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)

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

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?

With animals as witness…

Nikki and Ginger

With my foursome, as witness, many a song, a musical lyre, a poem, a khayal and another piece of music (I work in three genres of music) I have composed and practiced again and again, to perform in front of audiences, in concerts. It is another matter that the sort of tenacity an artist, who wants to be a concert performer should have, is missing in my personality because I am always fussing over issues of research, about producing social good and meaning via my art and my writing, not just applause in response to my singing and voice.

Durbar Hall concert foto

This is a concert photo of mine from Kathmandu, Nepal. Funnily I sang the poetry of a poet from Pakistan, while due to diplomatic differences, no Pakistanis were invited to this concert!

However this post is about one of my songs, whose original music is composed by me. I feel sad that one of the poets I was most fond of, upon intersecting with his family in Pakistan, my experiences were very contrary to my expectation. And possibly that dashed my desire to sing in this genre completely. I gave up ghazal singing, till something really more compelling comes along.

Concert foto of audience_durbar hall

Audience in the same concert whose picture of me with Tanpura, musical instrument I have shared in this post

I did all this excavation of the past, because I was doing some writing of a piece about art and disability. Hope to share that piece in the weeks ahead with the readers of this blog, but for now, here is the song that I am listening to, in my voice, in my original music, and the background score by someone called Arun Sharma.

The truth of the matter is that perhaps nobody enjoys my music as much as my dogs do. Okay, this is partial truth, I should say, nobody gets to hear so much of my music as much as my dogs do. Of course it is another matter, perhaps nobody would be able to tolerate another’s music as much as an animal can- patiently hearing everything and still loving their master, no matter how good and bad they sing. It should be no wonder I say that more than music, it is my dogs who have been my therapy, tweaking my life ever so often and give it a balance, making me responsible towards life, towards myself and towards others in general.

The unimaginable pain of singing Faiz

Several years ago, I recorded an album of song- written back long back by the eminent Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. His poetry found a great resonance in my suffering soul, and in expressing my angst I would compose song after song ( nearly composed 20-21 of his alone!) and give a vent to my pain, whatever it was.

Of course it was the serious melancholia of bipolar, but music was the way for me, which eventually proved to be therapeutic. In creating a musical CD of his songs, I had hoped that I would be able to establish myself as an artist after long, for the years of illness were in my past now. So I spent money and created the album.

However, life is so full of surprises that it became an unforeseen situation- i was threatened by some people that since I was trying to make money out of Faiz, without paying due royalty to his family- they would take me to court! Then it emerged that the family of Faiz was in the know of this, which was even worse.

I wept incontrollably…it broke my heart, my spirit, and rubbished the entire being of who and what I was. I have nothing more to do with that poet, for he wrote for humanity and I sang for humanity- but i do not know how to deal with the gatekeepers of humanity or those who think they need to guard any legacy for fear of being robbed of it.

How can a poor, ill person rob someone of their poetic merit, or literary value by putting in their own money to popularize their ideas, setting it to her music? The idea never became clear to me. I had plans to write about Faiz’s poetry and its role in my consciousness, when I wrote about ghazal. I had to write, but I did not mention Faiz in the writing- his family robbed me of that simple joy of sharing my music, via his poetry. I no longer want to sing Faiz.

Anyhow, I wrote- and the publication in forthcoming later this year, in an international journal of cultural psychiatry, without even mentioning his name. But this blogpost is to share the music that was the reason for joy for years, when it was within my own domain and then a reason for hope when I created the album, with the hope that it would give me a new lease of life as an artist, and then a great source of suffering. Paradoxically this was meant to be my contribution towards creating peace!

Today in writing this, I free myself of that suffering and release that music for free in the world outside, never to sing it again personally though. Faiz you are no longer a part of my consciousness- you are dead, alas!

In this youtube video, the Cd is upside down, but this connects you to seven songs, one after another.

