10 September, 2010

In Tokyo after Nagoya

Here I am in Tokyo for the 2nd time. My first time was 3yrs ago but I did not spend much time here to get to know about the city. Tokyo seems like any big city in the world---large, crowded and huge,tall buildings with everyone in a rush. Somehow I enjoy the smaller cities and Nagoya surely was a lovely experience.

The past few days in this wonderful country has made me think a lot. Courtesy and honesty is something everyone can learn from the Japanese. In Nagoya, we were very well looked after by Jun san and Shinyo san. Jun is learning Tabla from Ty and Shinyo plays the Santoor. He was so happy when I asked him to bring his Santoor and play for me. He said that the few things I taught him has changed his life and now, considers me his Guru. They are just amazing people and the only word that comes to my mind immediately when I think of them is "cute". They looked after us so well and made sure we were comfortable in every possible way. The concert was in a beautiful Temple and it was indeed a spiritual experience. We had more than a capacity audience and many people, listening to Classical Indian Music for the first time. The sound was good too and somehow, I lost myself completely in the beauty of the sound. It was very hot and I surely sweated a couple of gallons but nothing matters when the feeling within is something special and I felt it last night. Both the Ragas that I played, Hemant and Kirwani are Ragas that I have performed many times but there was something magical last night. I could just feel each and every note vibrate within me and I let myself go like very few times before. To add to this enriching experience, I dreamt of my Guru where he told me that after hearing me, he felt that I was taking the right path and was on the right track!!!

People here are amazing. Last night after the concert followed by a wonderful dinner with some friends, we were coming back to our hotel in a Taxi. Our friends pre-paid the Taxi driver and on reaching the hotel back, he found that he had been overpaid and returned about 500yen back!!! Can we imagine this happening anywhere else? In Delhi, the auto and taxi drivers are waiting to fleece every single person. Why is it that people cannot be honest? I am sure that the taxi drivers here are also not the richest people but they live honestly. You cannot dream of tipping anyone here, either a Taxi driver or a waiter at a restaurant. It would be like insulting them if we tried to. What is also amazing is that you see very few cigarette butts on the street. Many people carry small pouches where they stub their cigarettes out and toss it into a garbage bin when they see one. It's funny that you can smoke inside restaurants and many buildings but cannot smoke near the train station.

Another thing I have noticed is that people are so healthy and it is indeed very difficult to see an obese person, be it someone young, old or middle-aged. Honestly, I have not seen a single person who is over weight. It cannot just be because of their small body structure but I am sure it is also because of their healthy diet. For me as a vegetarian, it has been tough since Japan is such a "fishy" place. Yesterday, Ty and I went to this amazing super market, Takashimaya and in the basement is their food section. Huge would be a small word to describe it but after walking around for almost an hour, we had to come out empty-handed since there was just nothing vegetarian there. Reminded me of the saying, "Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink". For me it seemed like "Food food everywhere but nothing to eat since I am a vegetarian". To top it all, I am practicing to eat with chopsticks(whenever I do find something vegetarian!!). I am sure that if you know your way around, you can find some places but unlike India and many places in the West, it is really tough being a vegetarian. The journey from Nagoya to Tokyo in the special Shunkansen train was just about 2hrs. This train travels at speeds of about 250km.

We have a few concerts in and around Tokyo next few days and I am really looking forward to appreciating Tokyo more. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to share my music with these lovely people and to get to understand them a bit better.

Signing off now and will try to write again in the next couple of days

05 September, 2010

Being a vegetarian in difficult places

Here I am, sitting in my small room in an apartment in Kyoto and getting ready to leave for my next destination, Gifu. I arrived in Japan a couple of days ago and have finished 2 concerts. Everything about Japan is small and compact--the rooms, the men and women, the cars. This is my second visit to this country and the first time, I am trying to understand more about this beautiful and ancient culture. But not getting far yet since I don't speak the language. It is indeed very difficult to make yourself understood here and yes--being a vegetarian is a huge problem. Perhaps if you live here or can even make yourself understood, it may be a bit easier. Last night, Ty and I had to look at several places before finally finding something that could at least serve some sort of a soup that had only fish sauce. Of course, this was unacceptable to me even a couple of days ago but rather than starve completely, I have had to accept this. In some parts of the world, it is indeed difficult being a vegetarian and if you cannot speak the language too, it becomes very difficult. I wonder how I am going to manage the next couple of weeks. Will surely lose a couple of pounds!!!

