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music Uncategorized

21st Century Crises Hovering Over Indian Classical Music

In ecosystem of any art form, one individual can play multiple roles; for example, I am a student of Indian classical music, I perform very rarely and I am an avid listener.

As a listener of this magical art form and after listening to musicians from past three to four generations, I have my views about the current Indian classical music ecosystem based on some observations. Apart from this, as a part of Baithak Foundation we also organise concerts of artists, mostly in schools, for kids.

Most importantly, I am a believer who believes music can change lives. Thus this article, about music, musicians and the overall scenario, is inspired from all the positions that I have mentioned above. I am writing this not because I hate some artists and prefer some others; rather, I am writing this because I love this beautiful art form.

Are we going to wake up only when we need nine stitches?

Is everything alright with the present Indian Classical Music scene? Well, on the surface, yes. Let us ignore the impact of COVID-19 for the time being and consider the situation at the beginning of 2020. You may say, concerts are happening everywhere. Festivals are flooded with audience. Some artists are busy, doing as many as 20+ concerts a month. Even young artists have decent performance opportunities. With Skype and other tools, online teaching is also a source of additional little but steady income. More parents want their kids to learn an art form which creates ample of employment opportunities for the young as well as mid and senior musicians…….wait, wait!

I am not asking about the musicians. I am (right now) concerned about the music. What’s the state of music that is being served? What’s the quality of music being presented, what is the quality of experience that audience has? What is the quality of Taalim that is being given and received by disciples (or students?)

In cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, etc. maybe, things do not look that bad. But what’s the situation other than these few large cities? Let us take an example of Amaravti, a district in Maharashtra. I stayed in Amaravati for a couple of years and when I was living there, I came to know of many musicians who could perform phenomenal music. As cases in considerations, I am sharing two videos here.

First one is a recording by Pt. Manohar Kaslikar from Amaravati, presenting Raga Gaud Sarang:

Second video features Pt. Dinkarrao Deshpande, singing a Natyageet. Some of his full length Raga recordings are also available.

In the 70s and 80s, there were at least 5 musicians of this calibre in Amaravati. Same was the situation for Nagpur, Yavatmal, and other nearby towns and fairly across the country.

What do you think is the current situation in these or similar smaller towns? Many places may have teachers but do smaller towns have musicians and Gurus of the above mentioned calibre?

I want to point out a steep deterioration which is happening throughout; it might not be visible in cities like Mumbai, Pune or Kolkata, yet. That does not mean that there is no deterioration.

In our holy field of music, some questions are never asked. Forget of asking them, even having them in your mind might be perceived as a crime. In this long piece, I am going to put aside my fears, respect and other things. When one enters a temple, one keeps out the footwear.

I think undue pompousness about tradition, teachers, rules, formalities are like footwear if one wishes to enter the temple of genuine enquiry.

I am not claiming that I am out of the problems that I am about to discuss; I might be a part of them but I am willing to stop and question. Readers are free to share their thoughts through comments on this article or by writing to me on my email.

The music field has become diabetic because everyone is sweet!

Two years back, I was sitting in front of the editor of a leading Marathi newspaper. This newspaper wanted me to cover the famous Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav. They did not want me to do facts reporting; rather, they wanted musical comments and insights.

With lot of excitement, I met the editor. The first thing he told me was not writing anything negative about any artist. To quote, ‘this is a festival and we never say anything negative on festive occasions.’ That was the clause which came before discussing anything else.

Imagine, if every newspaper tells this to their music reporter, all musicians would be maestros, pundits and ustaads.

But, I was not ready to give up so easily. I played my card.

“Okay, I understand, but can I write suggestive?” I asked.

“Means what?” the editor questioned.

“I won’t say what went wrong. I would write about what could have been better,” I answered the query.

I got an approval on that.

With tremendous enthusiasm, I wrote my first piece, taking all care that I nowhere sounded negative or even critical. I only made few suggestions which were very obvious!

Next day, when I checked the paper, those suggestive comments were simply chopped off.

Why? Why cannot someone as a listener point out what was not right? We all understand that for a musician it might be a bad day and one wrong review might spoil his or her career. But there are dozens of musicians who are consistently performing crap for decades. You can’t anymore call a spade a spade. Immediately your ‘knowledge’ and ‘humility’ bear a question mark.

And, a good reviewer can of course mention that it could be a bad day and be as gentle as possible. Today, no organiser will book an artist from reading a newspaper review. There are YouTube Videos, fancy brochures, personal recommendations etc. through which organisers make these decisions.

Frankly, the world of Indian Classical Music has a history of honest reviews. If you do not believe, sharing two reviews written by veteran journalist Mohan Nadkarni – here and here . I am sharing these reviews just as examples of how critical a reviewer could be. I have heard of far more pungent reviews written about artists of the stature of Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and the likes. Many of these reviews were out of hatred; some of them had a point. The point that I am trying to make is, there was no pressure on a journalist that he needs to sound sweet.

Honesty is the new Aprachalit Raga

We often hear many anecdotes about how great maestros of the old time shared their frank opinions about music of fellow musicians. At times, these opinions were born out of a sense of competition and jealousy but, in general, musicians shared what they felt about the music presented. To take this a step further, even accompanists were quite open about sharing their views about the music of the main presenter and vice a versa.

Recently, the only feedback that artists give each other are nice, very good, kya baat hai, bahut badhiya! We never hear something like –

“I liked your performance but the tanpura could be tuned more precisely” or

“I like the vilambit rendition but I found the drut rendition a bit gimmicky which hampered the bhava of the Raga.” Or something as simple as –

“I liked your last month’s performance more than today’s.”

Lack of constructive feedback, from fellow musicians, from accompanists, from audience, from organisers is damaging not only the field of music but also the journey of musicians.

Is Sincerity the Lupta Raga?

Well, for this particular point (by God’s grace) there are exceptions. I request you to prove me wrong by pointing out more and more talented and sincere young musicians. But, I am talking about the overall scene here.

