Feedback that gladdens your core

Of course every feedback is valuable to an artist, but some is more so. The ‘more So’ happens when it comes from seniors who are significant in their own right. Yesterday, by chance, upon listening to one of my ghazals (while sharing it with another dear friend who is equally fond of my music) I thought of sending a ghazal to a senior musicologist, who I got to know last year in the course of writing my (in progress) book. This senior musicologist is Sh.Deepak Raja, who also writes very insightful books (now four) and blogs.

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Deepak Raja, with his guru, Pt. Arvind Parikh- and the former’s fourth book, whose promotional lecture is on 14th July 2017

Books have strange and mysterious lives- they can grow and wane at a whimsical pace. That music book of mine has taken a backseat for now and in the course of it my contract with the publisher (a very prominent one in India) came to an automatic termination, as my health (spine) would not permit me any time on the computer. Nevertheless I have put in a lot of thought, labour and effort in it to whatever extent I have managed it so far, and for now I have laid it to rest and got busy in setting up the school of music and other related pedagological issues. Naturally enough at this juncture other things have taken precedence- possibly my Phd research most of it (it better), and my musical research not far behind (all in the compositional domain though).  Dogs have also contributed to this shift in some significant manner.

So coming back to the issue of the feedback, I sent a ghazal of mine to Deepak-ji, as I had had a WhatsApp interaction with him earlier in the day, for he invited me to a lecture of his to happen in the near future (14th July 2017) in Delhi. The day seems fine to me, being a Friday and I have no teaching classes that day. He will be talking about his book, Raga-ness of Ragas. I may or may not be able to go, but I think I would seriously give it a try. This was the first time I shared my music with him, despite communicating with him on scores of occasions- on email and phone, never in person as yet.

Earlier this morning, I received this email back from him-

Deepak Raja <deepak.raja@ >
to: Prateeksha Sharma < .com>
date: 25 June 2017 at 09:19
Dear Prateeksha,
You are an excellent singer. I am glad you sent me this link. Not an intrusion at all. I will now also hear other recordings. 
Thank you again. 
Warmest regards. Deepak 
Coming from such a heavy weight, it sure is a great honor, and I feel the need to write a post on my blog for I am so touched by his words.

As also that of my friend, who I just call here Ali- a professor of Linguistics in an American University, and a Pakistani by birth, and a  philosophical, deep and insightful individual . Upon hearing the same ghazal, he said this to me-

Thanks for singing the Urdu Ghazal, the way it should. The accompanist: baja, violen and Tabla jelled with the beautiful rendition filled with powerful musical expressions
The best is that singer kept the swaras and lyrics in a beautiful combination
(I have copied his words from my facebook chat with him)
Every appreciation is valuable, as I said earlier- but some are more so. These are two such.
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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)

Tuning into the wisdom of people- for their recoveries

I am relieved, or partially so.

The website is up, or will be completed soon.

So all the eggs (err.r..r.mental health resources) have come into one basket.

The basket is called Antardhwanee- the inner sound. I am happy I picked up this name, for it resonates so nicely with Hamsadhwani, both of them rooted in ‘sound’ (dhwani/dhwanee). The sound of music and the sound of a human mind are both sounds only, after all. So Antardhwanee, my new venture, or rather the old packaged as new and distinctly so, now stand apart from the musical side- Hamsadhwani. I like the website, it is interesting. I wonder if anyone else also likes the neat design, which says everything in a compact manner.

The good thing is that I am working in therapeutic dialogues more effectively, or if I say it fatalistically, more people are looking for ways out of mental illnesses. When I invited some who I have counseled or currently do, to write some testimonials down, that I could share publicly. By reading them,  I realized that my work had meaningful outcomes all along the way. I always like to keep evaluating myself, so I am satisfied that lives are slowly transforming. I have this immense faith in the wisdom of people, if only they can be tweaked into trusting themselves, in newer ways. After all, if I did not have the wisdom, how would I have changed my own story?

Many things have been happening along these past few days. Some of them nice ones, some of them painful ones (my lower spine and its radiating pain, giving early warning of sciatica again), and some sad ones. The latter is more of the human rights violations that happen in homes, in the name of psychiatric interventions. I just wrote a post about that on another blog, to tell someone where they were going wrong, in handling their family member, who has been given a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Earlier in the day, a young man had called me up, to talk about his schizophrenia and related issues. I asked him if he had declared in his place of work about his ‘condition’. Fortunately, he declined. Nobody should ever talk about their mental health issues, becaDSCN1155use people love to label others. I told him to work on a recovery paradigm, which would be interesting to watch. I know for sure that people can recover and go off medications.

