks me how my phd research is going, I feel annoyed, because honestly speaking what are they thinking? Do they think it can get over in a day? The truth is that apart from reading and outlining a few preliminary articles, I have not really embarked upon the road in any earnest manner. Shifting home 2000 kilometers, setting up a new home, falling sick and all sorts of adjustment issues that I have had to deal with these past few months do not make research the easiest things to start. SO I am staggering under the various burdens- but slowly gravitating towards an equilibrium- one part of which includes counseling with my clients.

So life goes on thus…(will write later as someone is at the door)

Poetry…for psychiatry conference!!!

I could have been at the conference in Mexico today, had I had the money for it. But then did I really ever want to be in a gathering of psychiatrists who would be congratulating themselves about how variously they have fooled the world into believing they have  a cure for the suffering of millions of people worldwide, which comes through medicines?

No loss, if I am not there for the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry Conference- they are not the arbitrators of justice that people need to change a fundamentally erroneous world order where senselessly humans have desecrated the human and global ecology, and ravaged the consciousness of the world irreversibly. To expect these salesmen or educated faces of the pharma industry to bring any goodness to the world is an idiotic idea to say the least. One need never go and be in a forum of psychiatry ever. But the poetry and ideas can go, should go.

Here are my poems, that will be part of the exhibition. One already appeared in the journal issue which I posted in the previous post. These are the others…all written during my illness years. I chose these at random from among the hundreds I have in my repertoire, for no particular reason- possibly as shades of my moods.

The road of life

The road of life

A March on the Road of the life and the path unknown

22nd September 1999

A march on the road of life, and the path unknown

The road rugged, the road rough’n a rude road-

Mostly a companionless road, I traverse

Hard pressed-

Unexpected corners’n blouders make it feel impossible

To take another step

In anger welling…wishing the heart would stop

Or p’raps a friend, companion, wayfarer around the next turn;

Kicking pebbles, circumventing potholes

Occasionally falling, but never really so-

The road leads the way, and the path unknown’n

                                      I press on regardless.

***

Rotting Mangoes

22 June 2008

Thine bonds with life dissolved, from the tree

Leaving the world, in such celebration

Such feasting, and such song

Rotting mangoes- what an elegant departure you make.

The winds rustle their ceaseless lyres

Big, red ants clamour atop you in hungry, grateful glee

O you of the high, high branches, now in peaceful repose

On just another stone staircase, this farm where I walk by close.

‘N yes, I still, see you in your infancy, youth and fervor

Dance’n sway, from the unreachable branches high

I see you in peaceful poise

As life deposits you mid ants, falling leaves’n an occasional kick from a careworn passer-by

At least you did not on another

Dinner plate land

Or in another cake, jam or pudding lose your way

O now fermenting, teeming with big ants, pulp of sweetness-

As you go-

I see you so-

Grand, silent and useful

Not a cold corpse stiffening,

But a mound of celebration, aroma’n a celebration of life all over again.

Now Reclaiming

9th April 2006DSCN1133

In now reclaiming

My lost forgotten selves-

For how colourless, stale, fragmented have I become,

Perhaps, I will someday become Me-

That drop, from the sea torn apart

Forgetting the sea

The belongingness, diversity

Colouring itself variously

In its daily deadness, monotony;

Having forgotten its essence

Its multicolored hues, and nuances

Only remembering to consume, recreate and procreate

As if that alone, were my destiny-

Nay, not me, not me.

So now, reclaiming.

World mental health day and Hyderabadi biryani

The world mental health day is an uncanny day this time for me, as for the first time I will be outside my home. At the time of writing this, I am very much on my own computer and have an article to share as part of this writing, which has just come down today for the final approval. But I have butterflies in the stomach- due to other reasons.

The road of life

The road of life- yet again

So while the world will observe the world mental health day I will be sitting in Hyderabad, at Nalsar, cooking my concoction of Hyderabadi Biryani- just kidding. I will be discussing ideas with the school of management people at the university, about my entrepreneurial venture, among other things. Some very interesting new developments have happened, in the past few days which are helping me focus on the idea of music education more than anything else. Why worry about mental health,when music itself contributes to mental health in significant ways? If I keep my focus in the domain of music, it is a much better thing than getting it distributed between music and hardcore mental health, via counseling and all that cycle. It also comes into direct conflict with many who work in mental health from clinical orientations, that are derived largely from academic frameworks and not the radical lived perspectives of those who live and recover from mental illnesses.

Okay, the article that I am sharing as part of this writing is called Musical Progressions and you can directly click on its title, which is highlighted. It will take you to an external link on the academia site, from where it can be downloaded. This article is soon to be published in the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review, which is bringing out a special edition on the Arts, Media and Mental health. Perhaps I am the sole entry from India to contribute to this issue of the journal, of the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry. It gives me quivers in my stomach to think that I have come so far- imagine me…my years of doomed dejection and hopelessness, months and months of unending fog in the mind and a ball of anxiety in my heart. I cannot even begin to call it an anxiety disorder, for that seems so small in comparison. Huge mountains of uncertainty loomed so large…has it all come to pass? And how utterly lonely! Especially those years when I finally chose to live alone. To think of that today- that leap into the uncertain future, cutting all bonds from family in a physical way, proved the key to unlock the future, no matter if it were not even visible then for years ahead.

