Tag Archives: debut

A Whistling Tribute to Lata Mangeshkar

Lata Mangeshkar turned 90 a little more than one year ago, a momentous milestone in a life whose story is the very chronicle of Hindi Film Music in the post-Independence era. Any superlatives used to describe this life seem banal, and indeed many of the tributes that flowed in hewed that line.

Arun Sampath in the recording studio.

A different kind of tribute was shaping up in the heart of Arun Sampath, an unassuming IT professional based out of the NY area. He has been pursuing whistling – what he most evocatively calls MukhVenu (translates to face-flute) – as a hobby for a long time. Being an ardent fan of Lata-didi’s music, his Upahaar is an album of MukhVenu renditions of classic songs of Lata-didi.

At the outset, this seemed like an impossible endeavor. Can one hope to create even a faint shadow of the golden voice? Or to emulate the magic of the golden era? But the results are sure to take your breath away (no pun intended).

I have had the privilege of witnessing the creation of this monumental project. Each step was planned and executed meticulously. Songs were selected from 1949-58, decidedly one of the best decades of Lata-didi’s career. The final track selection is a fine representation of the great music composers that Didi worked with, as well as of their profile in the popular imagination. Arun’s perfectionism surfaced during the recording and finishing stage, as he fretted over minor deviations which I could hardly detect. It is also noteworthy that the recording was done in the traditional style (takes, retakes, and all) without resorting to autotune.

The polished and packaged product is astounding. The great Anil Biswas (whose honey-sweet romantic composition ‘man mein kisi ki preet basaale’ from Aaram is recreated by Arun) noted that Lata-didi’s voice was like a piccolo, sharp yet sweet, and impeccably in tune. MukhVenu turns out to be singularly suitable to mimic that voice. The fidelity of the recreations to the original is evident to the keen listener, the MukhVenu following the voice very closely, including the subtle pauses and even breath-stops. One drifts into a nostalgic journey as the immortal tunes impinge on the mind’s ear as much as the physical ones. And one cannot stop listening.

It is hard to pick a favorite or even favorites. The haunting ‘aajaa re paradesi’ (Madhumati) and ‘aayegaa aane waalaa’ (Mahal), or the mischievous ‘laaraa lappaa laaraa lappaa’ (Ek Thi Ladki), or the ebullient ‘thandi hawayein(Naujawan). Each melody vies for your attention, right up to the coda-like ‘alavidaa…’ of ‘ye zindagii usi ki hai’ (Anarkali).

The period constraint chosen by Arun left a rich tapestry of melodies to be explored, be it from the period before 1949 (the excellent songs of the likes of Master Ghulam Haider or Pt. Shyam Sunder) or that after 1958 (a song from Pakeezah, Parakh, or Picnic)

There is a hoary tradition of recreating Hindi Film songs on instruments. When one listens to the haunting gypsy violin or Hawaiian guitar of Van Shipley, the mesmerizing piano of Brian Silas, or the sonorous saxophone of Manohari-da, one realizes that these musicians must have been the keenest listeners of the original melodies, understanding and absorbing not only the tunes but the intent of the creation before reproducing it in the chosen medium. This is the greatest tribute one can pay to the original.

In this sense, Arun’s MukhVenu renditions are a profound and heartfelt tribute to the legend that is Lata Mangeshkar.


Chetan Vinchhi is a tech entrepreneur based out of Bangalore. He is keenly interested in Indian classical and old film music, is active in music appreciation groups, and occasionally writes about music.

“As a Small Brown Woman With an Arabic Name” – Ramiza Koya

The Royal Abduls depicts the cost of the anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, through the lens of an Indian-American family in post 9/11 America. The novel tells the story of eleven-year-old Omar and his aunt Amina, an evolutionary biologist who moves near her brother’s family in Washington, D.C.after years of working on the West Coast. As Omar tries on an exaggerated Indian accent to impress his schoolmates, Amina struggles to focus on her study of hybrid zones while working in a male-dominated lab. Omar cycles through outlets for his vast curiosity and gets in trouble at school. His parents’ disintegrating relationship leaves only independent, career-minded Amina to look out for him. The Royal Abduls engages with the struggles of women in the workplace and the difficulties of maintaining relationships in a fragmented America.

