Last Saturday, I entered the Long Beach convention center about 2 hours before the Isha Foundation’s Shambhavi mahamudhra program was to start, feeling confident that I was very early for the check-in process. I entered the lobby and gasped as I saw what looked like hundreds of people standing in line. The volunteer usher smiled with her hands folded and said – “Namaste, please walk to the end of the line right there.” And, as I walked all the way to the very end of the line, I saw young and old – people from all races – standing in line with yoga mats and cushions in their hands, waiting in line. Registration completed, I pinned my name tag to my shirt and headed into the cavernous convention center to take a place, waiting for the program to start.
The Inner Engineering program conducted by the Isha Foundation led by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev was a revelation in the ways in which a modern Indian mystic reaches followers in America with a blend that combines spirituality, folk wisdom, and advice from a life coach. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has thousands of followers across the globe drawn from all nationalities – people who have been drawn to the movement through his active use of YouTube videos and talks.
Participants at the Inner Engineering weekend program had completed a 7-part online program before coming to the retreat. The program began with a series of preliminary exercises that we practiced with a teacher before Sadhguru addressed the gathering. His advice to the thousands of participants was to work on being open and receptive to receive the training in Shambhavi mahamudhra the next day. He gave the analogy of what one does while planting a seed. He told the audience that when dreaming about having flowers, there is no point in constantly thinking about flowers. Instead, one needs to worry about the seed, the manure, soil, water and sunshine needed to nurture the seed.
The next morning, once the preliminary practices were done, and after partaking a light, nutritious breakfast, Sadhguru entered and urged the participants to think of themselves as change makers focused on moving forward with love in their hearts. The playing of the song, “Alai, alai,” by the talented musicians from Isha present in the hall rose to a crescendo and the whole audience was up on their feet dancing in abandon.
The lyrics of the Tamil song with meanings are given at this link.
After the song was played, Sadhguru spoke to the audience in his charismatic fashion talking of the angst of everyone to seek something that lay beyond the paradigm of what they could experience in this human life. He spoke of how memories from the past and imagination that was rooted in the future kept all human beings from truly grasping the present moment. He then posed a question, “Can you just be?” With memories and imagination crowding our waking moments, he said that we were lost in our minds, always looking outside of ourselves for solutions. “I want to be happy, Sadhguru but …” he said was a phrase he heard often in interacting with people. Many times, he said what people do not realize is that they need to take responsibility for their own happiness, without looking outside of themselves for solutions. He peppered his talk with several jokes, keeping the audience engaged and interested. When he paused in his speech (which was delivered impromptu) to the rapt audience, even a moment’s silence took on special meaning as there was pin drop stillness in a hall that brought together over 2,500 attendees.
This was my first experience attending a meditation retreat of any kind. What struck me was the way in which adults around me responded to the weekend’s program. Many that I spoke to told me about feeling energized and rejuvenated, ready to take on life’s daily challenges with a renewed sense of purpose. It is true – all of us adults do get caught up in a maelstrom of responsibilities and soon feel bogged down by the meaninglessness of what life holds. At such a juncture, it is common to feel deflated and isolated. Seeking something “more” from life itself is what draws all participants to a weekend meditation retreat of this kind.
A modern mystic like Sadhguru makes Indian yogic discipline and spirituality accessible to the mainstream in a way that is awe-inspiring. Every word that he utters is not meant to be esoteric and out-of-reach – quite the opposite actually. We can identify with the challenges that lie within ourselves and his words serve to help us seek lasting solutions inside of us.
Now, let me see if I have the discipline to do my practice for 20 minutes twice a day for 40 days as he advised – I’ll keep you posted on what I feel!
Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents.
In my first year as a graduate student in America, I started collecting bills and envelopes with misspellings of my rather conspicuously foreign-sounding name. Despite the care with which I enunciated it and spelled it out over the phone when I spoke to pizza places, university admissions offices and others, my name showed up in ways very different from what my parents and their Telugu culture had chosen. It went East (“Wen See”), South (“Juan C.”), and to many other places unknown to any phonetic map I knew. Finally, one exasperated Midwestern pizza guy obviously had enough of it, and sent me a bill for my pizza with just “Uh!” written as my name. It was warmly amusing, and I could empathize with his dilemma. Even in a campus town, diversity could be challenging. I decided that “Uh!” is what Americans do when they acknowledge their limitations, that is all.
But this friendly mauling of my name was not the only point of difficulty between them and us. One night, as my friends and I walked home from the grocery store at the edge of town, our backs found themselves in the path of some high-velocity viscous-yucky projectiles flung from a moving car. We had half-consumed milkshakes thrown at us, and then eggs, and racial epithets, and even advice on geographical relocations (“go back to Africa”) from passing cars over the next two years.
Like many formerly sheltered and privileged Indian students, I felt what it was to be on something like a color line for the first time. And as a student of media, I could also see that this line existed with even greater ruthlessness on the surface of the luminous screen too. We were invisible on TV, as we were in the real life streets of milkshake-flinging dudes. The only Indians that Americans knew in the media it seemed were Gandhi and the monkey-brain-soup relishing princes from Indiana Jones. And then, right about the same time, began The Simpsons, and Apu.
