Friday, December 11, 2009


For a while now, I've been pondering moving my blog from blogspot to wordpress and I've finally gotten around to doing it. The new blog is still in the works, but its where I'll now be posting.

You can now find me at Hope to see you there

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fruit and Coconut Quick Bread

Randomly, I'll decide to bake. I started baking because of the lack of good cookies and cakes in Ahmedabad (I would go to Subway to satisfy my cookie desire...). I don't get time to bake regularly, but when inspiration strikes, I have the basic ingredients around to try stuff out. Music and food really go hand in hand. Majority of great ustads were also incredible cooks. For me, its more about the baking than the cooking.

Anyways, I found a recipe for pomegranate quick bread, didn't have all the ingredients, so I made some substitutions and came out with this - pineapple, apple, pomegranate coconut quick bread (aka fruit and coconut quickbread). It turned out great. A bit on the dense and moist side, but still delicious. I got to use my loaf pan for the first time =) The best part, it's def much healthy than the majority of the stuff I bake.

  • 2 cups sifted wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 of cup unsweetened applesauce (I used freshly blended apples) + olive oil (I filled 3/4 of the 1/2 cup with applesauce then the rest with olive oil and ended up adding a little bit more applesauce and oil while mixing)
So the applesauce/oil portions are not exact. When mixing I thought there was not enough liquid, so added a bit more. When replacing oil with applesauce, you should keep some oil, which is what I was trying to do. Applesauce makes baked goods as does wheat flour (compared to all purpose), which would explain my denser quick bread. Also I think I might have added a bit too much applesauce/oil as my bread is a bit on the too moist side.


1. Preheat oven to 180*C. Grease loaf pan - I sprayed mine using my new PAM baking spray.

2. Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl; blend well.

3. Pour batter into loaf pan.

4. Bake for 45 minutes until top is firm and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. I baked mine for 53 min.

5. Allow loaf to cool before serving.

Great as a snack or for breakfast!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Power of Education - Three Cups of Tea

International trips are a chance to read. What better way to pass layover time between flights.

Like I said in a previous post, education has been a recurring theme. After the incident with my cousins, I read Three Cups of Tea.

Very often we look for bandage solutions, not going to the root of a problem. This book beautifully speaks of how peace cannot be achieved through coercion and arms, but requires a long-term effort that is based on non-violence and co-operation. How? Through education. It is well-established that madrassas promoting extremist Islamic ideas are the breeding grounds for future Taliban fighters. For every one that is killed, two more appear in his place.

I initially tried to write my own "review" or take on the book, but words came out all jumbled together. I think the comments of Ahmed Rashid, the author of Taliban: Militant Islam and Oil in Central Asia and Descent Into Chaos succinctly summarize. If you're looking for a book to read, consider this one.

"Three Cups of Tea is beautifully written. It is also a critically important book at this time in history. The governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan are both failing their students on a massive scale. The work Mortenson is doing, providing the poorest students with a balanced education, is making them much more difficult for the extremist madrassas to recruit."

To add to his comments; sitting in the West, we can easily speak of removing terrorism, but Greg through his schools in actually doing that. In way that is sustainable in the long-term and heals old wounds and misconceptions.

This book perfectly highlights the power of education. It has the power of create a terrorist or a peace-maker.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Commercialization of Indian Classical Music

When the Muslim dynasties came to India, the cultural fabric of the country dramatically changed. Food, clothing, architecture were all influenced and of course, music as well. Many beautiful forms of classical music emerged from the confluence of Hindu and Muslim cultures, including the khayal style of singing (prior to this dhrupad was the mainstay of vocal music) and the introduction of tabla.

Alongside these changes, came the commercialization of music. Until that point, classical music was found only in the temples. Music and dance were for the Divine. To hear it, the king went to the temple, the musicians did not come to the court. It is under Muslim rule, that music made its way into the courts, both Hindu and Muslim courts, and the objectives of the musician began to shift.

Classical music has always been described as a yoga or path to the Divine. Through rigourous and tirelessly worship of sound, a musician purified their notes and their souls, seeking to please and ultimately merge with God. In the temples, the human audience was not of importance - they sat behind the musicians; it was for God that the musician played. The power and depth of these artists, the energy they emitted has become that of legend. Their music was their devotion.

When the musician shifted his stage to the court, the King became the focus. If a particularly type of harkat or musical pattern invoked appreciation (which was often in the form of a gold coin), then more were added to the next performance. The King was to be pleased for he was the lifeline for the artist. The goal became materialistic and coinciding with this change, the power of the music diminished.

A story of Akbar and Tansen explains the phenomenon quite aptly.

Tansen was a legendary singer and the court musician of King Akbar. His prowess is still spoken of today and his influence and contribution to Indian classical music far-reaching.

Once the king said to Tansen, "I believe you are the greatest singer in the world."

"No, my king, you are are mistaken. My music is nothing compared to that of my Guru Swami Haridas."

"I wish to hear him sing, call him to my court."

"I am afraid that is not possible. He does not travel outside of his place. If you wish to hear him, you shall have to travel with me on a long journey into the forest and that too, in the guise of a commoner."

It was an unusual condition, but Akbar was adamant to hear the person who Tansen claimed to be better than him.

The king ordered for a disguises and the two set off. They travelled far into the forest, ultimately coming near remote hut along a river.

"We shall wait here," Tansen said, asking the king to rest after the long journey.

Soon they hear the most divine notes from the direction of the hut and the king was lost in a state of ecstasy. Slowly he made his way towards the source and found himself in front of saintly man dressed in a simple dhoti outside the hut.

As the last notes faded and silence descended upon them, the potency of the music remained with Akbar.

The singer opened his eyes and greeted the visitors. "Welcome, O King of India. Your wish has been fulfilled." Swami Haridas recognized the king, despite his peasantry clothing.

