Monday, 16 December 2013

The American Brush - Guest Post by American Painter Kathryn Myers

As I write this on the train to and from New York, it occurred to me that, in India, it would be unfathomable that I would spend time on a train looking at my computer screen rather than out the window.  In India, even the most seemingly mundane or incidental activity could be cause for active engagement, a chance to frame and share the experience. Facebook, which I had not regularly used before, became a daily diary that allowed me unfold my story slowly, morning by night, day by day.  Usually, I come home and people ask “how was India?” and I want to say, “Do you have six months to sit and let me tell you?” Away from my regular responsibilities, in India, the internal dialogue that is often detached from what is actually occurring around me, muted by familiarity and routine, became sharpened with a refreshed and heightened attention to the present. 
 
 Without constrictions of time, I could follow unlikely paths that beckoned, or wait out a storm in a tiny chai shop not annoyed at being lost or frustrated by a seeming waste of time.  I could see everything as an adventure, an opportunity, a chance to talk to a stranger, a chapter in time which, until nearly the moment I left for home, seemed filled without end. Without reason, destination, or errands to run, mostly relying on my feet than my car, I would go out to just look, and to look again, enjoying creating categories of imagery in an attempt to organise the uncontainable. Some of these, such as the palimpsest of layered signs, something I became aware - upon my return - does not exist in the US, where a “post no bills” sign actually is obeyed, have developed into upcoming projects for my studio art classes.
 
As I continue to deepen my knowledge about India and Indian art, inspired and motivated by the Indian art course I teach at UConn and the paintings and videos I create as a practicing artist, what  I am drawn to falls  into places both rooted in prior experience and seen anew. Recognising that my students have been particularly drawn to my sense of connection with India, I began to create a series of short videos of devotional activities that I lecture about in class, things I have seen dozens of times on prior visits.  An Aarti in the Swaminayaran temple in Ahmedabad, the haunting plaintive call to prayer at the Jama Masjid in Delhi, or a lyrical sacred song sung on Ganges. In these simple pieces, I am able to speak about history and tradition as well as how I experience it, primarily that which is so unusual in the Christian tradition which my students are most familiar with - the overlay of the sacred and every day, the ghats being shared with dhobi walls, chai vendors and pilgrims. How the Adhan or call to prayer envelops the bazaar neighbourhood of Old Delhi, how generations of people, aunties and young women with cell phones, gathered for the intense body-enveloping sound of the ringing bells of morning darshan.  They also allow me to recapture in a more abstract way, the sensations, sounds and sights that arrested my senses before my intellect that, opened doors to knowledge as well as the deeper recesses of my heart and soul. 
 
The sense of the mythic and ancient that many travellers are initially drawn to in India has always been paired, for me, with the intense force of the present.  As I engage more fully in the contradictions and coalescence of past and present, I no longer find them as uncomfortable contrasts, or interferences, as I once did. In Orissa, my long anticipated view of Chauthyogini temple, the goddesses’ sacred space of power invaded by a bevy of workmen, disrupted my long sought out and perhaps naïve desire for a “moment of transcendence.”  My feelings shifted from annoyance to amusement and, in the end, it was a far more memorable experience as a marker in my own time, rather than the mythic time of the monument.  By contrast, my visits to the tiny Chausatti Devi in Varanasi hidden away on a side alley in that teeming city where one never expects to experience anything in solitude, feels like my private temple, and has to my gratitude, grounded me in times of need. It is then that I find myself exceedingly drawn to India for reviving my lapsed Catholic ability to experience the occasional moments of serenity, wonder and transformation that, in India are often just an instant away from earthly chaos. 