Apu’s character grew with my cohort’s lives and careers in America, even if his occupation didn’t change. He got “arranged married” to the intelligent and beautiful Manjula, had many more kids than any of us ever did, stayed true to his family, culture, traditions and dietary ethics (and along with Paul and Linda McCartney turned Lisa the Conscience into Lisa the Vegetarian too), and became, well, “American.” Apu remained comfortable in his own spiritual space, but also seemed to fit into his new American avatar of civic duties, even charming Springfield’s single women to the beat of Foreigner’s Hot Blooded. Apu, to me, has been endearing as he has been enduring.
And yet, Apu is a stereotype, a cliché, and most importantly, a sign of a deeper ill that a whole generation of South Asian American children growing up since the 1990s seem to have endured. Hari Kondabolu only gave the pain a vivid form and voice with his much acclaimed documentary, The problem with Apu. The most insightful and deeply felt part of it is where he sees Apu’s character as not just an assault on children like him, but on their parents. The humor, as he points out, is all about a white guy imitating the accent of people like his parents.
Kondabolu’s heartfelt critique touched a nerve, and a wave of aggrieved voices came to his side in the media last November. Naturally, one believed that a show as cutting-edge, socially aware, and indeed compassionate as The Simpsons, would somehow address the Apu problem raised by Kondabolu and his friends. But all that happened last Sunday was that Lisa, the conscience and ideal child-citizen of the future world, deadpanned and went what sounded to me like: “Uh.”
This gesture has been perceived by Kondabolu and his supporters as a haughty and hurtful act of dismissal, while some others have appreciated it as an appropriate comeback to “oversensitive” liberals. As an old fan of the show, and someone who has studied and participated in the politics of Indian representation in America closely, I can’t help thinking that both views are somewhat off the mark. I don’t think the concerns raised by Kondabolu in his film are frivolous. Yet, I also don’t think that The Simpsons is mocking these concerns (and Kondabolu’s film). I saw not so much arrogance as much as an admission of inadequacy.
No one knows, it seems, where Indians fit with all their complex diversity, in the American multicultural landscape, where the “colorline” historically and politically lies, as it were. A passionate charge that a “white man” doing a “brown voice” was inappropriate and racist rallied many voices to its side for sure, but was in the end not persuasive enough to make the “white man” feel guilty enough and back down. Hank Azaria knows, and America knows. It is the nature of things, for good or bad. Indians are people of color, sure, and yet face deep resistance to being heard as such when they speak of their pain as people of color. And to some extent, the reason for this lies in a divide within the community about its understanding of privilege and identity.
For many years now, Indian Americans, particularly if they happen to be Hindu, have been described in writings about them not as minorities from a long-colonized nation worthy of historic sympathy, but as the opposite; as a monolithic group of privileged, and sometimes oppressive group. And the people who have made this charge have been people in the community itself; American-born, Indian-accent-free, second-generation Americans of Indian parentage. Angered by what they see as their parents’ lack of self-awareness about privilege, and more recently, by the support extended by some Hindu Americans to Donald Trump, they have sought very hard to form solidarities with Brown, Muslim and other South Asian identities to fight racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. This part, is of course, not problematic and even commendable.
Where this supposed struggle has conspicuously failed to recognize though, is in ignoring the fact that there are forms of prejudice that the “Brown/Desi/South Asian” people routinely face that do not emanate from some generic “Brownphobia” or “Islamophobia.” These prejudices have to do with something very relevant to Apu’s character as well, and yet remained unaddressed in Kondabolu’s documentary, and most of the commentary that followed: Apu is Hindu. His being Hindu is a significant part of how the show characterizes him. Sometimes, the show reduces his Hindu identity to old orientalist tropes and clichés like “angry gods” and “dots,” and throws in some corpses in “the Ganges” too. At other times, it depicts Hindu culture with a recognition of the beauty, life and goodness in what it means to Hindu Americans. Even the response to Kondabolu in last Sunday’s episode played, at its core, to this; the scrawl on Apu’s photo says “Don’t have a cow, man!” suggesting that critics cool off, and also that, well, don’t eat beef.
Yet, in all the heated conversation about Apu and racism the broader question of Hindu representation in American public discourses has not come up at all. There have been other instances though, where it has; the debate about Yoga and appropriation, the use of Hindu deities on toilet seats and other inappropriate contexts, the depiction of Hinduism in California’s history textbooks, and most recently, in the controversy about Reza Aslan’s sensationalistic and inaccurate excursions into cannibalism in the sacred Hindu city of Kasi (which CNN bizarrely changed from the “City of Light” to the “City of Death”). The two worlds it seems, of “South Asian/Brown” struggle, and “Hindu American” struggle, seem to avoid each other, and sometimes clash with each other, needlessly.
It is perhaps telling that virtually every South Asian American voice in Kondabolu’s documentary (except his parents perhaps) has an American accent; a marker of inclusion and advantage (and often citizenship, as opposed to endless legal limbo for newer arrivals) as I am sure he knows too well. By contrast, the voices of most of the Hindu parents who supported their children’s calls for improving the California history curriculum still had that marker of distance, their Indian accents. And unsurprisingly, the outrage about Apu too seems to come largely from second-generation South Asian Americans like Kondabolu, while first generation Hindus and their families seem more concerned with the long term preservation of Hinduism in the face of what they see as entrenched denial and bias in classrooms and textbooks. Can we hope to ever take charge of our representation if this sort of silent polarization continues unexamined?
