Four months into the year>>>

From the last time that I wrote on this blog, feeling happy and excited about the new things happening, today I am about to register something of a mixed lot of experiences. And they are all, as one would expect, in my case-

  1. First, Rhythm came into heat- a little over seven months old that she is! I was having a premonition it could be anytime now,  but not so soon (ouch!!!). Couple of times I had broached the subject of spaying with the vet too, but he said, let’s wait until the pups are nine months. So now, they are just a little over seven and here am I- a pup in heat and two male dogs of her size around- certainly no enviable situation for a PhD-er! This Phd is really an eventful one- so much keeps happening with a fair degree of regularity. The boat is always rocked 😦

2. I went and had my first ‘class’/learning session with my new guru- when he was here in Delhi briefly, staying at the India International Center, not the best locations to conduct a class…but at least a beginning was made. When I heard the minute nuances of his voice, my heart just quivered in fear- god, can I even do it, and how will I? Fortunately I will only be meeting him in several months now- which means I have all the time for my own riyaaz and internalizing whatever he showed me that day . But since it is really quite foundational, meaning a significant shift in my singing style, I cannot hurry this up- it will be very slow, the change.

3. A few days later in a phone conversation he told me to drop my Phd and join him on his concert tours. I think it is a great honor to be said this by a senior guru, to a shisya. However, I shared with him that firstly i cannot play the tanpura on stage due to my spine and secondly the Phd is something I want to put behind me, before plunging myself full scale into music- which is really the case. On the other hand, I wish I could just dump the Phd- it is painful, as one would expect it to be, more so in India- where everything is against a Phd-researcher!

4. On another front, quora offered me a (free) subscription to the New York Times as a recognition of the fact that I have been volunteering and helping people who use quora, and made me a ‘top writer’. I never do anything for the sake of recognition, but this was completely unexpected. Not that I have time to read the NYT either, but it is interesting to see that this happened.

5. Students in music are all making progress and yet I had to drop one child from the fold who was taking a lot of breaks, without giving any reason. Often in India parents take the arts lightly (ignorantly?) and most cannot understand that classical music is not like other forms of music, you cannot just begin anywhere and catch up with the group. There is a system one is following and a structure being created here- to think musically and from the ground upward. I had to lay him off in a strange way- it was sad, but a necessary move that had to be planned out. On another front, I am glad and surprised to see the ladies who have joined newly, being so enthusiastic about learning musical notation- it is a great thing  because it inculcates a musical seriousness and discipline. Ok so this is about the students.

6. And last of all, the journal article- which i finally sent with great effort. Responding to the peer review comments this time was very tough, because the field of mental health from an emancipatory and peer perspective is still a new area of study and the intersectionality one has to keep referring back to is quite complex. But simultaneously I am getting to work with many families at present and that makes the whole picture  a representative and well-informed picture at many levels.

Analyzing so much in research makes it relatively easy for me to understand what obstacles people face in their recoveries. How I wish I would have a little more help at home to manage the dogs, so I can just sit down and work on my dissertation. I m somewhat lagging in my commitment that I had made to my university.

The month of May also seems packed with teaching, counseling and of course the ten day break, that hopefully I will be writing the next blog-post about.. In the meanwhile let me just manage to shoo the dogs away from Rhythm, who is confused, as is Flow- about why Dash is interested in Rhythm. Who can explain to Flowie, that Dash is a neutered dog and  you are the real risk to your sister! you donkey!IMG_20180325_211214614

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An auspicious time

This is my birth- month. Gone are the days when I would see one day in April as significant, for the whole month is so meaningful now. This month is a special month, after a long time. Many new things, a few new beginnings, some pending things getting cleared and new horizons.

First of all, I turned another year older yesterday- that could have been last of all, but like the ‘baby’ that I am – I still like to think of the birthday as a special day. No longer in the public dIMG_20180420_160637868omain- only with family- so it was eating, playing with dogs, watering around the garden and then back to the books- naturally.

So, this beautiful and very light, fruit cake reads- Happy 40-something birthday Preeti. Good line to go with all the birthdays in the forties – all thanks to a PhD for a sister 🙂

 

Academic

Yesterday an article I had written long ago, and which was going as a book chapter in an edited book came to me, from the publisher this time (Springer) for the final nod- it was a relief. For years there was complete silence about this chapter. If I can recall now, I wrote it at least five years ago!

And of course I am struggling with a journal article – that has been on from August- back to me after peer review, and i have to return it now, in the following week. But fortunately for me, the struggle has been a very meaningful one and in writing down this article I have been able to clarify my own research methodology very thoroughly. So that will help me write the methods chapter, hopefully in a better way now.