We are always told the stories of dedication, sincerity, riyaz etc. of artists of the yester-years. Keeping aside the details, we can safely conclude that they were utterly serious about what they were doing. We have the story of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Sahab wearing a kurta made of the thread which he used for the javhari of his tanpura and we also have heard the story of Kesarbai Kerkar who would return ticket money of audience in the last rows, if they were not able to hear her clearly. She stopped singing when she had huge following just because she could not sing up to her own standards.

And then, we have musicians who share recordings of concerts where they are out of tune for 90 percent of the time! Being surel is very difficult and is a life long journey. What bothers me is, can a musician not avoid posting it? Don’t post it. I understand, one wants to be ‘seen’ and hence one uploads them. But please, do not DM your audience and tell them how beautifully you have sung. At least be humble!

Many times, artists do not even cut the patches where they have fallen flat on their faces; or record it on better quality devices. At least, learn a bit of technology to ensure the music that goes out is worth a listen.

I am not writing this sitting on a pedestal. I know I am far from being surel. What bothers me as a listener and as a music lover is this casual attitude. It makes me think of a salesman who sales rotten tomatoes with broad confidence on his face. It might be working for artists; but it is damaging the art for sure.

Today, lack of talent is not the problem knocking on our doors as much as the lack of sincerity and the burden of publicity. Somehow, we have lost fresh air which is very essential for an ecosystem to flourish.

One might argue that in spite of all this, the art form is becoming more popular and I am being pessimistic. Well, let me tell you a story.

Let’s hope Indian Classical Music does not end up like that coffee company…….

Once upon a time, there was a company which sold the finest Arabica coffee in the world. Their sales were growing exponentially. Their newly appointed CEO came up with a strategy to take profits up through the roof. He proposed to blend the Arabica coffee beans with the much cheaper Robusta beans. They did trials; some packets had pure Arabica while some had the blend.

Their study showed that most of the people are not able to make the difference and within a month, all the packets going out consisted the blend. The profits increased almost three to four times. Everyone was proud and happy. After 15-20 years, the sales started dropping crazily.

A team of consultants was hired to find out what was going wrong. The reports from the consultants said that only the people from earlier generations who were addicted to coffee drank coffee. The next generation stopped considering coffee as a drink of choice.

The company realised their mistake. By blending cheap coffee, they made huge short term profits but this new blend could not capture young consumers. They liked other options much more than coffee.

The company immediately banned the blending. It took them a generation or two to get back to their earlier size of consumers.

Let’s hope our rich tradition of music does not end up like this coffee company!

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Dohe of Kabir

Kabir Ke Dohe : पिसती चक्की देख दिया कबीर रोय

पिसती चक्की देख दिया कबीर रोय।
दुई पाटन के बीच साबूत बचा न कोय।।

 

Meaning : Kabir cries when he looks at these grinding wheels, churning endlessly (Pisati Chakki) and mercilessly, crushing everyone in between them, not sparing anyone. 

 

This is one of the most commonly known Dohas or couplets of Kabir but often, it is misunderstood and misinterpreted.  Kabir is talking about the pair of grinding wheels in between which, we are all getting crushed. 

What does Kabir mean by these grinding wheels? As per the normal understanding, the grinding wheel which Kabir is talking about is this universe. The earth is the base wheel and the sky is the upper wheel. And we humans are like the grains trapped in between these two, getting crushed endlessly. 

So, many people also conclude that Kabir suggests, it is impossible to be happy in this world. This somewhere leads us to inevitability of pain and suffering in life. 

Is that really so? The same Kabir, who talks about the shower of bliss, would he just conclude that suffering is unavoidable? We need a completely different approach to understand this Doha and to catch its real essence. 

The two wheels necessarily symbolise friction. They convey a sense of constant conflict to me. If there is no friction, i.e. no conflict between these two wheels, the ‘suffering’ would immediately stop. I feel, the wheels Kabir is talking about are reality i.e. what exists and our expectations – how we want the things to be. 

If we look at this Doha with this new definition of the grinding wheels, it makes total sense. We are constantly getting crushed by the conflict between ‘what is’ and what we want. A major chunk of our energy goes in fighting with what is and changing it to something that we imagine or some ideal which the society, our parents or we ourselves have given to us. 

This is the part where Kabir and Krishnamurti come very close to each other. J. Krishnamurti says, when we know (at a superficial level) that we are violent, we invent a non-existent ideal – nonviolence. Which means, the reality is North Pole and we invent a South Pole which is the ideal. An our life becomes a constant struggle between these two poles. 

Acceptance, Krishnamurti says, is the answer and not creating a radically opposite, non-existent ideal. Kabir has put up this problem very nicely. He has explained it very nicely, using a simple metaphor of grinding wheels. What solution does he propose to this problem?

Kabir shares an answer somewhat similar to J. Krishnamurti but in form of another Doha and another analogy.

पाटी पाटी सब कहे, कील कहे ना कोय।
जब कोई कील कहे, तो दुख काहे को होय।।

 

Meaning: Everyone talks about the two grinding wheels and no one talks about the motionless point of pivot which lies at the centre of these two wheels. If one rests there, pain and suffering end. 

 

If you ever have observed the actual grinding wheels, you must have seen the small portion at the centre of the wheels where the movement is almost negligible. The few grains which stay at that spot, remain intact. Kabir is using this analogy to make us move towards our own centres. We are constantly moving out and that’s why the conflict. Can we move in? Can we touch ourselves? Can we, with all our energies look at us and accept us as we are? 

This very acceptance, Kabir says, is liberating. 

Categories
Current Issues

COVID-19 and the past and future of the Humanity

A lot has been said and a lot is being said about COVID-19. Experts and stakeholders from different fields- science, medicine, environment, economics, education etc. have been talking about the virus and how it’s going to impact our lives in near and far future. Most of these articles are scientific and data driven in nature while some are based on outcomes of very sophisticated forecasting tools. There are quite a few articles where social implications of COVID-19 have been discussed in great details. 