The concerts have been amazing and it's wonderful to be able to connect with the people through my music. Even though the people here are initially hesitant to open their hearts, once they do so, they are amazing people. Some people have come up to me after the concert saying that they have never experienced such emotions ever before and were crying during the concert. Just proves the often said sentence that music is indeed the only universal language that knows no boundaries, no language, no religion. If only more people can love music passionately, this world would be such a better place.

Signing off now and will continue to write about my Japanese experiences.

04 August, 2010

"Naturally Inspired" In Edinburgh--Getting ready for Wimbledon 2011

Saskia, Ishaan and I are here in Edinburgh for the 2nd year in succession. After the wet experience we had last year, we were prepared totally with our umbrellas and poncho for Ishaan but what a surprise!!! We have had the best weather here--quite cold for the August we are used to but I am not complaining. After the summer in Delhi and the humidity of the monsoons, I am very happy that I am not sweating at all. Actually, that's not true because I do sweat it out when I finish my hour long tennis every day. Tennis and me? yes--that's one of my "naturally inspired" projects here in Edinburgh as I prepare for Wimbledon 2011!!

I have always loved tennis but never had the nerve to hold a racket and start playing. Something in the air inspired me to start finally after 45yrs 8 months and a couple of days and here I am, trying to replicate Federer and Nadal. Luckily I have a wonderful sparring partner in Kees Nooren, my brother-in-law. But I was quick enough to understand that maybe I would not be able to play as well as Federer or Nadal but I have to admit--for never ever playing the game, it's going quite well and my dreams of competing at the Center Court in Wimbledon might still come true in my next life. If I had not taken up Sitar and Indian Music, maybe I could have picked up a tennis racket and found my calling.

On to serious matters---Saskia and I feel great to have been invited to this wonderful project called "Naturally Inspired". This is an initiative taken by one of the festivals in Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Mela festival. We have been put up in a beautiful cottage in the country side of Edinburgh about half hour away from the city. It's an absolutely gorgeous cottage surrounded by mountains and it's wonderful to breathe fresh air. Lovely weather helps and it's great to have some of Saskia's family and friends around since they decided to join us for their summer vacations. Ishaan is having the time of his life--playing with his cousin and friend from the minute he wakes up till they all finally just fall asleep. After a week of residency here, we are supposed to perform our "new creations" on Saturday at the festival and Sunday at the beautiful Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Saskia and I have indeed been inspired by the beauty of the nature around us and have finished composing 2 beautiful pieces. We have given the names "Bonney Fierey"(meaning Beautiful Fairy in Galic). Not too sure what to call the other one but I suggested that we call it "Amitabh meets Sean Connery" to the other one. Just joking of course. But its a beautiful Scottish song that we are both inspired from and from which we take off into a beautiful Indian folk tune and an Irish Folk tune in the Raga Khamaj that we learnt in 2001 when we are in Galway from one of Ireland's wonderful musicians.

Its just so lovely that we still have these wonderful initiatives taken up by people. Just such a pity that in India, we are still only dealing with negativeness. All we read is about the corruption, be it CWG or some other corrupt politician or sensationalize rapes, murders or gossip about the Bollywood. Is there nothing else that the media can write about? Cricket and Bollywood is all Indian media writes about but wonderful initiatives like the one we are in gets no mention. Too bad but I am happy that the internet still gives us the opportunity to share our experiences with those people who are still interested in our work.

Will share with everyone how the events go this weekend. Till then--Cheers!!

30 May, 2010

My summer in Delhi

I have been meaning to write somethings for quite some time now but the weather in Delhi has just been so horrible that I have no energy left for anything creative. Going to Italy and France for 2 weeks made it even worse since the weather there was just perfect for me. Getting back to Delhi in the peak of its summer is not the wisest thing to do but home is home and there is no place like home. Had a wonderful time in Italy sharing Saskia's and my music with the wonderful audience there. We were performing in Cabella, a small village about 2hrs from Milan for the Sahaja Yoga Centre, devotees of Mata Nirmala Devi ji. I have had a wonderful relationship with many of them for over 15yrs now since my first concert for her in Berlin in 1994. I love the respect and love they have for our music and our culture and it is always a special feeling for me to play for them.

