If your mind is receptive, there is so much around us that can inspire us to love life. This morning, I woke up with an urgency to experience the world around me and inside me. This may sound very abstract, but most mornings I have a to-do list inside my head and the day is driven by activities dictated by it while my heart yearns for gratification on an entirely different plane. Does this happen to you? Several days like that strung together make me feel stressed and wondering what’s wrong; and fill me with a yearning to break out of a life that isn’t pulling together or making the sense I want it to.
So I decided to seize the opportunity this morning and resisted urge to be distracted by the newspaper and sundry household chores. Instead, I plugged in my electronic tanpura and sat down for my riyaaz, essential for my music but not something that I have formed a habit for despite many years of learning music off and on. Twenty minutes of practicing only the sargam- first the lower octave notes below the sa, then the middle octave notes between the lower and upper sa, and then the higher octave- had me feeling warmed up, but also seriously worrying about how much voice training I need to really be able to hit the notes right. Then I opened the music book my guruji had given me back in Lucknow and zeroed in on Raag Bilawal.
A raag using all the pure (shuddh) notes, Bilawal is sung in the morning time and evokes the emotion of love/longing (shringar ras). The words of the composition I sang ask little Krishna to wake up and come out to play, since all his friends, the cowherds, children and maidens, are eager to meet him and pining for his company. An hour of music completely rejuvenated me and set a positive, energized tone for my day, despite the fact that I was struggling to remember and reproduce the composition correctly.
For me, the arts (music, dance, painting, theatre, etc) are the perfect compliment to the hectic pace of the urban life most of us lead. In fact, in the first half of the 20th century, as royal patronage to the arts declined, leading musicians moved from the capitals of princely states to industrial hubs like Mumbai, where their new patrons, the industrialists and businesspersons (seths), resided. Urban Indians were exposed to the best of performers, especially musicians, though one could argue that this opportunity was perhaps available only to the elite.
As Indian cities have grown and taken center-stage in the nation’s development, however, I feel that the arts no longer have that status. The population growth in cities has been so immense and the focus so much on individual progress and development, that the emphasis on the arts has died away; even schools offer minimal exposure, the elite are seen attending parties and brand openings while the front rows of many worthy performances remain vacant. Who will be the new patrons of our classical arts?
There is a need to go beyond patronage as spectators and encourage individuals, especially children, to learn classical art forms, not with the objective of making them professional performers, but in order to grant each child a bond with art so special that it becomes a form of meditation for life, a way to look into yourself, escape into an alternate world, even a channel to the divine…something that centers you and grounds you and offers a point of focus even in the midst of life’s numerous crises.