It’s good to clarify right at the beginning that I am not a scientist, not a researcher or an analyst. Though, what people often forget is that we are humans to begin with. We are not the sole residents and owners of the Earth. All these write-ups and articles from these experts take many things for granted which is not the case at all. 

This piece is an analysis of root-cause of our miserable situation. It’s not backed by data but it’s based on observations as a human being. I am convinced that we are no rulers of this planet but one of the ‘species’ which is residing it and I will be examining the situation from this perspective. The world is talking about Coronavirus as the only problem, rather it’s just one of them.

I would rather say that virus is not the problem itself. It is actually an outcome, a manifestation of our crazy and self-centred ways of living.

The strange animals called the Humans 

Humans are residing on the top of Darwin’s model of evolution. Generally, all the animals and birds take care of the ecosystems in which they thrive. There might be some occasional damage to the ecosystem caused by some creatures but that is generally out of sudden anger or rather a result of direct efforts to survive. Once that trigger is gone, animals move back to their normalcy. Animals are generally full of sense of territory and once they get it, their mischief stops. Human beings violate both of these laws. Along with immediate instincts, human beings are governed by momentous insights and have the unique ability of pursuing their ‘dreams’, ‘ambitions’ and ‘goals’ no matter what.

In the process of creating wealth or safeguarding one’s interest, human beings can happily destroy the ecosystem in which they and many more creatures flourish. Also, like other animals, we fight till we claim our ‘territory’ or whatever the goal is but our notoriety increases drastically after we get what we want. 

In short, our journey as humans is fuelled by fear, insecurity and discontent with whatever we have. Once we achieve what we hoped for, our desire is not shunned but it multiplies manyfold. The glass of desire is an absurd one. Once you start filling it, it doesn’t get filled; it starts getting bigger and bigger. 

Our acts have always been detrimental to the entire balance of nature and many epidemics that we had, were actually results of we destroying habitats of others. As this article points out, destroyed habitats create perfect conditions for coronavirus and many more pandemics are about to begin in the future. 

One of the greatest teachers from India, J. Krishnamurti would often say that ‘to exist is to exist in relationship.’ Without any doubt, we are the creatures on earth who exist in the worst possible way; exploiting everything rather than nurturing it. Over the centuries, we have cultivated toxic relationships with other co-occupants of this planet.

Our mistake is our misconception that we are individuals 

Humans are highly ‘individuality’ driven. We have circled down our identities to narrow dots. Secondly, whatever falls out of our circle of identity, we identify it as competition or threat. In nature, life is woven so magically that there could be thousands and lacs of viruses but they won’t kill all of us. In the worst situation, they will kill a tiny fraction of our population. We started looking at everyone other than us as a threat. With the discovery of antibiotics, we started a war with microbes and in turn, affected ourselves by destroying the habitats of ‘good’ bacteria within ourselves. It took us many decades to realise this mistake and now, microbiome research is fostering to study causes and cures for many chronic diseases and disorders. 

Yet, we are far from realising that fighting is not the key to exist.

Even now, with the Coronavirus outbreak, we are in fight mode (at this moment, it is absolutely necessary to control the pandemic) which is the only immediate solution. But, it is a ‘short’ term solution. The long term solution could appear only when we rethink about the way we deal with ‘life’ and its balance on Earth.

Flattening the curves  

Everyone is talking about flattening the curve so that we can buy ourselves time to manage the situation better and reduce the number of casualties on the way. Flattening the Coronavirus curve is of course the need of time but to ensure our (and of the entire life on the Earth) healthy survival, we need to get serious about many other curves and should worry about flattening them instead.

  1. Population: We are already much more in numbers than we should be in the first place. No population control, no hopes. 
  2. Pollution: Our rivers, air, soil, oceans everything is being polluted at a crazy pace. Ultimately, it’s all going to come back to us and hit us badly. We are already out of time; Ecosystem restoration should not be our just first priority but our first three priorities. 
  3. Desires: We have already come far ahead of what we had expected from the life. We have done it at the cost of many people who are going through a living hell. As long as we operate from our sense of insecurity and comparison, we might possess all the wealth of the world but still, we would be wanting more and more. 

We humans need to learn the art of being satisfied. But, individual and social satisfaction goes against the ‘growth’ driven society. Every effort will be made to make us feel insecure and incomplete. Entire machinery will be put at work of triggering our ‘fear’ so that we buy more, we hoard more and compare more. Once you get in the spiral, getting off is next to impossible. COVID-19 has momentarily stopped the spiral. Better be careful before you step into it again!     

Categories
Kabir mysticism osho

Key to Happiness : A Few Insights from Ashtavakra Mahageeta

Ashtavakra Muni can be said to be one of the most rational sages we ever had in India. We often think that spirituality is very thinly related to rationality. The root of this misconception lies in the fact that we, our relationships and our society primarily works through a false structure. The structure itself is irrational and hence, we often find spirituality irrational. In very simple words, if my ruler itself is bent, I will find every straight line skewed. Some of the fundamental truths which Ashtavakra Muni explains in a very straight-forward language, might appear to be absolutely illogical to us. Yet, I am going to talk about a few of them. 

Throughout his Mahageeta, Ashtavakra talks about Sakshibhava (साक्षीभाव) which simply means to be a witness. He calls this witness Drashta (द्रष्टा). Who is witness? A witness is that part of us, or rather that state of being where we just observe things and events without getting affected by them or their outcomes. A witness is concerned about witnessing what is happening and has zero attachment to what happens. Generally, whenever we look at something, we look at it with some sort of attachment. We are concerned more with the outcome as it might either be favourable to us or might also be detrimental to us. When we truly become a witness, Ashtavakra highlights, we move in a state where nothing can affect us; there is nothing favourable and nothing harmful or detrimental. 

Osho, in his volumes of Ashtavakra Mahageeta has explained the concept of ‘Drashta’ or witness in a very unique way. With little help from him, I would be trying my best to simplify what Ashtavakra is hinting at when he says be a Sakshi or Drashta. 