The king began to offer much wealth and land to him as recognition for his art, but Swami Haridas would have nothing of it.

Taking leave of his guru, Tansen and Akbar made their way back to the city.

"You sing magnificently, but there really is no comparison to that of your Guru," Akbar pointed out.

"That is no surprise as there is one major difference between us. I sing for you, my guru sings for God. "

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Beauty and Need of non-English Languages

There was an article a few weeks back in the Times of India on foreigners taking intensive Gujarati language classes in order to be able to read Gandhi for themselves and better understand his philosophy. This came as no surprise.

As a Hindi, Gujarati and English speaker and a student of French and Spanish, I have gotten a chance to explore language. I recall cringing at the English subtitles during songs in Hindi movies as they destroyed the beauty and nuances of the original words. Compared to these other languages, English just does not have the depth, an observation that many multi-lingual friends agree with.

Learning philosophy from Guruji, I am often confronted with this topic. While Guruji is fluent in English, his native tongue is Gujarati (along with Hindi and Urdu). To make it easier for me, he often teaches in English. Being taught in English basically means that Guruji does a mental translation from Gujarati to English before speaking. Many times, as the topics and ideas are complex, I ask Guruji to speak in Gujarati as he can explain the subject with greater ease. When he does this, I am mentally translating the Gujarati into English before comprehending. My first language was Gujarati and to this day, I still speak in Gujarati with my parents, but my vocabulary has been limited to common Gujarati, not inclusive of many philosophical words. With my philosophy classes, my vocabulary has grown, but without a doubt, my learning, particularly in the initial period, was slowed by language.

There was an article on BBC a while back on native vs non-native English speakers. It spoke of how native English speakers could not easily understand the English of non-native English speakers, while non-native speakers easily understood the English of non-native speakers, regardless of their nationality or native language. The way native English speakers understand the English is very difficult from non-native speakers and I see this divide very clearly in India and during my philosophy classes.

Guruji is not a native English speaker. In fact, he never formally learnt English. In every day situations, English communication is never problematic. However, there are times during philosophy lectures when I have to ask him to repeat a sentence, as I get thrown off by the grammar or the use of a particular word. The mental process to understand the meaning of the sentence is brought to a small stop because of something that a non-native speaker would probably not even notice.

Just a few days ago, he was speaking to me about the basis of yoga. The topic made its way to the difference between science and spirituality. The difference can be understood through correct understanding of the words vishmay and akarshan. In a Gujarati-English dictionary they are given similar meanings - wonder or surprise. However, the words have very connotations. One has a spiritual dimension, one a physical. English, as far as I know, does not have two separate word that have the same surface meaning, but different nuances - driving home the idea yet again that the English language is limited, particularly in its spiritual/ metaphysical vocabulary.

Even ghazals and poetry in Indic language cannot be justly translated into English. Nor can they be readily understood by a non-native speaker without study. When you think of how the world is rapidly losing its languages and immigrant children around the world, particularly in English speaking countries, are failing to learn their native tongues, there is an important question to be raised about how much of the world's cultural heritage we are losing.

I have been blessed in this aspect. I was raised in a home where Gujarati was and still is spoken today; I was taught Gujarati by my grandmother and continued to study it and earn academic credit for it through high school and have the opportunity to visit and live in Gujarat where I can practice my Gujarati to this day. I still remember the praise my siblings and I would garner after trips to India on the quality of our Gujarati.

But this is still not enough. My reading skills are on par with a small child and my spelling errors know no bounds. I know that at some point in my journey to learn and explore philosophy, particularly Indian philosophy, I too will need to go the way of the foreigners learning Indic languages. If I want to be able to make my own interpretations and develop my own understanding without an intermediary, who to some degree always inserts their own bias or understanding, I will have to vigorously learn the language. Until then, there shall be some handicap, which I continue to try to overcome by expanding my vocabulary and fluency.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Importance of Education - Story 1

A re-occurring theme as of late has been the power of knowledge and the importance of education as a mechanism for change.

One of the most imprinting experiences I had in Canada this past trip came rather unexpectedly. Every time I come to Toronto, which is quite infrequent, my little cousins (now 7 -12), repeatedly request my parents to have me stay at their home, making their case well before my arrival. My schedule and their school schedule generally clash dramatically meaning that during the previous two trips, I only spent about an hour or two with them. This time, I had window of free time, which I decided to spend with them.

As I went to pick them up, I recalled a previous trip, where they had shown me their mini-fridge full of junk food. I remembered the horror I felt in learning of their excessive sugar consumption and decided to inquire more about their eating habits this time and talk to them about healthy eating.

When I arrived at their door to pick them up, I waited as the eldest handed my uncle a diagram depicting the order in which the layers of lasagna were to be placed so that we would have a correctly assembled meal for dinner. After everyone was seat-belted in the car, I asked them about what they ate. Knowing them to be picky eaters, I was super surprised at what I heard.

The three of them proceeded in turn to tell me about their fruit and vegetable rich diet and their lack of chocolate consumption over the last two years.

"Did you see our fruit bowl?", the youngest asks.

"Right now we have clementines, apples and bananas. Every day we have at least 2 fruits for dessert and another fruit for a snack," the middle one explains.

"Okay, so you eat healthy food for lunch and dinner, what about breakfast?"

"Well, we both eat Cherrios, but HE doesn't like them. He eats Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms," says the eldest matter-of-factly, referring to the middle brother.

"Fruit Loops! and Lucky Charms?!" I exclaim.

"We tell him they aren't good for him, but he doesn't listen. Actually in school, they asked us to bring in our cereal and we tested them for sugar levels and nutrients and those cereals were the worst," the youngest adds in.

