The Difficulty of Singing Easy Ragas

Looser the Raga structure, more difficult it becomes to perform it..

Ragas are the back bone of the Indian classical music. A certain collection of notes which follows certain rules and behavior becomes a Raga. As one starts learning Indian classical music, the journey begins with practice of basic Swaras and then eventually by learning Ragas and various compositions in those Ragas. Naturally, students find some Ragas very easy to sing while others are very difficult to master due to their complex nature and arrangement of notes.

Most of the students feel that Ragas like Bhoop, Yaman, Bilawal, Kafi etc. are very easy to sing when compared with Ragas like Kedar, Chhayanat, Darbari Kanada etc. Over the years, my observation is, students find easy the Ragas which are less rigid in nature. For instance, Bilawal or Kafi, though they have certain rules and behavioral traits, they can be sung with much more freedom when compared with Ragas like Chhyanat, Kedar or Poorvi which are heavily defined by specific phrases. Mastering these phrases is very crucial in order to perform these Ragas well.

This sounds so logical. Ironically, when one performs in a concert, these simpler Ragas are more difficult to present when compared with the so called difficult Ragas. Why so?

Since these difficult Ragas are heavily defined by the phrases, they already have a readymade face or flavor. Whereas in case of the simpler Ragas, one has to create a face from scratch as there is no such readymade face in existence. For instance, if one has to perform Yaman well, one has to thoughtfully select phrases and combination that add to one particular flavor or face that the performer has selected (which will be mostly defined by the lyrics of the composition).  Loosely structured i.e. the so called simple Ragas like Yaman can convey multiple feelings, even opposite feelings like happiness and sadness. So, the performer has to eliminate or avoid certain phrases though they absolutely fall under the premise of that Raga. Mastering the difficult phrases of the so called difficult Ragas is much easier a task than creating your own phrases in a simple Raga to convey a coherent story.

It is not an uncommon scene to see young artists selecting Ragas like Yaman or Bhoop assuming that they are easy to perform and then not being able to create a consistent picture out of the overall performance. This results in a performance which is technically perfect but emotionally dry and aesthetically scattered.

That’s why, simple Ragas  like Bhoop and Yaman performed by legends like Kishori Amonkar and Kumar Gandharva have a very special place in the hearts of the music lovers!

Better Late Than Never : Reflections on Pt. Sharad Sathe’s Concert

Listening to different artists and attending their live performances contributes a lot to the understanding of music of any artist or even student of music. After I came to Pune in 2008, for pursuing my engineering education, I attended most of the concerts taking place in the city. Eventually, attending concerts became like a routine. Within four years, I had heard most of the well known and most respected artists. I was under impression that these concerts had introduced me to the music of the best artists in India. How wrong I was! And, how unfortunate I was….

It took some time to realize that there are many hidden gems in the world of Hindustani classical music which one rarely gets to listen to in the typical concerts and music festivals. Listening to some such ‘gems’ completely undermined my understanding of and taste for Indian classical music. Pt. Sharad Sathe is one of those gems.

He has been living in Pune for past many years and I never heard of his concert being arranged somewhere in Pune. I got to listen to his magical music first time during the promo shoot for First Edition Art’s Secret Masters Session in a studio at Wagholi, near Pune. On that very day, I had decided not to miss the concert, which finally happened on 26th of March at Ravindra Natya Mandir.

There is so much to learn from Pt. Sharad Sathe’s personality and his music. It was without doubt the most fruitful concert I ever attended. Sharad Ji’s wisdom, developed and refined over many decades, teaches us a lot. Attending his concert was a very refreshing experience and his concert was different from the other typical performances in many ways.

To establish my point well, I would like to begin with his different approaches toward different Ragas. He started the concert with Raga Prabhat Bhairav followed by Todi, Yamani Bilawal, Miya Ki Sarang and Bhairavi. His methods of improvising each of these Ragas were strikingly different. For example, while singing Miya Ki Sarang, he did exceptionally brilliant MeendKam (glides), something that our generation has rarely heard. Whereas while singing Todi or Yamani Bilawal, his approach was totally different, suited for the nature and mood of that particular Raga. Many times, even while listening to some of the most acclaimed artists, one can see that they use same patterns and styles in different Ragas. So ultimately, as the Raga changes, only notes change; patterns remain the same. In case of Pt. Sharad Sathe’s performance, as the Ragas changed, the entire structure and aesthetic approach also changed. Something very rare and unique!