We normally exist in three states. The first mode of being is a Drishya (दृश्य) which means ‘object of someone’s attention’. In this state of being, we strive to be an object of someone’s attention. Most of us are in this state most of the times. We want to get noticed, we want to be talked about. All of us in some way or the other, keep trying to be an object of people’s attention. Our interactions and updates on social media are a testimony to this thirst of almost all of us. The root of our desire to be a ‘Drishya’ is the hollowness that we find within ourselves. We want people to look at us so that we can portray we have some ‘substance’ and we are not hollow. 

The next state of being is Darshak (दर्शक) or the viewer. For someone to be a Drishya, there have to be at least a few Darshaks. While some people try becoming Drishya to fill up their hollowness, some try doing that by being a Darshak. Being a Darshak is far easier than being a Drishya and that’s why, whenever people find a Drishya, they gather around him or her. A Darshak looks at things out of his or her boredom and out of inability of looking within oneself. When a child is bored with one toy, it chases the other; in same way, a Darshak keeps moving from one Drishya to the other. 

When a child is bored with one toy, it chases the other; in same way, a Darshak keeps moving from one Drishya to the other. 

The third state of being is a Drashta (द्रष्टा), the Sakshi or the Witness. A witness is not an ordinary viewer like Darshak. For Drashta, Darshak is Drishya. Which means, a true witness is no more interested in looking at others. He is no more concerned with what happens outside. He observes how the Darshak in him/her is eluded by the Drishya/s outside. 

What Ashtavakra says about being a Drashta, the same thing has been said by Sant Kabir, in a very different language:

बुरा जो देखन मैं चला, बुरा न मिलिया कोई। 

जो मन खोजा अपना, तो मुझसे बुरा न कोई।।

(I started searching for the devil but could not find anyone. When I searched inside me, realised, the devil is inside me!)

This is the whole gist of being a witness. Looking at oneself; closely observing how we get dragged away and get attached to what we see around us. Once we start understanding how we attach our personal interests to each and everything happening around us, we start realising how being detached from these things leads us to acceptance.  

The outcome of being a Sakshi is to arrive at the magic key to happiness : acceptance. 

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Uncategorized

What is true collaboration?

‘Collaboration’ the golden word of today’s times. Every time you read about an event or read about any kind of work that gets done; you read who collaborated with whom. The best part about collaboration is that you do what you are best at and let the other partners do what they do best. 

However many times when we collaborate we feel frustrated, irritated or unhappy. Why so? For the past 4 years Baithak has collaborated with a large number of individuals and organisations and here is what I have observed and learned from these ‘collaborations’. I intent to share my experiences so that you may choose your true collaborators. 

Giving funds is not enough. 

I am sure all organisations will agree that there is always a paucity of funds. Our ideas are infinite and funds are always finite. To convince someone to financially support a cause is not very easy. Out of a hundred options that a donor may support ‘why’ your project? Thus funding is always important and one needs collaborators who can provide  enough funding to actualise ideas. However finding funds is relatively easy than finding a sensitive patron. A patron who supports the cause must be sensitive to the intent behind the work. Is it just another cause that he/she is funding because he/she has lot of unspent money or does one feel for the cause? Is the funding available unconditionally or has strings attached? We have seen collaborators who start dictating the program terms without even understanding the purpose and the depth of the intervention. Is such a donor/patron a true collaborator? Do we accept funding from a partner who is not sensitive to the cause? We have come to a realisation that implementing few ideas in a manner that you intend to implement is better than doing multiple programs where not even a single one is in-line with your vision. Thankfully Baithak has some highly sensitive patrons!

Mutual marketing has limited results. 

In this  digital age everyone is looking for collaborations which bring more followers, more likes, more comments and more views. We want to be on each other’s pages so that we are noticed by a pool of people who don’t know us. We want some celebrity to share our story, tag us and say we are doing good work. Does this work? Maybe yes…maybe not. 

If we intend to be famous then it’s a yes but if we intend to touch people then it’s a no. A post shared by a celebrity gets hundred or thousand more likes than usual but that does not translate in funding, or increase in the number of volunteers or passionate interns. We may create a social media hype but that does not mean anything on ground. Sometimes you may lay hands on a unique opportunity but that’s not a guarantee. Personally, I also find this deceitful. If someone likes the work they will share about it; why do we need to say we are collaborating to promote the work? Why this obligation that in return, one will get a program or a token of appreciation or anything like that? 

Providing four walls and a roof is not a venue partnership. 

There are multiple venue partners with whom we have worked and it has been great joy to work with people who have created spaces out of sheer passion. Pune’s Pagdandi Bookstore Cafe is one such happy place. They are diligent about marketing the event and are equally invested in it as the curators. The space is well set-up before the event. The mats are clean, there is water for everyone and a cup of warm chai. They do this without you asking. When one provides a space (for free or rented) what is that one is truly providing? I have always felt that a space holds energy; when we enter it we are infused by it. All these small gestures, smiles and love; give you the energy to deliver an event. We will give the space, you do what you want; does not give the same energy. There are multiple people who offer us collaboration opportunities by providing their space; however in only few spaces we feel equal involvement. It is always wise to choose your space and not the other way round. Fortunately Baithak is blessed to have found multiple such partners! 

Content collaboration is the toughest. 

Sometimes the funding is readily available and you are requested to work as the content curator. This is my favourite place. It saves you the energy that is sometimes drained in organising things and managing funds. However this is the toughest one! When you have ideas and a detailed execution plan communicating your vision is difficult. At every step you need to ensure that you communicate the ‘why’ behind your work. You must always devise mechanisms to share openly and clearly state the non-negotiable elements. 

When do two organisations or individuals truly collaborate? 

I like to think of collaborations as relationships. You give and take not because you are obligated; not because it benefits but because you truly feel so. Relationships based in unconditional love last long. It is not possible that you have the same kind of relationship with everyone and the one’s which nourish you will always be few. Organisations which are absorbed in the love of the work they and their collaborators do are the best partners. 

How do I identify the non-ideal collaborators? Well, it’s tough to say exactly how that happens; I mostly go by the vibes. Also if I hear any of the following lines, in a tone that I feel is non-caring; I feel that’s not the right person/organisation. 

