The Warp and Woof of Music in My Life

The Warp and Woof of Music in My Life

So, my tryst with learning a musical instrument started like for most people, from Middle School. Studying in a convent school, Indian music and Western was part of the curriculum. Sang in the school choir from Middle School through High School.

Our Choir Master was the musical genius, Padmashri Handel Manual, a self-taught composer. The Founder and Conductor of the Madras Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. It was he who wrote the western musical notes for our National anthem. He had short fingers like me, and told me that that cannot stop me from learning classical piano. Inspired by him, I taught myself a few compositions. My favourite: The Devil’s March.
Handel Sir taught us to sing with gay abandon, enunciating each syllable: light, bright, might, night. I learnt to belt out the hymns joyously and uninhibitedly and with just a tinge of religious fervour. Hallelujah!

The desire to learn every possible instrument was latent, understandably. However, I quite quickly narrowed it down to Hawaii Guitar because that was the only course offered after school hours apart from Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music. No brainer.

In less than 6 months, quit sliding the steel and plucking the strings to re-join my boisterous kabaddi gang playing outside in the sunny field. Got back to raiding the kabaddi opponents on a single, unrelenting breath. Chanting with vigour: kabaddi kabaddi.

In 9th Standard, I picked up the light as air bamboo flute and started classes with right earnestness and clear intentions. Why flute? Because I was a born whistler. I thought, I would naturally take to the flute like a gliding duck to water. Quit again in 2 quick weeks. The mind was a monkey – restless and resisted discipline.

Anyway, life got super busy. No time to pause and smell the red or button roses, leave alone pick up a shaft of bamboo that was hollow within.

Much later, I once again decided to pick up the bamboo. A quick cursory Google search led me to Sangeet Sadhana. Irony was that the school was just a stone’s throw away from where I had resided for 2 long decades, and I had just shifted to distant Whitefield. Undaunted, I start the mandatory 3-month vocal classes with Reet Sir, who is like the quintessential school Principal, all principled and upright. A strict follower of Guru Shishya Parampara. Quite like me, actually.

Early morning classes, I attend with great enthusiasm. A nip in the air and a spring in my step. Showing up on time. On the dot. Slow in picking up the musical concepts, my head is quickly loaded with buckets full of interesting information – layered and intricate. It was like taking a sudden cold plunge into the deep end of the pool, head first. The head is soon filled with terms like Alaap, Alankaars, Laya, Vadi, Samvadi, Thaat, ad infinitum. Just when you give yourself a gentle pat and tell yourself with quiet confidence that a thaat is nothing but a kind of a folder to tuck away hundreds of raags based on the similarities they share, Reet Sir would throw a googly by adding another layer to this information, scrambling all that is filed in my thaat-like head. The head begins to reel!

Towards the end of the course, Reet Sir apparently looks straight at me (nervousness plays games with your mind) and announces firmly to the class in general that he is not entirely convinced that everyone has made the cut to graduate organically to the next level – which is learning to play the instrument of one’s choice. I inch a little closer in earnestness and bombard him with questions galore to show that I am so into this business of thaat, virudh, komal and teevra swars. Junooniyat.

Eventually, in January 2020 (probably the most dreaded year in human history currently still running its disastrous course), my first flute class happens. Happiness reloaded! With great expectations and barely bated breath wait for the flute to be handed over in a ritual of sorts – a bit of pomp and show. Damp squib. We are informed calmly that the flutes would be distributed next class – that was an introductory class, checking out the newbies’ theoretical depth. I gently, unobtrusively melt into the wall behind. Smooth operator. Maintain a dignified silence and stare at a distant revelatory point with fierce concentration. Great Escape!

Next class, ‘She” became mine. I reverently named her Saraswathi. A suitable name, I felt. It was in honour of the Goddess of Music and Knowledge and indeed my very own ‘horoscope name’. All traditional do here. Though nothing Saraswathi-like about me, for sure.

Saraswathi has come to mean everything to me. My baby. My doppelgänger. My alter ego. My companion. She quite easily replaced my 2 pet cats where my affections were concerned. They were alley cats now, for all I cared. Not at all being catty here.

First few attempts, barely manage to produce a hissing sound in staccato when I blow into the flute. Still, I am so elated that I record my first scratchy hissing sound. For posterity. In the distant future to listen to it and tell myself: You’ve come a long way, Baby!

Finally, manage to produce the swar Sa. Feel super elated. Cloud nine. Then, Sunil Sir, a young flautist, a Vidwan no less, with an impressive musical lineage, instructs us to head home and practice sustaining the same Sa for 10 seconds or more. I thought to myself 10 seconds is easy peasy. A low hanging fruit here. Back home, you experience relativity of time. Sustaining Sa for 6 seconds were the longest 6 seconds I have ever breathed. Still, with fervour undampened, record it – a mere 5-second long Sa. Gasp!

Continue to record each tiny painstaking progress I make, till I manage to play a short Bandish in Raag Yaman. Oh, I love these Hindustani jargons! Use them often with family and friends and declare very importantly that we, the learners of Sangeet Sadhana, belong to Agra Gharana. A cosy sense of belonging here.

The playing of bandish, I video record eagerly and with great alacrity whatsapp (taking the liberty of turning a new noun into an effective verb here) to everyone in my ecosystem – from Madurai to Melbourne from Nagaland to Nairobi. The response is heart-warming. Many are amazed with my new found musical skills. Who knew I had it in me? I felt like I was half a Vidushi, now. Soon, could start conducting classes for the newbies in Sangeet Sadhana. Life was happening. In fact, life is continuing to happen for me.

The joy I get from playing the flute is indescribable just as any spiritual experience is, really. I have considerably scaled down the time I spend on OTTs just to continue with this simple delightful pursuit. Trying to merge into Saraswathi and become one with her. Nirvana!

Tweaking Shakespeare’s famous line, I iterate: If music be the food of life, then play on, play on, play on!


Susheila has worn many hats as a Marketing Executive, Head of German dept., Verbal Faculty, SME (English) in K-12 sector, Specialist Trainer in L&D vertical and Voice-over artist. Currently, she works as Language Trainer and Instructional Designer. A certified counselor, she is deeply passionate about empowering people from all walks of life. Susheila is learning the flute with full gusto in Sangeet Sadhana.

Tags: Hindustani Classical Music Classes, Online Hindustani Music Classes, Hindustani Vocal Classes


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