The future of the community, and ultimately America of which it is now so deeply a part too, depends on that, and on the will to fine tune our critiques of power and identity beyond old assumptions and cliches. By expending much of its energies on fighting its own, the South Asian American community has inadvertently postponed a much needed moment to claim its place. For all their calls to Hank Azaria and his team to witness their pain as subjects of color, in the end, nothing changed at all, not even with the agent of change who is Lisa. Apu lives, maybe for a better story to tell.
Vamsee Juluri teaches media studies at the University of San Francisco and is currently working on a book about representations of Hinduism in American media and pop culture.
Mar 13, 2018 - Jun 24, 2018
Rembrandt & The Inspiration of India
J. Paul Getty Museum, LA CA
Mar 15, 2018 - Apr 30, 2018
|International Indian Icon - A Platform for Indian Talent Across the Globe!|
Apr 7, 2018 - Apr 28, 2018
11:00 am - 7:00 pm
Sale and Exhibition: Indian Party Wear
Shieno Sarees, Pleasanton Ca
Apr 7, 2018 - May 4, 2018
12:00 pm - 9:00 am
200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Nepal
Nepal, pokhara nepal
Apr 20, 2018 - Aug 19, 2018
11:00 am - 5:00 pm
The House Imaginary
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose CA
She draws you in. Dominating the space inside you… her eyes half-closed, her manner very still.
Upon her forehead is a massive red Bindi that captures your attention. Her many hands jut out about her form, meshing with snaking vines, leaves and foliage.
She is cloaked in a primordial stillness – as she sits cross legged, in Padmasan.
Her mouth is unmoving, painted red. Yet, she speaks to you of things she holds within herself; the many-layered, many-nuanced feminine energy. Her voice is the embodiment of the Positive, of all possibilities, of the Divine.
Her names are many… Devi Ma… Kamala… Durga… Bhavya…
She is ever-changing in all ways but remains the same in an elemental sense – as “Shakti” – Strength.
From her origins in the musty air of West Bengal’s Bishnupur, she has travelled across the seas to be amongst us.
And the man who has led her to us is Basuki Das Gupta.
She has been depicted several times over, in as many styles. Basuki’s hands have given life to his personal vision of Her. She has been honed, layer upon layer, from many different materials – wrought by various tools, shaped by hands that speak their own language.
A language of inspiration, of childhood memories enriched by temples fashioned with mud and clay, walls decorated with relief sculptures – replete with the treasures of myth and lore.
Children form strong bonds and memories by internalizing through “touch'” – for something to be “real” to them, they have to touch and explore it. This is why children’s museums have ‘Tactile play’ as part of their exhibits. And this is also why children’s toy design is a huge industry!
Basuki’s childhood explorations in the famed terra-cotta temples of Bishnupur is the stuff of storybooks. He is open and candid about his experiences, refreshingly child-like in his expression. To hear him relate tales of his life in the village, is like a trip down memory lane to the “Malgudi Days” of the 1980s. He speaks of roaming the halls of the temples, listening to music, dancing to its tunes, with an effervescent group of friends and family – a full, rich, sensory experience.
“Nature was our playground,” he says with a laugh. Life, for the young Basuki was made all the more real, because he was able to imbibe, touch and experience all of it up close. And of course it made an impact on a fertile mind like his. His greatest takeaway were the terra-cotta reliefs adorning the temple walls, begging to be caressed, to be committed to memory. And commit them he did. It shows in every textured layer of his work.
Despite the sensory bounty of his childhood days, Basuki did not harbor aspirations to become an artist. There was no conscious thought that led him down that path. The lively cultural elements around him inspired his creativity and he felt intuitively drawn to music and painting. A visit to the famed Shantiniketan – Viswa Bharati University in Kolkata, further solidified his interest. He remembers his family’s unenthusiastic reaction to his decision to study Fine Arts at the distinguished institution, founded by the legendary Rabindranath Tagore. His father, a school teacher; was anxious that he pick a career path that was more financially promising! But in the end, Basuki prevailed.
Shantiniketan and Beyond:
The informal atmosphere at Shantiniketan greatly aided creativity of all sorts. To a small town boy, this translated into free form exploration, which he enjoyed and thrived in. He felt truly at home there. “I learned to listen to my heart beat,” he states. Drawing inspiration from the work of great stalwarts like K.V Subramaniam, and Ramkinkar Baij, Basuki honed his skills and completed his Bachelors degree in Fine Arts in 1992. The next challenge came when he decided to pursue his Masters degree, in Mural Arts. He had to learn to separate his skill from true expression – and find his unique style, his artistic vocabulary. To quote the artist, “Where does Basuki live inside my art? I had to find the answer.” It was a slow process of self discovery, with its usual drama of ups and downs. Every little bit added value to his journey, and he completed his Masters program in 1999.
Right out of Shantiniketan, Basuki sought employment as a teacher to help continue his own work. Channeling his love for music by composing songs for street theatrical performances, added another layer of exploration. But the bustling metropolis that was Kolkata, stifled him.
When a teaching opportunity in Tumkur (Karnataka) came his way, he took it. This move would be the turning point in both his artistic and teaching journeys.