  • This was not our responsibility. 
  • We didn’t know you will need water. You should have told before. 
  • Oh, we forgot to put your logo. 
  • You will have to write a mail asking us to send you the recording/photos or else we cannot share. 
  • I can’t do it. 
  • Everyone does this, we will also have to follow. 
  • Oh, I thought you will get your mats. 
  • We can’t pay you. Just letting you know.

Beware of collaborators who say the above quickly without any discussion or any feeling of guilt whatsoever! With them you will always have to fight for everything. 

Whereas, the following sentences in an inquisitive tone is what I love to hear. 

That’s obvious, we will make sure it happens. You don’t have to mention all these small things. 

Please send us your logo. We will get the creatives made. 

Is this text ok to go on public platforms? Let us know if you have any suggestions. 

Who should be credited in the news? Can you send us the exact names and the correct spellings? 

I am very busy but I will try. 

Do it the way you think it needs to be done. You know your job better. 

People and organisations who love your work and who are interested in touching real lives are the people and organisations we love to collaborate with. I have been disturbed, have felt anger and have passed many sleepless nights when I have made wrong decisions. I have learnt my lessons and I continue to learn. Thought of sharing my learnings so that some of you don’t have to face the same. 

Recently in association with Precision Foundation we did a series of Tune IN workshops in Solapur. We haven’t yet met any other Foundation that truly understands collaboration as Precision does. They own the program like you do. The arrangements are just right. Credits, acknowledgement and mentions are always done appropriately. The responsibility is shared and the mechanisms are transparent. We feel so lucky to have met them and have this wonderful opportunity to collaborate with them!

Check the backdrop. We had not asked for this but Precision did it willingly and mentioned not just their Foundation but ours too.

Collaboration means to stand on each other’s shoulders. We must care for each other beyond our obligations; truly share the joys and the pains. Hope you find a responsible collaborator!

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Uncategorized

A Letter to Tyeb Mehta, One of India’s Greatest Artists…

Hello Tyeb,

When I saw a painting of yours in an exhibition catalogue, for the first time I came to know that a person like you exists. For me, the world of colours and lines was restricted to M.F. Hussain, Picasso and other such celebrated names.

Do not be mistaken. I have no knowledge of paintings. I was sitting along with an accomplished print artist who was touching up photos of a musician for us. And, I hated you because, someone would call him and he would keep aside our work and start touching up your celebrated work, Kali.

But, my hate lasted for only a minute. As I saw this accomplished print artist playing with the scary blue colour of your Kali and trying to match the scan colour with original painting, I could sense my heart melting in the blues. Honestly, in spite of this, I truly got interested by you when I read the auction price of a few crore rupees noted against Kali.

“He is really something!” I thought.

After this short interaction with you, I absolutely forgot you. But, our meeting was not supposed to be so short. Two days ago, while I was having a cup of coffee at the Zen Cafe at Amdavad Ni Gufa, I saw a book store around. From their glass walls, I could see piles of heavy and costly books.

As I entered the book store, Ideas Images Exchanges was the first book to greet me. Though I had to catch a flight and had very little carrying space, I bought the bulky book along with Svaraj written by Ramchandran Gandhi.

For past two days, your colours, strokes and immortal figures from your famous Shantiniketan Triptych have been haunting me. I call those figures immortal because they touch human or life instincts which are temporary yet perennial. How can you, on a piece of paper show something which is trivial and then something which is significant; as significant as the existence itself?

At first, your paintings look absurd. To a novice like me, the dark blues and reds in them might even look obscene or Bibhatsa. It was Ramchandran Gandhi who held my hand and showed me what richness you had put together on the canvas.

As a student of music, I am more touched by you and your work. We musicians have a Tanpura which gives some reference to us. Though finding a correct shade of a note takes lifelong practice for a musician, I wonder what it must be taking for a painter to select a shade of colour to convey what he or she wants to!

I know, your paintings are nothing more than just a drop of what you are and what you have absorbed looking patiently at life around you. A painter or any artist, can never flourish if he is only concerned about his art and not bothered about the play, leela happening around. And then, the artist also has to master the Sakshibhav, the role of a witness to see through this Leela. I deeply admire you for the fact that you managed to be on both the sides of this curtain of Maya and managed to show both the sides of it on a single canvas.

As I google more about you, I understand how your paintings being sold for crores of rupees helped little with your financial situation. Who am I to tell you that you have accomplished much more than piling up huge sums of money?

Through your works, you preserved a seed which will blossom when the right time comes!

Categories
music Pune Society

Teenagers, Respect and Indian Classical Music

Three years ago, I and Dakshayani were quite frustrated this time of the year. Very enthusiastically, we had appointed 3 teachers under Baithak Foundation to teach at our three partner schools. This was a very concrete step to take Indian Classical Music to kids from underprivileged backgrounds. 

Through lot of ground work in the communities across Pune, sadly, we learnt that Honey Singh was the only ‘classical’ singer our next generations had heard of along with an ‘old lady’ called Lata Mangeshkar. 

What can be done to introduce our kids to our rich heritage? We always wondered. 

“Shall we appoint teachers to teach music in the schools?” Was the first idea that came to our mind. 

Since funding was not a constraint at that point, we started interview processes and also started creating a curriculum which could be taught in the schools. Our enthusiasm took a serious blow when we got to know the teaching skills of practicing young musicians. 

“We will train them” we were determined. 

After the recruitment, with initial training, we let the teachers go into the classrooms. The model was devised in such a way that all the grades would have two music classes every week in which we would talk about how music originated, types of instruments, some basic concepts like Swar, Taal, Lay, Raag etc. Initially both I and Dakshayani would attend the classes to give feedback to teachers and course-correct. We would often conduct informal meetings as well as well curated trainings for these teachers. 

Teachers often complained of discipline issues in the class rooms. One of the major complaint they had was lack of respect. 

“When I take classes at my home, the collector’s son comes and learns from me. He touches my feet every time he comes. These kids do not even know basic manners.” Said one of them, oldest by experience and age. 