That's when I realized where this all was coming from. Through school and the child care programs, my cousins were learning about healthy eating. When they were in daycare, I remember the meal plans they were sent home, but that is a standard practice. In the US in particular (I personally don't feel its as bad in Canada), general obesity and child obesity rates have been on the climb. One reason cited is the increased child consumption of junk food and processed food. I was encouraged to hear that the school system was fighting back by teaching kids about healthy eating. They not only taught children, but brought the discussion home to the parents during parent-teacher meetings and letters. I was getting a chance to see the results in person.

I joined the girls in explaining to my cousin why he shouldn't eat Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms. We got him to promise that he would stop eating them and all three decided to tell their dad about buying better alternatives instead (as they don't go cereal shopping with him).

As you can imagine, I had a huge smile on my face throughout that conversation with my cousins. But the best part was yet to come. For dinner, we had lasagna full of mixed vegetables including peas and carrots. Again, the topic of fruits and vegetables came up.

"You better finish all those vegetables, don't just eat the cheese," I told them.

"Give her more peas," the brother says pointing to the youngest, who happens to wear glasses. "They're good for her eyes."

Her reply was icing on the cake.

"You're wrong. Beta carotene is good for your eyes and carrots have them, not peas. And anyways, I took extra vegetables"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rhythm Riders - world of tabla, indian music and dance

As Rhythm Riders continues to grow, there have been lots of changes happening, including a makeover of our electronic presence. We've launched our newly-designed website. Please check it out at It'll give you more information about the wonderful people I work with and the amazing environment of music that I am blessed to be apart of.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tabla Ecstasy and Jindidi chale Canada

In October, I returned back to Canada to welcome the Rhythm Riders family to my birthplace. The leaves had started to change colours in preparation for their arrival, ready to display the beauty of autumn and the wind had picked up to give them a cold Canadian welcome I suppose.

It was a busy, super successful and fun-filled trip. I got to show everyone the place I called home for so many years. Most members of Tabla Ecstasy were in Toronto for the first time. In the months before the trip, I, along with those who had been to Toronto, had been preparing a list of things that we had to do. We crammed in as much as possible in the limited time between rehearsals and shows. The reactions were exactly as anticipated. It was a joy to share so much in those few days. Watching them take everything in made me appreciate the common sights and sounds I often take for granted.

On the music side, the trip was a HUGE success. All the audiences were left spellbound and appreciated the artists with standing ovations. We had a great mix in the audiences we performed for - from true listeners of Indian classical music/dance to completely untrained ears, who had come to show out of intrigue - and the response was overwhelming. New connections were forged and the concert organizers all offered their support for future tours. On the personal front, people from my community got an even better idea of what I am aiming for as they heard Tabla Ecstasy and began to understand the level of tabla playing that I am striving for in order to turn professional (and of course through Guruji they see what is possible even beyond that). Jindidi impressed as always with her wonderful Kathak performances.

The tour had been planned for months, but it went by in a flash. There were many lessons, great fun, tons of memories and of course, lots of pictures. I got a new DSLR right before the tour and managed to get some great shots of the concerts. The tour would not have been possible without the support of a lot of people and I especially have to give a huge thank you to my family and family friends for going out of their way to make this trip special for everyone. When seeing everyone in action, particularly my parents, I am reminded time and time again that my own drive to help others was instilled in me through their example.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colours of Light

As I prepare to make a rangoli outside my apartment to welcome in the New Year tomorrow, I remember a Diwali from three years ago that I will never forget.

Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarakh!


It was Diwali. During the five days, women draw beautiful images outside their homes with coloured sand, rice and grains (called rangolis) to decorate their homes and welcome the new year and visitors.

Over the few months that I had spent volunteering, I continually was awed from the wonderful rangolis that a colleague of mine created for various occasions. His work always brighten the space they are in and the people that see them. Inspired by their beauty, I decided try my hand at rangolis. These beautiful works of art would be a wonderful way to express my gratitude to the many people who have showered me with their love and affection. As is the experience of many NRI volunteers in India, I felt humbled and immensely indebted to the many caring souls that went out of their way to make me feel at home in Ahmedabad, a place miles away from my birthplace in North America.

Arming myself with bags of coloured sand, I first practiced outside the volunteer home where I was staying. After a few tries, I felt confident in my work. As I made my way from home to home, I could not contain my cheer. As I spread the sand, I silently gave my thanks to each individual and prayed that the new year brought new hope and prosperity to each. At every home, the children would crowd around welcoming me with their smiles and watching intently as each rangoli unfolded. Each then added their own touch to the final piece and we created a colourful display full of love and good wishes.

Such a simple thing brought so much joy to all. The small grains of sand became colours of light and were the perfect way to celebrate Diwali and welcome the new year.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Power of One

In a previous post, I wrote about one of the two steps needed to preserve Indian classical music, which was to cultivate an audience. I wanted to share an experience or realization I had last year that reminded me again that one person does have the power to change things.

In Oct 2008, I returned to Canada for the first time in over 2 years.

A lot had changed in those two years. When I had left, I had left with the intention to return in a year or two to start a master/phD program in Environmental Engineering. Alas, life had taken me through twists and turns and I was returning with a new goal in mind, something I could have never fathomed - to become a professional classical tabla player.

Over the previous year, family and friends had gotten pieces of information with regards to my career change and it didn't make a lot of sense to many. The reality was that I come from a community that does not have a large majority of Indian classical music listeners. While cliched, it was true, generally Gujaratis are more enthusiastic about folk music than classical music. In fact, a lot of people in our family friend circle did not even know who Zakir Hussain was, who is considered to be one of the most well-known Indian classical musicians and tabla players of our time. In this scenario, it was understandably difficult to find many who understood what I was doing or why I was doing. But, I must also include here that even though they didn't understand, they were be as supportive as possible.

