The arrow of the ‘Bani’

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guru with a Quirk

Imagine meeting a music teacher who has the following conditions-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mummy also stepped in

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

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

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

Last week brought a surprise…

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

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

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Kindness that leaves one speechless

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

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

Prateeksha Sharma

25 Jun (8 days ago)

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

Deepak Raja

26 Jun (7 days ago)

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

One year later>>>

Today we complete a year, tomorrow is a first ‘anniversary’ of returning back from Goa. It is a funny thing to say- nothing can be more ridiculous than the anniversary of return from one city to another. But in this case it is.

I had left Faridabad and gone from here for good- I was certain that I was going to create a new life for myself in Goa, because it is so scenic and the beauty itself will take care of all my concerns,  give me an opportunity for new connections and help me establish professionally- both musically and otherwise. So then, the great leveler that life is- nothing ever goes as we imagine it could. There is a difference. If you are lucky the difference is not so big that it would bother you- but you got to be lucky for that. I had no such luck. The difference in my imagination and reality was almost 70%. But then that may also reflect how much of a dreamer I still am! Not a bad thing that my youthful dream-ability is still intact at 45.

The problems I encountered in Goa were of a dimension I had never imagined. So for now I am not going to brood over them or even reflect back- they are the stuff one writes stories about. I hope to, as well. Coming back to the theme of this post- our return- all of us five-some (if there could be a word like that!).DSC00048

From the last July (2016) we all moved back, grew sick, recovered a little and so …

But then if I were to count my chickens, who are also hatching nowadays, here is a tentative list…(of that which has happened in the last 12 months)

List of hatching chicken …

The health nugget

Health has been a big…HUUGGE mess. Mine, Ginger’s, Raga’s, mummy and papa (event though they don’t stay here with me)

Last year’s chikungunya was bad- pains are still lingering and energy levels remain low with me. But I have started a new therapy whose third sitting I took yesterday. They have promised that I can recover in four weeks from the pains I am suffering from and I am quite hopeful.

Pain is a big problem and it incapacitates completely. Not just that, it compromises the quality of life one is living. So to be in pain is to live a life in fear, because you cannot say yes to doing so many things you want to do. Getting rid of chronic pain is an important issue in improving the quality of our life and remaining mindful about our health. I hope this is the best step towards that outcome.

Research

In mental health/phd research

Last year, when I was starting the research, things looked so uncertain as I had no clue. But even in that haze a year has passed by and I have made some progress in meaningful ways and need to get more organized still.

I have nearly found the research participants and it is a big relief- already interviewed three and one has sent me her answers by writing by hand.

In counseling

Some progress, and it is a great joy to see that I am coming to a point where I may offer counseling training as well. Just gearing towards that nowadays.

In Music

  • Oh this is the one that brings the greatest happiness. Am working profusely in composition, and in notating them (obviously).
  • The book is stalled for now, but I hope to begin soon. It is sad that my health took such a toll that the contract with the publisher fizzled out. Nothing is more tragic for a writer- for this was a contract that had come my way, I did not have to seek it out in the least!
  • While teaching children, some research ideas have come to mind- some that are nagging me to worry about what is going wrong in their schools and whether music can really transform their lives or is it just a thing to pass their time with? I am also quite worried, rather perplexed to see the different learning abilities of children, depending upon their socio-economic backgrounds. I fear that this is the fault line that will keep some people ignorant and poor!

 

Home

Fish and birds

Is getting better, more organized and more suited to the climate than ever before. There are new members around in the form of birds and fish. Yesterday I also paid an advance towards the new fish tank- which will probably be set up in August, when Andre comes. Right now I just have two siamese fighters- in each in two small glass bowls.

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Raga having a moment with the cockatiels, April or May 2017

Of course the cockatiels are here to keep chirping around in the cage and soon I intend to get them out of the cage as well.

Birds keep coming on two sides of the house in the least , thanks to the cockatiels’ leftovers newer birds are moving around here, in addition to the regular ones- mynahs, sparrows, finches, occasional parrots and doves.

Gardening

I have worked very hard with gardening- financially, physically, emotionally, and I am beginning to see dividends. Last year I had the best garden in winters, till so far and I hope to repeat the feat this year too. I had a good measure of spinach, lettuce, coriander/cilantro last winter- even some tomatoes. In the summer we were late in sowing, so many things perished. Many things perished because of the heat as well. So both reasons- our lateness and the heat killed many plants, far too many.

