For to Travel is to Learn – Music & Dance


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Augmenting our knowledge in various fields is arguably one of the major benefits of travelling, near or far. However it is also true, during our trips to different parts of the world we limit ourselves to more passive forms of learnings. For example, we trust mainly on our power of observation to gain vital information about the culture, tradition, habits of people etc. The benefits of this form of learning cannot or should not be dismissed. It is a lifelong process that aids in developing the person we wish to become. But there could be another form of learning, a more active education, that we can indulge in during our journeys across the globe. Today I intend to discuss about the opportunities of learning that present itself in sphere of music and dance. For this article, I will focus more on India and opportunities available there, for it is a country which boasts of formulating the most ancient form of treatise in dramatic arts (natya shastra) and music. There are many forms and expressions of this beautiful art practiced all over the country even today. But before we delve into this, let me share with you a story from my own experience.


Lord Krishna Playing Flute

About a year and a half ago, I met Thibault E at a small restaurant in a very busy city. He came to enjoy a cosy dinner with his wife. A light drizzle that started since late afternoon turned into a heavy and incessant downpour. As we were all stuck inside we thought it better to strike up a conversation rather staring at each other from the corner of our eyes. He narrated his tale over a cup of simmering hot coffee. Thibault always found himself mesmerised by the tune of flute. Since his early childhood, he yearned to have a flute for himself and learn it to play. But his parents did share his fancy and thought this to be a rather idle dream. In the face of their overwhelming practical concerns for him, he was forced to put his dream somewhere in the deep recess of his mind.

Thibault was a good student and did not find it difficult to secure a place in one of the country’s premier technological universities. He similarly excelled in his career too. To cut a long story short, he, by the age of 42, was already in a possession of so much money that he could have afforded to retire then and there if he wanted to. His private life was equally fulfilling with a lovely wife, who was and still is a renowned name in her own sphere, and two healthy children. He had nothing to complain about, or so it seemed, because the inner dissatisfaction that was gnawing at his heart was not apparent to anyone but himself.


Sarod, Musical Instrument

Increasingly, Thibault found himself lonely at his own home. He simply did not know how to fill his “free” hours meaningfully. But there was no one else to blame for this than himself. He never cultivated a serious hobby to fill his empty hours. He was only allowed an hour’s play every day. His parents were strict disciplinarians and he did not wish to mess with them. If there was nothing else to do, he simply locked himself at his study room and dozed away the time. In later years too, he hardly made an attempt to acquire some skills beyond his regular studies.

Thibault frequently needed to stay away from home for short periods of time on business trips. One such occasion landed him on a distant coast to India, in Cochin (Kochi) to be specific. Since the business engagement got delayed for some unforeseen reason, he got some time to experience an exotic place and its culture. While aimlessly travelling here and there he landed himself in a small village named Cheruthuruthi, by the river Nila. In the afternoon when he was enjoying a walk a soulful tune of flute caught his attention. After some search he found the player, a boy in his early teens. Seated on the sandy river bank he was completely engrossed in his practice.

Kerala Backwater

Flowing Water, Kerala

For sure, the tune was not familiar to Thibault, but that did not matter. He leaned against a coconut tree a little distance away and closed his eyes. He felt a deep sense of peace. He could have stood there that way for hours. But the performance was interrupted all of a sudden. A man’s voice was heard from behind. It seemed an elderly gentleman came calling for the boy and the two were preparing to leave the place. Seeing Thibault in the audience the man turned towards him smiling. In a very sweet voice he enquired about his whereabouts. Thibault briefly described his purpose. The conversation was helped by the boy who was clearly knew better English. After a brief discussion about the place and its history, the kind hearted gentleman asked Thibault to come to a local school dedicated to performance art and music. It transpired that some kind of celebration was to take place there later in the evening. With child’s glee in the heart, Thibault promptly accepted the invitation. For Thibault, the evening and the rest of the days in Cheruthuruthi were spent as if in a dream.


Performance in Kalamandalam, Cheruthuruthy

When Thibault narrated the story about his boyhood childhood wish, senior members of the school encouraged him to pick up at least the basics of playing flute. Someone also handed his flute over to him to let Thibault have a feel of it. Touching it with his fingers, for the first time in his life, he felt an immediate sense of bonding. After some pondering and lenghty discussion with his wife, Thibault took a sabbatical from his work. Following the advice of the gurus of Chethuruthy, he enrolled himself to a school some distance away from this village. His teacher there also helped him to find a mentor in his home country. With much enthusiasm, he devoted himself to his learning. He segregated his time between his actual and adopted home. With hard work he rapidly advanced.