 Returning to places I know well, such as Varanasi, Ahmedabad or Goa, offered the comfort of familiarity, spending time with friends that have become family, enjoying shared memories and the most recent gossip over Goan feni, Indian rum or countless cups of chai. The familiar in this sense allowed for a needed sense of “normalcy”, the chance to sustain a regular structure of work time, writing, painting and video editing that, countered the exhaustion, numbness and jadedness that extensive travel can cause. Starting from a place of familiarity pushed me to look beyond what I thought I already
knew, to a deeper level of experience and observation or to look at the familiar in a new way.  New adventures such as my road trip with Pradosh (whose family so enthusiastically embraced “auntie,”) from Varanasi to Bhubaneswar on to Andhra Pradesh, through painted villages, family porches, storms and two rainbows, kept alive the addictive sense of the unknown and unpredictable, as well as contending with contradictory feelings about that which is so rapidly changing with that which seems impervious to change. Delhi is my new New York, things always going on, with an art scene I feel like I have known since its awkward adolescence fifteen years ago and have seen grow into something quite astonishing that I feel connected to and proud of.
 
Along with unstructured time to absorb, collect and create, was the sense of purpose that has driven much of my work for the past two years, my “Regarding India” video series www.regardingindia.com.  With several rewarding opportunities to show this work, I overcame a sense of caution foreigners often have in India, of seeming naïve, patronising, or “out of it”. Rather I was moved, encouraged and energised by the response to my work. With concern in respect of adding to the bulk of still unedited work, I still added a few new interviews to the series. Perhaps it was faith in my ability to sustain this work and an increased sense of confidence for I enjoyed the process more this time. My inquiry was more focused and I felt as if the artists I met - Dinesh, Waswo, Meera,  Heidi and others - had become friends.  I enjoyed as much reconnecting with people I met for the first time during the interviews, spending time with Ravi and Dorothea, and Jyotibai and Jyotsna.
 
 I felt a significant shift as India ceased to be so much about place this time, and more about people. Surprisingly ambivalent with my decision to travel north, trips I so much enjoyed in the past, when it was time to depart, I started regretting not sitting out the May heat in the studios and kitchens of friends rather than negotiating the challenges and loneliness of solo travel. Loneliness used to be my frequent and comforting travel companion in India. I grew used to weeks of internal dialogue, but now I can choose not to be alone.  Even in the very last hours before I left for home, suddenly sick with a new flu, friends came to visit me, Shelly and then Sundeep, and the night before I had experienced a convivial gathering of friends and a studio visit with Gopika, the beauty of whose work can only truly be appreciated up close, and I felt grateful for the opportunity to have this and other friendships grow.  
 
It would have been tragic to not want to come home. When it was time to board the plane I was really ready as there is always a desire to unpack the experience, to regroup and plan for the next time.  Nobody can live vicariously or virtually in another world. I have friends, family, a house, garden, job and history that I love, and love to come back to.  But through my ability to come and go, I am inspired to try and make the best use of my dual sense of belonging by bringing what I can of India back here, and what I can bring from here, back to India, including art, friends, and the excitement of ideas.



Kathryn Myers is a Fulbright Scholar, a professor at University of Connecticut [UConn] and a painter, who has been a regular visitor to India, working on a video documentation of Indian Art and Artists. The video series can be see at www.regardingindia.com
Kathryn's paintings can be found on her website-
www.kathrynmyers.org

 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Threads of Punjab


Bakshi Rana
I met Lajwanti[i] Parvati Maasi[ii], Prito Aunty and Bakshi Rana in April 2013 at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts in New Delhi. They had travelled from Tripri[iii]  in Punjab, to demonstrate the art of Phulkari embroidery. But while sipping chai with them and chatting,  hearing their stories, I realised that they had travelled much farther than that.
 
They had all learned Phulkari out of choice, to fulfil an aspiration but, none of them did this work today, for the love of embroidery. They said it was ‘majboori’[iv] that they had to do it to earn, to keep a roof over their heads. Parvati Maasi, as everyone referred to her, was the oldest and also the most forthcoming of them all, that is, apart from Lajwanti whom they all work for and who was miffed with the change in policy at the Punjab Emporium in Delhi because this had taken away a large chunk of her business. Each of them had stories to tell about errant husbands and hardships borne. Bakshi Rana and Parvati Maasi had come to India from Pakistan at the time of Partition and they had some stories to tell about that too, even though they were very young at that time. But, it was their journey through Phulkari, as women who spent their days working with needle and thread, that interested me.
 
