Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nemo the Pug

Here is a photo of my pug Nemo, sadly paralyzed in his hinds. He has recently acquired a wheelchair and is learning to move around.

He was recently featured in Woof Magazine and is soon to have his own monthly column where he will express his opinions on various matters!!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More photos from Bulgaria

Sofia - Kyundestil, Rila, Melnik, Gotse Delchev, Dospat, Pompograd, Brachov Monastery, Plovidv - SOfia
The wonderlands of Southwestern Bulgaria - near Dospat

Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Sofia

A wild dog at a water hole in the Rodopi Mountains

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Romania & Bulgaria

I'm back after a fantastic visit to Romania and Bulgaria.

Romania, offshoot of Rome, with a fabulous 'dark' history, Dracula (Vlad Tepes) and more, with very beautiful women and dark Metros.... here is a photo of a Romanian tapestry work I took there.

A visit to two enchanting countries with rich histories and cultures.

Bulgaria turned out to be paradis on earth. I went around Southwestern Bulgaria and took many pictures. I found the people very nice and friendly and the landscape breathtaking. From Pernik, to Kyundestyl, to Melnik, to Getse Delchev to Dospat to Asenograd to Plovdiv and back - the whole experience was enchanting. Do visit.

A little bridge near Dospat

The church at Asenovgrad Fort....

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I spent a few great days in Switzerland on work. But I managed to see a fair bit.

The place is, of course, ridiculously clean! I liked the fact that this seemed to be a nation of dog lovers. But the people were not particularly friendly.

In Zurich I visited the downtown area and the lake - what do you think of the swan? A little shopping, dozens of photos.

I also went to Bern where I visited Einstein's museum. The whole matter was quite something and very absorbing. Its a great little city, entirely deserted on a Sunday.

Then Interlachen and Jungfrau - great train rides and astounding scenery.

Had a cool time!

Friday, August 03, 2007

At the Dhrupad Gurukul, Bhopal

I spent a fantastic week at the Dhrupad Academy outside Bhopal with the Gundecha Brothers. It seems clear now that everything else is irrelevant compared to music.

These brothers have revived an ancient form and popularized it. Students of one pair of the Dagar brothers, they have innovated as well, using the poems of Tulsidas and others in new Dhrupad compositions.

Anyway, I had a great time - no phone, no email, no newspaper - only fresh air, silence and music. It became rapidly clear that my concepts of certain Raags - Jhinjhoti, Khamaj and Bihag were rather primitive. I now take greater care in musing over single notes rather than worry about the whole. Word has it that my violin sounds bearable now. I even ventured to learn some vocal music and exercised my rather rusted vocal cords. The human voice is certainly a better instrument than any man-made contrivance. This is best understood by listening to the Gundecha brothers glide seemingly endlessly between notes.

Music starts early in the morning with the boys singing low notes. The sounds of the Tanpura fill the building. Classes in the morning and a collective simple lunch. Many students from remote towns in India stay at the Academy on small scholarships, and - what is more gratifying - with the complete support of their families. The future of Music in India is bright.

I have to thank David for introducing me to the Gundecha Brothers.

My last day with them had Khamaj on the menu. I learnt many 'tricks' and understood a lot more. I thought I would leave extracts about Khamaj from a never-to-be-published book.

My Dear Daughter,

You will read this letter only after I have gone, I know. Do not grieve. I am happy in the other world, which is full of music. If it had been otherwise, I would have returned! Of course, I shall miss you, my musical companion and most wonderful daughter. But you have your duties and must teach music to someone before you can join me so that we can be together forever, enjoying music in the place where it was created to begin with.

Have you seen the photograph of the two of us? It was in Benaras. I had always dreamed of taking you there with me where we could enjoy music. You were very young then and might have even forgotten by now. So I am going to write about it to remind you.

My greatest failing was that I never introduced you to the lovely Raaga Khamaj. I did not know it well enough and was perhaps temperamentally unsuited for it. But it seemed unfair that you should be deprived of some knowledge of this Raaga. I wanted you to hear it in Benaras, where Thumris, Tappas, Chaitis and other musical forms are almost invariably based on Khamaj.

And so, during a school vacation, I took you away. It was difficult as you will now understand. There was little money, and travel in those days was not easy. But I did it. Others did not like it but my mission was more important than the insults of others.

Then gradually, the mood shifted to music and an old man sang some old Thumris. The magic of Khamaj suddenly fell on all of us. Sinuous, winding, beautiful – the old man seemed capable of finding unexpected twists and turns in the Raaga. Just when we thought he could not possibly do anything new, he composed a new pattern, amazing himself and the audience! This was your first introduction to Khamaj, shorn of theory. He handled the Shuddha and Komal Nishads of the Raaga with a delicacy inconceivable. When you heard it first, you clutched my hand hard with your little fingers. Then I truly knew that music meant the same to you as it had meant to me!