So it was a lesson well learnt about the seasons and the climate in general. I have done a lot of fortification around the house-including painting the outer grills on three sides of the front. In this picture one can see a pole on which a basket is hanging right in the middle- this is a strong iron thing, in two locations, meant for baskets of flowers and green plants. I love the idea of hanging baskets, but have only one for the last few years. So now is the time to grow their numbers.

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This is a picture from today morning- its been raining, everything is wet, but the greenery is bright and sparkling, thanks for the wash

There is a lot of help here than I can ever imagine in Goa- there are scores of people working, doing little little things around the house to make life move and it is a great blessing. It leaves one with so much time to do whatever you want to or can. In Goa, this was a constant struggle. And the people there were of a narrower disposition and very regional/small minded. Out here the labour force is gigantic in numbers and people are hardworking in general.

Professionally- in music and counseling

On both these counts there is significant gains and I think on the whole, i have moved back for my own good. it is proving to be so.

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.

Time for organizing

The plate is full to the extent it is overflowing, while energy levels do not match up to it. But that does not stop the flow, only slows it down.

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On the one hand there is research- reading, writing, interviews (yes, the process of gathering data has begun), more reading, more and more reading…dogs, Raga, Ginger -both of who are suffering, the birds, the students- everyone having a different need or composition to be taught, my own learning of music (just learnt two more bandishes in Raga Durga). I just don’t seem to get a grip on things, as they move at their own pace. There is so … so much to do: the day just flies …

in music…

But today is dedicated to music. I began with playing my own CD…it seems so faraway, so long back, that I recorded the CD- it has been around on the internet too for so long. I just love this particular ghazal in it.  So after a long time, today this ghazal coursed through me- reminding me of all the pains the heart hides. And then the pains and tribulations of the day took over. Raga came upstairs today- I brought here along, as I thought the weather is so beautiful, a cool rainy breeze blew in the morning, but then the clouds came and she tried to crawl behind me, in a bid to scamper away. All her life she remained fearful of winds, rain and the clouds- also thunder. Ditto with Ginger- who learned to mimic Raga’s behaviour. It has been a nightmare when Raga was agile- she would try climbing on my bed if I would be asleep or Ginger would sit on my pillow. I have had a nightmare with these two.

with the dogs…

Anyhow, I had just had the first bite of my upma, when Raga tried to crawl feebly under the dining table, and in that bid, toppled one of the chairs on her. I rushed to help her, as did Ilma, only to see that Raga was in a pool of her urine. So we cleaned up, and she looked at me helplessly. She has always been such a beautiful, clean dog, that to see this phase of her life is a very painful part of my own journey in life. I used to always think that the German Shepherd has such a beautiful tail, which she also has naturally enough.

Nikki and Raga in Cupangale hillside

But then just see what life has to show you. Every day nowadays, since she has no control over her bowel and bladder movement, and she is not able to evacuate them fully …her beautiful tail is smeared in her excrement or urine. I feel it is a great lesson to me personally, to never get attached to the physical beauty of anything. And then poor thing, she looks at me in a mute way, as though say, I am sorry, I didn’t mean to do this.

I see a new side of me with this experience of Raga, which I did not know or imagine. I have never lost a minute in cleaning her, or scolded her or left her in her mess, even for a second…I have tried the best to keep her as clean as I can manage- changing &washing her sheets multiple times as per requirement, keeping a mackintosh under her so that the mattress she sleeps on don’t get soaked in urine, washing the mackintosh (I got three now), cleaning parts of her with water, washing her feet, drying up her hind legs which get soaked in urine, picking up the poop everyday…it is all labour and it comes without an announcement. Several times, when I am sitting on the computer and studying/writing, I smell the smell and I know she has defecated. It is another such moment. There have been times when she has defecated and then dragged herself in it- in other words she is smeared with her excreta as well as the floor. Its not easy. But I did not see even a flicker of anger in me…ever. How did that happen? I did not know I was capable of this extent of patience- especially because I don’t seem to have it with everything else.

She also indicates her discomfort by making a oo-oo sound (ooh, ooh, clean me up). At night, it may be any time…2 o’clock, 4 o’clock, I have always responded to my dogs. I never thought I would be able to handle this last stage of life of my girl with such calmness,  while remaining in pain all the time myself. But I suppose life is all about understanding ourselves and the ones we love- how much we can serve them. Raga’s disability is a profound learning experience. I am seeing her calmness all the time- she may be in pain, or suffering, but she does not say anything. At most only with her bowel and bladder issues she makes a noise. (Just now, while writing this post, I had to go out with her, at her beckoning, to help her have a bowel movement. The temperature is upwards of 40 degree, and standing in the heat balancing the animal on  my left arm, and ensuring that neither of us should trip over seems very tricky at this time of the day- around 2:00 pm). I am also trying to manage the four-seven dogs (varies every day) outside the house, who I feed regularly. Yesterday, I also 18556271_10210346797719515_2401334130308584981_ndewormed the puppies! All at Andre’s behest.