 Phulkari, which literally means ‘flower work/craft’, is the embroidery of rural Punjab. It was traditionally passed on from mothers to their daughter.  “Ih phulkari meri maan ne kadhi, iss noo ghut ghut jhaphiyan paawan” [“My dear mother has embroidered this Phulkari, I embrace it again and again with affection”] is a song that refers to the tradition where mothers [and grandmothers] embroidered shawls for the young bride-to-be of the family.  Prito Aunty aka Pritam Kaur recounted how she had made her own dowry, yet also spoke of the work she did today as majboori. When I asked what she would do if she had all the money she could ask for. Her reply was ironical. She said she would like to buy these fabrics like she had seen us urban women do. It was disconcerting to note that she had the wealth she sought in her own hands but did not see it as such.  When I said as much, she just kept quiet.

Prito had embroidered chaddars  and dupattas  as well as woven punja  dhurries to take with her to her new home. She was born in Kinnaur village, district Patiala, around 1963; her parents were poor and did ‘majdoori’[labour],  mostly making ‘manjees’[beds made from rope] . Her mother earned through doing some embroidery work too. Although traditionally this art was practiced mostly as a personal pursuit and not something for profit or sale, it was not uncommon for wealthy families to get others to do it for them, even though they themselves had learned Phulkari work.
 
In an article for ‘Threads and Voices[x]’ published by Marg, Jasleen Dhamija spoke of the crafting of these chaddars with such affection, sense of romance and nostalgia for a time past and personal reminisces of family life in Abottabad that, I began wondering if there was any history of this craft in my own family.  I almost wanted there to be something to link me with it.  After all, I am a Punjabi by birth even if I have never lived in Punjab and, I work with embroidery.  My mother hadn’t lived in Punjab either, but my father migrated with his family to Bombay, at the time of Partition, from Multan. Parvati Maasi and Bakshi Rana also came from the same region and had seen this work being done around them, so it was plausible.

My Naani  was from Kapurthala which is in the heart of Punjab but she was married at fourteen years of age and moved to Delhi, so this connection to the traditions of Punjab was clearly not a strong one.  My mother also said that, from the age of ten, Bibijee [xii] showed a deeply religious inclination and did not do any kind of embroidery or much else aside from taking care of her home and family, adding that her own grandmother, did not do any embroidery either but, she was a fabulous cook.   Well, that put paid to hopes of any thread of interest that I had in embroidery being drawn from family tradition, at least from my mother’s side of the family. Although we are Punjabi’s, Phulkari embroidery had not been passed down through generations in my family and when I think about it, I cannot remember  seeing anyone in my family wear these embroidered shawls either.

 Phulkari and Bagh are really colourful, embroidered shawls worn by the women of Punjab[xiii] and were enormously popular from 1850-1950 AD. Their origin is lost in time but it is thought that the tradition came into India with the migration of the Jat peoples from Central Asia[xiv]. There are apparently no references to Phulkari in classical Indian literature[xv], nor are there any surviving pieces from before the 1850’s.

 History tells us that the plains of Punjab were rich cotton growing areas and almost every village had a settlement of weavers who wove the hand spun yarn provided by their farming neighbours, in exchange for agricultural produce. Spinning was a household occupation. The untwisted skeins called ‘pat’ that were used as embroidery thread were imported from Afghanistan, Kashmir and Bengal. This silk was expensive and therefore not wasted on the reverse of the cloth. The stitches were made by counting the threads of the woven structure of the cloth – typically stitches are made at right angles so that the embroidered patterns reflect light, according to the direction of the stitches. The basic stitch is a darning stitch and, a Holbein stitch is used for the Phulkari called Chope[xvi] but, several other stitches are also employed, for outlining motifs and edging the piece.

Traditionally, Phulkari was done on thick, almost coarse, cotton fabric known as khaddar[xvii] where each colour had its own significance[xviii]. This khaddar fabric embroidered with striking floral patterns is the basic Phulkari. The embroidered shawls that are fully covered with embroidery, where you cannot see the fabric beneath are known as ‘Bagh’ or a garden. Three to four narrow loom cloths were joined to form the complete shawl, typically 4 x 8 feet in size. In some areas, particularly West Punjab the strips were first embroidered and then joined. In East Punjab, the panels were usually joined first and then embroidered across the whole cloth, including the seams, for a more coherent design. The predominant colours of silk used were gold and ivory – referred to as marigold and jasmine, or wheat and barley – reflecting the agricultural tradition of the region.