“I can see the sky here!” he exclaimed. This feeling of space took him deeper, helping him strive for broader artistic avenues in his work.
Being a teacher also taught him more about how to view the world and the possibilities that abound. Basuki has been a visiting faculty member at the National Institute of Design (NID), Gandhinagar (Gujarat) since 2010. He teaches a Masters course in Composition, using a hands-on, experiential method of exploration. His students come from various academic backgrounds – engineering, architecture as well as fine arts.
He prefers to teach using integrated, non-traditional methods and believes that the experience is richer when you learn in this manner. “Leaving yourself open to new experiences is the most important part of teaching,” he says.
The apple did not fall far from the tree after all – with the son taking on the role of his father!
“For me, Art is oxygen!” Basuki states, without any pretensions. If he does not create, he ceases to exist. He is simply matter-of-fact about this reality.
He maintains that there is no need to isolate yourself from life in order to create artwork of consequence. Creativity needs to happen in the midst of life with all its dramas.
“Art is a great way to release negative energy,” states Basuki.
Drawing inspiration from everything around him, he “constructs” his mixed media paintings using paper, hardboard, and acrylic paints. To watch his creative process is a little like peeking into the inner recesses of our own selves. Each step needs its requisite time, patience and structuring – to formulate and “gestate” – as with a child within a womb; taking shape gradually under his hands. He cuts shapes, gluing, painting over, and arranging them around his central sketch. Sometimes the idea takes hold in his imagination and he works to translate it into physical form directly. But the starting point is always a blank canvas.
Many artists find the idea of a blank canvas intimidating. I asked Basuki how he views it. “It is like a balanced note – playing continuously,” he smiles. “All you have to do is touch your brush to its resonating surface. It starts a vibration. Then the next step is to add another element or line to balance that vibration. And on it goes!”
For Basuki, the music of colors is just as important as the hues they speak with. His work pops with bold, vibrant pigments, enriching and enhancing them to create masterful textural triumphs!
Basuki relates to textures with an intrinsic emotion that goes beyond just the academic ideals of Art. Every piece he creates has a tactile quality to it.
The ‘Devi’ element, is a central theme of Basuki’s work. He very rarely portrays male figures, and when he does, it is usually paired with a female form.
For Basuki, ‘Devi‘ is a personification of his mother. Through his various portrayals of her, he pays homage to his mother’s influence in his life and work.
He visualizes his mother as a woman of great energy and zeal for life – picturing her with “many hands” – because she managed to do so much all at once.
She appears in his work frequently; sombre at times, vivid and victorious at others; but always dominating. A larger than life presence – holding the viewer captive with her gaze.
A powerful portrayal of ‘Shakti’ – Strength.
Career & Artistic Influences:
With his move to Tumkur, Basuki taught at a school, while creating his art on the side. His wife Madhumita joined him, and the birth of their daughter Aronya added another element to their lives. The responsibility of a child goaded Basuki to show his work around in the art galleries in Bengaluru. In his practical manner, Basuki philosophises that insecurity gave rise to opportunity!
A couple of failed exhibitions followed. Then a chance meeting at an art opening with senior artist, S.G. Vasudev, helped turn the tide quite literally. Seeing the potential in his work, the stalwart graciously provided introductions to local galleries. He was a source of great moral support, a fact that Basuki is forever grateful for. Kynkyny Art Gallery was the first to represent Basuki. And it was the beginning of his artistic ascent, to become one of the leading contemporary Indian artists of our time. His work is now represented by several well known galleries in India.
In his personal life, Basuki credits his wife as his partner in the truest sense. It takes courage to share your life with a creative sort, offer support and be a steady presence through their journey. Madhumita is his pillar of strength, giving him a sense of reality and a constant support. His daughter, Aronya, has chosen to explore her creativity through classical dance – a source of great pride for her father.
Another source of pride for this talented artist, is his upcoming trip to the S.F Bay Area. Sonia Patwardhan‘s venture Laasya Art, is helping promote Basuki’s work. In his honest, engaging manner he confesses that it fills him with equal parts excitement and anxiety, since it is his first trip to the United States! As for us, the viewers, it offers a rare artistic treat.
It is our chance to view the Symphony of Textures; charting the journey of a child – who became a man – but always remained an artist at heart.
Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.
Basuki Das Gupta
316 El Verano Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306
(415) 645 3089
I watched Lovesick at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, which comes with the usual homey discord of diasporic film festivals. The people behind me were passing tupperware filled with aloo gobhi. The harangued IFFLA staff member was pleading people to lower their voices as he introduced the filmmakers. I was at once amused — as a film student, I’m usually surrounded by a much more reverential crowd– and admittedly irked — I would like to hear the filmmakers’ introductions and nobody passed me any aloo gobhi. Under the wafting smell of aloo gobhi I feel at home and alien. It was under these classically clashing circumstances that I watched Lovesick, which also seemed to be trying to navigate pleasing two worlds and settling neither here nor there.
The directors of Lovesick, Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai, were both working at PBS when they came across an article about Dr. Suniti Solomon, the first person to find HIV in India. In the film we learn that Dr. Solomon is more aptly described as the first person to even look for HIV in India, which she found widespread in sex workers. She then left what she described as “her prestigious academic job” to found a clinic for people with HIV.