I find it so difficult to believe that I have indeed left it behind, and today I have the courage to revisit those fearsome, blind alleys, where I languished in insurmountable creeks, where life simply could not survive. Perhaps the only reason to write such articles is the memory of those ruins so deeply etched in the mind, that I dare not forget the suffering of another. And nay, that suffering is not due to mental illness alone, of a so-called biochemical nature alone.

That suffering is spattered all across human civilization now, clothed in myriad shades, and textures, due to which people cannot recognize that we are all part of the same suffering- the eternal human suffering, whose genesis lies in one man’s greed and insatiable lust to control, dominate and lead another. This instinct for power is so deeply rooted in the human psyche that all of civilization’s suffering can actually be reduced to this one game- the power play between people, nations, communities, genders, races, groups, nationalities and you name it. It is all a power play.

Few will gain the clarity to see the picture like outsiders. But if they did, they would be able to bring all divergent ideas to one convergent hub- the greed of man and a lust for power. In the end, I am reminded that I did a master’s in political science and from that position, if I remember what the English philosopher Hobbes said, he foretold the nasty, brutish and shorte nature of man and how in nature everyone is in conflict with everyone, in a war of power!!! How tragic, and yet isn’t it true?!

Tomorrow I will be off to Hyderabad again, though this is only for two days and am back on Sunday afternoon. Before I wind off this post, I must share why this article is the most important article from my perspective and what it brings to a lay reader, who may possibly be suffering herself or have a loved one who suffers. In this article I have brought many sides of evidences, (for peer reviewed journals do not work without evidence) to say how I used

Music

Serious creativity, and

Writing -including poetry, research. (For the first time, there is an actual poem in a writing by me)

And searched- which constitutes research in a serious way to find a way out of mental illness. In music also I worked in not one, but three genres or musical form. For the first time via this writing, I talked about ghazal as well- though in a shorter version, in another article I did share that as part of another post. Ghazal was a great venting mechanism for my personal suffering, which would not find a way out through bhakti poetry. It was only after the ghazal, that I moved into the more serious khayal, as my chosen mechanism for self expression.

Today I have left all forms behind and primarily all my musical expression lies within the domain of khayal and now I am also thinking of how to take that khayal further- via teaching diverse sorts of people via educational, therapeutic and other ventures. Everything begins with an idea- a thought or what is called in Urdu, khayal. For me this whole world is a khayal, and any artist’s imagination for a new world, a new face of civilization is essentially a khayal first. Only from the khayal, you construct an image, and from there comes a plan.

Currently my khayal is about my new enterprise and of course about further research, which will no longer be about me mapping my own story. Phew! that was tough.

(In another few days, I will be posting my poetry that I have sent to the conference of the WACP in Mexico. But since I posted the above photo and called it the Road of Life, which is also a poem’s title, I will share it right here. It also carries the date)

Me watching the sunset in Udaipur

Me watching the sunset 

A March on the Road of Life, and the Path Unknown

22nd September 1999

A march on the road of life, and the path unknown

The road rugged, the road rough’n a rude road-

Mostly a companionless road, I traverse

Hard pressed-

Unexpected corners’n blouders make it feel impossible

To take another step

In anger welling…wishing the heart would stop

Or p’raps a friend, companion, wayfarer around the next turn;

Kicking pebbles, circumventing potholes

Occasionally falling, but never really so-

The road leads the way, and the path unknown’n

I press on regardless.

A peopled space this month

This month has been full of the unexpected in so many ways, and if I have not said it already I am saying it here, a certain explosion in the number of new people I met in the past few weeks. Of course, everyone meets with new people every few days or thereabout, but I met new people in different universities, in different cities and talking on different subjects too!

IMG_2336

Students in the psychology department, Delhi University, 4th Sep 2015

In Psychology department of Delhi University I was talking about my recovery from bipolar and the role of music in it- the students not only listened with attention but also stayed back to talk to me- many of them. Later, some of them commented on the blogpost I wrote about it, and a few also expressed a desire that I come back and talk to them again. Of course, in an institution of higher education, the power of that vests with their teachers- neither me as a speaker, nor the students, irrespective of how many would like to listen to me or talk to me. So that is a subjective decision, for which I cannot contribute much, except for expressing an inclination with the teacher concerned. Their professor, was not exactly happy to see the reaction my talk had on the students, because possibly he could see that though he was touted as a ‘different’ person from the entire faculty for exposing students to newer ideas, the reality was that students found me so radical and challenging the ideas of society, especially about mental illness, in a very non-threatening way. Some of their reactions are worth reading here.