My Phd work is languishing for now, but in reading/researching for the article above, I have read a lot of stuff and I feel I can see at least some light in the darkness now! But I think I will fall short of my promise to my supervisor- about sending some of the stuff that I had planned for May 2018! What a pain/pity.

On another front, I will be talking in the Open Dialogue Symposium in Greece about the challenges I face working in Counseling in India, which is a traditional and ‘closed’ society. I am keen to learn and hear what scores of others from different parts of the world are working on and creating useful outcomes for their societies. Let’s see when that happens in due course. For now I have to write the paper down and also read Plato’s Symposium- after all one is going to the birthplace of the Philosopher.

Musically

But the most important thing happened today- the thing that I have been waiting for months (or shall I say years and years) for. I started training with a guru, that I have been in search of for lonnggggg. I found him, first in the world, then on the phone, contacted him and earnestly requested him to teach me- rather give me ‘marga-darshan’ for I have learnt music for almost 36 years now, I teach my own students, I read/write/research and perform myself. But the desire to learn more and with a final degree of finesse never left me and made me consider knocking at many doors. On most doors when the head peeped out upon my knock, the person who opened did not coincide as the person I wanted to learn with- either their singing was too mechanical, or as people they were prejudiced or their terms and conditions were not friendly. So I just backed off and waited my time. And all these people are among the top musicians of this country, all Padma-shree-s (a civilian honor given by the president of India) awardees

After more than a decade of searching, I found the person I started with today. I am not writing his name down at present, because I feel this is not the time for that and besides, I am not sure if anyone who sees this blog cares who I learn with! Of course he is also a top musician, and someone who is senior to me in age by almost two decades. And this is the reason for my current deep elation, without excitement- to understand the extreme subtleties of music- which only master musicians can teach. He told me clearly that he does not teach anyone and whenever he comes to Delhi, he would be teaching me- which is not a frequent occurrence at all. After today, the earliest he would be come may be around August!

However, musically things are progressing. I have four new students this month and the tribe has grown- which is interesting- a challenge to teach older people, all into their fifties and older.

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I must not forget that I had the among the first of my (paid) classical music concerts in March- end recently and the singing was well appreciated. This was at a difficult time- afternoon at 4 pm. The venue was Delhi University and it was a conference in Indian Psychology- so an international affair. I chose to sing two ragas with the same structure, unfortunately because most ragas sung at this time of the day have that structure only- N S G M P N S, S N D P M G R S. I sang Bhimpalasi first and then Madhuvanti! What a pain, having the same structure but different notes.

Even though the ideas are abundant and the mind is so highly wired in so many directions, there is no time at present to write another blog post, and it is a great pity, because I know that someday I would like to look back at life and read through some of my writing- I want to not see blank pages, but pages full of work done, people supported, family loved, dogs tended to and played with…and more and more. Of course gardens nurtured and friends laughed with.

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Oh, and the legs in the picture are Andre’s!

2017 ending…

Wow, its amazing that this year too is coming to an end. Of course every year has to- but the huge amount of changes that have happened in this one, makes it somewhat different in many ways. The change in my family is the foremost thing- I cannot look back at this year, in the times ahead, and not remember who left us all- my darling Raga

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Hello, I am your doggie

– who pulled along all the way until October, though given her condition and the progressive deterioration I saw, I would not have given her this much time myself. The mystery of the human-canine connection runs so deep, and how we connect with our canine beloveds. I cannot still forget the day I got Raga home as a puppy and then to see her entire life-cycle coming a full circle in front of me, brings a deep sadness and equanimity at the same time. This is the eternal law of the universe- matter coming into creation and transformation, and the role of consciousness, its interaction with that matter and the transformation of them both. Matter (me and my dog) both change, our connection with each other changes and we move from one stage of love- the puppy days to the senior days. The nature of care and concern changes significantly. Raga taught me all that. To the extent, that after her passage when Nikki became ill, and was suddenly immobilized for a few weeks, I was totally able to handle her and the effect of that, since she needed so much more care than Raga (being so much heavier than Raga).

If Raga’s passage was a moment of truth for me, it had to be acknowledged at many levels: including that, for me to handle big breeds of dogs in the times ahead, may become tricky if I had the sort of health issues I have been dealing with in 2016-17. Soon after when the decision to bring in the pups was taken, this was very much a part of the decision. In fact long ago I had decided to go for Dachshunds by and large, and Labrador too. But seeing Nikki’s health issues now, I think I would have to reconsider  even that. The small size of the Dachshund is ideally suited for a person like me- who manages her dogs alone.