We would also have meetings with the school staff and would request their intervention in the classes so that they went on smoothly. 

In spite of all this, just within three months, we saw resignation from the first teacher floating in our inbox.   

“I know your intentions are good; but these kids can never learn our music because they don’t know how to respect.” Said the same teacher whose relationship with kids had almost become hostile by then. 

We accepted the resignation and thought of finding a replacement. Before we could do that, came the second resignation. The program at third school was halted because of multiple issues, incompetency of the teacher being prime one. 

In short, our program had miserably failed. It was same feeling a start-up founder would have when his product backfires even though there is plenty of seed funding. 

It was very easy for us to conclude that these kids really do not deserve this kind of music and why force-feed them? This has been the common notion about Indian Classical Music anyways. Many musicians had told us this theory of how this music is meant for the rich- economically and socially. 

In spite of all this, both of us had a feeling that we were doing something wrongly. Instead of blaming it all on the kids, let us carefully examine the flaws in what we were doing.

The very first mistake that we realised was, we forced this music on kids. They had never heard it, never experienced it. So the first correction, we thought our program needed, was eliminating ‘compulsory’ aspect and making the program sign-up based.

The second grave mistake that we were doing was teaching in classroom an art form which was highly experiential. Can we make them experience the art form rather than teaching it in a classroom?

Baithak@Classes program was an outcome of these two learnings. We decided, for first two years, let us just do concerts in the schools for which kids can sign up if they wish to. No one is forced to attend. 

Out of the three schools we were working with, we rolled out @Classes program in two schools. We created nice poster for the first concert and put them in the respective schools. 

As the principal of one school says, “I thought, hardly ten students will sign up. Within one hour, I had fifty sign ups with me. I was surprised.” 

The concert was very well appreciated. We got similar but more engaged audience for all next concerts. 

“We liked Kathak. How can we learn it though?” Getting such questions from students became very common.  

Due to increasing demand from the students, @Classes program was further evolved to include workshops in it. 

After two years of concerts and workshops, Baithak, school and students – all felt thinned for deeper engagement. Everyone thought that we needed regular Art Clubs in school.

This is how The Taalim Project was born. We designed a fellowship program where fellowship was awarded to a musician who would teach a batch of 10-20 kids once a week. 

Acclaimed dancer and Guru, Arundhati Patwardhan joined us as our first fellow and took the bunch of 15 boys and girls under her wings. 

Arundhati Patwardhan in middle of a mesmerising performance at a school in Solapur. This concert was organised in association with Precision Foundation, Solapur.

After teaching these kids for couple of months, Arundhati Tai once proposed – “Can we arrange a small performance of these kids in our institute’s annual event?” 

That moment was truly priceless for all of us! 

_______________

Dakshayani was standing in the stage wing of Tilak Smarak Mandir, where Kalavardhini’s annual event was going to happen. Kalavardhini Team was kind enough to give a slot for Arundhati Tai’s students to perform a Vandana. 

The fifteen boys and girls were excited as well as confused; probably it was the very first time they were inside an auditorium; that too with a few hundred connoisseurs waiting to watch their performance. They were all dressed in a particular manner, to which they were not used to. 

The students were nervous, under extreme pressure, in a different air altogether. To everyone’s surprise, without anyone telling them, each of the kids touched Arundhati Tai’s feet before they began their performance!

Students of iTeach Ahilyadev Holkar English Medium School with Arundhati Patwardhan.

————-

The same bunch of kids, which could have been easily labelled as ‘manner-less’ reached a stage where they felt like respecting their teacher. Can respected ever be demanded? Or it has to be earned like Arundhati Tai did through her unmatched commitment towards her kids? 

The kind of ecosystem and patronage in which our music flourished ensured that this respect was always paid; either genuinely our out of force and fear. Now, the situation is very different. The respect must be earned. The process of touching the hearts of young ones and gaining their ‘true’ respect is very beautiful and worth all the efforts involved.   

To know more about Baithak Foundation’s work, visit : www.baithak.org

Categories
Kabir

The Art of Swimming Through Life Without Getting Entangled : Wisdom of Sant Kabir

Kabir.

When we hear this name, the picture that our minds create is of a saint, living a minimalistic life while maintaining a distance from the society. Living silently in his Kuti, may be surrounded by a few disciples. Loi, which we all assume to be his wife, would be sitting silently in a corner. The constant sound of this weaver’s loom might be the canvas on which the couple lived their ‘non-happening’ life.

Kabir might be going out every day for a few hours to sell the fabric he religiously wove. On the way back, he would be buying few vegetables and some rice. Such a boring life!

On the face of it, the life of Kabir seems so much devoid of ‘life’! People writing and talking about Kabir or singing Kabir have much busier and much more happening lives than the saint himself!

Was Kabir happy with his life? If he comes back on earth now, having lived a simple life, how will he feel when he finds out that people singing his Bhajans and Dohas are celebrities? Kabir, the ultimate creative being, might have lived in a leaking hut all the life. Will Kabir get depressed looking at the scenario around now?

I know the answer. In fact, I know it because Kabir himself has given the answer in one of his Doha’s. He says,

फुलवा भार न ले सके, कहे सखियन सो रोय |
जो जो भिजे कामरी, त्यो त्यो भारी होय ||

We are so delicate, that weight of even a flower is too much to bear! Still, we get involved in life and become heavy like a drenched blanket!

In these two lines, Kabir has beautifully demonstrated a middle way to live life. We are used to live life at the poles; either we get extremely involved in the life or we start rejecting it straight away. Not even one of Kabir’s Dohas are against life. The very fact that Kabir worked as a weaver tells us how well he accepted life and was a part of it.

Kabir asks us neither to get involved in life nor to reject it. He hints at the third possibility – living life totally, without getting entangled in it. The problem is not with life; the problem is when we start getting entangled in it.

To be honest, Kabir is not the only saint who has emphasised this middle way. Another mystic from India, Ashtavakra Muni, who lived much before Kabir, has said the same thing. In fact, not running from life, but living it and looking at it without getting attached has been a central thread running in the wisdom of most of the Indian saints and mystics.