But that can only happen if they hold the hand of someone who can steer them. They most definitely have to use their own strength to get out of the marsh…but never underestimate the steering role. Had I had such a person, to clearly guide me, may be I would not have taken medication for 18 years!!

Ah, lest I forget the special issue of the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review will be released later this week in Mexico. The special volume has stories of art based therapies in mental health from all around the world. It is open access, anyone can read, download anything they like. My article is called Musical Progressions. It is by far the best article I have written about myself- it is very thorough, futuristic and is intended as a road map for more to follow, if they can discern the message in it.

They also have an exhibition happening there in Mexico. I have sent some of my poetry and two CDs for display/listening.  In the next post, I will share the poems that I have sent to Mexico, for display on my behalf. But this that follows is already published as part of my article.

O poets what wilt thee leave behind
For mankind, that mere words can build?
Will thee merely, blacken sheets of paper
With the dark imaginings of thine turbid brains,
‘N leave them behind, in the name of poesy?

O thee have not schools, nor universities to build!
Neither homes of hope, institutions of charity
Hospitals, big dams, or bridges or laboratories…

So add a drop o’ life
To this smoldering ocean that chokes
‘N fumes b’neath the staggering burden of humankind
O poets, leave not that which shall tease those to come

Leave babbling brooks, replete with rays of a new hope
O poets dream the impossible dreams and weave
Them into a necklace of words such
That thine dreams, become the dreams of a world torn asunder
Leave not weeping sagas, of thine own (personal pain)
For many a soul in such a one languishes –
Hold their hands, fire their hearts, leave behind, if you can,
A ray of sun, after the tearing rain.
(13th July 1999, unpublished poetry)

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!

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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

A knowledge sharing month, from a new location

IMG_20150913_173539107 This is the first view of Hyderabad that greeted me for miles, as I sat in the car from the airport towards my ‘home’ for the few days that I am scheduled to be in this place, a famous university of law in India, called NALSAR. I am here at present, to teach a short course in narratives, as an elective, to students who show an interest in the subject, based on a little introduction that I had sent earlier. Some 32 enrolled in, whilst I had said said I would like an upper limit of 20. How can one connect with so many people, if they come in big numbers? I have always preferred interacting in smaller groups. Mercifully some dropped out on their own, but I suspect that even right now I have about 25.

The interesting bit is, that a better part of September has gone by in interacting with students in different departments in two different universities, one being the Delhi University and the other here, in Hyderabad, the law one. In Delhi university I went and gave a talk in the department of Psychology to students in their masters’ classes and taught workshops of music to trainee teachers. Both these experiences I mapped via blog posts, whose links I have provided here. I gave another talk, on the day that I was leaving from Delhi in a college in the entire teacher training department there, called Gargi College. Students from four years were there- must be approx.100-120 of them. It has in a strange coincidence, been a month full of students – Psychology, teacher training and Law. I could not have thought I would be working on such diverse tangents.

In addition, another young girl, a final year student from an eminent college of Delhi University came for counseling, right during my time spent in DU, and then there were others who came for counseling at home. I am really beginning to miss the quiet moments of my really quiet neighbourhood, home in Goa. And yet if ever I missed the crowds of the world, I am not suffering from that currently and am very happy to contemplate the prospects of going back to my little pack of four. Ah! this surfeit of human interaction, really makes me yearn to be back home, in my little corner, with my four legged little ones all around, the musical melodies and the birdsongs once again. I hope to share the myriad experiences, replete with photographs in due course, once home and having access to the computer the way I like to.

When age gets to you faster than your time

I have been meaning to write this post for awhile now, but due to extreme pain in my spine the time I am spending on my computer is extremely curtailed. But when I saw ideas piling up in my mind, I thought I might as well, put this down, lest…I lose it completely or all the others that seem to be wafting in my mind, of late.

I recently had to go through spinal x-rays, IMG_20150719_105931388_HDR (1) as my back has been in a lot of pain. If I would sit on the computer, I would get up and walk crooked for the next several seconds, before it would un-stiffen. The orthopedic I went to in a government hospital nearby told me it was all well, i should take some pain killers and go for physiotherapy. I know so much yogasana, but thanks to a lack of inner discipline about this one aspect of my life I have suffered irreparable loss.

Next I went to an ayurvedacharya – he recommended this treatment Churna Pinda Sweda (PODI KIZHI)- Fomentation massage by bolus of medicinal powders in hot medicIMG_20150813_121054917ated oil. Right now that is what I am getting nowadays and then sit in a bath of steam for at least ten minutes!!!