Here’s where it begins to get wacky; Through founding the clinic, Dr. Solomon somewhat organically created a matchmaking service to help HIV positive people find partners, a practice which the directors claim is now common in Indian HIV clinic. Ann and Priya decided Dr. Solomon’s story was too big for a throwaway article and through a mutual connection decided to meet her in person. Eight years later, they birthed Lovesick, a longitudinal documentary on Dr. Solomon’s life and the story of a successful couple she matched.
The film is humorous, poignant and tender. Dr. Solomon matches couples because she too was madly in love for many decades. Her late husband was Christian and she is Hindu, yet, in a tale as old as time, love conquered all. I’m a sucker for a sappy love story, so I was moved when I saw Dr. Solomon read out passionate letters her husband wrote to her, which she now keeps sealed in a ziplock bag. Later, she waters the purple orchids surrounding her husband’s picture. “His favorite flower,” she remarks, standing next to a shelf of Christian and Hindu paraphernalia. We begin to understand why Dr. Solomon is such an advocate for finding love.
Through her matchmaking service, we meet Manu and Karthik, two of her “lovesick” patients. Their faces are not shown for most of the film because HIV is still so taboo in India — best evidenced by a sequence in the film where Manu’s Mother asks if she can say the word “HIV.” Both Manu and Karthik are sweet and lovable, but there is a certain emphasis placed on the fact that neither was “to blame” for contracted HIV. Karthik was given tainted blood and Manu was married to a man who never revealed himself her was HIV positive.
In fact, the communities Indian society would like to blame for HIV, are curiously absent from the film. For example, Dr. Solomon first found HIV in sex workers, yet not a single sex worker is interviewed in the film. We know HIV to predominantly exist in the gay community, but Dr. Solomon’s matchmaking service seems to only match heterosexual, or seemingly heterosexual, couples.
As sweet and deserving of love as Manu and Karthik are, the fact that they are able to find it is predicated on his Brahmin caste and her educated background, as Dr. Solomon’s staff giddily relay in the matchmaking process.
By the end of the film, Manu and Karthik decide to allow their faces to be shown. The couple even spoke at the screening in New York and have committed to be the public faces for HIV clinics in India.
The film is an homage to the remarkable Dr. Solomon, who passed away before the film was released., At times she even even goaded men into coming in to receive treatment by telling them they would only find love if they took care of themselves. She understood the interconnectivity between human wellbeing and love — and all of its accoutrements, like desire and compassion — and her own love for others will always be remembered.
Urvashi Pathania is a film-maker who writes from Los Angeles, where she attends the University of Southern California. You can learn more about her at urvashipathania.com.
Priya Giri Desai was presented the Audience Choice Award for documentary.
India Currents is a media partner of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. More about Lovesick at https://indiacurrents.com/lovesick-a-west-coast-premiere/
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A distinguished disciple of the late legendary maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, he also received guidance from the great sitarists Ravi Shankar and Shrimati Annapurna Devi . Rajeev Taranath is the recipient of many honors including India’s highest government award in the arts, the esteemed Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2000. He has received critical acclaim for his deep introspective style that melds imagination and emotional range combined with technical skill, and a highly disciplined approach to the development of a raga. “Rajeev Taranath’s sarod improvisations mixed the spiritual and the spirited…the raga began with introspective meditation and proceeded into an exuberant rhythmic celebration.” said critic Edward Rothstein of The New York Times A noted linguist, he speaks eight languages fluently. From 1995 to 2005, Taranath served on the music faculty of the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. Currently living in Mysore, India, Rajeev Taranath travels worldwide teaching and performing. Given below is an interview with this esteemed musician.
Did you grow up in a musical family?
My father was deeply interested in music. He used to sing and play the tabla. Although he was not a professional musician, I grew up with a lot of music around me. He started teaching me very easy songs. When I was around 3 years old, he made me listen to a lot of classical and vocal records and performances. I soon started singing and gave my first public performance at 10.
So, how did you leave singing for the sarod?
The most vivid moment in music I remember is the first experience of hearing Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, it was electrifying. I was and am a great admirer of Ravi Shankar’s music, so I used to attend every performance of his when he came to Bangalore, the city in which I lived. That particular time, he came with Ali Akbar Khan, who said that he would play the sarod along with him. Before that, I had heard very little of the sarod being played and definitely I had not heard Ali Akbar Khan play. It was a life-changing experience when he played his first movement on the sarod. That was my moment of epiphany, a moment of total grace. As I was listening, my life changed. Music moved to the centre of the universe. I was hooked and never looked back.
Can you explain why it spoke to you so much?
Well, you know, it’s like falling in love. How can you explain it?
So, one performance changed your life?
My life changed direction after that point. After I heard Ustad Ali Akbar Khan for the first time, it was a year and a half or more before I got introduced to him. I was just past 20 when I went to him and he soon accepted me as a disciple.
Please describe the training.
It was daily, sometimes twice a day, but then there would be periods with no lessons for a month or more, because he would be away, performing. By the time I went to him, the demand for his public performances was very high. I started practicing one hour, two hours. Then, for some time, it went on for up to 12 hours a day.
How do you work when you’re practicing music for 12 hours a day?