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Me teaching the trainee teachers

The next experience was at the RRCEE, in which I did two workshops with girls from seven colleges of Delhi University, three girls from each college. This was a teacher training venture- extremely difficult and taxing, unless you do not care about the quality of knowledge students take home. I was bothered, emotionally involved and passionate about my work, as always. It did not matter to me that these were all teenagers, in second year of college and most of them had no prior training in music. To teach them, ideally, I should be allowed to train them at least once a week for four years! That is the sort of effort we require if we really want students to become empowered to use music as a tool of pedagogy in their classrooms. But who can understand that! the organizers are all ambitiously thinking that students will acquire the skills to become composers. I cannot break their hearts by telling them that even if people do master’s in music, they do not always become composers, much as those who do a phd in languages, do not become poets!

And then there was a talk in a college of Delhi University, to the teacher training department, just a one-off talk with no real outcomes, and another such IMG_20150918_102105599_HDRalso happened in a management studies department, in another university, in Hyderabad, towards the latter part of the month.

Thereafter, I was to be in Hyderabad, to teach introductory narratives to students in Nalsar, an altogether different sort of experience in so many ways. Firstly, because it was a first time even for me to teach narratives to anyone. IMG_20150916_181544137_HDRI have only worked with people directly to understand their narrative truths, never really taught that as a method to anyone. So I had to look for resources how to frame the structure of the course. I did this with a quirky method. I told people to write their self-narratives, as assignment. My idea was that when young people start looking at their own lives in reflective and introspective ways, they may become a little kinder in seeing the humanity in others too. At the time of writing this post, the submissions, whose deadline is this evening, are pouring in. I will have to get them all together and then read through, to start marking them. I am glad that at least some of the outcomes that I had hoped, are beginning to come about. Some of the narratives are really quite touching and deep, just the way people are.

My room at the guest house, where I did riyaaz, prepared lectures-presentations, exercised, slept and of course talked on the phone.

My room at the guest house, where I did riyaaz, prepared lectures-presentations, exercised, slept and of course talked on the phone.

I  stayed at the guest house in Nalsar, where I had a very brightly lit room, just the way my spirit likes it. I was quite comfortable in this room, and I even took a picture of its good energy, to preserve it for me. Then guess what, I peeped into all the rooms of the guest house, at one or another time, just to see if they all exuded the same energy, but found all of them having a deficit in that attribute. In which case, my appreciation and gratitude for the room became even more so and while returning, I specifically thanked the room for letting me be in it and giving me a sanctuary for the entire span of my 11 days at the university.

 I was also invited to dine by the personal assistant to the vice chancellor, who wanted me to meet his children and wife.

The wife of my host, and his twins

The wife of my host, and his twins. I am holding one the twins just for the photo, though they were quite shy. However, for the photo they were willing to pose with me 🙂

Since they lived right across the guest house, I landed up there too! This is so uncharacteristic of me- to go if someone invites me to, I am so shy otherwise, by most social standards. Or possibly since they had only invited me and nobody else, I took the opportunity. But that was not the end of my mingling with people at Nalsar, for more was to come! Due to Ganesh Chaturthi, I was invited for a staff lunch during the span of my time there and even met the Vice Chancellor! Thanks to a person who was teaching in the Center for Management Sciences (CMS), who was also a guest faculty like me, staying at the guest house, I got to meet people from the CMS. So now the CMS wanted to invite me for a talk in their department, which I was happy to accept and yet they wanted a workshop, which i declined, because I cannot offer anything in a hurry, without forethought. For now, I have pushed that down a few months.

On the whole in September, I met hundreds of students in different departments of different universities in the north and south of India, and in

Who knows where the road takes you from here

Who knows where the road takes you from here

disciplines as varied as psychology, education, law and management. It was a great month of exchange of ideas, meeting so many new people and learning so many new things for myself as well. The CMS people are even willing to help me with the initial phase of my entrepreneurial venture, which they do with many startups. So that proved to be an additional boon. But life is so full of surprises that surprises continue to unfold.

Just when I was thinking that I am not going to offer any part of my work to people in Goa, where I currently stay, my neighbour, who is a psychiatrist who knows about me, and who has read my writing too, invited me to write a short piece for  a conference of parents of young children, who can be informed about the value of music education. I thought, there would be no problem in writing the piece, but the real problem would emerge when they all start looking for music teachers to teach that music, which I would be writing about!! And they do not know, that in India we DO NOT currently train teachers in music at all! It is not a student-oriented style of learning that we adopt in the arts. How to say that to them. At least I can and should do my two penny bit to let people know the possibilities of music education, and its outcomes- which far outweigh anything they can even remotely think of.

So this month full of people brought many new people into my proximity and with several many professional ties emerged and take shape concurrently. Yet before the month is over, another special person, who is the wife of a friend from the US, will be coming over for a brief time to Goa. That would complete the picture of the peopled space, this month. A month full of so many new people in my life.

Am reading from my article in the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, about my recovery from bipolar

Am reading from my article in the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, about my recovery from bipolar