The trip to Canada was important in many ways. It was a chance to explain firsthand what I was doing and why I was doing it.

A few months before I came to Toronto, I had performed my first solo, after 9 months of training, at Rhythm Riders' annual Guru Purnima function. Of course, I have lots of work to do, but it was nonetheless an important milestone for me. Soon after the performance, my tabla solo video was posted to Youtube as most of the people who wanted to see it were not in Ahmedabad for the performance. The outpouring of support and encouragement was incredible and hugely motivating, but it was only one step.

By the time I came to Canada, most had seen the video or heard of it. For many, watching my solo was the first time they had listened to a classical tabla performance. People were really impressed and asking about when if I would be performing concerts in Toronto during the trip. While the enthusiasm was incredible, it was midguided in the sense many understood what was very much an amateur performance to be one that could be quickly developed into one that could be put on a professional stage.

As I would explain how I had many years to go, I began to realize the wonderful opportunity I had in front of me. The reality was that many who watched my solo, watched it not because it was a tabla performance and they were interested in tabla, but they watched it because of me. They wanted to see what I was doing and were being supportive of my endeavours. Now I have the opportunity to open up the world of Indian classical music or atleast tabla playing to them.

I don't expect that everyone is going to turn into an Indian classical music lover, but I do know that many will grow in their understanding of the music. As they follow my progress, as they watch me grow from solo to solo, they too will begin to discern on some level the differences between amateur and immediate, advanced and professional. Through my personal journey, I have the chance to change the world around me in some small way.

The epitaph on an Anglican bishop's tombstone is very appropriate here:
When I was child, there was no limitation in my mind. I dreamt to change the world.

The more I grew up and tried to wise, I realized impossible to change it. And I decided to reduce my dream even a little and change my own country only but It was still impossible.

When I would an old man, in the last effort , I tried to change my own family. They were close to me. Unfortunately They ignored me.

And when I was dying, I realized (maybe for the first time) if I changed my self long time ago, I influenced my family by my examples and they’re supporting me, maybe could make my country be a better future and who knows, I could change the world.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Tabla Solo Performance at Guru Purnima

Thank you thank you thank you for all the support, love and encouragement. Here is installment number 2 of my tabla journey (this is a year after my first solo). I played a pure Delhi Gharana solo.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Astrological Charts (Kundali) - Meaningless or to be Heeded?

A friend and I were recently talking about marriage and philosophy, etc and of course the inevitable question came up. Its a question I've been asked a lot. It makes its way into conversations about dating, marriage, arranged marriage, etc. Do I believe in matching kundalis (vedic birth charts)?

For many years, my answer was along the lines of Yes, I'll consider the matching because I've seen too many relationships between people with mismatched kundalis fail. I didn't really have a great reason why to believe or not to believe and since I had seen the power of spiritual practices firsthand in my life, I chose to give consideration to kundali matching.

Now I have more concrete reasons to consider matching vedic birth charts. Many might not be aware, but my Guru (Pandit Divyang Vakil) is not only a maestro of tabla and a brilliant tabla teacher, but also a spiritual healer and guru. His vast expertise is a treasure chest for me and my questions.

Guruji uses many different tools in his spiritual healing including vedic astrology, face reading, palm reading, vastu, tantra, numerology, occult powers, etc. He has stacks of vedic birth charts of his students that he uses, so who better to ask about vedic astrology.

Here is my understanding in a nutshell.

Ancient Indian civilization has given us a plethora of tools to provide guidance and help us make informed decisions. Everything is connected to each other (think butterfly effect) in some form or another, but the vast intricacies can be too much for us to comprehend. Each methodolgy serves as a guide. Sadly today, like with many traditional arts, there are many with minimal or no knowledge masquerading as experts who have at some point tarnished the image of effeciency of these methods.

Kundalis are a highly specific science, a person's kundali is very particular to the person. It is based on the birth time, birth place and name of the person. Small inaccuracies in birth time (on the order or 1o minutes) can change a kundali. (The debate over what time is needed - ie when the head appears or whole body is out is another topic).

A person's kundali tells you about the influence of planterary movement on a person's life. It gives various details about a person, including details about their personality, high and low points in their life, etc. The kundali itself is very scientific (and computer generated nowadays) and is incomprehendible to the common man as its speaks of planets, their locations and more. So results that you get from getting a kundali made are highly depended upon the interpretation of the chart. This is where the master is set apart from the amateur.

A common use of kundalis is to see good and bad periods in a person's life. I'm sure that there are times that you have felt that nothing is going right, no matter how hard you try. It is likely that your kundali would reveal that you were passing through a negative period (and there are different types), in which it would be difficult to see the fruits of one's actions.

By knowing these kinds of details, a person can make more informed decisions. For example, if the above period was occurring in one's life, it does not make sense to start a new venture at that point. It would be better to wait the few weeks or months for period to change.

Generally, when two people's kundalis are matched, they are paired together for over 30 different criteria. Each criteria gives a positive or negative result. A range of positive results is considered a good match. A perfect score is not a good match.

As a kundali also can provide an overview of the graph of a person's life, one can also examine how much trials/tribulations a potential spouse will face.

Like I said before, a kundali is only a GUIDE or indicator, not the final word, which is what many interpret it to be. The accuracy of a kundali is very much dependent upon the details used to make it, its maker and interpreter.

In general, after living in India, my respect for traditional arts (and sadness at its erosion and impending loss) has grown. Vedic astrology is one of the many that can be put in this list. It most definitely has its value and I don't think it can be passed off as a meaningless belief. It is a tool that has been created by extremely intelligent people to help man make better decisions. It should not be followed blindly, but without a doubt has value.

Would I consider matching janmakshars before marriage? Without a doubt, yes.
Would I heed the advice from the matching? That shall be a matter of circumstance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Intuition/ Creativity

Yesterday Guruji was teaching us about what intuition is or the source of creativity and a wonderful line from his lecture has stuck with me.