Modest as he is, when I met him at the restaurant, he could not be drawn into describing his achievements even after 15 years of continuous practice. The best compliment, perhaps, came from his wife. “Thibault is a different man,” said Erika his wife, “he is more relaxed, more engaged with life than ever before.” Like a magic wand, the charm of flute transformed Thibault and Erika’s lives.

Pose in Poise, Bharatnatyam

Time has changed. You do not need to come all the way to India to learn music and dance native to this country. You may enrol yourself to an institution nearby. Online learning opportunities are all available. But if you are musically inclined and journeying across India you may consider taking up courses in any of the reputed institutions of Chennai, Bangalore, Mysore, Coimbatore, Tanjore and beyond. All these places are also replete with schools teaching various dance disciplines including bharatnatyam, kuchipudi, kathak and so on.

It is also highly recommended that you set some time aside to visit Brihadeeswarar Temple of Tanjore. The outer wall of the temple bears all the elegant poses of bharatnatyam, a dance form that is no less than 2500 years old. The temple is a part of UNESCO World Heritage. Many of these places also turn themselves into virtual auditoriums and relive the past glory by organising annual dance festivals. Khajuraho, Modhera, Mukteswar and Mahabalipuram are some of the most prominent ones. Besides, major auditoriums across the country organise dance and music recitals for the benefits of art connoisseurs year long.


Temple Sculptures Depicting Dance Poses, Chidambaram

I sincerely hope that in your next journey you will get ample opportunities of exploring your talent in these fields and beyond. Moreover, these activities will also help you to get a closer view of the cultural treasures of any place that you choose to visit on your next trip.

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. ~ Albert Camus


Image Courtesy

Jean-Pierre DalbéraAshley Van Haeften, P Das Arayil

Parallelly published in The Inked Expressions.

Have You Done or Learnt Anything New Today?


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In one of our impromptu meetings last Sunday, Sheila was all excited in narrating how she, for the first time in her life, walked through a paddy field! Yes, despite spending nearly all our lives in a major rice eating country of the world, this too has become a kind of novelty for us, the city bred people.


We were seated among a group of friends who now live much apart and were lucky to see each other face to face after a span of 4 long years! This brought up an interesting question. What new things have you learnt / done or attempted to learn / do beyond your professional work in last 6 months or so? It could be anything small (or may be small for others but big for you) like learning a new phrase or something life altering like quitting your job to set up the foundation of your organic farm.

As I threw the question among the group, I almost immediately saw everyone’s face turning blank with the exception of Sheila who already spoke about her accomplishment. To liven up the atmosphere I suggested as many examples as I could, taken from the leaves of everyday life (or I thought so at that time, I was proven wrong later). Some of those were having dinner at a newly opened restaurant or in the same vein cooking up new dish at home, meeting someone interesting, dreaming something new even if idle, buying a new fashion accessory never tried before so on and so forth. However, not one person in the room responded. With a positive fear of sounding rude and presumptive I presented my list of new things attempted in last 45 days or so (six months seemed to be too lengthy a time for me to remember all the things I attempted for the first time). I had to because I could not have backed off from answering my own questions! So, once again with thousand apologies, I present my list of first attempts here:

  • In the reading department – My Life by Jerome K Jerome, a collection of letters and essays of Rabindranath Tagore not read before, Indian Art & Sculpture by Abanindranath Tagore (translated by Sukumar Ray), short stories and essays of Syed Mujtaba Ali.
  • In the purchasing department – this is closely associated with the following pointer, so don’t consider these irrelevant – bought real saffron threads from Kashmir, preserved Spanish olives, Dijon fruity mustard (no I haven’t disowned Indian homemade mustard sauce, still prepare it from scratch every time I require it) local version of outrageously expensive gruyère cheese (turned out to be a bad buy), wooden oval lightweight dinner plates etc.
  • In the cooking department – prepared dry fruits pulao with real saffron and not with alternative like marigold colour or artificial food colouring, my version of shrimp spaghetti, niramish jhol (a special soup sans any non-vegetarian item) mango smoothie with mishti doi, badam (used an assortment of various nuts combination) kheer (thick creamy milk) sherbet and others already forgotten.