Second thing worth noticing was the way he handled the lyrics of the compositions he sang. Gwalior Gayaki is famous for rhythmic patterns which make use of lyrics of the composition being sung (layakari). Commonly it can be observed that when artists start with layakari, they break the words of the composition in parts and most of the times, these parts do not  convey any meaning. Pt. Sharad Sathe, even while singing some of the most complex rhythmic patterns ensured that he did not break the words in between. His attention to words and their meaning did not wither even when he was singing a complex Tappa in Bhairavi.

Third distinguishing point was his ease while performing. While improvising a Raga, to come up with distinctive phrases and patterns, the artist has to be at ease. He or she has to be fully ‘present’. It can be observed that most of the artists, while performing are hardly at ease. Even while they are performing, they are constantly engrossed in something – gauging the audience, acclimatizing with sound system etc. Sadly, with the time, everyone including artists are losing the ability to be at ease. As the art becomes more competitive and commercial in nature, this problem is going to be more severe. During the entire performance, Pt. Sharad Sathe was at ease. His practice, his devotion to his art, guidance under some of the finest Gurus and mostly, the contentedness that he has, keeps him in a very unique position where he can manage to be in ease while performing.

Singing at the age of 86 is not a joke. Even young artists are always under tension if their voice will co-operate or not. At the beginning, when just for a moment, audience felt that Pandit Ji was facing some difficulty while singing Pancham, he surprised and delighted everyone by singing Tar Shadja with ease and grace. As you grow older, your vocal cords tire, reflexes slow down, hearing might get compromised. Sharad Ji’s performance did not even give a hint of any of these problems. Most interestingly, he was constantly innovating on stage. One could feel that it was not a ‘set’ performance; rather it was co-creation arising out of his own wisdom and skills, his understanding of audience and their aesthetic sense and also the responses of the accompanists.

Listening to Sharad Ji and interacting with him re-emphasized my belief that artist and his art are not separate. The personality of artist percolates in his art. Sharad Ji’s unique personality makes a big impact on his music. His attention to details, graceful and humble attitude, love for everyone around him, desire to not only share his knowledge but also to constantly observe and learn from people and situations around him certainly put his music on a very different plane.

Listening to his concert filled me with gratefulness along with a tinge of sadness. Why there was not a single of his concerts arranged in the cultural capital of India in last ten years? In spite of all this sadness, I feel I am very fortunate that I could experience his music; better late than never…

Kabir Doha on Recognizing Hidden Gems Around Us

चन्दन गया बिदेस, सब कोई कहत पलास।
ज्यो ज्यो चूल्हा झोंकिये, त्यों त्यों महके बास।।

Imagine a block of sandalwood visiting another country, where people do not know anything about it; people will simply think that it is an ordinary block of wood. But when they start burning it in their stoves, due to its unique and beautiful smell, they will soon realize their mistake.

Once the sandal is put in the stove, it’s gone!

Similarly, we fail to recognize great people when they are among us and realize their value only after they are gone, burnt in the crematoriums.

When I look at my own life, I feel grateful that I could meet so many beautiful souls and mentors. At the same time, I also realize that many of my friends and other people in my circle who also meet and interact with these ‘gems’ fail to recognize them and their grace.

Kabir has used a very beautiful metaphor for what we experience in our lives. He says, not everyone is able to recognize a block of sandalwood by just having a look at it. Some will know its value just by looking at it, while some will find it out only after burning it.

Why is it so? Why we fail to recognize ‘sandalwoods’ around us? One of the most common reasons is, we never look at a person with open heart; rather we just look at him or her through lenses of our own expectations, priorities and demands. Before we truly know a person, based on our impression and our expectations, we create a static image of that person and then we keep on referring to that image instead of the actual person. In order to discover a gem, one has to keep aside all the expectations and demands.

Secondly, one has to be at ease and without any hurry. If you take a block of sandalwood in your hand and just hold it for a few seconds, you will start getting the mild smell of it. Same is with people. We always meet for a purpose, are in a hurry to talk rather than listening to the other person. We always have an agenda and are never at ease. To feel the grace, one has to be at ease; without hurry and without any agenda.

The society is full of so many incredible people! One just has to keep aside the baggage to feel their grace…

How to live a fruitful life: Wisdom from a Doha by Sant Kabir

हरिजन तो हारा भला, जीतन दे संसार ।
हारा तो हरी सो मिले, जीता जम के द्वार ।।

English translation of Doha:

A seeker of truth is happy with the fact that he has not conquered anything and is a loser from the worldly perspective. The whole world is after conquering something and let them conquer. The one who conquers will meet death and the so called loser will meet the lord.