The cosmic energy whispers to you in the silence between two thoughts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preserving Indian Classical Music Part 1: Creating an Audience

One concern that I have seen come up regularly is the about the future of Indian classical music. As maestros pass on, there is a growing lack of artists who can be compared to their Ustads. I won't tackle the question of why Indian classical music is dying, but rather will look at what can be done to ensure that it is preserved. The answer I believe is two-pronged. Musicians have to be cultivated and just as important, audience have to be cultivated. For the music to continue, there is must be people who can produce it and those who shall appreciate it and listen to it.

Audiences are most definitely changing. Only 20-30 years ago, a music concert by one artist could very easily be 3-4 hours long. Today in a span of a 2 hour concert, two to three artists will perform solos. Guruji often speaks of concerts that began at 8pm and ended in the wee hours of the morning. No one would move, let alone get up to get water or use the restroom during a concert, that was the level of involvement of the listens.

To listen to Indian classical music requires training. I am a perfect example of that. When I first began learning tabla, I knew VERY little about Indian classical music. When we would gather for music listening sessions with Guruji, the other students would be completely engrossed, reacting to taans and the way an artist render a raga, while none of the nuances were registering for me. I would catch myself zoning out and I'll admit it - falling asleep. Even within a year that has changed. I still don't know all the nuances and don't expect to understand them all in a year, but my comprehension is increasing. I am beginning to appreciate the music and the artistry of the musician more; and I'm not falling asleep. That is called training. I am being trained to listen to Indian classical music. As musicians would say (translated) - m y ears are opening.

Another example of audience education can be given in a geographical context. Kolkatta is considered the heart of Indian classical music. The toughest and most discerning audience is found in this city. Amdavadis is comparison don't quite live up to the mark. What might appeal to the music audience here and having them show their appreciation might not invoke the same reaction in Kolkatta as the expectations are higher. Kolkatta audiences are more trained. This is not surprising as the city is and has been home to many high quality musicians.

Training an audience will not happen on its own. It requires a concerted effort and is a valuable endeavour. If audiences are not trained to distinguish poor from mediocre, good from excellent, the artist has one less reason to push themselves to become better and better at their art (where this is the correct thought process or not is a different topic). When you gain widespread appeal for subpar or mediorce work, the market incentive to do better disappears.

The question then arises of how? Well, its not easy. Getting someone who only listens to modern Bollywood music (which can be quite poor in musicality) to listen to an alaap of Bhairavi is not going to happen overnight. But in small amounts, an appreciation can be created. One can say that today's well-done fusion that incorporates Indian classical music is one way of training in small doses, but it has to continue from there.

One way that Guruji has tried to tackle this issue is through his contemporary tabla ensembles, which we call "tabla fusion". Why tabla fusion because tabla traditionally is not performed as group so the presentation style is different. Also, the compositions, which are all his own, are made keeping a mainstream audience in mind. So you have all the facets of tabla playing that will make the common man give appreciation. BUT at the same, the essence of all the compositions is classical tabla playing. The intricacy and difficulty of the compositions is such that only his senior disciples can play them. The nuances of classical tabla playing are all intact. The presentation style though is such that even a person who will run at the name of a tabla solo concert will be asking when the next ensemble performance is. It is after all, 2 -5 tabla players playing super fast pieces in complete synchronization. Imagine the power of 5 tabla players playing dha at one time. (If you don't want to image, watch the video of his latest tabla ensemble - Tabla Ecstasy). His ensembles have performed all over and its a common response to see people inspired to learn tabla or come to tabla performances afterwards.

So how can audiences be created? By education, by exposure to this music. Its as simple as one person encouraging their friends and family to come to a show, giving them music to listen to. More concerts, more workshops, more access.

The benefit of the virtual world is that it has made it easier to find music, there are videos all over youtube, etc; but it has to be filtered. Again, poor should not be passed off as good. How can you tell? By building your personal database (mentally) by listening to more and more stuff and hopefully having a more educated ear to guide you. As you listen to more, your references grow and hopefully your discerning abilities as well. But ultimately, I think you do need a guide to this world of music to educate you about it.

A concerted effort has to be made to bring and keep Indian classical music in the forefront of society's music preferences. If the audience demands it, high quality Indian classical music can continue for a long time.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Indian Classical Music Listeners India vs Abroad

An interesting observation from some interactions this month. If you ask a group of Indian youth how many listen to Indian classical music, you won't get many positive responses. When I posed this question to some groups of NRI volunteers, the 70 - 80% of the people were familiar with it and listened to it. That is really encouraging and great to know.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weeklong Indian Music Workshop in India!

Its a common thing to hear that people are interested in Indian music, want to understand it a but better, but don't have the time to dedicate themselves to a full study of it. Here's a great program for those interested in learning about Indian music. If you are already practice Indian music, its a way to deepen your understanding, learn from Guruji (Pandit Divyang Vakil), work with the world fusion group Taan and Rushi and jam with musicians from around the world for a week!

Intrigued by Indian Music?
Want to learn how use Indian rhythm and melodies?
Explore the vast world of Indian music in India

Rhythm Riders invites you to

1 Week Indian Music Workshop in India
Dec 20 - 27, 2009 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat

*Experience India through its music
*Explore Indian music, from its classical and folk to its contemporary forms
*Nightly jam sessions and concerts
*Learn to adapt Indian Music to your own music and instrument
*Special workshops on Indian percussion
*Special lectures with Tabla Guru Pandit Divyang Vakil
Final Concert Performance with World Fusion Group Taan

Open to musicians from around the world
instrumentalists and vocalists of all music genres welcome

Fees cover teaching, accomodations, local transportation, food and events.
**Airfare not included**

Register by Sept 30th, 2009.
Contact Rhythm Riders at
or call (201) 467 4431
For information on Rhythm Riders, visit

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Small story about a Small Action creating Small Change

One nice thing about the location about my flat is that it is 2 min walking distance away from a MORE grocery store. This is very convenient when I randomly remember that I need something.