I was in the positive fear of blabbering on myself. Luckily at that point I heard a somewhat timid voice from behind. Yes, someone from the group came for my rescue. After much hesitation he narrated his exploration, something new he hasn’t attempted before. It turned out that he and a couple of his colleagues snuck past the security to climb a highrise building yet to be formally inaugurated. They saw the face of the city from atop. This in itself was nothing new. His own office building as well as the building in which he owns an apartment is a skyscraper. But that they managed to deceive the ever so vigilant eyes of the security personnel was a novelty for them and made the experience all the more thrilling. I told how this reminded me of O Henry’s famous story, The Voice of the City. Thankfully, at this point the discussion veered off to a different direction and I was extra cautious for the rest of the evening to not to raise “uncomfortable” questions.

Nonetheless, I kept on wondering, aren’t we supposed to ask this question to ourselves everyday of our lives, what new have I done / learnt today?


Image Courtesy:

Christopher Michel

Love Your Solitude – Rainer Maria Rilke


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Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. for those who are near you are far away, you write, and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast. And if what is near you is far away, then your vastness is already among the stars and is very great; be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust. Avoid providing material for the drama that is always stretched tight between parents and children; it uses up much of the children’s strength and wastes the love of the elders, which acts and warms even if it doesn’t comprehend. Don’t ask for any advice from them and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like and inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

~Rainer Maria Rilke



It’s Quoted

Image Courtesy:

Tom Hall

Use of Colourful Languages on Public Platform – A Sign of Smartness or Sickness?


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What kind of mentality induces some people to tarnish other’s reputation or attempt to do so? What instigates mudslinging, a continuous and mindless vilification of someone’s character? No, I am not talking of politicians who have a tendency of throwing rubbish over the opposition’s head with or without any provocation. At least, there involves quite a bit of interest behind such activities. A greed for grasping power, position and financial benefits proves to be far greater an impetus than maintaining common courtesies of life in such cases. Though that does not make the actions justifiable, it is still understandable. I am speaking of common people continuously speaking or rather writing nonsense about someone on a public forum without any apparent provocation.


The questions I mentioned at the beginning of this article sprung into my mind after I repeatedly observed such behaviour on chats, forums, twitter feeds and Youtube comments section in past few months. More often than not when I read or watch any piece or interview of any prominent personality of today or of a bygone era, I find the comments section is swathed with such disgusting remarks. It is true that all of us indulge in verbal bashing of people, famous or otherwise, we dislike in private at some point of time or the other. It is also quite correct that everybody has a right to criticise whoever he or she chooses to. But aren’t we supposed to follow minimum amount of decorum while venting our disapprovals in writing on a public forum? Has calling names or using vulgar phrases to describe someone’s activities became so fashionable nowadays that it is no longer considered objectionable? Or, having an opportunity of expressing one’s opinion in public automatically grants the impudence of being slanderous in the ugliest of ways?

Only a few months ago Google started the policy of forcing people to sign in before posting a comment on Youtube comments section in the hope that people will be more careful about what they choose to write because that is going to show up on their Google Plus profile. Well, I doubt that such kind of people do care about what shows up on their profiles. In all probability they act with the same nonsense attitude even in reality beyond the web world. Then there are the smarter ones who create other ids to post comments on a public forum.

Using expletives even during our daily conversation is no longer considered such a taboo as it used to be in our parents’ time. But doing so excessively certainly does not increase anyone’s image, no matter how smart it looks on the big screen as in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Moreover, expletives may or may not be slanderous in nature. It depends on what context those are being used.

Psychologists and / or social scientists may define this phenomenon as young generation’s increasing need of venting frustrations at the condition of life or socio-economic status. But, I think frustrations and consequent stress have always been a part of any young person’s life. That does not necessarily induce everyone to foul mouth any well known person including musician, sport star, actor, author or other noteworthy personalities of the day and age. Since, mostly well known personalities are targets of such abusive languages, it is more likely the doing of a pathologically jealous mind than purely disappointed one.

When there is always an opportunity of turning over that page of magazine or newspaper and closing the browser window which shows someone who increases your irritation, it is normal that you’ll use it. Any sane person does so. He or she certainly does not waste time to write unmentionables. At any rate throwing cheap dirt at someone does not necessarily decrease one’s stature, but most certainly lays bare that person’s character who has attempted to do so. Remember that wise saying which says, ‘You must not throw mud at sun. It does not store your dirt to blacken its face, but returns the disgrace on your face only.’ No one reasonably can or need to stop such needless jibes. But it only reveals how hard we are at work to create a very sick society.