At that point, I was a beggar. I couldn’t find a job, but there was a benefactor Mr. P.K. Das of Kolkata. This man had nothing to do with music, but he gave me a room, and not very much later, he and his wife insisted I should have my meals with them. I had some sort of job afterward to keep me going, but they took care of me for six more years. That gave me an opportunity for which I am profoundly grateful, to practice many, many hours a day.
You had a very successful career as a vocalist when you were young. You were even described as a child prodigy. I have heard that you were and are profoundly moved when listening to the great vocalist Abdul Karim Khan. Why did you decide to switch to sarod? Many people say that the voice is the ultimate instrument for Indian music.
There is no doubt that vocals are at the center of our music. But Ali Akbar Khan is for me the paradigmatic example of excellence. I would say that in his sarod playing there is a kind of vocalism. He has a flexibility and versatility to his imagination, all of which have vocal sources. It’s not that he actually plays vocal bandishes. There are sarod players that do that, but he is not one of them. Vocalism is for him an abstract, silent, but immediate storehouse for the movements of the raga. It’s the thing that makes a raga more than a scale. I can almost say that given two very good instrumentalists, the person who is the better vocalist—in this special metaphorical sense—is the one whose music will have more “juice.” He might not be the fastest, but that’s because he would have no need to be the fastest.
Has Hindustani music changed over the years?
To answer that question, I think it’s helpful to compare music to both language and physics. If you compare the English of Shakespeare’s time to modern English, you can see that it’s essentially the same. There are noticeable differences, but we can still understand Shakespeare. The physics of Shakespeare’s time, however, has been completely replaced by modern science. Throughout the history of Hindustani music, there’s been the same kind of growth and change that you can see in a language. But you don’t have the new completely replacing the old, as is the norm with scientific progress. For example, Ali Akbar Khan made profound changes in the sarod. Before him, the instrument sounded quick and staccato, with lots of trills. Khansahib still uses those trills, but his innovative playing gives the instrument a new profundity and depth.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in playing Hindustani music?
First, of course, you must practice and study diligently. If you do that, you will become either a competent or an incompetent player, and you will get to know which very soon. But once you have crossed the bar of competence, in about three or four years, what do you do then? You know how to play the raga correctly, but then what? At that point, playing the raga is rather like spreading butter on bread. You’ve got to see how well you can spread it, and how widely you can spread it. You must push at the frontiers of the raga, and yet see that it doesn’t break. If the raga breaks, you are in a kind of melodic anonymity, which ultimately breaks you as a musician.
Have you managed to stretch the borders of any of the ragas you play?
I try. When I play Patdeep, it’s difficult to make it long. You can feel very comfortable playing Yaman long, because
it’s quite spacious and flexible. So is Bhairavi. But Patdeep is very brittle, and can’t be stretched easily. The rules for Patdeep are very strict, which is why it makes such an immediate effect. Once you’ve heard the identifying phrases, you know exactly what it is. But that’s a double-edged sword, because the audience is immediately “Patdeeped,” and it seems to be near closing time right away. Then you’re left with the challenge of where to go from there. For Patdeep, I try to unfold the scale of the raga a little bit at a time, so you can hear every nuance. You have to hold the raga back, stop it from exploding through you. That enables me to stay inside the raga, and not let the raga go, even when I’m playing for a long period of time.
Last month I did a concert in which I played Patdeep for the alap-jor-jhala, and then switched to Madhuvanti for the gat. Madhuvanti has almost the same notes as Patdeep, and many of the same note arrangements. But Madhuvanti has tivra ma (raised fourth) and Patdeep doesn’t. Even though the notes are similar, the mood is very different, and these differences have to be kept. I wanted to create a natural change in mood, while still maintaining a sense of unity in the performance.
When you play two ragas together, how do you decide which ragas to combine?
There’s a kind of dialectic involved between a technical closeness, and yet the need and challenge to keep the moods different while playing in very similar scales. There are also other factors not as capable of tidy articulation. You might combine a raga that has a certain kind of gravitas with something that is not quite so serious—moods that are contrasting, yet still very close.
Can you speak about your approach to developing a raga throughout the many years of riyaz?
There’s a kind of patience that you learn to take with you to the raga. If you’re patient, the raga will speak to you eventually.
Can you discuss the ideas you have regarding teaching Indian classical music?
When it comes to teaching of music, there is a trio – a teacher, a learner and an instrument. The teacher demonstrates how he has put the instrument to use and what he has been able to achieve. The attempt here is a give and take of such experience. This exploration of possibilities, initially in the form of bits and pieces, as alankaras or tabla bols or whatever, later on turns into an exercise in bringing together these little experiences to construct a creative whole. Further on, it is a kind of invitation to the learner to live with the teacher in the common world of music and in this journey together, the learner may even reach beyond. Each one’s style of playing is guided by one’s own possibilities, difficulties and impossibilities.
What is special about your gharana?
Unlike other gharanas which for many years remained closed-door, teaching freely with openness is a major preoccupation with the Maihar. Allauddin Khan, the Paramahamsa-like saint-musician took to vigorous teaching. This can perhaps be traced to the difficulty he encountered in learning and the fact that Allauddin was compelled to choose the sarod in a veena-dominated tradition which confined its veena–teaching to its kin alone. But his ingenuity incorporated the possibilities of veena into the sarod, remodelling it for the purpose. Several nuances of the veena came into sarod-baaj and later years saw the promotion of sitar, sur-bahar and sur-singar.