I generally go to MORE from home, so I take bags with me, which which I can bring home my groceries or if its small enough, stuff the things into my fairly large purse (whose size I actually chose for this purpose).

When you go to MORE, like any other grocery store, the cashier or his assistance automatically starts to put things in plastic bag. The first few times, I got strange looks and had to repeat myself when I would ask that they not put my groceries in plastic bags (and I don't think that was because they didn't understand my Gujarati accent). Over the course of a couple trips, I kept getting the same cashier, who asked me the third time he rang up my bill why I didn't take their bags. I quickly explained how plastic bags are bad for the environment, cause cancer and cow deaths and he seemed to appreciate the information. When I was about to leave, he stops me and asks, "Mam, can you fill out our comment form?"

I look and the form and am about to tell him that I needed to go, when he interjects my thoughts and adds, "I think you should share why you didn't want to take a plastic carrying bag."

I look at the form and again, my mind tells me that there is no point. But then figure what the heck, there is no harm. I quickly fill out the form stating that MORE should discourage stop providing plastic bags or encourage customers to bring their own bag (by potentially providing a financial incentive like stores in N. America do) as that will show that the company cares about environment, which is good for the company's image (I had to pitch it in corporate terms). I had the cashier the form and proceed home.

After that day, whenever the cashier rang up by bill, he never gave me a plastic bag. Through my small action, one other person learnt about the dangers of plastic bags.

An even bigger surprise came a month or two later. I walked into MORE after a long time and noticed a new sign on their announcement board behind the cashier and near the vegetables. It read:

MORE has not stopped giving plastic bags, but it atleast had taken one step in the right direction. Who said that you can't be the change?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Serving Music

The world needs two things: correct knowledge and true music. - Guruji (Pandit Divyang Vakil)

When I first changed paths and decided to follow the music route versus continuing with volunteering and doing water and sanitation, a lot of questions and confusion arose in the minds of many. After all, the "purpose" of doing volunteer work or water and sanitation in the developing world is easy to figure out. Its noble, its for the greater good. Easy to understand, hard to argue against its value. But now here I was - pursuing Indian classical music seriously, that too at a late age (like ballet, generally you begin ICM or indian classical music at a young age). Compared to the engineering degree and lofty goal of building toilets around the world, somehow putting that aside and training to become a professional tabla player did not quite stack up in the minds of many.

But there is a purpose, a higher purpose, if you want to call it that. Music is completely intertwined with universe and its source. Indian classical music was not a spontaneous creation, but a well-understood and thought out development. I don't believe stories of Tansen and Bilaskhan are mere folklore, they speak of the true depth and power of the music. Music moderates society, it keeps things in balance. That isn't hard to believe. They are countless who listen to music to relax. Good music, true music has kept the world in check. Look at society over time and how it has degraded and compare it to its music and its degradation, you'll find a strong parallel.

Music is and can be a saving force. So long as true music is alive, there is some force that is working to balance the negative. What is the higher purpose of what I doing? I am trying to serve that music.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Guru Poornima 2009

Last night was a super duper success. The hall was jam packed. We had people who stood outside the doors for 20 minutes before some space was created for them to come in. There were students sitting on the stage, people in all the aisles. It was nuts. The energy in the room was incredible. So many people from all over the country and world came together to celebrate the person who has had such a profound impact on their lives and our family and friends join in our celebration to witness the talent that he has nourished and cultivated. From one of Guruji's first students from 30 years ago to a student who just began learning at Rhythm Riders two weeks ago, three decades of students were present at the occasion. I am so happy that I had a chance to be apart of it.

I got a chance to start off the evening with a pure Delhi gharana solo and it went quite well. Then of course, the professionals took the stage. Tabla Triveni - Guruji's American group tabla ensemble did a fantastic job. 17 year old Rahul Shrimali blew the audience away with his Ajrada tabla solo (to give you a sense of the difficulty in playing this gharana's compositons - there is a saying amongst the maestros that if a crazy dog bites you, only then will you think to play Ajrada). The tabla trio, specially created for the occasion, of Nishant Mehta, Kaumil Shah (aka Khakra) and Sahil was fantastic with Nishant playing only Guruji's compositions, Sahil playing pure Punjab and Kaumil playing compositions from Guruji, Ajrada, Delhi and Punjab.

Thank you to everyone who honoured our invitation and graced the occasion with their presence. Thank you to all my friends, family and supporters who were there in spirit cheering me on and have supported me through my journey.

Lots of pictures and videos to come.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I bow down to my teachers

To the universe - the Param Guru that has been guiding my footsteps as I walk along the path of life. Thank you for all the hints, for being so persistent even when I was stubborn and giving me signs time and time again, for being so patient, for taking care of me and watching over me and for leading me to my Guru in human form. Grant me the ability to always have the awareness and humility to listen and the courage to follow the markers on the road and fulfil my purpose.

To Guruji - Thank you for your patience, for your faith in me, your love, guidance and support. There really aren't enough words. I pray that I become a more worthy student of yours with every passing day.

Everyone who my life's thread has been connected you. Each person, each experience has led to where I am and will continue to help shape the person I become. Reflection allows you to see where the road curved and how one experience prepared you for something else down the road. With deep gratitude, I thank you for being in my life, for your support, your love, your encouragement and the challenges that we have faced together. Thank you for teaching me.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Power of Sadhna

An experience from a few months back:

There are places where you go and can feel something different. Often these places become points of pilgrimage. They are places that have become charged with the intensity and heat of someone(s)' penance. Karl Marx' chair in the library when he would sit for hours and hours is such a place or places of pilgrimage, be it Mecca or Kailash are other examples.