We rented a car from Milan airport and drove down to Saskia's parents in the south of France. Wow!! What a beautiful journey--through the French Alps and seeing some of the most beautiful sights of the world. Who can ever ask for anything better in life?!!! My music takes me to such beautiful places all over the world and to be able to share it with my 2 loves, my wife and my son, is indeed something that I could not even dream of. We spent 10 lovely days with Saskia's parents in what I call "paradise". All the creative games that Ishaan plays with his grandmother is triggering his imagination. To see him play with his grand father is always very beautiful. I miss the fact that Ishaan never got to meet his other grand father, my father, who I am sure would have loved him to pieces. My father passed away a few months before Ishaan entered this world and after having seen his relationship with my nieces and nephew and the beautiful bond they shared, I always wanted my child to build the same bond with his grand father. But I am sure that wherever he is today, he is looking down at Ishaan with a lot of love. Both Saskia and me attach a lot of importance to our families and it is wonderful to see Ishaan so comfortable in both the cultures and both families. Another beautiful thing to see was Ishaan's relationship with the dog there, Ursa. Ursa is a French Bria rd and one of the most gentle dogs that I have ever come across. For her to withstand the growth of 5 grandchildren who all adore her without any sort of anger is something admirable. If she gets annoyed by anything, she just walks away from the scene and comes back a couple of minutes later. Such control is what we all human beings should also develop. Is'nt this what meditation is all about? To control your emotions, not to show or express anger or other negative characters?

I also got to spend a couple of days with my brother in Geneva and enjoyed some great food with him. Bisibelebath with all the wonderful side dishes, Biryani--the way I like it--hot and spicy.

Since we were flying Emirates, we had to drive back to Milan to catch our flight. The journey back, we chose a different route. Drove through more exotic places like Nice, Cannes, Monaco, along the Mediterranean Sea. The international festival was on in Cannes but we decided not to enter the city and get caught in any traffic. I have to say that the Emirates is one of the best airlines I have flown. Wonderful and helpful staff, both at the airports and in the flights. The best thing was the way they looked after Ishaan. One of the gifts he got, a puppet called Pedro, the Parrot and Rani, the Tiger have become his favorite toys now. Saskia does an amazing interpretation of Pedro and Rani and its wonderful to see how much Ishaan learns through them. Saskia has almost created an "alter ego" for herself since she can say anything she wants as Pedro(the naughty one while Rani is the goody goody one). I do have some beautiful videos but she will kill me if I ever share it with you on YouTube!!! She hates it that I record all these videos but I am sure she will thank me when we both get older and only have memories of Ishaan's childhood to keep us occupied. The minute we stepped out of the airport in Delhi and the hot air hit us, I just wanted to run back and catch the next flight back!!

Well---I started writing with the intention of writing something different but have ended up writing something else completely. But that's what happens when I plan things out rather than be impulsive. So is the case with my music--when I plan something and work meticulously, sometimes they do not work out as well as I thought they would. But when I go with the flow of music and let the music dictate me, the feeling of joy inside me is something extraordinary. There are many times when this flow brings tears to my eyes even as I am performing. This feeling of joy to be totally one with the music is what I aspire for. I do not know when or what creates this feeling and what triggers it but whenever it does happen, it's sheer bliss that nothing else can give. Only the joy I get from seeing Ishaan is closest to this.

I do hope to be more regular with my writings since I do enjoy sharing my thoughts and experiences through this medium. Have a great time in whatever you are doing.

07 April, 2010

Two ends of the Spectrum called Life

Today is the 7th of April 2010 and I wish to write about 2 people who are at the 2 ends of the spectrum called Life--my Guru, the Living Legend Pandit Ravi Shankar who is 90yrs young today and my little, beautiful son Ishaan who is 5yrs old.

