Thursday, October 25, 2018

Living in The Music Room

It’s been years since I’ve read a book in one sitting. Namita Devidayal’s The Music Room made me fall back in love with the hobby cum passion I had for reading.

For someone who doesn’t interact with me daily, there’s a life update – I finally started learning Hindustani Classical Music – vocals and my guru was fortunate to learn from the senior exponents of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana of Indian music. I have started my humble beginnings in her music room and still have miles to go.

It was by chance that I landed on The Music Room. Well-read readers would agree that one doesn’t just pick up a book and read. You beg, borrow, steal (uh maybe not!), or buy a book. You let it sit on your desk, cupboard, or table and let the right mood set in. For me, this happened on a lazy Sunday afternoon after I had it issued from a library and let it immerse in my cosy abode for at least a couple of weeks.

If you have ever learnt even a bit of Indian Classical Music, you would know that much of our Indian music has always been passed on in a Guru-Shishya tradition. It’s a sanskar, a lifestyle, a sadhana, and a different path to reach the same goal that someone on a spiritual path aspires to reach. Namita Devidayal’s book is a beautiful memoir about her much similar journey with her guru – Dhondutai Kulkarni. Like herself, the book also starts with an innocence and just draws you in to make you realise how the author initially is bogged down with the change of worlds every week – from a posh south Bombay locality to the gritty world of outside chaos and the wonderful peaceful music room of her guru to the point where she realises the genius that her guru is. 

What drew me in this book is the history that is described so beautifully. This book also takes you through the timelines of the history of how the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana formed, the divinity of Ustad Alladiyan Khan, his disciples, Dhondutai’s musical sadhana with Ustad Alladiyan Khan, and later with the fiery, incredible, yet tempestuous Kesarbai Kerkar.

Dhondutai never married and was loyal to none other than the gharana. There have been artists who have transcended beyond the gharana and there are artists who have never stepped a foot outside and have worshipped the gayaki of the gharana with almost a religious fervour. Apparently, Dhondutai saw glimpses of what Namita can turn into…she almost wanted Namita to reach the same heights that her gurus expected her to reach.

While reading the book, you mature with Namita. One sees her world and lives the time Namita lives with Dhondutai. Whatever painful times Dhondutai must have encountered are resolved in an almost simplistic manner. The book doesn’t make you feel uneasy about anything in Dhondutai’s life. Her life is described in a relatively simple manner -- her remaining single, her looking after her old mother, then losing her mother and her friend, her struggle to retain the sanctity of the gharana or even when she loses her home, she finds another haven almost too simplistically. Maybe the objective of the book isn’t to focus on the hardships but on the relationship between the guru-shishya. No matter what, the book gives you a warm feeling almost like you can see the glimpses of their life through the pensieve. For a student of classical music, this novel made me fall in love with the art and go back to learning with slightly more, if not sincere dedication than before.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The battle with the name!

I am Shweta Hardikar married to Deven Kher.

My marriage certificate says so, my passport says the same. I have a joint account with my husband just to prove that we are indeed together in the eyes of the lawmakers. In the eyes of the God, we are already together no matter what names we choose to use. I always believed that the choice of retaining your maiden name or choosing to accept your husband's name is a personal one. It's a choice, which I am not gonna defend or oppose. It's a choice, not a prerogative, which should be enforced by anyone.

I chose to retain my maiden name for personal reasons. I knew that I am not going to change my name even when I wasn't sure who I was getting married to. I was always sure that I am and will always be known by my name given by my parents. Some can say that it is after all a man's last name even if you chose to retain it. The big difference is that the name I retain is of someone who has co-created me. He supersedes the one who is now sharing my life.

It took my husband some time to support my decision. Everyone, including my mother, asked me why am I doing this? My husband and his family were worried that I might land into issues with the government institutions. Their concern was more for the legalities, but I could sense their unease. Thankfully, my husband, though a little uneasy initially, didn't bother me much to change my last name. Five years later, we haven't had a major issue with the name yet and now he has seen that a name doesn't change how I feel about him.

I still face some unexpected reactions from my friends, relatives, and strangers the moment I say I have retained my name. The only person who had wholeheartedly supported my choice was my doctor. She had retained her name and assured me that she never ran into issues almost 20 years after getting married.

I feel the entire unease with a woman not changing her name or rather not accepting her husband's last name comes from the belief that a woman doesn't become a part of their family unless she has the same name. How does a name change what I feel for my new family? I always liked them and grew fond of them over the years. I will always take care of them no matter what my name is. The feeling of one family doesn't come with a name. We see so many cases of daughter-in-laws troubling their parents-in-law and vice versa. They have the same name. We don't see dowry cases being resolved because of the same name. So what's the big deal with taking your husband's last name? Unless it's some patriarchal image imbibed in the man where he needs to own the lady completely. As one dear ex-boyfriend had once told me, he wanted me to take his name because he wanted me to be his completely. Thank God I never married him.