In north Punjab, another tradition developed known as Thirma which was made exclusively by Hindus and Sikhs. Their colours range from rich raspberry red to pink. In some pieces, large-scale triangles interrupt the long border on opposing sides. Placing of these triangles is significant, for when worn by a bride, the triangle falls over her head, symbolizing the auspicious ‘tilak’ worn on the forehead.

Apart from regional differences there are also religious differences. The geometrical designs primarily associated with Muslim communities reflect the Islamic restraint on figurative work. Hindu and Sikh Phulkaris incorporate human figures animals, flowers  and birds, presenting a rich repertoire of designs including myths and legends but they can also be quite abstract such as patterns that recreate the ‘maze’. Another feature of Phulkari is the deliberate mistake:  because only God is perfect, so either black was added or a part of the design was left unembroidered. This was also done to avert the evil eye. After 1920, the tradition of Phulkari is said to have declined with the introduction of poorer qualities of material and fewer stitches employed. However, it is Partition that marks the greater decline of this tradition[xix].

Parvati came to India, from Pakistan, in 1948. She was six years old and does not remember much except that it was cold. A truck took all those leaving her village of Bhawalpur to Khanpur, from where they took a train to Abhor. Parvati and her family then came to Patiala and were given government quarters. Her mother worked in people’s homes, washing clothes and dishes, and Parvati would accompany her. In the evenings, they used to embroider things for themselves, one evening a Rajasthani baniya[xx] passed by their galli,[xxi] saw them working and asked them to make some pieces for him. He gave them  the ‘chaddar’, ‘golle’ and anchor-wale lacche[xxii]Usse hum hoshiyar ho gaye, kaam karne lag gaye,” [we became wise to the profitability] and started working freelance, earning five to twenty-five paisa per motif, making one to two rupees a day. Lajwanti is a distant relative and when she started her business Parvati began working for her.

The Parvati that I met was obese; she was old with failing eyesight and diabetic but full of stories. She had retired from active work but came along with the others because they are family[xxiii]. All the four women were above fifty years and had long-standing relationships with Lajwanti. Most of Parvati’s family used to spin thread -“Gandhi wala charkha”[xxiv]– her mother, Naani and Parvati did spinning, more than embroidery even though they did embroidery for a living : “mn badde chakkar khaunda hai, Na khushi na dukhi – velli nahin baith sakdi hu, mn bahut khush haunda hai, kadhai karde karde” [the mind goes round and around. I feel neither happy nor sad. I just cannot sit idle, but when I am embroidering my mind is at peace.]

In the Marg article Jasleen wrote: “Ghoo ghuoo would go the lacquered charkha which my grandmother carried, much to my father’s irritation, all the way from Abbotabad when we moved to Delhi” adding that, the charkha was intertwined with memories of her childhood. It was her Dadi’s companion and she would spin everyday while reciting the Gurbani[xxv] or Pothwari[xxvi] songs from her childhood - “ghoo ghoo charkeya main kata ya na?”[shall I spin or not]. In Abbotabad, their ancestral home, the thread was then given to the Hindu weaver to weave and the Muslim dyer to dye a deep maroon or russet, her Dadi never dyed the fabric black or blue. Jasleen then recounts her Dadi sitting with Hazra Bibi, an expert embroiderer, who also looked after Jasleen, discussing what embroidery to do. Old, empty, English biscuit tins were filled with colourful silk threads bought from itinerant Aghani thread-sellers. Colours were selected and matched and the Phulkari work commenced by Hara Bibi, who apparently produced the finest work in that region. 
 