I may not be able to write another post in June. Ginger just turned 11 two days ago- on the 6th. She is also not too well- the ear infection that she brought from Goa, never really got okay. Today it is a year that all three of us – me, Nikki and Ginger returned from Goa by plane along with Gokul, who came to help me with the dogs. There is so much water under the bridge. Soon it would be a full year of my actual return- on the 1st of July and half the year would be behind us.

dabbling with research issues…

I have got the ball rolling on the empirical side of my research- meeting individuals given diagnosis and their families. Haven’t met any families yet, but two individuals. I also wrote a blog post about it on another blog, but that has no relevance here. There is a journal article that I am toying working on, and as usual my website- the pain of the website never ends! May be I am the pain, who never resolves to have a final version of it. But no matter what I do, another side just pops up and tells me that I should be doing that now. Just when I started the school of music, (not that I have really made it grow big like a real school), the need for teaching counseling comes up. Like me and Andre are fond of saying about our lives- there’s never a dull moment!

of course students…

I think the sort of emotional relief I get with students is unlike any other thing- because the flow of knowledge is so easy and seamless here. And I feel relieved to share so many different things in the course of one week. One learns one raga, one another, a third learns something simpler. Songs, bandishes, and my own learning with my Guru, they compliment one another in a heady mix.

and the garden…

I sometimes wonder if I am really doing a phd- when I seem to all the time be enjoying myself, watering the garden, feeding the birds, cleaning the bowls and baths for the birds (at least three-four around the house), the big dog water planter I have put outside the house…

Nowadays I can see the bhindi plants coming up, where the Salvia grew in the winter. This summer I have had a huge loss of plants due to the heat. Too many plants, too many attempts. Finally I am seeing one creeper, a few bhindi plants and a some tiny sprouts of coriander coming out. My lemon grass has died in the heat, so has the spinach- not shown any growth. No sign of cucumber plants or anything else. Neither lettuce. The weather has been horrible.

I have not been able to stay connected to many …relatives, friends, neighbours or anyone else. Not even friends on Facebook. What to do? How much can a person manage alone? Nothing is easy and the plate is too full for now. In other words I may not be able to manage another blog post either. But when I do, I do hope that something nice will be there to record then- which i will read 20 years later and tell myself that yes, even at 45, I was doing something useful in my life. 

Managing different kettles!

These days the tea is boiling in many kettles- many, many in fact. And diverse, non-overlapping ones as well. Yesterday I started one major part of the work in data collection for the phd research- so that is a big enterprise by itself. And getting people to talk to, who are willing to share their stories of mental suffering is one of the most anxiety producing situations. No, let me rephrase it.

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From March 2014- April 2015 this was my kitchen in a small village, in South Goa- from where many a guest has been served a wholesome meal and many a cup of tea shared with loved ones.

Finding people who are willing to share their lives with you is one of the most anxiety producing things for any researcher. I was just discussing this with Ramakant-ji, and he told me about his experiences, in the 1970’s, of doing research with Punjabi children in England, and how he was often shown the door by people suspecting him to a be a spy, trying to interview them to send them back to India!

So on the one hand, one meets one person and then the one person backs off. Then you meet another, through whatever means you may have- and they say, we will think it over. You approach one non profit; they say we will come back to you- someone comes back, someone leaves you wondering for months. By then you know they have no intention to come back.

Start of Data Collection

Nevertheless, I started the process yesterday- interviewed the first person, who happens to not live faraway. There is another meeting with another person on Friday- she too, like the first person, has agreed to come down and meet me in my home. It is a great relief really, because with my broken back, going anywhere is a huge challenge for me personally. I also decided to NOT record any interviews (and go through the needless hassle of transcribing the interviews and collecting mounds of data). So I have taken the equally difficult path of writing the interview down with hand! I wrote almost 11 pages yesterday. Later I realized that there are some themes that I want to discuss again or with a different perspective. Fortunately since this person is also a Phd herself, she understands the process of data collection and in any case I still have to meet someone from her family.