There is such a place in Ahmedabad, a room that I have spent time in many times, but recently I got a chance to really experience the magic of the room first hand. I had some time to kill and instead of coming back later, Guruji told me to practice in the room. It was the first time I was alone with tabla in the room. Time flew by without me even realizing, one hour became two. Two came close to three when Guruji told me that I would be needed in 20 minutes. This was was perfect because I would finish three hours then. Three hours passed and was not called. Practice was going really well and even though it had been 3 continuous hours, I was not tired. In fact, at this point, my mind was getting tired, but my body and hands were still in form. So I decided to stay put and another 45 minutes later, I was called out. If I had not been called, I could have continued to practice! For the first time, I had spent nearly 4 hours in continuous solo practice without getting up, without breaks, and without having my hands compelling me to stop. It was amazing.

When I came out and shared my experiences, the others just smiled. Its the magic room they said as they have said many times before. Its the room where Guruji and Latifbhai would have long and intense practice sessions, its the room where ustads who came to visit Guruji would teach and interact with Guruji's students when he used to run tabla classes from home and most important of all - it was the room that had become charged by Guruji's sadhana as its the place where Guruji himself conducted the majority of his practice over the course of many many years. It is the magic room.

Countdown to Guru Purnima 2009

So the countdown has begun. Guests from abroad start arriving in a few days. Daily rehearsals have started. I had my FIRST rehearsal with a lehra player a few days back and it went quite well, which was very encouraging. There is a long list of things to do before it all begins, but it will surely get done and I know that next week is just going to go by in a flash.

The year has flown by, I can't believe that its already been a year since I played my first tabla solo. Every year the program has something special about it. Of course this year its the fact that we are celebrating Guruji's 30th year of teaching tabla. It's been an incredible journey for him so far and its great to be apart of it all as we pay tribute to all the work that he has done. Really, you can't find a better tabla guru. Guruji is completely dedicated to providing the best taalim (training) possible to create a new generation of highly trained and skilled tabla players. The fact that he gave up his own performing career for his students stands as a testament to his commitment. Everyone from his own gurus to fellow maestros and society as a whole has witnessed the exceptional quality of his teaching. He has not had it easy and has made his life on his own terms with his determination and passion for music and knowledge. This year's Guru Purnima is another milestone of what are to be many more milestones and I am so honoured that Guruji has chosen me to be apart of it all and given me a chance to play a solo on that special day.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Walking the Streets of Ahmedabad

Today, after a long time, I walked the streets of Ahmedabad.

It's been nearly 3 years that I have lived in the city. Like any other outsider, when I first got here, I didn't know my way around. I relied on others to take me around. But slowly, I found my geographical bearings. I came to know the city through her buses, her chugadas (shuttle rickshaws) and with my own feet. I have traveled the city a lot, taking new streets and expecting intersections, but found out from a series of wrong turns that the city followed the meander of the river and in fact was more like a half-circle. I have come to know some areas better than Amdavadis.

Today after a long time, I took to the street again. I sought to be alone. One would expect that I could find this in the isolation of my flat, but that was not the case. I found isolation in the noise of the streets. The focus became the few feet in front of me, the noise of the street dimmed away and I could hear my thoughts clearly.

As I walked, I recalled a philosophy / spiritual lecture that Guruji one gave where he spoke of tirth dhams or places of pilgrimage. People go to these places to be alone, which seems ironic as these places are very crowded. Yet the reality is that within the chaos of Kumbh, the crowds at Badrinath, the people at Mecca, one finds isolation. The crowds give way to solitude.

So the noise of the street faded away as I walked the familiar streets of Ahmedabad. My troubled mind calmed. In the bustle of the streets, I found my solitude as I walked the streets of Ahmedabad once more.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

WIshing you the best!

As I sit here in India, I send out a prayer and thoughts full of love to two dear people - Rahul and Asha who are taking their first steps together as a married couple today. They are two inspiring people and film-makers, who are using their creativity and media to spread goodness in the world and uplift the underpriviledged. It's a pleasure to know them and I look forward to seeing all the things they come up with in the future.

Some examples of their work:
- Asha helped found INSPIRE - short term service trips to India that give participants a chance to experience India in a whole new way as they visit organizations all over the country, participating in service projects in slums, working on an organic farm and more. What's more, this year INSPIRE went gift-economy!
- Both of them headed a pilot project in Ahmedabad which I got to see firsthand called Lok Darshan - a weekly video broadcast of news and stories created by the community for the community
- Both of them spent time in Orissa working with Gram Vikas creating these amazing films on the work that they do, not only is the video inspiring, but their experiences there were incredible
- Rahul has created wonderful videos on many topics, including a fantastic project he worked on to bring together children from Pakistan and India called Friends without Borders, his videos posted on his youtube channel and stories about them on his blog

Friday, May 01, 2009

Aum - The Primordial Sound

Yesterday, the topic of Guruji's spiritual lecture was the primordial sound Aum. I have heard that description of Aum before - the primordial sound, but the first time I really understood this name was when I heard Guruji speak on Aum. I think of the great things about hearing Guruji speak is that because he has such a breadth of knowledge, he easily shows how one topic is inter-related with others. Aum was related to topics such as creation, absolute reality (Brahma), music, naad (sound), chakras, the different states of the soul and how the mind works.

I have heard he speak on this topic before, but each time, something new is revealed and previous information is digested more thoroughly, so his talks are never a bore.