She also recalls karva chauth[xxvii] when her mother would dress up, wrapping herself in her wari-da-bagh[xxviii], which Jasleen’s fathers Dadi[xxix] had made for her.  Jasleen however, never learned the art as they had already left Abottabad when she would have been old enough to learn and her Dadiji never taught her. However, traditionally, she says, a girl learned to embroider from her paternal grandmother and mother, beginning with using cotton thread, graduating to embroidering her own dowry, when the older women in the family or around her, would smile and say that she was embroidering her own garden of happiness.  It was a common sight to see women sitting in an open court-yard embroidering and singing: “Bharam koiya shant, sehaj, swami, Pargas bhaiya kauul khilia” [when doubt in the mind is gone, there is peace and quietude my lord. Just as the sun rises and the lotus blooms.]


Ah! What nostalgia, but there was none of this in the stories
of the four women I met that day. They had only pain and hardship to recount. Bakshi Rana was born in Khanpur Pakistan and came to India in 1948 when she was around nine years old. She began doing Phulkari embroidery when she was about fifteen years of age. Watching others, “ik umang jaag uthi”, a desire came into being and she thought she would like to do it too. Around the same time, she was married to her dead sister’s husband, her brother-in-law, and widowed five years later at the age of twenty. Of all the four women, she seemed the saddest and wore a really haunted look. Her sister had four or five children [their stories all lack accuracy and clarity in telling] whom she brought up as her own. As I listened, I couldn’t help thinking, what a life! There was this fifteen year old with that faint desire in her heart to do some colourful embroidery work, possibly to create her own dowry, when her sister dies and the responsibility of her sibling’s family falls on her young shoulders. She doesn’t have the luxury of choosing her spouse or the pleasure of bearing her own children, so where then is there the luxury of desires and aspirations? The mind possibly shuts down all its imaginative faculties when faced with such circumstance.

It’s no wonder then, that umang turned into majboori. I keep wondering whether things would have been different if Partition had not happened and they had stayed in Pakistan, in their villages. Would these women have had different stories to recount?  As if reading my thoughts Parvati Maasi started singing this song: “Bande teri zindagi Waghe nadiya da paani, chaar din di bahar, ho hoshiyaar bandeya, nahin toh royega zaro zaar bandeya” [your life is like the waters of the river Wagah, the precious days of bliss may flow without your realising it, so be present and enjoy each day, for otherwise you will shed tears in regret for the rest of your life]

Embroidery is a great stress buster and I experience this first hand. These ladies also agreed that doing this work helps them deal with their lives in various ways and “sukoon milda hai”[xxx] but without the ability to think creatively, cultivate the imagination of women like Jasleen’s grandmother and those before her, who made things for their families, recording events in the family life through subtle changes in colour and pattern; without the freedom to do this, out of choice, for themselves, the work cannot have the same resonance and energy.

The quality of workmanship has changed. It was Punjab that was most affected with the advent of Partition and it is possible that this played its part in the decline of the art of Phulkari. But, I think that basically the creative spirit of the subcontinent had been stifled much before this. The process was slow and subtle and difficult to perceive or comprehend until things came to a head.

Indian textiles were enormously valued in the maritime trade of South-East Asia. These fabrics were used as currency for trade in spices which were prized by Europeans. Getting monopoly over Indian textiles was a way to profit in this trade. For Indonesians, the people from India who made the textiles they prized were considered gods. But when the Europeans came they did not understand the significance of this beyond the money they could make and the British were especially ruthless in this regard. Gradually, they changed the way that these fabrics were created and started introducing designs brought from Britain which were then copied and exported back. They stopped trading fabrics that the local artisans lovingly crafted, in much the same way that the women of Punjab used to embroider the Phulkaris [even though Phulkaris were not part of this trade] with marks and patterns that reflected their personal histories, investing the fabric with the labour of love.

When you take creativity out of anything you virtually kill the spirit of the person doing the work. The art of living,  understanding the freedom to create life the way you imagine it can be, which was intertwined with the concept of crafting in ancient India, is further being eroded by this frenetic age of technology.

The once creative craftsmen/artisans have become reduced to skilled labour[xxxi]. These women cite majboori as the reason they do embroidery. There is no personal investment or sense of creativity and joy. Living in poverty, personal grief and a lack of education has stifled the spirit of creativity through which humans thrive and grow. Can any art flourish and grow this way?