In 2017, Rhythm and Floe became part of the family, as did the cockatiels- who I call Chintu,

Mintu, Dolly and Molly. Not that they care about their names. But I do, even if I cannot make out one from the other. True to my human nature, and our (foolish)  anthropomorphic sensibility we want to see every form of life with human parameters- names included.

IMG_20170918_161557606_HDRI changed the garden in very major ways, but sadly the back lawn does not get much sun any more thanks to the construction by the next door people! It has robbed me of the joy of setting up a new garden- even though very doggedly I have been planting the winter annuals, every few weeks. Three times I have make the efforts already. It is a big learning to not bring in real small saplings any more. My greens are now beginning to show a little. I have lettuce coming up, and coriander, but the beetroots will not grow here, while the spinach has been planted a second time, tomato plants are also standing up now. Overall, my plans to have a neat little kitchen garden have been thwarted.

The school of music- SwarGanga has been born and is a part of the Hansadhwani- which is not the foundation any longer, but a social enterprise headed by a single entrepreneur. Therefore it has become feasible for me to legitimately bring together the contrasting strands of knowledge into my one head, and even succeeded in putting a website in place. I started in earnest in March and the students came in April. At the time of the year closing, I have eight-nine students in all, with varying levels of payment (including one who learns for free, and three who pay a fraction of the amount of the fee, as paid by their peers). Teaching about eight-nine hours a week of music- most of which is new stuff is interesting and challenging simultaneously. My own learning continues as well, and i am also looking out for a new guru, who if I can get an opportunity to learn with, would be a great blessing.

Academically the going is not bad- i have gathered the data for one part of my work (the narratives) and I am also through with the transcription of a majority of them. One of my papers got selected and has currently gone for peer review in a Ethics based journal and in another domain an international conference has accepted my abstract and has invited me to contribute to its proceedings. So though I am extending the scope into the Global Mental Health agenda a little prematurely, but nevertheless it is a worthwhile venture, because in any case I had to work on that for my Phd too at a later stage.

All in all, on all counts there has been a lot of progress, which I had not foreseen, earlier. I am also invited to lecture in at least two different universities in India itself (none being my own!), my networks are getting to be more meaningful and not ‘friendships’ of school/college or social media alone. I have kept away from the social media in a very concerted effort andIMG_20171123_160908774 (1) I really think it was a great decision. It has been much better to invite people in person and spend time with them- and I have done that wherever there has been a scope for it.

My relationships with the children in my family, of my own generation have got a little better because I suppose the children too have grown up by now and they can make out one aunt from another. In November and December my brother and a cousin have been visiting from the US and Australia respectively and seeing them with their families, including small and big children is a great source of happiness (and relief that I do not have my own!!). Its been a time of ageing and renewal (the small pups and the children being the new blood among us).

On the family front, papa has recovered from a major cardiac surgery, and though weakened somewhat he is still very spirited and active- which is very important I think. Mummy is managing steadily and I find her  frail at times, but all my life I have seen her so strong and active that it is difficult to associate her with the idea of weakness- I always think my mom is young!

I do see a lot more work in 2018- including in research, in music, in other areas too- and I look forward to it. I will turn 46 next April. I am almost into my middle age. And of course ‘the middle’ has also begun to show 🙂 So I think the best option is to embrace the turn of the clock joyfully and be energized by some of the wiser people in the family, who lead long, relatively healthy and balanced lives. even though the sun may vanish I will keep sowing new gardens, for who knows what plant can grow well in the shade 🙂

And as always, Chrysanthemums will come well ahead of other flowers…

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Chrysanthemums- December 2017

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Chrysanthemums- December 2017

Our Two shepherds and October third week

It is not usual that a family would lose two dogs in a few days- but we did. Lalu, the mixed shepherd passed away on his way to Jim Corbett Park (18th October 2017) and Raga- passed away last night (23rd October 2017).  I had pulled her bed close to mine and decided to go to sleep. But before that I had teased her bladder and helped her empty it out to the extent possible. She was very weak- the whole day she kept breathing with her mouth open ,with eyes fixed in an uncertain gaze.

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Till she could still move, she would sit closest to me as I sat down for my riyaaz. May-June 2017

I could not be with her too much , but many a times I came and sat by her and I kept an eye on her from a distance, to be sure she was breathing. At night, when I knew it was time to sleep I pulled her bed close to mine- to keep an eye on her and ran my hand over her head repeatedly. She looked at me and then settled once again- mouth open, laboured breathing. Then I held her paw in my hand, it was warm- she had fever. I held her for as long as I could without changing my sides. Then I had to change, and I did- while keeping the lights on in the room, for i did not want to lose a sense of time.