Ramiza Shamoun Koya tackles subjects such as racism, misogyny and being other in America, having faced some of that herself. I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of this wonderful novel, and it really resonated with me. My debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues, addressed similar topics and I felt equipped for our dialogue. Her book is set to publish on May 12, 2020 and can be pre-ordered online. Here I am in conversation with the talented Ramiza Shamoun Koya. 

Devi: What led you to start this book? Did it start out as a short story?

Ramiza: It started out as a short story called “The Hybrid Zone”; I intended for it to be the lead story in a story collection. But then I was blessed with a two-week residency at MacDowell Colony.  The first day I sat in Wood Studio, looking out a huge window into the forest, I typed the words “Omar was happy” almost without thinking. And then I knew I had a novel on my hands.

Devi: As I read your book, I was struck by its realism. I felt there was an autobiography in this book. And yet it is a novel and not a memoir. 

Ramiza: I never intended for this to be autobiographical per se.  There is autobiographical feeling in the search for identity, in some of the experiences that Amina and Omar and their family have. But my own personal autobiography is much more complicated than anyone in The Royal Abduls!  And to be honest, I had never been interested in writing memoir until very recently – I see myself as a fiction writer and always did.   

Devi: I loved that Amina had her say and that at times Omar had his say in the book. I was particularly struck by the child’s POV in the post-9/11 world and the contrast to Amina’s and Mo’s experience. Can you discuss your choices there? 

Ramiza: Omar became very important to me. I think young Muslims were real victims of this shift towards anti-Muslim sentiment. And Omar is very much second-generation; that interested me as well.  There is so much writing on the immigrant experience. I wanted to focus on someone who was born here and feels it’s natural that they should be treated as other Americans are. When he is denied that, it’s not just confusing; it’s nonsensical.  His struggle is so very common among brown people in America, and facing up to that means facing up the essentially racist structures we live under. As I wrote the initial short story, I did not foresee that Omar would become a major character in a novel; but his voice, once I started writing in it, became so absorbing, so easy to slip into, and each new reader told me that they had fallen in love with him. So he earned his place!

Devi: I felt as though your novel was in conversation with my novel, especially as it addresses the immigrant experience one generation removed, and also by having children who were mixed-race. 

Ramiza: As I’ve gotten older, I am convinced that if we write about women, we have to write about misogyny.  To leave it out is to leave out something essential to all female experience. I wanted to have Amina face that and struggle with that and live it down.  I wanted her to find her way in spite of it. When we underplay this essential difference between male and female experience, we’re enabling it to continue.  I wanted to write authentically about sexual politics in the workplace, but I also wanted to connect some of that misogyny to Amina’s brown skin. As a small brown woman with an Arabic name, I have felt how connected misogyny and racism are.

Devi:What books have influenced you, make you want to write? What books propelled you to finish The Royal Abduls? What books have you read recently that have excited you? 

Ramiza: Books that influenced me when I was younger were by Richard Wright, Malcolm X, James Baldwin: coming of age stories by African-American writers moved me deeply.  I related to them; they made me feel like I had a story too. Then I was all about Indian literature: Midnight’s Children and Sacred Games and books by Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh; these helped me understand my own identity, my origins a bit more, and inspired me to travel in India.  More recently, I have loved Elena Ferrante, Min Jin Lee, Jesmyn Ward, Ruth Ozeki, Julie Otsuka, William Dalrymple, Hillary Mantel. The poets Ocean Vuong and Ilya Kaminsky have deeply influenced me this year. 

Devi: Did you find your book cathartic to write? I personally don’t believe in catharsis. I think I changed as a writer in the intervening years, and what I felt was relief it was to be able to write at all.

Ramiza: Yeah, no catharsis!  It’s hard work and then you never know if it’s good or bad or if it will ever be read.   

Devi:And tell me about your next book, a short story collection. Right? How has the experience of putting that together differed from writing a novel?

Ramiza:The short story collection includes my very first publication (“Night Duty” in Washington Square Review) to my latest attempts, many of which are unpublished. I’ve been building it over many years, and it’s nice because unlike a novel you can play with the order easily.  It does need an editor, however.