90?!!! WOW!!!Happy Birthday Guruji. At an age when most people will be happy to get off the bed without help, this man continues to travel the world, sharing his music with people across the globe. He has been the strongest influence in my life since my childhood and I continue to look up to him like a son looks up to his father. There is not a single day when I do not think of him and count my blessings. The whole world is celebrating this genius and his life. I have been fortunate to have had his blessings all my life, my father being one of his closest disciples since the late nineteen forties when Guruji was in his late twenties. I grew up with all the stories my father shared with me--the many personal anecdotes---I could write volumes and books about him. He has seen it all and done it all and I wonder how it feels to be great Pandit Ravi Shankar.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ishaan--just starting his life, not knowing what life will unfold for him. The innocence, the burst of energy, the twinkling eyes, the uncorrupted thoughts and expressions--that's Ishaan. Full of life and a thirst to learn, Ishaan is an "exceptionally gifted child" with an IQ of over 150. This is indeed a huge challenge to take in - along with the pride and delight in his abilities and eagerness to learn comes the burden of responsibility of how to provide him with what he needs. Saskia is reading a lot to understand how to parent a gifted child like Ishaan and we have endless discussions every single day. There is no perfect school for him since no school will be able to give him everything he needs. Like Guruji telling me last time we met, "Take care of him. He is indeed special". No greater blessing to Ishaan than these whispered words.

Right in between these 2 beautiful people is me enjoying their worlds with my eyes. Its a wonderful place to be in--looking up to my Guru, and guiding my little son through tiny steps that he needs to take to find his place in this world.

I am indeed blessed.

02 March, 2010

Bleeding fingers and broken wrists

Its been over 2 months since I last wrote anything on my blog page. Yesterday was Holi and I enjoyed a great celebration with Saskia and our beautiful son, Ishaan. Many wonderful things have taken place recently--my duet concert with my GuruBhai, Sarod player Partho Sarathy in Coimbatore. We were playing together after almost 10yrs but it seemed that there was never any gap at all. We played together quite often in the nineties but have gone our own individual ways the past few years. I am happy to see how well Partho Bhai is doing for himself. We were accompanied by the father-son duo of Pandit Anindo Chatterjee and his son, Anubrata Chatterjee on the Tabla and it was wonderful to play with someone as accomplished as Anindo da.

The other few good things that have happened recently are the international tours Saskia and I will be doing later this year and early 2011. In July/August, we have been invited by the prestigious Edinburgh Festival. After this, my adventures with my great friend Ty Burhoe and our month long tour of Japan. October is the month when Delhi will be hosting the Commonwealth games and I am happy that we will be touring South Africa during that period. Who wants to be caught in all the traffic jams?!!! But the biggest confirmation we have had is the concert at the Kennedy Center, Washington DC in March 2011. The Kennedy Center is organizing a 3-week long India Festival and we are billed as "one of the highlights" of the festival. Really looking forward to it.

The other thought that came to me recently after witnessing one of the most amazing concerts is a question that I am sure is asked by many. What is it that drives an artiste to such heights that one can even forget physical pain and go on to a plane where nothing matters except being totally one with the art. I have had a few occasions when I have cut my finger during the concert and its bleeding but I am completely unaware of it till much later when I take a pause in between my Ragas or during the intermission. On 29th Feb, I saw this same passion when I witnessed the concert of the great Kathak dancer, Saswati Sen. The concert was organized at my Guru, Pandit Ravi Shankar's Centre and it was wonderful to see the 2 great giants, Guruji and Pandit Birju Maharaj ji sitting right in front and enjoying Saswati didi's concert. Towards the end of her first item in Dhamar Taal, to everyone's horror, she fell down badly during her last Tihai. The whole audience was dumb-struck and a few people rushed on to the stage to help her. In just a few seconds, she was on her feet and apologized to the entire audience, continuing where she had let off as if nothing happened. I was sitting with Anoushka and we were counting the number of chakkars that she wanted to take and looked on breathlessly. To our great delight, Saswati didi not only finished the Dhamar without any more hurdles but went on to dance for over an hour after her fall. She even invited her guru, Pandit Birju Maharaj ji to sing the memorable Thumri that he had specially composed and as a concluding item, he even played the Tabla to the delight of a houseful audience. The full moon was a witness to this wonderful evening. Only next morning did I learn when I called Saswati didi that she had fractured her wrist when she fell down. Despite the pain, she did not stop even to take a breadth.

Its not money that drives passionate artistes to overcome bleeding fingers or fractured wrists but the deep desire to perform in front of an august audience and share all the years of hard work and practice with the audience. The need for recognition and respect is greater than the lure of the money and when I saw that same passion in Saswati didi's concert that evening, I was moved to tears. Thank you Saswati didi for re-kindling that feeling in me.