In the context of our guru-sishya parampara and the oral/aural tradition, you once mentioned the ‘mediation of the eye’ in western classical music. Don’t you think a guru’s role is equally vital there in guiding….?
Mediation of the eye is important in Western classical music because of the reliance on the system of notation. The journey is from note to note but nothing as much may happens between the gaps. It is in the movement between notes that one’s culture operates. Mimesis is the basis of our music-teaching. Our music fills up with meends, gamaks, bols and these cannot be written down. We clutch the guru’s imagination, his mind that is so private. A guru gives good active seeds… but can one teach creativity?’ The artist or maestro, as T.S. Eliot says, lives at a conscious point where past and future are gathered. He has all the richness of the past, waiting to pass it on to the future, for his students to gather it all. So I try to teach, but a problem which I have repeatedly faced is this: I can transfer musical information but I don’t know yet, how to transfer the sense of relish. This is important in the kind of music we play and teach because the given is so tenuous.
Can you explain the artist’s process or desire for mastery?
To make better music– there is a desire, which is a life-long process- to create a match – to bring the thought and performance nearer and nearer. Actually it is the desire to translate what is happening in your mind into your fingers – even without that gap. The finger itself becomes imagination. But curiously the more you master, the more your imagination becomes active. Because what strikes you or me is seriously limited by what we can execute in singing or playing. And as that capacity improves, your imagination improves. The more you go toward mastery the more you see, the more you climb, the more you see. So there is no end to that – they feed on each other. Because you see, you want to climb more. Because you climb more you see much more. And so it goes on. And that act itself is a matter of very profound satisfaction – a fullness, which I suppose is why you are really after this exploration of mastery. In music it is more obvious perhaps, but it is there in everything.
In the education of a performing art, there is the finding of greater and greater satisfaction in the possession of the knowledge you are seeking. The same art can be treated as a discipline or can be treated more casually, mechanically as a subject. When music becomes a discipline, that’s your life, when music is a minor subject, it’s very different. If anything becomes a discipline, you seek a fuller kind of satisfaction. Simply being well- trained in something is not enough. Often many are well-trained for a purpose which quite often lies outside the central subject. Their own interests are elsewhere. When something becomes a discipline, that becomes a center of interest. If it isn’t, it shows. And in some artists it becomes obsessive. And when it isn’t obsessive or the central interest you can make out at some stage.
How would you describe mastery in this art form?
If given more time, I will go more and more toward radiant simplicities. Those simplicities are the product of a lifetime. Any durable experience has to arrive into a state of simplicity. Courtship is complex, a durable marriage is simple.
Friends belonging to the Ekswar group had arranged a sitar concert of an artist who I had known only through Facebook. The musical evening was arranged as an almost private baithak on a terrace with a cozy ambience. I had never met the musician before, and so I was eagerly looking forward to the concert. A lot has been written about non-Indians performing classical Indian music; over the years, I have observed that these musicians work harder to gain deep insight into the music. This is exactly what I found as I heard the sitar artist Josh Feinberg play. He played the sitar as if he had been at it since birth.
Like any Indian musician, he started learning music at a very early age. He started with the piano at four and then moved to learning the bass at eight. lAt twelve, he had already made up his mind to be a professional artist and would practice up to twelve hours per day. Later his jazz studies with Dan Weiss also introduced him to North Indian Classical Music and he was particularly fascinated by the music of Ali Akbar Khan who played the sarod and that of Nikhil Bannerjee who played the sitar.
His foray into the sitar began with lessons under Vijaya Sundaram. At the New England conservatory of music, Boston where he studied for a Bachelor’s degree, he studied sitar under Dr. Peter Row and Dr. George Rukert and khayal and raga theory under Warren Senders. By 2005, Feinberg started learning under the world renowned sarod player Ustad Ali Akbar Khan himself. Later, his senior students as well as family members were instrumental in helping him continue his studies – these included Khansahab’s sons Ashish Khan and Alam Khan and students Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar, Anindya Bannerjee, and James Pomerantz. He also received guidance from the tabla wizard Swapan Chaudhury, and released an album with him accompanying on the tabla called Homage released in 2013. In 2014, he released another album One Evening in Spring with another tabla great Anindo Chatterjee accompanying him. He also holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Goddard College.
Feinberg has become an internationally known sitarist with concert and lec-dem tours globally – in Europe, North America and India. If I were to rank him, I would rank him very highly among contemporary musicians. I base this assessment based on listening to recorded tracks along with attending that memorable live concert alluded to in the beginning of this essay. The tonal quality of his sitar is his own – mellow but very sweet; he is in no hurry like modern sitarists’ to start and complete a raga within minutes, he plays like a garanedar performer, (a person whose family has been learning this instrument for many years) the old silsila (unfoldment of a raga) is followed with a quiet old world charm giving serenity, lending a meditative aspect to the performance. He combines wonderfully with his accompanists and is always in rhythm with them throughout the performance. Many famous and known institutions have organized his concert performances which include ITC-SRA – Kolkatta, Harvard University, Boston Centre for the Arts, The New England Conservatory of music, Gandhi Memorial Centre, Ragamala and Basant Bahar Festivals, and the Fullbright Conference in Aurangabad to mention a few. He has been featured in many radio and television programs in the United States, Canada and India.