Devi:What is the one thing you want readers to take away after finishing The Royal Abduls?

Ramiza: I think the change in perspective, the ability to imagine life in someone else’s shoes, is one of the greatest gifts of fiction; I hope that any reader feels like they lived along with this family and gained insight into their experiences.

Devi S. Laskar is a native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and holds an MFA from Columbia University. The Atlas of Reds and Blueswinner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and the Crook’s Corner Book Prize—is her first novel. A former newspaper reporter, Laskar is now a poet, photographer, essayist, and novelist. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.


KOYA, RAMIZA SHAMOUN. ROYAL ABDULS. FOREST AVENUE PR, 2020.

Carnatic Vocal Debut Concert by Sahana Narayanan

Sahana Narayanan will take the stage on August 25 to present her Carnatic Vocal Arangetram. For the last 15 years, Sahana has studied under Srimathi Jayashree Varadarajan, Founder and Artistic Director of Sri Rama Lalitha Kala Mandir School of Fine Art. During the course of her training Sahana participated in numerous music school productions around the country often a part of award winning team efforts. Some of her performance highlights include participating in a critically acclaimed SRLKM school concert on Purandara Dasa at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana and singing in a television performance of Narayana Teerta compositions.

Sahana steadfastly maintained her commitment to this art form even after she moved to New York City to pursue undergraduate degree at Columbia where she is a rising senior, majoring in Comparative Literature and minoring in Jazz. As part of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program, she regularly performs at venues in New York. Sahana is also an accomplished western classical violinist and continues to study under Professor Li Lin at The Julliard School. Prior to college, Sahana attended The Harker School, where she fronted the jazz band as the lead singer, won numerous individual prizes for jazz, musical theater, poetry and creative writing, and was awarded a humanities grant to conduct original research on jazz.

Sahana will present a traditional Carnatic vocal concert which will features songs rendered in numerous languages from a variety of composers and will highlight her improvisational skills Sahana’s delightful Carnatic vocal renditions are a result of the rigorous training steeped in tradition from her Guru. At the same time, Sahana possesses a lovely fluid voice and a musical and lyrical sensibility that is informed by her exposure to Sanskrit and her expertise in a wide variety of musical genres. She will be accompanied by Sahana Srinivasan on violin and Amit Ranganathan on Mridangam.

 

Title of Event:  “Carnatic Vocal Debut Concert by Sahana Narayanan”
School: “Sri Rama Lalitha Kala Mandir School of Fine Arts”
Guru: “Smt. Jayashree Varadarajan”
Date: August 25, 2019
Time: 4:00PM
Place:  “Heritage Theatre, 1 West Campbell Avenue, Campbell, CA  95008”
Ticket Price: Free
Other info:  Dinner after the concert
Contact Phone: 408-390-5493
Contact Email: unarayanan@yahoo.com
Contact Person: Unni Narayanan

Ashwin Chandra Debut Mridangam Concert

I am Ashwin Chandra, a rising sophomore at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, California. Welcome to my debut mridangam concert on August 10th. I will be accompanying Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. M. Chandrasekaran and Mrs. G Bharathi on South Indian classical violin duet music. Dr. M. Chandrasekaran is a famous octogenarian violinist from India and has received many awards including the Sangita Kalanidhi from the Madras Music Academy and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award from the President of India. The violin duet will be accompanied by Vidwan S.V. Ramani on Ghatam. 

I have been learning mridangam for the past 5 years from Laya Kala Ratna Sri. Ramesh Srinivasan, a leading disciple of mridangam maestro Sangita Kalanidhi Sri. Vellore G. Ramabhadran, During one of the classes, my guru shared information about mridangam maestro Yella Venkateswara Rao, a researcher in Music Therapy. As a researcher, he has set up ‘Mridangam Therapy’ programs tailored to suit the development of mentally handicapped children at Thakur Hariprasad Institute for the Mentally Handicapped, a non governmental organization for mentally handicapped children. That experience kindled my interest to use music as a means to help the differently-abled become more abled. 

That’s when I found out about Pragnya (https://www.pragnya.org), a non-profit organization that creates real world experiences for the neurodiverse (differently-abled) community to acclimatize to the neurotypical (abled) community. Along with other students from my mridangam school, Sarvalaghu Percussion Art Center, I have started to volunteer at Pragna on a weekly basis, and  we introduce “Num” therapy for the children there. 