Yesterday I sent off a letter to a friend who once headed an NGO working in mental health, requesting him to help me find people who would be willing to talk about their lives. So now I am waiting to see, if anyone would be willing. I spoke with someone more today- who first declined fearing exposure, but when I assured him of anonymity he was okay with it. But I think I will still write a letter to him.

Musical melodies flow on all counts

On the other hand something completely different in brewing on the musical front. I started some beautiful new compositions in Raga Durga with my guru. I have learnt Durga earlier as well, and it is one of my valued Ragas.

On the other hand, I am looking for poetry for children and creating newer compositions for my students. Just last week I composed a khyal in Ektaal for one girl in Raga Bhairav. Today there is a possibility of a boy (of 22 years) starting anew with me- he learnt much earlier, many years ago. [We decided to offer scholarships to those who cannot afford music education- so three students are full fee-paying, whatever be their fee amount and three are completely subsidized, to paying a small token money (which is less than or equal to 10% of the actual fee)]. At least it is my hope that money should not be a deterrent in receiving quality music education. I hope we will be able to sustain the venture. In two months we have six students enrolled and another two expected. I do not expect to grow very quickly in this location anyways.

Apart from these, the house has its own very fixed rhythm- three women report for work at 6:30 in the morning and then another man comes an hour later to get the daily supply of milk, the garbage collector comes to take the garbage away and then the last boy in the morning comes to clean the car and wash the clothes whenever they have to be! Oh I forgot the dusting lady, who spends  between 30-40 minutes dusting around the house- the doors, windows, books, tables, computers etc. In the evening one or two, depending upon my need for then, of these morning ladies come and do some more household chores and then comes the gardener on three days a week. the remaining four days I have to water the garden on three sides of the house myself. Till so long as these people are around the house, I cannot begin my own riyaaz- living alone means managing a lot of sides actually. Of course there are the outside dogs too, that have to be fed- nearly six come everyday, but there are eight also at times!

So imaging a day with learning with my guru, to teaching my students music and working in phd research in psychosis, cooking, watering the garden, feeding the dogs, feeding the birds, tending to Raga and cleaning her up as per requirement, is a lot to balance in a day. What to talk of days when I have to go out (for shopping for groceries or paying some bill, or bank etc)- life is brimming with ideas, activities and tasks I enjoy. Of course there are other tasks which vary- bathing the dogs, cleaning the yard after them, changing their beds- laundry issues, and so much much more!

Goa 2014 266The long and the short of it is that the tea is boiling in many kettles and my day is a dance of the creating some semblance of this and that. Meanwhile whenever I lie down with acute pain, which is a 24-hour companion anyways, I have these books to read nowadays. I was reading a recently acquired book called Our most troubling madness, and then there was Mad Matters from Canada. I feel so grateful that I have the resources to buy these books that are published in the West, all thanks to my brother.

The last of the things that seems to be cropping up is a course in counseling that I wanted to offer to young people, who are interested in looking at counseling from a non-medical perspective. One young woman recently (in April) approached me but I postponed it. But now another one did- two days back. then I the time has coming or is nearly there- to offer a course in collaborative counseling in the Indian milieu.

Life is not bad after all, so what if the body remains in pain and I don’t feel like waking up on any morning- the birds, the dogs, and the daylight manage it everyday 🙂

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These new crop of puppies are the new morning guests to our home these days- they are all lying in wait in the bamboo shoots outside, and the moment the gate opens they all come running. Adorable foursome

 

With Raga, mid ragas and the inevitability of change

It’s difficult to accept, no matter what evidence life brings in front, that you will soon lose a beloved companion. With Raga the evidence is mounting every single day- her earlier mobility with the two front legs has become even less so. Perhaps it is even a notch worse. Now she is unable to turn sides pretty much and I check to see if she is sitting on one side for too long- then I help her switch sides.

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But I wonder if all the others have not got a little ignored because of her needs taking center on a day to day basis. Of course she is not the first one to get fed, because Dash always accompanies me to the kitchen and Nikki is sitting at the base of the kitchen stairs, watching me from below and wagging her tail joyfully at the prospect of what could be coming next. But yesterday, Nikki also gave me a jolt. she refused to budge. I saw her lying for long hours on one side, and then not moving at all- not even to ease her bowels and bladdar. I coaxed her, forced her and finally slid Raga’s loop around her body to help her move. Now Nikki is very heave as compared to Raga- it is not easy to move her using the same method I have been using with Raga for the last several months.