If we take a closer look at the above Doha of Kabir, it is quite clear that the saint was against even slightest of attachment.

We are so delicate, that weight of even a flower is too much to bear!

Attachment is the problem. How large or small that attachment is, makes no difference.

What’s wrong with being attached?

The most fundamental principle in Eastern Philosophy is the principle of ‘negation’. To put it simply, truth cannot be found out positively. Rather, you can just find out what truth is not.

Kabir says,

साहिब है घट माही

Which means, god or truth is within you, rather, you are it!

The problem is, we have identified ourselves with too many things which we are not! In other words, we have attached ourselves to what we are not. When we detach ourselves from all that we are not, we are left with what we are – the Truth.

So, the shortcut to finding god or truth is not finding out what we are, but rather realising what we are not!

We misinterpret that all the saints, including Kabir, are against life. It’s our misinterpretation. They were in fact very much for life; but life devoid of attachments. More entangled and involved we are, farther we are from the truth.

How to cut through the entanglements of life? Again, the answer comes from Kabir.

राम निरंजन न्यारा रे, अंजन सकल पसारा रे

Ram is not the god that we worship. The Ram in Kabir’s Dohas and Bhajans is located inside us. The one who gets entangled, attached and involved.

Kabir says, the Ram within you is the only truth and not the things in which he is involved.

To make it simple, when we get attached to something, we should move the eyes within and try finding out the one who is being attached. When this process happens more frequently, one realises that this feeling of attachment is just an illusion. The Ram within is beyond any attachment.

The simplicity in Kabir’s life is not because of lack of life; that simplicity came out of lack of attachments. Though his life looks non-juicy on the face of it, it was throbbing with the nectar of life!

Steering through life without getting entangled is one of the most precious pearls of wisdom which Kabir gave the world!

Categories
art music

It’s the time Indian Classical Musicians stop underestimating their own art form!

What’s art?

Is it an activity that we do repetitively to entertain ourselves and others?

Is it a vocation? Where we sing or dance or play with a few stretched strings to make a living out of it?

Or is it a ladder to climb up the ever increasing heights of our own ego?

More importantly, can art be same for each artist? And is it necessary that it serves the same role in lives of the audience that it does in the lives of the presenters of the art?

When one looks at any art and especially Indian Classical Music in the light of above questions, one will realise that it is very difficult to realise the full potential of this art form, even for those who practice it for their lifetimes.

Let me give you an example. What is sun? For a little kid who knows nothing of the world, it is just a red ball; probably a lollypop. As we grow up a bit, it is the sun – which does the arduous job of defining day and night for us. As we grow up a bit more, we realise that sun is what drives us. It is our source of energy. It is the very foundation of our survival. Our experiences and knowledge decide how we perceive things.

In same way, art can be looked at from different levels. Many will say that Indian Classical Music is like a prayer for them. While saying this, many conveniently forget that we do not pray to get fame for ourselves or in a prayer, there are no rivalries. A prayer has absolutely zero scope to show our intelligence and knowledge.

Many artists will say it’s their passion; something which they like as well as something which earns them a living.

For many, whatever they call it is, it’s the only thing they can do apart from basic reading and writing.

While I do not want to choose which answer is right and wrong, as it is an impossible task in itself, all these answers are from the perspective of the performer or the practitioner of the art.

What is Indian Classical Music, or rather, what role could Indian Classical Music play in the life of its audience? What’s in it for a kid whose parents barely manage sending him or her to school? What’s in it for a new born baby? for a coder who spends ten hours of his day in an artificial and stressful environment? What’s in it for a parent?

For any art, especially when it is a performing art, audience is as important as the performer. While artists spend so much time thinking about what role art plays in their life, do we really think about what our art has to offer to each of these audience members which at times cluelessly come to concerts?

It was quite a controversy when someone tried patenting turmeric. Indians suddenly woke up; we have been using turmeric for thousands of years may be. How can someone patent it?

Quite often, due to conditioning – by media, by peers, etc. or because of abundance of something, we start underestimating it.

Thanks to my mentors, as I get properly introduced to Indian wisdom, let it be about food, exercise, medicine, music or anything in general, I realise that our forefathers rarely discussed ‘why’. They just told us what to do but never told us why do it. In the age of science, reason and logic, lack of why was conveniently equated to absence of substance. As westerners take more and more efforts to study Indian wisdom, interesting things are surfacing up. Sadly, even now, when someone is throwing the ‘why’ right on our faces, we are unable to realise the significance and value of our own tradition. The same applies to the art of Indian Classical Music.

While so much research is popping up which clearly highlights the impact of music on brain development like this Swiss Study, we see a stark lack of awareness about all these things in young and even senior musicians who have been practising Indian Classical Music full time.

What happens in your brain when you are singing? Which neurones get fired up? Which centres are activated? How they communicate with each other? While western researchers are putting their best to study and document all these effects, the musicians will turn blank if you ask them these questions. I do not expect musicians to know about neurology but in today’s age, they should at least know how practising their art form helps the practitioner.

Through Baithak Foundation, we have been lucky to host more than 60 talented artists in schools and construction sites and thanks to community support, the work is expanding; but, as my general observation goes, most of the artists look at themselves just as performers and not as agents of transformation. Have they ever tasted the experienced the transformational power of music?

We have been taught by our Gurus that this art can change the life; it can bring about an instant transformation. We theoretically know it. Yet, hardly a few artists truly believe in the transformation quality of their art form.

While artists are happy to perform in small venues, as we interact with more artists, the subtle aims and objectives of the artists are quite defined – performing in famed festivals, at large scale events which bring huge publicity and money. There is nothing wrong about it; everyone is free to decide what they want in their lives.

But, more than justified focus on ‘eventizing’ Indian Classical Music is leading to another problem – there are hardly any artists in India who have first hand experience of the transformational power of music and are interested to take it to more people in that manner. On the other hand, a large number of western students and practitioners are getting increasingly attracted to Indian Classical Music and its transformational powers. Many are actively involved in integrating it with Yoga and other branches of Indian wisdom and are working towards creating valuable experiences. What happens if there are attempts to patent certain musical practices which we have been doing for years?