It is my honor and privilege to dedicate my debut concert to create awareness and to raise funds for Pragnya, an organization that promotes acceptance by the mainstream community of individuals who are on the autism spectrum. I am also proud of the efforts taken by our mridangam school in making a difference in this arena.

Concert details:

Date/time: August 10th 2019, 2:30 p.m. onwards, followed by dinner

Venue: Lakireddy auditorium, Shiva Vishnu Temple, 1232 Arrowhead Ave., Livermore, CA 94551

Masterful Debut Novel

Madhuri Vijay’s debut novel – The Far Field – is many things all at once. A tale that spans from Bangalore to Kashmir, a tale that hints at the dark clouds of mental illness, of love lost and unrequited and the protagonist’s attempt to be honest about her own role in the story. 

The novel spins on the relationship that the protagonist Shalini shares with her mother –   “Somebody once described my mother as a strong woman,” she says without fuss. The vignettes she paints about her mother are where she is at her best  – “My mother, with her lightning tongue and her small collection of idols on a shelf in the kitchen. My mother, with her stubborn refusal to admit the existence of meat or other faiths, who crossed the street when we passed a halal butcher with his row of skinned goats, their flanks pink and shiny as burn scars.”  

Her father, a successful business executive, looks on at the world with pragmatism and confidence.

In the previous quote, the admission that her mother crossed the street at the sight of a halal butcher’s stall takes on new meaning as the novel progresses. A Muslim – Bashir Ahmed, enters their house selling Kashmiri kurtas and shawls, carrying a cloth bundle on his shioulders. He tries to eke out a living far from his home in Kashmir by walking from door to door selling his wares on the streets of Bangalore. 

“I was six the first time he came, and I still remember it. How my mother had not ceased moving even for a second, all week….How she had intense surges of laughter at nothing. How she cooked, a pile of vessels growing dangerously high in the sink, but how, at the same time, she claimed never to be hungry….When the bell rang that afternoon, I was in the living room.” The afternoon visits start then, and soon, Bashir Ahmed is the teller of tall tales about his land that leave mother and daughter listening with mouths agape.

With his arrival, the strife in Kashmir enters their lives in faraway Bangalore – during one of Bashir Ahmed’s visits, her father happens to be home sick and launches into a tirade that will sound similar to what many Hindus might have heard right in their homes. “These poor Pandits leaving their houses and running away in the middle of the night, because they might be killed for being Hindu! It’s sheer madness, and these militants sound like animals.” And, the verbal lynching goes on.  To this, Bashir responds saying, “It is very sad about the Pandits, janaab. But that is happening in the Valley. In my area (in the mountains) no Hindus are being killed.” After a while, Bashir Ahmed stops coming to their house, for reasons that are explained later.

When Shalini becomes an adult, she leaves in search of the vendor Bashir Ahmed in the mountains in Kashmir and a whole set of characters appear. Army soldiers who rule Kashmiri towns with impunity, men and women who grieve the disappearance of loved ones, tiny offices where grieving mothers file petitions to the government, and the harsh conditions in which they eke out a living.  Soon Shalini’s life starts to intersect in complicated ways with Bashir Ahmed’s family, and her choices start to matter in their lives as well.

The author has tried to marry the political to the personal, and for some reason, the political side of the equation did not carry with it the urgency that the personal did for me. Two themes that she repeats at opportune times in the novel when she comments on the choices made by characters in her novel stayed with mel. Never be a coward. Do something, anything – is advice that her mother first spouts and other characters in the novel spout this too at other times. Along with this, comes another piece of advice that seems to have been drawn from the Bhagavad Gita – without action, what is there to life but to wait to die? A question that hangs with great significance in the context of the novel and one that seems to reach every reader.

The tautness with which she draws the characters of her parents, Bashir Ahmed and herself does not somehow extend to the characters living in the mountains in faraway Kashmir. However, in the lines of the plot, she masterfully manages  to carry a certain tension that lasts till the last page of the novel. A twist at the very end only amplifies this tension.

A masterful debut novel and a must read!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing editor of India Currents magazine.