Outside of traditional North indian classical music, Feinberg has explored and collaborated with a number of musicians. This includes projects with legendary tap dancer Savion Glover, acclaimed saxophonist Patrick Lamb, recording for jazz drummer Richie Barshay’s album Homework with pianist Herbie Hancock as a special guest, and recording on cellist Gideon Freudmann’s album Rain Monsters. He was also the featured soloist in a series of concerts with the Seattle Choral Company performing Eric Whitacre’s piece Winter which was composed for choir, orchestra, sitar solo and tanpura.
Beyond performing, Feinberg also teaches regular classes in Portland along with lessons online to students around the world. He is a faculty member at Lewis and Clark College, Reed College, Marylhurst University and is a faculty adviser at Prescott College.
He has also written a manual called ‘Sitar Method’ for the world’s largest music publisher Hal Leonard Corporation, a book geared to helping beginner and intermediate sitar learners. Along with exercises and compositions, the book also has an audio Cd to aid learning. This is available for sale from his web site www.joshfeinbergmusic.com . An update of this book is on the cards and will be accompanied by a video too.
A recent quote from Feinberg talks of the magic of creating and enjoying music. He says, “One of the hardest things as a performing artist (to me at least), is to live in the moment: to leave all expectations, all technique, all planned and practiced phrases at home. To be immersed completely in the moment—in your music—while sitting in front of a crowd of people intently listening to your every note, and having both you and your audience forget the whole world.”
His feelings convey the dedication and intent of a great musician. According to him, music is a universal language bringing people of all cultures and walks of life, together. He resides along with his poet-wife Jessica, children Sophia and Noah in Portland, Oregon.
Kishor Merchant is a music lover residing in Mumbai, India.
Happy Earth Day! Ride a bike! Plant a Tree! Honor an environmental activist!
Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., an activist and thought leader on the social and environmental impacts of industrial-scale agriculture and globalization, headlined Virginia Commonwealth University’s Earth Week activities.
Shiva has spoken, organized and consulted worldwide on issues including genetically modified organisms, biodiversity and sustainability. She is the author of several books, including “Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit,” “Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply” and “The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics.” Shiva trained as a physicist at the University of the Punjab and earned her doctorate from the University of Western Ontario.
For those unable to attend, a livestream video will be available on the Office of Sustainability’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/vcusustainability.
Shiva’s speech is among many activities planned by student groups and departments at the university in celebration of Earth Week:
By Nisha Agarwal It is not for the first time I am away from my family, but it’s the first time I am handling everything on my own. I enrolled in Evergreen Valley College (EVC) for my Major, knowing that the education I am going to receive here, will not just be from...read more
South India Fine Arts (SIFA), is the premier organization in San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and presentation of South Indian fine arts. SIFA is proud to present its Spring 2018 Season artists. We started off the Spring 2018 Seasion in...read more
A handy infographic that shows a step by step progression of poses for surya namaskar (sun salutations) along with affirmations and benefits.
Tripaneer.com is the world’s leading marketplace to discover, plan and safely book unique travel experiences. We are specialized in holidays that include yoga, surf, safaris, motorcycling, horse riding, martial arts and more. We’re passionate about building a platform that our customers and partners love to use.
A man moved a mountain – how is that even possible? I flipped the pages of Nancy Churnin’s children’s book, Manjhi Moves a Mountain with a sense of disbelief. Disbelief soon turned to awe as I learnt about Manjhi and his mountain. Dashrath Manjhi, a poor laborer near Gaya in India worked with just a hammer and chisel to carve a path singlehandedly through a mountain that separated the villages of Atri and Wazirganj. This task took him 22 long years!
I couldn’t believe it – a tale that took on almost mythical proportions in my mind – was this indeed true? I spoke to the author Nancy Churnin about her book, Manjhi Moves a Mountain and wanted to find out about what moved her to write about Manjhi and his mountain. Nancy Churnin’s voice over the phone was friendly and revealed a sincerity of spirit that revealed itself soon enough as she shared her thoughts. She told me that she first wrote a children’s book on William Hoy, the deaf baseball player who changed the game forever. Soon, she started receiving notes from children all over the country about how the story made a personal difference to them – differently abled children and normal children interested in the game were equally inspired reading the story of William Hoy.
This outpouring of support got her thinking about her next project on inspiring change makers, and her research led her to the story of Dashrath Manjhi. As soon as she read about him, she knew in her heart that children would benefit so much by learning about how an ordinary person who was filled with determination to change things could succeed with determination. “People laughed at him when he started,” she said and continued, “but his vision kept him going. This is not unlike what children face many times – when I talk to children in schools, I ask them – how can you make a difference? And, soon the answers are shouted out with enthusiasm – being kind, stopping a bully. If you start thinking about it, making a difference is really like moving your own mountain.”
Illustrations by Danny Popovici fill the pages and even adults will be captivated by the words and images that bring the story alive.
It is no wonder then that Manjhi Moves a Mountain is running neck and neck in the prestigious Children’s Choice Book Awards. Link for voting given below – buy your book today and vote for Manjhi and his Mountain!
While revisiting some of my favorite TED Talks the other day, I was reminded of how important it is to make an intentional first impression, one that says a little bit about who we are when we meet someone for the first time. Whether we like it or not, within the...read more
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