The experience is so painful, because the effort is to apply heat to my calcified vertebrae and then make the calcified portions become softer. I was a bit saddened to hear from the doctor that at age 43,  “What appears at age 50, is what you are showing already.” He wondered how it happened. I then told him that due to long illness of bipolar, I was in deep depressions for long periods of time, and remained mostly confined to my home and had a very sedentary life. I look back at those years wistfully now- how much they took away from me; a full time career in music, possibly as a performer, introversion for years of solitude with no friends to fall back on, and no networks who would one day support my music, if at all I would be able to sing someday, or have any other form of career. And now this. I am not mentioning here, the liver damage, the other bone issues or the thyroid that happened as a result of medication.

But just when you think the worst is behind, it really is not the case. So now this oil therapy and all the other ayurvedic pills I have to consume for a few more days. Right now the pain is extreme, even while sleeping I find myself in agony. I am really hoping this treatment, by increasing the pain is getting them out. What if it does not and makes it a part of my daily experience?

As it is sitting continuously is difficult, also for riyaaz. Tragically today my guru, Madhuri aunty told me that there is no way I should not become a performer. I have a throat, weight in the voice and strength that if I apply myself I will most certainly be a performer again. My heart winced in pain- if only she had said that long years ago, I would not have bothered in any other direction, trying to find a toehold. At 43, it seems late to begin. The only courage I have is to remind myself of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who started his training at 39. I, of course, started young but to be a performer, is a different ballgame. So having done the long road of bhajan and ghazal, if there is one thing I want to now do it khayal, and that is all the current effort invested in.

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This is a view of the greenery in our village home. The slopes are part of the space of the house- a great number of trees have been grown by Andre and yet many comes down from generations ago.

What comes ahead is a mystery, but it is a great thing that I have a partner who loves my music, who is always happy to hear my tanpura playing, who demands that I do my riyaaz, even if he does not understand Hindustani music, who is creating so many kinds of spaces in a rustic village home for me to sing and work on musical ideas, that nearly all that I could have asked from a life of extreme pain seems redeemed. And yet, not really so. how can your pain be over, when humanity suffers?

Damyanti … :)

A few months ago, I went to meet an elderly relative of mine- a grand aunt and her son’s family, from my father’s side. When I visited them, my first visit to their home ever, I was fascinated to meet them as a family, because where does one get to meet second cousins of one’s father, except for weddings and funerals, if you happen to attend any? I am notorious for not, so inadvertently the one source I have to get to know about anyone is from descriptions of them from others, usually my mom.

When we went visiting them here in Goa, where they are living for several years and me only for the last over a year, it was my first visit ever to their home. I never met them in their home, in Delhi, though we did not live far from one another. My family kept away from relatives or perhaps everyone in a curious sort of way, or possibly everyone is caught up in such a madness of living the daily survival.

Damayanti, is the name of the lady who is seated here. I am sta20150421_155924nding right behind her, with knees bent. To my right is my mother and the two extremes are her son and daughter-in-law; both architects by profession. The small girl there, is the child of the architect parents- Amit and Vinita. She is a swimmer and that explains her complexion as compared to that of her parents. The sun in Goa is quite strong, for human skin and she swims between three to four hours everyday. Of course she is swimming at a competitive level nowadays.

It is quite fascinating when you discover relatives after decades of knowing them from a distance and chachi-ji, the honorific with which we address Damayanti Parashar (ji) who is seated here, prepared the lunch for us that afternoon, personally, taking over from the household assistant who would be helping her. Me and mom, heard this and appreciated her alertness and we kept thinking of her age, on our way to their house. Finally we could not resist it and inquired plain and simple, how old she is.

The response was a bit surprising for us. She is 93. She had cooked for us (!!!), she maintains a full active life of pursuing her practice as a homeopathic doctor and keeps in touch with her patients via email (laptop user). She goes out for a walk with her friends in the neighbourhood every evening, and manages a little garden of her own, right outside her window- small balcony garden, and a very neat little thing at that.

So we thought on our way back that it is nice to meet elderly relatives, for you never know in what form one gets an inspiration. At an age when people become feeble and feeble minded, she is as active as could be and spreads positiveness around. How truly wonderful.

On the amusing side, in response to one of my posts a few days ago, I got a message that said, the way wordpress informs us all, that Damyanti liked your post very much (or whatever the standard wording is). I was even more impressed with chachiji, thinking seriously she knows enough to follow a wordpress blog too! And lo and behold…when I saw who the Damyanti was, it turned out to be a much younger Damyanti this time, who writes another fascinating blog here. So I smiled to think of the two Damyanti-s that got me mixed up for a day or two, till I could check who was who.

Here is another picture from the same afternoon. In this one, it is A20150421_155901ndre standing there, next to Tanaya the young swimmer, instead of Amit who is behind the lens. Rest of the team is the same.