[i] Lajwanti has been awarded a master-craftsman award for phulkari. Born in Patiala in1953, she learned from her naaani and has worked in this field since a child. Her husband left her with small children [3 boys 2 girls] when she started this work as a business.  All her children have worked with her and are national craftsman awardees too. She has 500 women working for her in Tripri.
[ii] Like mother – mother’s sister is traditionally called maasi
[iii] near Patiala
[iv] Necessity/compulsion
[v] shawls
[vi] Veils/ lighter shawls
[vii] Richly patterned Dhurries [rugs] where a tool, which draws it design from the five fingers of the hand, is used to push the weft thread down.  
[x] Marg Publication, Mumbai. Volume 58, NO:4, edited by Laila Tyabji
[xi] mother’s mother
[xii] We addressed my naani as Bibijee – a traditional Punjabi way of addressing the female elders in the family
[xiii] This work was also done in parts of neighbouring Haryana
[xiv] Ancient European historical records and archaeological findings support that the Central Asian people such as Scythians, Samartians and Alans are possible forefathers of the modern Jats, in part.
[xv] The Embroidered Shawls of Punjab. John Grisham. Asian Embroidery edited by Jasleen Dhamija. 2004.Crafts Council of India
[xvi] The Chope is quite distinct from form the Phulkari and Bagh embroideries where bold patterns of stylized peacocks are embroidered in Holbein stitch with gold thread on a red/maroon khadi background.
[xvii] Coarse, cotton fabric woven on a pit loom, in plain weave.
[xviii] Four colors of khaddar were generally used where each color had its own significance– white used by old women or widows, red used by young girls and brides-to-be, blue and black were kept for daily use.
[xix] The Embroidered Shawls of Punjab. John Grisham. Asian Embroidery edited by Jasleen Dhamija. 2004. Crafts Council of India.
[xx] Trader from Rajasthan
[xxi] lane
[xxii] ‘Anchor’ [brand name] floss
[xxiii] I imagine there was also some business prudence involved as Lajwanti did not want her younger karigars[xxiii] poached upon
[xxiv] Spinning wheel used by Mahatma Gandhi
[xxv] Word of the Sikh gurus, usually sung
[xxvi] a dialect of Punjabi spoken widely by the population of the Potohar Plateau in Northern Pakistan.
[xxvii]  is an annual one-day festival celebrated by Hindu women in North India in which married women fast from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands
[xxviii] Is embroidered by the groom’s paternal grandmother in golden yellow silk. The grandmother begins to embroider when the boy is born and it often takes her ten years. The random appearance of different colours or change in pattern is not careless mistakes but represent significant events in the life of the family. The embroidery mirrors the family’s joys and sorrows so when the young bride is wrapped in this she is symbolically entering her husband’s family’s history
[xxix] Paternal grandmother
[xxx] We find peace and solace.
[xxxi] As designers many of us go into the villages and give them our designs to make. And my own experience and that of others is that even when given a free hand to create, they hesitate and prefer to be told what to make.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

I Am The Music I Could Never Be - Guest Post by Neeta Gupta


 Over the last few years I suffered a series of accidents that severely affected my cervical vertebrae. The only thing that helped was physiotherapy. And it seemed as if I would have to live with this debilitating pain for the rest of my life. I was also reading this wonderful book at the time, Anything Can Be Healed by Martin Brofman and his personal experience in healing was amazing. He uses something called “The Body Mirror System”. The system is based on the idea that the parts of your body that suffer reflect the parts of your life that are dysfunctional; that there is tension in your consciousness which causes these symptoms. To release a symptom, one has to release the stress that caused the symptom, and bring harmony to the parts of your life that have been, well, out of balance. 

When I looked within, I found an answer.

Now consider the fact that the cervical area is controlled by the Vishudha Chakra [i]. According to Brofman, “Metaphysically, this chakra is related to creativity manifesting in the physical world and the fulfillment of one's goals….This chakra controls the aspects of expressing and receiving. Expressing can be in the form of communicating what one wants and what one feels, or it can be an artistic expression, [singing, for instance] basically using a form for expressing and bringing to the outside what is within…” I realized that there was something I had been in denial about for over a decade. Of course there was disharmony.
 