A fellow disciple of Guruji really described him very aptly in saying that Guruji is a walking encyclopedia. I am reminded of my good fortune to be his student all the time and that feeling is always more prevalent when hearing him share his gyan (knowledge).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Things in Harmony

This morning started beautifully. I woke up hearing the call of birds which was following in matching rhythm by alarm a minute later.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Understanding the Universe

Guruji said a beautiful thing yesterday:

To understand the universe, you can study all the shastras or you can understand one thing - taal.

That's the journey I am on. To understand taal or rhythm.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Going Green in India Pt 2

Getting produce is also less fuel consumptive because produce sellers visit all residential areas on a daily basis, so if your local vegetable or fruit person tends to carry good quality produce, then there is no need to drive to get them. Supermarkets only arrived in India after I arrived, so I have also been seeing this dynamic change. Supermarkets means lower prices and more variety, and day long availability, so the practice of getting produce from the shak bhaji wali is diminishing. At the same time, these supermarkets have opened up on every other corner, so they are a minimal distance away to travel to.

I don't have a vehicle, so my primary mode of transportation is walking and rickshaws (buses are not available on my daily travel paths). Rickshaws in Ahmedabad are run on natural gas, so they are more friendly than petrol vehicles. When we were choosing where I would live, my primary concern was geographic location, so even rickshaw usage is minimal.

Water consumption
The dishwasher and laundry machine are two very large consumers of water. Dishwashers have yet to create a strong presence in the residential sector and laundry machines have only been making headway in the last 2 - 3 years. So thats another plus. While people use laundry machine, clothes dryers are still not heard of. Machine washed or hand washed, clothing is dried on a clothing line.

Also because I get a tiffin for my meals, I don't actually create a lot of dirty dishes. The wonderful woman who makes my food does not need to use extra pots/pans to make food for one more person, so my water consumption with respect to dishwashing is also lower than before.

When I was living at the ashram, 1 bucket baths were the norm. Now its a mix of showers and bucket baths, but most definitely the limited capacity of my geyser serves as a friendly reminder to end a shower sooner rather than later, particularly in the winter.

One area where there is more water consumption is mopping. Mopping has to be done much more regularly in India due to the high level of dust.

In India, perhaps due to the high voltage, all electric sockets have switches to turn them on and off. So as long as you remember to turn off the switch when not in use, you don't have to worry about stand by electric consumption that occurs in phone chargers, etc.

Clothing Recycling/ Reuse

Clothing should be reused, especially if it is gently used. It takes even less effort to have clothing reused in India. You can easily find people to give gently used clothing to. Usually families tend to give them to their hired help (people who clean, cook, drivers, etc). Also because getting clothing stitched is so common, clothing can be easily altered. My mom found a great tailor/ designer who created "new" saris that follow today's trends from saris she has had for over 10 - 20 years. He uses dyes, embellishments, borders, etc to create beautiful new pieces. There is no need to buy new saris from stores as these old ones are reincarnated so well. I have found myself really enjoying the idea of reusing material to make new things.
Worn out t-shirts, etc can always be torn up and used as mops and cloths to clean windows and dry dishes.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Being Green in India - Part 1

For a while now, I have been trying to be more and more "green" in my day-to-day living. The topic keeps appearing with increasing regularity, so it is something that comes to mind often. I think it takes less effort to be green in India, particularly with regards to two major waste streams - trash and food.

Waste Disposal/ Recycling
For example, if you look at waste disposal, yes there are no official recycling systems, BUT there is a very large recycling system in place in the form of rag-pickers. (Note: I, by NO means, am supportive of the lifestyle and work of these women, but definitely have a lot of respect for them as I have met many rag-pickers and they are inspiring women.) For those uninitiated, in India, thousands of people, mainly women and children from what I seen, earn their daily income by sifting through landfills of trash, finding things (recyclables) that can be sold to a local middlemen. (Note: they are very underpaid and often exploited, but good news is that there are a lot of people and organizations working with ragpicking communities to improve their lives). Things such as high quality plastic, needles, metal, etc are collected by these women and then make their way through a series of middlemen before landing up somewhere where it is recycled. So trash that is thrown out is recycled at some level.

Even before the stage where trash get thrown out, there are people who regularly visit residential areas collecting old newspapers/cardboard, metal, etc and they will buy these off of you, so recycling comes to your door!

BUT that does not give free license to produce waste. The plastic bags on the streets of India are a huge problem. They clog drainage systems and can cause cancer in the cows who eat them. Unfortunately, many people put of food for dogs and cows to each in plastic bags.

Food Waste
In the West, for food waste, techniques such as composting are suggested. In India, there many options before that stage. If I buy excess fruit, before it goes bad, I can give it the many on the streets who don't get regular meals. In my society, we also have a animal feeder outside the gate, where people put out food for the animals to eat. I keep my vegetable and fruit peel, etc in a container that I empty in the animal feeder, so even that things that humans won't eat are consumed. One important thing to keep in mind though is again not placing the food in a plastic bag.

Eating Locally

Another way to be green is to eat locally and seasonally. Before I came to India, I had very limited knowledge about the seasons of produce because you could get everything all year round, but in India, that is not necessarily the case (though I have noticed this changing over the last three years). The lack of availability of non-seasonal items means that you eat whats in season. Living in a state with lots of agriculture also means that most of the produce is local. In addition, there is not a very high degree of produce import from what I have seen. I think this is because the normal diet is still very much Indian (vs eclectic mix abroad) which is based on locally available produce.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Excited =)

After many requests it is finally happening. Guruji is going to have weekly philosophy/ spirituality lectures for small groups of people. I take philosophy classes with him, so this will be an add-on to that. He gives lectures on different topics such as death, tantra, basics of buddhism, different philosophical schools of thought, etc in many countries around world, but not many know of this side of him in Ahmedabad. Its great opportunity for those interested in topics like this and wonderful way to bring that energy together and of course learn lots of new stuff.