On living Kabir

the simple pleasures of seeing smoke coming from country kitchens in my neighbourhood, on a rainy afternoon in the village

the simple pleasures of seeing smoke coming from country kitchens in my neighbourhood, on a rainy afternoon in the village

This morning, an unusual one in the sense that I turned the computer on quickly, unlike other days when I focus on bathing and getting the food ready for the dogs, or think of my music on rare occasions, when I turned the computer, I had two emails in it. One from the editor of CJMT and another from someone unknown to me. He says this-

Congratulations Prateeksha for the great artcles which show how intelligent, brave and persevering you are.
May Lord Shiva always bless you and may you always reveal Kabir’s philsophy in your life.
Namaste.
Mahendra
( I have copied the above text exactly without editing to retain its original essence)
I am musing about this and wondering if my life did not really finally turn out like Kabir’s and possibly as a small reflection of that when I created a Kabir blog so many years ago, I did not say anything except that I live Kabir, not just sing him through my throat- which is the meaning of the blog title. This morning I am going over all the recent conversations and how difficult it is for me to even survive and live a single day, what to mention work in research, which additionally necessitates a certain withdrawal from the world, just contradictory to my professional needs of a musician to go and showcase my art or how accomplished I am, if at all. Every day is a struggle for fighting with myself at so many levels and in the end thanks to the fact that there is no facilitation from any quarter, I just remain within the home and with my writing, not even my music, because musical expression needs a certain expansion of spirit not contraction which situations like mine bring. How much can I sing alone?
The word heart-broken is not even what I ought to say about myself, it is just a part of being alive- for the heart is broken in so many shards, that it is unlikely it will ever heal. But that I suppose is the curse that every healer has to carry, till the world around them can recognize that they were there every moment of their lives, only trying to make the world more healed, not themselves! What an irony! And more because the heart has been wounded by so many (or perhaps all at one or another time) that one does not really know whether there is any scope of justice even left. And that is why it should come as no surprise that in the presence of simpler beings like animals, birds and nature in its verdant greenery I rejoice and my soul finds an anchor, or why I moved away from the spiritual coldness of city life to a village..
Notwithstanding the sufferings that come my way, I still do what I do, and one stray appreciation, one kind word makes so much  difference, when I am over with the tears that flow with every act of unkindness, which I cannot respond to at their level naturally.. I think the person who wrote me the above mail, could not see that just like Shiva who lives in world, internally anchored and unmindful, unwavering despite what goes over him, even if they be reptiles that glide over his body- I am already there myself in some way. We are not gods, but mythology is all about symbolism and seeing our behaviour which is archetypal and not personal. Also reminds of how so long back itself I had understood this, and wrote this. The churning of the ocean is all about living a life of stability in the midst of chaos of the world.
Anyhow living Kabir becomes so difficult, which I have more to write about – especially about the fate of my book, which is pending review with the publisher, that I can only for now try to shut out the doubts about me, with words of kindness from a younger researcher, who says
Dear Prateekshaji, I read your paper yesterday. I want to congratulate you on the brilliant, rigorous and well thought out piece. Your meticulous research and hard work is well reflected in it. I am very happy for this achievement of yours. Hope a lot more is coming up soon. Best Wishes, Y.
This is a young person, currently pursuing her doctoral research in a US university, but who had encountered me several years ago, by a chance encounter with my music via a film, that had also included me as one of the musicians who sing Kabir. At that time I did not have such visibility, neither the internet had come into its present dimensions, and I was living a more secluded and invisible life than I do now. She was doing her M.Phil research in some aspects of contemporary singing or engagement with Kabir. As a smaller part of the study, she was also interest in seeing how women musicians interpret Kabir, for which she had extended communications with two women, me among them. We met on multiple occasions in different locations every time- Faridabad, where I then lived, then in Calcutta and finally before she was leaving for further study, in Delhi. I still remember how we talk about the subversive element of Kabir. So now it should be no surprise that I am also a subversive who is trying to challenge the dominant discourse of my times, the manner Kabir did in his- though my context is different for now…but likely I will also jump into the same discourse about securalism in due course, knowing that my challenge is not just to concepts of mental health, knowledge creation and research.
If only she knew how much it matters, at least on some occasions when the world is punishing you from all dimensions for really living Kabir!