 

There was a time when I was obsessed with classical music. There was a time when this music was like a secret language to me. It was the language that I used to express my thoughts. Not only was I training under a guru, I had also enrolled at a reputed music school to learn classical music theory. For me at the time, the raga was supreme: the be all and end all of my existence.

The word raga is derived from its root, ‘ranja’, which means ‘to colour’ or ‘to tinge’. And hence, ‘that by which all people are coloured or elated, that which gives pleasure to all, is raga.’

 A raga is pure aesthetics. It is the basic melody or phraseology of traditional Indian Classical Music. In the semantics of music, a particular arrangement of notes ‘colours’ or affects the emotional core of the mind. Every raga is composed of a set of principal notes which when employed in varying degrees, in a prescribed order - stressing on some, while bypassing others - achieves a particular shade or mood, building the character or personality of the raga. But a raga belongs to a realm larger than the notes it contains. The notes are just a key. A performance is not just a blending of swaras[ii] sequentially, and randomly achieving an effect. A performance actually deepens that ‘colour’ or mood in the listener.
 

Alternately, a raga has also been described as the language of the soul. This theory probably comes closest to explaining my own relationship with music. Each raga expresses itself under the pressure of a certain emotion. For instance, under the stress of sorrow, one might automatically render a particular raga; similarly we might sing a completely different tune on the wings of joy, irrespective of the time of the day. Imagine what songs we might sing in a storm of passion …imagine what joy we can communicate in union! A raga is richer than any musical outline of it could ever hope to describe. Any mental picture of it is limiting.

Coming back to my story, life and work took over and this music, which was so important to me, got relegated to being something I indulged in over the weekend, and then to something I went back to once a month or so--in a burst of enthusiasm, until finally I covered my tanpuras[iii] in velvet-lined casing about twelve years ago and there they remained, un-strummed.

By denying music, I had been denying myself my secret language, my self-expression.


And thus began a morning ritual of garam masala chai and riyaaz[iv]. Free of any formal structure or instruments. No rigours of taal[v]. No bandish[vi] of words. In this moment I dwell in the sphere of the swara. I dissolve in the deep concentric circles that surround each note, and as I go deeper and deeper in it, my only aim is to reach the centre—that ethereal space where my personal deity exists. It is a sacred journey I undertake each day. And every day I chance upon a different tune, thrown up by the vibrations and moods around me: mellow and sombre sometimes; playful and wanton at other times.

And unknowingly, a raga is born in that moment. And although it is born to me and of me in that moment, it has existed before. It’s just that I had banished it from my conscious memory but it had continued to exist in my sub-conscious. And slowly as I flesh out its texture, it takes on a life of its own. A known form - not bound by any bandish and taal, more like a gypsy tune that refuses to be bound by words, or ever be repeated. And for a few moments in that sacred space, this melody sings its song into my ear, and just as quickly flits away. Before I can catch it, before I can note it down, and later it is hard to recall. But for that brief moment I am captured by that sound. I am saturated with it, until I feel I might burst.
 
When I get up from this almost trance-like state, I feel as if I have been recharged by a high-tension main power line in space. And simultaneously from the very core of the earth this energy has both exhausted and replenished every cell in my body. I am in harmony.

And through the rest of the day I strum an imaginary tanpura in my head and as its music infuses my soul, I know that I may not be fully repaired but I feel strong and free.



Neeta Gupta has been working towards creating publishing connectivity's across different languages and cultures
www.yatrabooks.com
http://twitter.com/yatrabooks
 
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[i] Vishuddha is positioned at the neck region, near the spine, with its Kshetram or superficial activation point in the pit of the throat. Hence it is also known as the throat chakra
[ii] The seven notes of the scale in Indian music
[iii] A long-necked stringed instrument used in Indian music to create a harmonic resonance on the basic note or keynote.
[iv] to practice
[v] literally a "clap"; used in the sense of rhythm
[vi] A Bandish provides the literature element in the music, for standard structured singing; another connotation of Bandish is ‘binding’.