Kabir says, a true seeker is happy as he or she is. He is not looking after conquering anything. Strangely, whatever we call as ‘living’ is nothing but an unending quest to conquer. Our education system is based on defeating others and securing the first position. The competition everywhere around us forces to conquer. Sadly, life is nothing but an unending battle. After we win one battle, a bigger and more complex one is always waiting for us.

When Kabir says a true seeker is happy with not conquering anything, he is highlighting that true seeker is no more interested in the competition. His growth is inspired from within and not forced from outside. Interestingly, when one is caught in this endless cycle of conquering, there is no time left to remain still and reflect.

This is exactly what happens with us. We have kept our lives so busy that we do not have time even to pause for a minute and question where are we heading! The one, who is not in a hurry to win the next battle, has ample of time to reflect, contemplate and improve. Zen saints as well as Indian mystics like Ashtavakra have given a lot of importance to witnessing. Just observe yourself, your thoughts as a third person. This witnessing can only happen when one is not in hurry; when one is at ease with himself or herself. Kabir says, better to be a loser, who has ample of time to be at peace with himself than a blind winner.

In the second line of this doha, Kabir says, the so called loser will meet the lord and the conquerer will meet the death. Clearly, the one who is not in the race will first think and then choose what he wants in his life and has a  higher chance of ultimately finding it. His actions wont be governed by others and the outer circumstances. He will act out of his wisdom. Such a person is more likely to have a fruitful life. On the other hand, the one who is tirelessly fighting and competing in his life, will one day realize that his time has come to an end before he could really ‘win’ anything.

This doha of Kabir enlightens us about two modes of living our lives – the first one is blind, governed by outer competition whereas the second one prompts us to know ourselves better and ultimately accomplish something fruitful. Both the doors are open; which one to choose lies in our hands!


What Making My Tea Taught Me About Solving The Problems That Our Society Faces

Suddenly, the importance that tea has in my life has gone up. While working full time, I used to have a cup or two of tea during the day, more as a formality and as an excuse to spend some time away from the laptop screen.

Now, as I practice classical music more seriously, tea is playing the role of companion which soothes my tired throat. Not a surprise, I stop after practicing every two hours to make myself a cup of tea.

Tea with some ginger in it heals the sound (at least one gets that feel). So, every time I make a cup of tea, I add lots of ginger to it. In order to extract the maximum of its flavor, I boil the water for long time with minced ginger in it. This is how we are conditioned- we feel more force will give us a better flavor and extract. Still, in spite of boiling for long times, I hardly got the flavor that I wanted. So today, I thought of trying out something different. I made my tea, closed the gas and then added the ginger and covered the pot. To my surprise,  the flavor is much better than what I get with too much of boiling.

The lesson learned?

We are conditioned to think that more force, more brutality, more power is required to solve a tough problem. On the other hand, one has to understand that force and brutality kills the sensitivity; just as boiling kills the aroma of ginger.

In our society, there is cruelty, violence, hatred  and so many other problems simply because of absence of sensitivity. And what do we do to solve these problems? We use brutality; it makes people more insensitive. Isn’t our society like a boiling pot? Where everyone is just trying to add more heat? I do not expect that political parties will stop adding the heat. That completely kills their agenda and dynamites their vested interests. We, as individuals, while living in the society, can consciously make a choice of not adding more heat and preventing the sensitivity from getting killed. Many of us are disturbed by looking at what is happening around and are clueless about what to do to stop it. If you are one of them and just follow the crowd by adding more heat, you are doing more harm to the society than helping it.

Why finding fault in others means wasting your time!

On social media and everywhere around, people finding faults in others have bloomed like anything. Thanks to social media, we not only read various (many times false and fabricated) news/updates but we now also have power to share them with our circles and even comment on them. This power to share and comment on stuff around us has resulted in the rise of so many so-called ‘experts’ who have a say in almost everything.  The worse part is, these experts spend most of their energy in finding mistakes and criticizing others.

Personally, I am least bothered and concerned about what people do with their time. At the same time, I strongly feel that social media is doing more damage than help by converting people into mistake finding machines. These people are more responsible for this attitude because social media has given them just an outlet.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-7-41-12-pmThese criticizers feel that their criticism will bring about a change. Sadly, that is not the case. Change happens one person at a time and when you are busy criticizing others, you are wasting the time that you have got to change that one person i.e. you!