He stopped dramatically. Then he continued in a whisper, Shadaj, extending it long and soft. Then with a jerk, he crept down, singing Komal Nishad, like the bending branch of a Mango tree! He approached the note and seemed to study it from all angles – literally! He bent this way and that, stood up and looked downwards, fingers still on the harmonium. He looked sideways and then forward. He looked backwards and lowered his voice! He was possessed by the magic of the Nishads, traversing all the millions of ways in which they could be reached.

“Look”, he shouted, suddenly turning to us. “Have you seen a more exasperating and cunning Raaga? I have spent fifty years trying to master it and still it eludes me! Today I was sure I would finally learn. But it smiles and goes away! It is a whore, whom all can love and enjoy and none possess! It is a gift of the Gods!

Why do we avoid Shuddha Rishabh when so much of feeling is soaked in it? Hear the pleading, the desire, the appeal in it! Must I shed tears daily that I sing this note and no one cares?

Mother of so many Raagas, Khamaj vibrates with mysteries and beauty. Komal Nishad, shy and enchanting, never far away from its elder sister, Shuddha Nishad, much bolder and protective, with a radiant beauty that turns the head of the cows and calves nearby …. the gateway to higher octaves…ah! How I love this note! Have you not seen the animals sitting outside, unable to eat or sleep, tortured by the Nishads? Try to feed them and see them refuse…they want only the Nishads of Khamaj by which their plaintive pleas to God might be heard. Many of them have passed on, with God unmoved by their cries of agony. And, the dancing girls whose art is expressed through the pleading lyrics in Khamaj – what would their existence be like without the Nishads? The men who come to watch them dance and sing and then come to them – they have been seduced by the Nishads, hapless unknowing victims, guided by Khamaj, their souls laid bare, their pasts visible to all. The doors of their chambers close and the Raaga displays itself in the higher octave. Sing they might Shadaj, Shuddha Rishabh, Shuddha Gandhar, Shuddha Madhyam and Shuddha Gandhar (Sa Re Ga Ma Ga), but they turn and look at the sisters, who in turn look at each other and smile. And so the men seek them, but the enchanting Nishads turn away, pointing instead at the images of God on the walls.
We stood up and quietly left. It was true; a small collection of cows and dogs stood outside silently, listening, their eyes closed. We walked past them respectfully. We said not a word as we walked back to Mishraji’s home. And though we went to many other concerts over the next few days, this experience remained with us throughout.

We returned to our little town, with Khamaj following. And as you grew up and I watched you, it seemed that Khamaj had left a lasting impression, colouring everything you said or did. You became more sensitive, more mature, wiser, and more beautiful.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Music with David Israel

My good friend David Israel is here with me these days. He's working on a Dhrupad
documentary while also practicing on his Sarangi. Now how many people do you know
who might give up everything and spend months at the Dhrupad Academy in Bhopal
learning Dhrupad from the Gundecha Brothers? Inspired by him, I plan to spend a MUCH
briefer period there, learning what little I can.

David and I have been enjoying extended music sessions for several days now. Both of us explore solitary notes together and find some nameless joy in getting a sequence right. Who will listen to us? God knows. I don't think we have any hopes of ever hitting the rock circuit and developing a crazed teenage following. But we enjoy the long and lonely CORRECT note and thats quite enough, thank you.

His Sarangi is most interesting and it responds well to his efforts. The placement of fingers is almost there, and I enjoy his discoveries of interesting movements between notes. Its fascinating. He amiably accepts tentative suggestions I make for corrections, and has not yet hurled his sarangi at me in frustration. We have explored Yaman, Bhairav, Bhupali, Bageshree, Tilak Kamod, Nand and Bhairavi, in small doses. I would certainly like to have a fraction of his open mind and intense curiosity about music and more. I have gained more from this series of musical encounters than he has, for sure.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Yaman - The Infinite

Yaman is a very sweet and popular evening Raaga. It is very vast
and can be explored endlessly without getting bored. Many teachers
start off their students with this Raaga, though that is not true in
Carnatic music where the Raaga of choice is Mayamalawagowla.

Evening Raagas employ the Teevra (Sharp) Madhyam for good effect.
The beauty of Yaman is the invisible presence of this note without
it actually being played till much later, thus building up a climax
of sorts. The eventual playing of this note brings great relief
and relaxation as though heralding the close of a long day.

In Yaman Kalyan, we see the presence of both Madhyams. Another
popular Raaga is Yamani Bilawal. This is an evergreen Raaga easily
deployed in Ghazals, Light Music and more.

