I feel blessed today by my good fortune in finding not one, but two gurus to guide me through my journeys in art and self-development. For these are intrinsically linked and I see that clearly more than ever before in my life.
Let me back up. Culling out lessons from the experiences of friends, family and my own, dealing with the stresses of urban life and staying positive in the face of multiple pressures are the most oft repeated challenges we face. For those who put all their eggs in one basket, by choice or otherwise, it becomes vital to excel in their chosen area of concentration, whether its the home, the workplace or a serious hobby. My strategy has been to diversify my risks so to speak and is in line with the fact that i do have multiple interests and I may say talents that I can pursue. For many years, I focused on studying and music suffered. If I turned to music, a full time job would mean it would get little attention. If I left it, my guilt would kill me. I would stare longingly at salsa dancers and die to learn. I would go to performances all alone and cry bitter tears of remorse.
In my thirties, in the middle of struggling to balance home and career, raising young kids, something snapped inside me. On an impulse, I joined Shiamak Davar’s dance classes, after a gap of ten years! As I learnt to take time out for myself and got back to dance, my confidence grew. Three years later, I started learning kathak, for the first time in my life. I also tried various music teachers till I found my current guru. Between music and dance, both of which I pursue earnestly and purely for self-satisfaction, I found the self-confidence to explore new avenues at work, to think creatively, to approach problems with a positive attitude. If a particularly tough tukda (technical piece in kathak) can be mastered by being attentive and through practise, if my voice can hit that high note that eluded me last year, then issues at work can also be tackled.
Today, I find myself far more centred than I have ever been before. Even if things don’t go as planned, if I don’t meet my expectations in one area of my life, there are other things happening to compensate. I had this vital insight this weekend, that I had been deploying this as my stress management and positive thinking strategy! Whatever works, I guess!
This morning, I had the fortune of interacting with two talented artists. Nishi Singh, a kathak exponent of the Jaipur gharana who weaves the nuances of the Lucknow and Benares gharanas into her dance thanks to her training under several gurus was invited by my kathak guru ji Jayashree Acharya for a lecture demonstration with us students. We were doubly fortunate today to meet Vidushi Mamta Maharaj, daughter of Pandit Birju Maharaj, who also visited the studio. In watching her love for her art and her versatility-she played the tabla, sang and danced with equal ease-I was reminded that love and passion, and an immersion in the arts can bring a fluidity to life that mere hours of tutelage and practice cannot. Mamtaji’s message was one of emotion, of the need to connect to your art through your emotional side as much as through the intellectual side. To me, it is a validation of the emotional bond I have had with music and dance for years. There was a time when I would be ashamed of crying at a performance or being too emotional to sing on certain days when Masterji was too harsh in me. But now I know those were the signs that the bond is there for life.
I sit out hearing Udai go through his music lessons inside. There are days when I see his tears of frustration at not getting his notes right. And I hope with all my heart that he forms this bond just as I have!
Music is emotional and all those who journey down the path of music, whether as a listeners or performers, are often helplessly carried along in its sometimes happy and sometimes turbulent currents.
Music has reflected deeply on my personality. It has been a form of release, a tool to inflict pain upon myself, a way to get popular and a symbol of my self-esteem, in good times and at times when I’ve felt low.
How could it not be? I started this relationship young. Both my parents were passionate listeners of music. My dad had been a Hindi move junkie (Bollywood, that despicable term had not really come into its own in his day!) since his college days. Mum was into sophisticated stuff like jazz and Hindustani classical music. As their daughter, I was white water rafting down this river starting the age of 6, learning Hindustani classical vocals while mum learned the sitar and dad the tabla. They did this to keep me company and lure me into their world of music, I later realized. I also spent many nights sleeping though all night concerts of the greatest performers in the country, on chairs joined together or durries, as may be the case. I guess, despite a measure of childhood rebellion, the message seeped through and music was coded into my life.
I went on to learn fairly seriously from class 6 until I graduated school. Post that, music morphed into something more experimental, less rigor-bound and more based on moods, and time available. FM radio hit my life in hostel during my five years at SPA, New Delhi where I studied architecture. Singing was about having fun and bonding with friends. Music was still in my life. The river had slowed down, but the waters were still aplenty.
It was when I pursued my masters degree at Texas A&M that the music began to fade away to the background of my life, for the very first time. The following years were traumatic and busy at the same time. I married, I lost my father to a fatal disease, I set up a home, I had a child, then another. A decade of tumult, sweet and sour, bitter in bits. I knew I was losing the thread from time to time. I tried some half-hearted desperate attempts to clutch at the music that was flowing away from me, but it didn’t work. I had lost the confidence in my voice, and as a result, I went into denial about this relationship.
I tried to fight my deep connection with music. I went into denial. For months on end, I divorced myself from musical sound. I didn’t sing or hum and worse still, I didn’t listen to music. The more I stayed away, the guiltier I felt. The life force began to seep out of me, in a vague remote kind of way. So much so, that I was unable to relate the emptiness in my life (yes, despite my hectic life being a working mother, something felt amiss) to the absence of music.
At some point, I realized I had hit rock bottom. The music had died and needed rebirth. There was nothing for it but to start from scratch again! I had to do this for me, no matter what. And I had to do it for my children, who deserved to begin a relationship of their own with music. I began to appreciate how much music had enriched my life. I started to listen to music again, rebuild the emotional ties. The life blood began to flow through me again. I started taking lessons again. Bits and scraps of memory were rekindled. The vocal chords slowly started to respond to codes so deeply embedded that I had no consciousness that they existed. Progress is slow, but I am not giving up hope.
I will find music, the soulmate I had abandoned. I will make up for the lost years. I will gift my children the opportunity to experience of the life force that music is, for that’s what it was for me once and promises to be so, once again.
After my head had nearly split listening to the incessant squabbling, tattling and whining amongst the kids, I thought I had had enough. Mostly the older kids would hang up against Aadyaa and she would lash out at them. With everyone else busy today with Arnav’s Upanayan ceremony, I was dealing with the cousin gang by myself. Boredom usually results in squabbling. It was the same when we were kids, I kept telling myself. It was ok. My headache would not go away, however, apparently not responsive to reason and logic.
Eventually driven by the need to give the kids some occupation, I drove them to Miramar Beach. The exquisite sunset, the cool sea breeze and the easy bonhomie that water creates overtook us all like magic. The headache ebbed and i watch fascinated as the kids squeal, jump, laugh and bond beautifully with each other. it’s monsoon and the sea is rough. I watch over them keenly but I revel in their enjoyment of nature. The crowds notwithstanding, they interact with the water and knead the soft wet sand. This is bliss. This is life.