Monday, March 31, 2008

Sleepless in Seattle

I am a nervous traveller. Before I travel, I would ideally like to be at peace. Here is what I want it to be like. I should be able pack my suitcase comfortably, arrange my shirts in a certain sequence, add my shaving kit on the side - the stuff for meetings all laid out in sequence... Then I ought to sit back listen to some music and flip through my tickets - everything is in order, I tell myself as I leave home.

Reality is cruel. Reality is different. I have just rushed back home from office. The neighbor's dog is bringing down the house with his howl. I think he is sick - not the dog, I meant the owner. The dog is probably trying to send us a distress signal. I have no time time for all that. I rummage through my clothes and throw a few of them into the suitcase. They crumple up even before I have worn them. I lock the suitcase in a jiffy and open it back again. Rush to pack in my shaving kit. The last time I had left behind the toothpaste tube. The keys of my suitcase!! I had almost left them behind. But no, I have a sharp memory and I just caught myself in the nick of time from making yet another fatal error. The taxi is honking and competing with the neighbors' dog. I rush out of the house and then run back -the ticket. I collapse in a heap in the cab. The airport is a mess. There are people jumping queues, students listening to iPods and shaking their heads in approval and the cops eyeing all with suspicion.

"Who packed your bags, Mr Bhaduri?", she asks me.

"Since no one helps me at home, I have to do it myself." I answer.

"Have you accepted any gifts or packages from anyone to carry with you on this trip?' She quizzes me.

"Heck, I don't even get presents on my birthday. Who would buy me a gift simply for travelling on work? The answer therefore is a no.".

After a string of people have quizzed me, I get my boarding pass. I settle down into the seat. Aw heck! It is the middle seat again. I attract screaming kids on a plane like a vacuum cleaner attracts dust. Sure enough, this trip is no exception. I have a mother holding a wailing infant on one side and a glum faced senior citizen on the other. The flight takes off to the howling of the baby. Look I like babies especially when they don't cry or need a diaper change. This one missed my affection on both counts. I try not to puke as the lady changes diapers and constantly tries to talk in what she thinks is a tone that is building the kid's self image. The gentleman on my left is sleeping with his mouth open as if in wonder (what IS he dreaming about?) and he is snoring loudly. The snore sounds like a squeaky wheelbarrow being dragged back and forth on a cobbled street. I try to read. There is nothing decent around to read either - except for the in-flight magazine which is usually a by the juveniles and for the juveniles affair. I might as well use the washroom. I am on the horns of a dilemma. Who should I wake up to go to the washroom? The snorer? Or the infant who has just fallen asleep and has a steady stream of drool flowing as proof? I like proof except that it is going to start flowing towards me. I keep a few tissues handy. The snorer has changed pitch. It now sounds very close to the aircraft's engine. I vote in favor of the snorer. I try to jump over the old man and get to the aisle and miss. OUCH!! The man's loud protest wakes up everyone. I am the culprit. I pay the price for it. The baby starts howling again and wakes up the whole planeload of irritated passengers. I rush to the loo and wait there for a good five minutes before I return back to my seat. The world is at peace. Snorer is in dreamland. The baby is quiet and the mother is sleeping. I need to get back to my middle seat without disturbing the equilibrium of the earth. I have learnt my lesson the last time. I avoid hassling the grumpy old man. I try to get into my seat and land up waking the baby instead. "OH GOD!! CAN YOU LEAVE THE BABY ALONE??", someone shouts at me. I apologize to the world at large as I hide in my seat under the smelly blanket and pray for the baby to stop howling. It is going to be a long night.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sarod Less Travelled

India is a rare country with two equally well developed traditions of Classical Music - Hindustani (from Northern India) and Carnatic (from South India). This post is about Hindustani Classical music.
You have vocalists and instrumentalists to choose from in each category. The classical set of instruments that played solo were traditionally Sitar, Sarod, Bansuri (bamboo flute), Shehnai accompanied by the drone of a Tanpura to keep scale and Sarangi and to the beats of a Tabla. Over the years other instruments have been brought in to add variety. The Sarangi has moved up centrestage from being just a sidekick. Some instruments like Esraj (more popular in the Eastern States of India especially West Bengal) have faded away even though in some traditions (Vishnupur) or gharanas it played a prominent role. "Over the years many western musical instruments like violin, harmonium, mandolin, archtop guitar and electric guitar have come to be accepted in Indian classical music." Brij Bhushan Kabra and later Vishwa Mohan Bhatt popularized the Guitar as an instrument that can play Hindustani Classical. Just as Shiv Kumar Sharma has brought the Santoor (meaning a hundred stringed lute) to the mainstream of classical music.
Indian Classical Music has been developed over several generations with knowledge and skills being passed down from father to son (most of the instrumentalists are males in Hindustani Classical Music - is that the same in Carnatic Classical too?) or from teacher to disciple known as the guru-shishya tradition in India. The guru or the maestro would have the title of Ustaad (in case the teacher was Muslim) or Pandit (for the Hindu).
My parents were both Hindustani Classical music addicts. My mother played Ragas on the Acoustic Hawaiian Lap Guitar (known simply as the Hawaiian Steel Guitar in India). My father never played an instrument or sang but made sure he taught himself ragas by reading, meeting musicians and attending concerts whenever possible. The concerts, the vinyl LP records and the ubiquitious radio with the All India Radio Sangeet Sammelan or the classical music hour at night were a part of my universe. Just as I was beginning to get excited about The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard, Pat Boone and all, thanks to the efforts of SPICMACAY (an acronym for Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Among Youth) my love for Indian Classical music co-existed with my love for every other sound that I got familiar with over the years. SPICMACAY used to organize Lecture Demonstrations (LecDems for short) to bring the best of the best Indian Classical Music maestros to explain the basics elements of the classical musical vocabulary and grammar and made it "cool" to listen to. The very first one I attended had Ustad Amjad Ali Khan xplaining the basics of Raga Yaman by playing raga based popular Bollywood hits on the sarod. Accompanied by the long haired Ustad Zakir Hussain on the tabla (who taught a semester at Princeton University in 2006) , they mesmerized the college crowd. Last fortnight I bumped into Ustad Amjad Ali Khan at Mumbai's swank new airport terminal. Here is a photo capturing that moment.