Here is a description from an unknown book

"And so it refers to Pancham and begins again. Yaman floats within
and without. And like the pearl that Shuddha Nishad and Shuddha
Rishab hid, I see Teevra Madhyam! Present in its own absence, glittering
when invoked, I bow to this note. Tears have flown down from unseeing
eyes, ecstatic with happiness. My feet disappear, my legs grow numb,
and my hands waste away. I do not know what is above or below, left
or right. Nothing has meaning anymore, because everything now is
understood. I float in a pool of music. There is no thought of an end,
of the passage of time. God has mercy on me now and allows Pancham and
Shuddha Gandhar to veil this note again. And with a slow flourish,
the explanation for this act of mercy is given: Shuddha Nishad,
Shuddha Rishabh, Pancham, Shuddha Rishabh and Shadaj!

My daughter lies asleep in my bed, an unnatural glow radiating from her.
Her innocent heart has heard and understood Yaman better than I possibly
could. I look at her with loving pride.

The movement of life has altered my ability to understand music and where
I find references to reality in music and perhaps miss the point altogether,
she easily understands grander things without being awed!

Is there now a rhythm, a cadence? My heart mimics it in vain, hoping to
understand Yaman this way. My eyelids grow heavy; my ability to think has
been taken away. The notes of Yaman reduce everything to irrelevance.
Can I understand Shuddha Gandhar? Can I understand its twin, Shuddha Nishad?

My blood runs cold for a second as a fleeting understanding invades my
soul. Finding me unable to withstand its import, ignorance floods in again
and I feel only the peace that I can handle without any destruction. I
lift my numb arms to heaven, in hopelessness. Oh God! Why did you do this?

I see a smile on my sleeping daughter's face. Then she shifts in her sleep
and turns her face away from mine. God has spoken through her again and I
have been spared. The echoes of Yaman must diminish to a level I can

Listen to Yaman

Shubra Guha - Yaman Kalyan

Rashid Khan

Girija Devi

Shujaat Hussain Khan (Sitar - very classy) Yaman Kalyan

Steve Gorn (yes!) Flute

Imdad Khan

Amir Khan

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

Mohammad Hussain Sarahang

Aminuddin Dagar

Nasseruddin Sami

Ustad Halim Jaffar Khan - Yaman Kalyan

Malini Rajurkar

Pannalal Ghosh - the Definitive

D K Datar

Mehdi Hasan

Film Songs

One Two Three Four

Five Six Seven Eight



Monday, February 12, 2007

Drugged by Darbari

Drugged by Darbari

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One speculates on the hypnotic power of music to create
mirages in the mind. Times of the day, intangible emotions
like love, sorrow and romance, seasons ... sound does it
all. Indian Classical Music has gone deep into the matter
and produced theory and practice that is thrilling though
ultimately dissatisfying (because its never enough).

Darbari is a Raag that alludes to the court or the Darbar.
Its expression should recreate the ambience of a Royal Court
with pomp and grandeur. And in fact it does. How?

Its root, oddly, is from the Asavary "Thaat". Odd because
Asavary hails from the morning while Darbari is a
distinctly night Raag. But those are the oddities of the
weaker Taxonomy of Hindustani Classical Music, as compared
to the uncompromisingly more rigorous and scientific Carnatic
system. I digress.

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Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The story is that Tansen, the court musician of Emperor
Akbar, created the Raag. Sounds plausible. The key to this Raag
is the undulating "Dhaivat" a note that should be slow and
leisurely, especially in the lower octave. That is, the
"slope" between the dhaivaths needs to be very very low. It
is this expression of the note that causes a sense of
ponderous weight and therefore creates the atmosphere of a
court. Other signature groups are Nishad-Pancham,

Darbari is also referred to as "Darbari Kanada". Thats
because it also possesses a particular movement of the
Gandhars that is specific to what is the called the Kanada-
'ang'. Thats what you'll find common between Kausi Kanada, Abhogi
, Bageshri Kanada, Gara Kanada and Nayaki Kanada.

Nayaki Kanada is Darbari Kanada minus the Dhaivath, a
mystifying matter, but pretty effective. Its cadence is faster
and its exposition is in the middle octave.

Across the octave, transcending space and time, is Raag Adana,
popularized by Vani Jairam in this song.

So sit back and be the Emperor of all you survey. Listen to
Raag Darbari Kanada.

1. (Faster than I might have liked, but who am I to
challenge this genius?) Faiyaz Khan
2. (The right tempo) Mashkoor Ali Khan
3. Ajay Chakrabarty
4. Adana by Mashkoor Ali Khan
5. Shakoor Khan
6. Alla Rakha - Sarangi
7. Adana by Amanat Ali and Fateh Ali
8. Darbari by the same
9. Sarod by Amjad Ali Khan
10. The MOST wonderful Darbari Flute you can ever hope to
hear. Pannalal Ghosh.
11. An odd mixture of the South and the North
12. A version by Jagjit Singh (not bad at all)
13. Salamat and Nazakat - consider death. Its a good idea.
14. John Higgins via the Carnatic angle.

Notice that women hardly ever sing this Raag. It does need
a deep and low voice for better effect. But Adana works well
for women artistes.



ps: I know nothing about Classical Music. You can write
whatever you see above if you have the patience and desire to.