Indian government institutes still find it difficult to accept that women choose their names. This is surprising considering we allow people to change their names based on their whims and fancies but a woman retaining her name is almost a sacrilege. I also had my fair share of problems, where I had to convince an officer at the passport office that I am X married to Y, and here's the marriage certificate. He still used it as a ploy to extract a bribe. I've heard stories of my friend whose son's birth certificate contained her name and her husband's name, which was not the same and the municipal corporation refused to accept a form with parent's name not matching. My friend went thru some personal agony and bureaucracy before getting it done her way. Even my election card has messed up my husband's name. Because some genius (and I say this with as much sarcasm that I can use) accepting the form didn't understand or bother to understand the difference, my election card now reads my husband's name as Deven Hardikar, a hilarious mistake by him, evoking an almost a blood-boiling kinda reaction from me.

The battle has just begun. It surprises me that a country who allows me to chose my education, my job, my career, my life, my husband, and rest everything in my life is still uncomfortable when I chose my name. No fans of Shakespeare for sure!

All I ask for is the choice to decide my name. Is it really a tough one?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Coming out - Freedom to love

The best teacher is the one who teaches us things outside the syllabus.
Source: Arjun Kamath - Coming out.

Growing up, I didn't know much about homosexuality. All I heard were strong objections against homosexuals in India. A film being banned, posters burned, ancient scriptures quoted by both who were for or against homosexuality because let's admit it - our ancestors were far more progressive than us so definitely left some widely contradictory things written in the scriptures. Homosexuality was never discussed with parents, friends, peers, or teachers. I knew I liked boys, so I didn't think about anyone who likes girls instead.

I always believe my thoughts and my perceptions about things happening around us were widened and changed radically when I was doing my masters. A time when I had teachers of such varied personalities that it was an experience in itself to adapt to their teachings. On one end, we had a teacher who made us ask his permission even if we needed to go out of the class to pee and had a strict roll call before starting the class and on the other end we had a teacher who didn't even ask our names for one entire year and never stuck to the syllabus. That was also a time when we were treated like adults. We were learning, but were no longer thought about as a bunch of kids, but rather made to think like individuals, citizens, and a new generation.

A big part of the first year in my Masters was to watch films and discuss them (The best part of my life and something that made me fall in love with films as a medium). I don't remember what we were watching, but the issue of homosexuality was being discussed and I remember my professor asking us as a class that one question, which changed my perspective about homosexuality forever.

He asked us - Do you choose whom do you fall in love with?

Being someone who was always in and out of love in my young days, I took a moment to think and then come to a conclusion that no, I didn't choose any of the people I fell in love with. It just happened. I am not a scientist so I can never explain the chemical reactions or the physiological changes that happen in one's brain when one falls in love. The only certain thing I know is that I didn't choose with whom I should fall in love with. It happens. It happens that I like boys, but that's also why I can now understand how a girl falls in love with a girl or a boy falls in love with a boy. No amount of science and rationale can convince me that there's a formula for falling in love with a boy or a girl. It simply happens.

So if I naturally fall in love with boys, then why should I blame someone if she falls in love with a girl? I may not understand the attraction, but I have no right to deny, challenge, condemn, or even insult such a relationship. If two people fall in love, it's entirely up to them how they live, love, and care for each other. As a girl loving a boy I don't want any interference in my relationship, if my relationship is so personal, then so is that girl's relationship with her girl or that boy's relationship with his guy.

That day when my teacher asked us if we choose whom we fall in love with, he taught us that some things are beyond our understanding and that's why we should not tamper with it if we don't know how to handle it. Just because I don't understand a relationship, I am not allowed to disregard it. I learnt to be a little more human that day.

I want that freedom to love anyone that I want to, and I want that freedom for everyone around me.

This post was triggered by watching this beautiful picture story created by Arjun Kamath and shared by You can view the story here: Coming out
Also, this is how I want to celebrate Teacher's Day by remembering how my teachers contributed to help me become who I am today. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My happy place

This could be a long blog post about how much I miss the rains back home. Or this could just be the one stating my undying love for the rains and my home. I don't know what I miss more, the rains, a hot cup of tea, view from my balcony, the blooming garden, or just everything that comes with the rain.

My happy place
This is my balcony back home. The periwinkle at the far left is my forever blooming plant. The white lilies bloom like crazy when it rains and fill my entire container with their joy. The tiny elephant and a horse cart figurines retain and spread the aroma of the wet mud in the air. The one at the center is a tuberose plant, the only flowers which I adore. My husband planted this one for me because he knows how much I love tuberoses and every now and then he used to place a small bunch by my bedside. The palms are my husband's idea for creating privacy when we want to hang out on the terrace. At the far right is the tiny lotus pond, two lotuses bloom every alternate day, bright lavenderish violet shade.
White lilies

Butterfly Blue Pea
There's another plant here which I planted from the seeds I and a friend collected on our post-lunch walks. The butterfly blue pea vine, blooms beautiful blue flowers and is my absolute favorite flower after tuberoses. A type of wildflower and grows almost in any condition. Takes a long time to bloom, but when it does, it does with abandon.

It's said that when you are feeling sad and lonely, you should think of a happy place. This is my happy place. I can sit here for ages, till the stars come out, gazing at the plants, my terracotta figurines, the wet floor, the beautiful sky in the background. Many a moons have we spent on this terrace dreaming, talking, making plans, entertaining friends and family. This has always been a happy place and I can't wait to go back and enjoy the same view.