In the picture above Raga takes her favourite position close to me as I hold my tanpura for my practice and she listens, watches over and in general keeps all others at an arm’s length. But of course this picture was taken a few weeks back. I am not holding the tanpura with any regularity these days. She is more feeble, and several times a day I have to clean up when she pees inside the house or wherever – it is no longer predictable. I never thought I would ever come to such a point- because when you have seen dogs all your life, and never really faced disabling situations, you are just not ready for what can happen. However, I feel grateful that I can manage her despite my own spinal pains, and more so, that we returned back to our home in Faridabad, from Goa. I shudder to think what could have happened had we remained in Goa!

The time between the last and this blog post has seen the birth of my little venture of teaching classical music to children. After years of deliberating upon who should be the one one addresses in imparting musical knowledge, I come to the point of teaching children, because it is in them only that we can actually drop the seeds of knowledge with a long term perspective. By the time they are older it is career goals and other aspirations that take over. The venture, a sub domain of the non profit Hansadhwani Foundation, is called SwarGanga- music workshop.

Does workshop sound tentative?

Workshop seems to suggest a short span of engagement ordinarily. To me in fact the word represents movement, motion and churning. A music school becomes a dead place where the same sort of music is taught year after year to batches of students, in a fixed format. That is why I titled this venture workshop, because the process of churning represents motion, and I am personally constantly researching, innovating, creating and composing new musical ideas in response to the needs of learners I am with.

Of course large parts of my work are a direct dialogue with those I work with and a response to what they can imbibe. The work becomes challenging to say the least and that is where the fun lies- to be seriously creative.

We started in the first week of April. So technically, we are a month old into SwarGanga. In the months ahead I will have to make a website of it and get things up, for I realized that there are a lot of music schools going around in this neighbourhood. The only way to distinguish ourselves from this would be to put it on a website what we are all about and how we specialize in the areas we work in, which are quite a few- mostly in music psychology of course.

Cockatiels

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April is my birth month. I turned 45 this once. A lot of water under every conceivable bridge. So the new element that entered into my life this summer are the birds. It was a great moral and ethical dilemma whether to keep birds in captivity. I thought for many years and felt it was improper to keep them thus.

Of course my garden has many visiting birds the whole year through and it is a great feeling to keep hearing bird songs, and see them eating away the grains I scatter for them. But as I silently moped over Raga’s onward journey, I saw a new flash of light right here. She became very interested in the birds. Of all the dogs in the house she is the only one, who has any interest in them. To the extent that when I IMG_20170423_070457072bring up the birds’ trolley anywhere close or towards the back lawn she would get up from her supine posture and chase them on the trolley, by inching forward step by step.

I wonder if she objects to the birds around. I cannot say for sure, but she is certainly animated and I am glad that at least some dog has shown some response to the new creatures in our life. The other dogs could not care less. They go about unperturbed.

The birds are also relatively indifferent to Raga’s proximity and while she tries snapping at them behind the wire mesh of the cage, they don’t even bother to move away. This is the only time when she sits up. The back lawn is quite barren unlike the winter when the flowers were abundant. But thanks to the birds, Raga sits in the back area peacefully instead of trailing after me helplessly.

There is the inevitable prospect of change staring at me with all dogs showing some of the other infirmity. I try finding comfort in the thought that they have had a good life with me and I am doing the most I can, while we still have time. New life is springing around me- in new birds, new students coming, new people seeking counseling help, newer connections on intellectual and artistic journeys. If there is a deep sadness it is taken care of by the routine of managing so many sides of life- which do not allow much time to brood anyways.

I am reading some excellent books along the way, in mental health related issues. The areas of MH are extremely vexing and sad. I have also started a new blog to document my reading, writing and work related to mental health, with particular focus on recovery from all types of mental illness. This is my commitment to people to help them recover from their shattered selves and create beautiful, peaceful, serene lives for themselves and their families. I hope someday to offer my counseling for free- but for now I do not have the means to support that work in this manner.

I am only just beginning, and like mother says, just subtract the twenty years of ‘illness’ from your life and think yourself to be 20 years younger. Yes I love the spirit, wish I could. with all the pains in my body, it does not let me forget how old I am- but I do feel this is just the beginning this way or that way.

The long and short of it is that…

  • SwarGanga is born as the school of music
  • Raga is happy about the new birds in her vicinity
  • I am happy doing what I am in many domains
  • Life goes on and … Andre keeps coming, as do the rest of family
  • Nikki is looking fine now
  • Another blog (!!!) is born, exclusively reserved for my research in mental illness, recovery, my counseling on lay forums like quora, research articles and books I read and of course other media such as YouTube videos which I want to share and so forth.