Image Courtesy:

Ben Cumming

Dear Common Flower – James Russell Lowell


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Dear common flower, that grow’st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,
First pledge of blithesome May,
Which children pluck, and, full of pride uphold.

~ James Russell Lowell



It’s Quoted

Image Courtesy:

der LichtKlicker

Margaret Rutherford – As the Make Up Wears Out


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The name Margaret Rutherford is quite popular among the connoisseurs of old movies, particularly vintage British movies. Her characterisation of Miss Marple in such films as Murder, She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Most Foul and Murder Ahoy!, based on famous Agatha Christie novels is admired even today. She started appearing on the big screen at an advanced age. Not being a conventional beauty also did not help her causes; in fact, she was derided by many for her looks who confidently preferred overlooking her superb acting prowess. But, thanks to her inimitable style of acting, she already created a firm footing for herself on stage.


In last two years or so, while watching many of the old black and white films with my brother, I stumbled upon I Happiest Days of Your Life and consequently learn about the formidable acting skills of Margaret Rutherford. In the following months, we managed to watch The Importance of being Earnest (based on an Oscar Wilde story), Passport to Pimlico, I’m All Right Jack and Curtain Up among others. Our search also yielded a rare gem – an interview with Margaret Rutherford and her actor husband Stringer Davis conducted Down Under. The web world, despite the hype around the process of digitisation, is not exactly swathed with interviews of famous personalities of the yore. So you will understand why I call this a ‘rare gem’. The interview is also devoid of any clichés associated with such interactions with film stars. I am sure you will enjoy listening to this during an afternoon recess this weekend.


Margaret Rutherford’s role in The V.I.P.s earned her both Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. She was also bestowed with Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Dame Commander (DBE) in 1961 and 1967 respectively.

Unfortunately, her glorious success on stage or screen and a stable relationship with her devoted husband could not prevent her frequent lapses into depression and melancholia. Nearly all through her life, she was haunted by the fear of becoming mentally incapacitated. This fear primarily stemmed from her father’s violent insane spells that drenched the family into bloodbath. Though Margaret Rutherford (May 11, 1892 – May 22, 1972) was sent to stay with her aunt, Bessie Nicholson, since an early age the ghosts of the maladies existing in her family never really eluded her. As she started suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the late sixties, these nervous breakdowns became even more frequent and acute. She was nursed by her beloved husband till her very last day. What she said about her work also applies for her life. That,

You never have a comedian who hasn’t got a very deep strain of sadness within him or her. Every great clown has been very near to tragedy … is quite apparent from the Margaret Rutherford story.


Image Courtesy:

Kate Gabrielle

Gerda Taro – A Talent Born to Blush Prematurely


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Wilfred Owen’s proverbial question, ‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’, echoes through Gerda Taro’s life and work. She was one of the first female photographer to report events from the frontline. Eventually, she succumbed to the perils of war only when her career is starting to blossom.

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When I will Cease to Stand in Your Way …


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I saw you last week. Or, rather I saw the top of your hat. You walked past me without saying so much as “hello” to me. Was I surprised? No. Was I offended? Well, may be a little bit, deep down. No, I shouldn’t say I was offended. You see, when you expect someone to behave in a certain way and your assumptions turn out to be correct, you do not generally take any offence, however insulting one’s behaviour turns out to be. But you do not become overjoyed either, because you have been proved right. It is a strange kind of feeling. It accepts the fact, but continues to be sad nonetheless. It is a strange kind of pain too. It does not make you mad with anger. You do not seek revenge, because the object of it is too dear to you anyway. But this negligence gnaws at your heart nonetheless. In accepting the fact it feels defeated and yearns to cry out in desperation.


When you appeared out of that grove this morning I could not help feeling how handsome you looked. You were surrounded by your friends. You may have failed to recognise me, but I have seen you growing up since a small boy. You often used to come here with Mr & Mrs ___ . You see, my relationship with you runs longer and deeper than you would care to admit, now that you have become such a big and successful person. But, blame it on my age, memories decades older than now seems to be so fresh to me. And, the past hour? I have forgotten already.
I vividly remember the days when you used to come here to gather flowers, chase that hapless butterfly or simply sit here awhile under the shade. To me it seems to be still only yesterday. In fact, I will let you out a little secret. Mr ___ too acted much the same way as you did when he was a child, though he did not admit it to you later on.