We are naturally attracted towards finding mistakes in others. It is very easy. One can find mistake even in most perfect things around him or her. I can criticize a square for being to squarish and missing some curves whereas I can criticize the circle for being too roundish and missing the edge. In short, criticism is a low hanging fruit. It gives you a sense of contributing something to the system without doing any or very little hard work.

Imagine, instead, you spend this time working on yourself. Over a time, you will change and this story of change will inspire many others to change themselves. The catch is, changing oneself, that to in a positive manner is so difficult. It is a process which happens in solitude; you won’t get any likes and shares for doing that. You won’t attract a huge following while you work on yourself.

Considering all this, criticizing others looks such a lucrative task to be done. Alas, it’s a waste of such a nice life and such a precious opportunity!

Why Snapdeal (or even Flipkart or Amazon) can never unbox you life and what should one do to really unbox it!

Sometimes, especially when I am really tired or bored, I do enjoy watching action movies. It is a deliberate effort to help the brain to relax. For past few weeks, I can sense the aggressive advertisements and campaigns run by different e-tailers to empty out the pockets of customers as deeply as possible on the occasion of Diwali. Personally, I do not have any problem with people spending money and buying things online. Many of these ads directly hit on the typical Indian mindset- of using old stuff in the house carefully and preserving it for a long period. All these sellers have realized one basic fact- new stuff wont go in the houses unless the old stuff comes out.

In short, let it be Snapdeal or Amazon or any other e-tailer; they simply want you to buy more and will compel you to do anything- from throwing in the trash the old things that are working fine to give brand new cloths to your maids and staff so that you buy more from them. Though this type of marketing promotes consumerism, I am still okay with that. Everyone wants us to buy more and at a higher frequency and products are being designed to fail fast. I wont blame e-tailers for influencing the mentality of people in such a manner.


What I do object is something more subtle. In order to sell more, sellers are falsely overstating the importance of material objects in our lives. Buying a new cell phone or a television with a bigger screen does nothing to make you happy and contended. It rather makes you further greedy- now you want even bigger one. Buying something cannot help you unbox your life; rather, it creates an object dependent mindset which actually puts you in a box and your entire life goes in the pursuit of enlarging the box.

It is a well known fact that shopping is a stress buster. In reality, it is a lie. Shopping is not a stress buster. Shopping, in reality, is like a pesticide; it kills the pest temporarily but the pest gets strengthened and the pesticide turns ineffective. You are again in search of a stronger pesticide. The cycles continues. The hollowness inside cannot be filled using the stuff available outside for sale.

How can we unbox our life in the true sense? Again, an answer from outside wont help. The only answer is- look within!



Kabir Doha on Patience: धीरे-धीरे रे मना, धीरे सब कुछ होय

धीरे-धीरे रे मना, धीरे सब कुछ होय,
माली सींचे सौ घड़ा, ॠतु आए फल होय।

(Be patient, my mind. Everything takes its own time to take place. Look – even if the gardner pours hundred jugs of water, the trees will bear fruits only when the right season comes.)

One of the values and capabilities that human beings are losing very fast is our patience. Advances in the technology have given us a lot of convenience but have taken away our patience.

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-5-05-24-pmYesterday, while teaching Indian Classical Music in a school, I made the 20 kids just to sit silently for 45 minutes. It is so frustrating to see impatience everywhere. Students are impatient and want to learn fast. Teachers are impatient and want to get done with teaching as soon as possible. While all this speed looks very fascinating and thrilling, we are losing our capability of pursuing the finer things which need patience.

Kabir, in these two lines highlights that things take their own time in spite of you doing whatever you can. Students of arts will agree with Kabir for sure. In spite of you practicing for hours every day, the difference shows up only after a few months or years.

Everything in our life, which is of some value, is never an instant happening. Relationships are built over time. Trust is gained over time. Art is mastered over a period and not overnight. Right success comes after years of consistency, dedication and excellence.

In the fast moving world, being patient is probably the most difficult thing; but in long term, it pays off.

A Question for Everyone

thinker-thoughtIs ‘thinker’ separate from the ‘thought’? Or what we consider as ‘thinker’ is just another thought?

In the daily course of life, we always have a divide within ourselves; we always look at ourselves as an entity separate from our own thoughts.

‘I am angry’, ‘I can control my anger or sadness’, ‘I can control my emotion’ etc.

All these sentences clearly mean that we consider ourselves (our self) to be an altogether different entity from our thoughts.

Is it really so? Or ‘thinker’ is the most deceiving ‘thought’ we ever had?