I turned sides and dozed off at may be 11:15 or 11:30, i cannot say for sure. At 11:40 I opened my eyes and looked at the clock first and then at her. I noticed she was not breathing. I got up quickly and touched her- there was no life in my baby- she was lying limp there, or was she? I had to find out. I could see the absence of breathing for sure…I was not ready to accept yet.

I went next door to call my sister, who was staying the night over anticipating Raga’s end. She got up quickly and came, and confirmed she was no more. I was not sure how long I would have slept…I could not make out how long she was thus. But the body was still soft and pliable. We had kept a pit two feet deep ready in the garden for her burial. I just wore something on top as it is cool in the night outside. I picked up my baby and the last few drops of urine came out…she was so light weight by now. Her head rolled over to one side on my left arm- the body was still warm. I carried her to the garden…and lowered her into the pit. Then we both put mounds of earth on her and covered up the entire pit.

In these past few months I have been writing about Raga frequently, trying to capture my story with her. And I did a photo montage as well in one of the posts. It has been a great life with Raga- she would have turned eleven in January 2018. But exactly three months short of it, she passed away.

Raga and Lalu died within less than a week of one another. Both of us sisters have lost one dog each- both of them shepherds too. Lalu had come into her life from a shelter in Austin, Texas. When she moved to India in 2008, she brought him and Lucy along. Lalu was over 14, is her estimate. We both feel grateful for the opportunity to love such beautiful dogs

july visit to goa upon Aires' demise (30)

, while they enriched our lives in deep and transformative ways. And yet we are also grateful for the presence of all our other dogs too, who are still with us and who not only are sagely managing the loss of their friends, but also keeping the flame of canine love glowing by their unquestioning presence in our lives today. Thank you Ginger, Nikki, Dash and Lucy. What would the world be without loving a few animals every day? And also thanks to the other street dogs who have adopted us and continue to man our main gate, offering us hope, security and companionship in your funny little ways.

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Street dogs eating inside my home

The difficult month that went…by and by

This was a difficult month, for all of us. But today is the last of the month and a lot of that difficulty is now behind us. Yet I want to scribble here in brief what all happened so that if ever a time like this should come I would remember, we have been there before.

Papa had to undergo a open heart surgery- all of a sudden. That was decided in the first week of the month. The date was set for the 10th. On the 1st of the month it was his angiography which told us about the blockages in his heart- they were four when the surgery was performed.

Around the same time Raga’s tail amputation happened, and while the tail was still recovering she had a bladder issue- she stopped passing urine. the vet said that she has lost sensation of a full bladder- due to paralysis. It was a nightmare after that- every alternate day I would be taking her to the vet for a catherization! As a result in the second week, she developed a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). That coincided with Andre being here- so between him and me, we kept taking her to the vet daily for cleansing her bladder with saline and antibiotics- six days continuously. By the end of this time it was time for Andre to go back, as well as for papa to return from hospital post surgery.

But this was not all, I also got to teach music in a teacher’s training department for three hours at a time- six sessions in all, to over 20 girls per session. Not the easiest of tasks to perform. Tomorrow is the last of them- thank god. Teaching such big numbers is not interesting at all, unless the students are motivated.And that usually does not happen easily in Indian universities. But every effort of this sort is generative to a researcher like me- so I am busy writing about the experience and drawing the outcomes from it, whatever they could have been.

I had to let go of writing an article for a special issue of a journal in mental health, which had earlier accepted my abstract, many months ago- because my mind was very scattered this entire span of time. The sort of peace I require to write was simply not there. Plus Ginger also got a diagnosis of chronic Otitis and a couple of other things. So now, we know all our cards, no more surprises- hopefully the worst is behind us.

After the UTI I learnt to tease Raga’s bladder and now I can manage to press it twice a day in a way to help her empty it out. It is a great relief to see my girl fine, though weak and becoming more and more so. However, I know that I am tending to her the most I can, and keeping her close to me, the most I can…loving her, petting her, cleaning her, hand feeding her, grooming her, putting medicines in her mouth when required. I know this is the last of our moments together, nobody knows when the end comes- I do not want to miss whatever scope life still gives us- the borrowed moments- to love each other and remind ourselves how much we will love one another, even when we would not be able to touch each other. Until then, let me run my fingers on her back, her head, her face…my weak little old yet baby girl- who had once come into my life as a 45 day old puppy. My darlin Raga. The beauty is that while I write this, my baby is still sleeping behind me peacefully.

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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?