As the society matures, shift from entertainment to mindfulness is logical. As more and more artists get caught up in the rat race of concerts, unexplored opportunities exist for artists to absorb the practising aspect of Indian Classical Music and taking it to more people.

We should stop underestimating our own art form!

About the author

Mandar is a co-founder of Baithak Foundation. He is a passionate believer in the power of music as a tool for all round human development. Mandar brings his formal education in engineering and has many years of consulting experience with start-ups and MNCs. He is a published author with two books to his credit. He is a student of Indian Classical Vocal Music.

Categories
Famous Musicians of India

Pt. Sharad Sathe: A Life In Music

“We have been coming to your place frequently. Now it’s your turn.” I proposed.

“Yes, of course. How about sometime in the next month?”

“Yes, works very well with us. Shall we plan a dinner?”

“Not just a dinner. I want to sing at your place; and of course, dinner after that!”

I was having this conversation not with a friend, but with one of the senior most masters of Indian Classical Vocal Music, Pt. Sharad Sathe. Sharad Kaka’s simplicity, his rigour to sing and share the treasures he had was unmatched. I knew him only for a short span of last couple of years of his life. His generosity, energy and enthusiasm always amused me.

Many musicologists, music critics and musicians have written at a length to describe his rich Gayaki and his refined aesthetics. While it is imperative to talk about his music, it is equally essential to talk about his persona and some values he firmly believed in and lived up to.

What I admired the most about him was his generosity; he never held back anything. We used to meet him often as we had initiated a project to document his life and publish it as a biography. In one particular meeting, I asked him whether there were any recordings where he spoke about music and theoretical aspects of it. He immediately got up from his chair and got a handful of CDs and DVDs. Not all of them were talks and speeches. Many of them had his concert recordings as well as some studio recordings. Without even checking what recordings the CDs contained, he handed it all to me.

In many of his baithaks that we attended, he always obliged to the farmaish of his students and chahetas.

Two years ago, we hosted Sharad Kaka at our place in Baner. After singing a full length Chhayanat and two other short Ragas, he took interval. In the interval, I and Dakshayani were running across; managing tea and coffee for everyone. After his tea was over, he was trying hard to locate both of us in our apartment, which was crowded with more than 60 odd people. It was only when both of us were settled, he began singing.

“The hosts should enjoy the concert first!” He said with his gentle smile. The kind of alertness and sensitivity that he had at the age of 87, that too in the midst of a concert, was truly unique.

During one particular meeting that we had at his place, by mistake, I told him about my concert happening in the city the next day.

“Both I and Sunetra will definitely come to listen to you tomorrow.” Sharad Kaka said when we were about to leave and I realised what a grave mistake I had committed. He was so full of excitement and energy that I was pretty sure he would be coming.

“You are most welcome to attend but honestly, I do not think I sing that well.” I told him humbly.

“Let me at least listen to you!” he said with twinkle in his eyes.

I was sincerely praying that Sharad Kaka either forgets about the concert or gets busy in something. I honestly did not want him to take all the troubles to listen to my immature singing.

The next day, while tuning the Tanpura in green room, I was hoping he would not come. When I reached on the stage, I missed a heartbit when I saw Sharad Kaka and Sunetra Kaku sitting in the front row.

I sang and in the interval went to him, touched his feet and requested him to forgive the mistakes.

“Not at all. You sang really well!” I thought he must be saying this just for the sake of it.

After the concert, I reached home and as a daily ritual, checked my email. On the top of a few mails from my clients, there was an email from Sharad Kaka appreciating my singing and our sincere efforts to take music to more people. He also insisted that I invite him for all future programs.

Of course, my music was nothing close to deserving his praise. But I was touched by his attitude, his openness and the way he encouraged me to continue my Sadhana.

I had invited him for the launch of The Kabir Way, which happened almost two years ago. He could not come for it as he had a concert the same evening. To my surprise, in his next concert, he had come prepared to sing a composition of Kabir in Raga Jaunpuri, just for me. Just to clarify, I was not the only one for whom he cared so much. He had such intimate bonds with many of his chahetas and in each of his concerts, he tried his best to sing something to which they could specially relate.

In one of our meetings with him, he showed us the diary in which he had written compositions which Prof. B. R. Deodhar had taught him. He had meticulously noted the date on which it was taught to him and also the source from where Deodhar ji had received that particular composition. Not to mention, all of this was written in his beautiful handwriting.

I have not seen any musician being this particular and meticulous. He communicated efficiently and promptly on emails which many young musicians find difficult.

“I want to come and see the work that you do at municipal schools.” He would say this quite often. Most of the venues where we operated were not easily accessible. So, we always hesitated to take him there.

When he came to know about we organising a workshop by his daughter and accomplished Bharatnatyam performer Smita Mahajan, he declared that he would definitely come. The workshop was organised at a municipal school in Yerawada and the venue was on the third floor.

He came, climbed up the floors slowly, at his pace and attended the workshop.

We were fortunate to host him second time at the place of his disciples, Alhad and Alok Alsi. It was quite a scene to see audience of fifty people singing along with him when he approached the Sam. He needed no time to create the magic through his music. In each of his performances that we attended, he not just sang; rather, he tried innovating in situ. A few times, he would find it difficult to sing a phrase that occurred to him; but he would not give up. Again, with twinkle in his eyes, he would sing the phrase, to his satisfaction and the audience’s delight. A few times, while singing a difficult fast-paced composition, though the audience was mesmerised, he would not be happy with his own singing. I have seen him apologising with an open heart when something like this happened. Probably it was this honesty and sincerity to present best music which took his art to the level it was.

Pt. Sharad Sathe performing in a private concert.

Pt. Sharad Sathe’s life and his musical journey clearly highlight his simplicity and integrity, both things disappearing fast in today’s landscape of music and art.