Then when you were a little older you managed to escape your nurse’s sleepy eyes to come to sit here. We talked and talked and talked. Or should I say, you talked and I used to listen. If I have ever intervened, you hardly used to take a notice of that. You used to tell me every story Miss ___ has read out to you on the day and weeks before. You used to narrate in minute detail what happened at home since the morning, why you are angry with your dad and mom and how you ran away without taking your breakfast. I remember once you revealed your mischievous idea of frightening little ___ by hiding a toad in her lunch box. You made me swear before revealing your plans of cheating at your homework to me. We had a long discussion on that and in the end you gave in to your conscience. But you did bind me in an oath nonetheless, so that I would not let this out to anyone. I never did because I knew we were friends for life. And, I never will because nothing will alter this truth for me, not even your perceived ignorance of the time gone by.

I could not help but see you talking with Mr Palmer the other day. I came to know about your plans of clearing this area up for a new guest house. Perhaps, you have big plans for your new found friends some of whom seem to be considering this house their own residence! Of course, it is your land and you will use it the way you please. I am counting my final few days on earth anyhow. You know, I have stopped giving those beautiful blossoms for years now. You mentioned that during your discussion with Mr Palmer.

I was caught in a reverie thinking of how you so loved collecting the scattered petals of those pink flowers. You used to heave them on little ____’s head. You two were such cherubs. All my neighbours here, including me, used to see your performances with such delight. You two hardly used to be conscious of that. Such is the beauty of childhood. It accepts life unconditionally. For children the whole world is nothing but a plaything. That is why so easily could we bind ourselves in sacred threads of friendship. That is why you never failed to understand my language. My silence never offended you. We became so close to each other that only best pals could possibly be. We knew how to be happy in each other’s joy. We knew how to keep each other’s most intimate secrets safely locked in the inner most chambers of our hearts.

Thirty years on, you became skilled in many languages, you accomplished many things to be a proud member of your family, you also gained worldly possessions. But the one language closest to your heart became lost irretrievably. My words became foreign to you, my feelings unintelligible. You no longer run towards me or any of my neighbours to embrace us with your big hands as you once were so much in a habit of doing. You have become too grown up for that. Perhaps you will say, “Like every child I was a tad foolish.” I beg to differ, my friend. You have become stupid now.

I will not stand in your way for very many days now. If not by Mr Palmer’s ingenuous machines, I will succumb to Mother Nature’s ways. So, will be the fate of many standing here alongside me today. Together, we carry the history of this land that is worth hundreds of years. Perhaps, that is not worthy enough for you as an individual, but it is priceless for “you” collectively. And what will be your loss? You, my dear friend? Your loss will be dearer than the bittersweet nostalgia of an old friend who once used to cover this land with the torn petals of blushing pink blossoms.


Image Courtesy:

Noric Couderc

Shubho Nabo Barsho – Happy New Year


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Today marks the onset of another Bengali New Year. The day is known as Baishakhi, the first day of the lunar calendar month Baisakh. According to the lunar calendar, followed on all festive occasions in this part of the world, yesterday saw the culmination of vernal season. The occasion is celebrated with much delight not only in Bengal, but across many regions of India. In other parts of the world too, like in Thailand where Songkran is being celebrated at the moment, this period does not go unnoticed. The word Songkran was derived from Sanskrit word Sankranti meaning culmination or transformation of one season to another.

Nabo anadey jago aji, nabo rabi kiraney,
Shubra sundar, preeti ujjal, nirmal jibaney …

Rabindranath Tagore

Wake up to a new joy, the exuberance of early morning sunshine,
To be touched by the beauty, splendour and tenderness of life … (roughly translated)

In earlier time, this period used to bring additional joy because it coincided with the harvest season. It used to bring friends and families together. Young members of the family paid respect to the older members. Pujas (worshipping) were performed to show gratitude for the time elapsed and prayers offered for everyone’s well-being. Nowadays, the program has undergone changes and is only a curtailed version of what it used to be. Gifts, mainly dresses and jewelleries, are exchanged. People throng restaurants for the taste of good food and drinks. They no longer have the ‘time’ or intention of cooking a fine meal consisting of traditional dishes at home. I intend to be an exception here and so does my brother. So, we are off to prepare a sumptuous dinner for our family members and a few other close friends. Here is the menu – pulao (a delectable rice dish), prawn malai curry (prawn cooked in mustard paste, poppy seed paste and cream, i.e. malai), pigeon pea curry and tomato chutney. You are cordially invited to join in.


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