Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A glimpse of MY India

My great-uncle, Padi Venkatrama Krishnamoorthy, was born and raised in Rangoon in a Tamilian family, teaching himself Rabindra Sangeet by listening to lessons offered on the radio. In his very musical family (also mine) genres run into each other like colours in a leheriya dupatta--you start a song in one mood and genre and the odd phrase takes you into another state of mind, language and musical world. All this before we learnt words like medley and mash-up. For three generations, we grew up singing everything we heard, making up our own words some of the time, but always faithful to the tune and the beat, and never forgetting the background music.

Krishnamoorthy Mama's All-India Radio (and later Doordarshan) career took him all over India, and his work facilitated his hanging out with the best musicians of the moment.

Today, he shared with us that AIR Kolkata's collection of 'Ramyo Geete' has three of his compositions. These are all songs we have grown up hearing, sung by him and by aunts, uncles and cousins over and over again. I honestly had little idea of who had sung the original recordings of "Mama's songs." In my universe, he has always loomed larger than those recording artists.

Trying to locate the CDs so I can buy a set, I found the songs on YouTube and heard the original recordings for the first time.

This medley of Kanchipuram-Padi-Rangoon-Kolkata-Cuttack-Delhi-and-any-other-cultural-element-you-want-to-add--this is the India I inherited.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Those wretched three fingers

Like the festival season or the season for sales, it seems always to be the right season for protest and outrage.

Somebody says something and by 8 a.m., we’ve all gone up in smoke. By 9, we’ve ranged ourselves on either side—because it’s always a binary, right. We’re sure of our positions. Everybody knows about everything, and therefore, can arrive at a position on all matters expeditiously. 

As I slowly wake up to the day, I am often surprised by the news, and before I can wrap my mind around it and place it in context, I see that verdicts have been delivered.

We seem to be easily incensed, quite often infuriated. I worry about some of the things we outrage about (see, outrage has even become a verb now!).  We outrage about casual remarks. We outrage about life-choices. We outrage about genuine mistakes that others make. We outrage about the way things are done—by a person, by a community, by an office, by an organisation. And now we outrage about the outrage of others, asking why are they protesting thus and why choose this moment to protest.

I worry about this. To be honest, it scares me.

Does everyone (except me) really know what the perfect action or words are in every situation and what the perfect moment is to deliver them? Do we know exactly what the correct way to do something is? Can we predict the outcomes for that correct way with perfect confidence? The question I worry about most is this one: Can we be sure we would get it exactly right in the other person’s circumstances? I am not.

Yes, there are some things about which we can be sure, each of us. We can be sure of what we value. We can be sure of what strains our tolerance. We can be sure of what we do not consider acceptable. But can we be sure we will always meet our own standards or live up to our own ideals? I do not know.

Nothing frightens me more than the ring of certainty—in the king and in the mob, both.

I worry about our insistence that all our actions, each of ours, should be consistent within our lifetimes. Is being consistent a virtue or is being able to change with the times a virtue? Is change growth or fickleness? The answer is probably not an either-or answer. But I know that sometimes I let things go and sometimes I react. In both situations I am being true to myself. Can that be wrong? Can I impose upon another my demand for them to be consistent when I cannot? That does not seem right to me.

I feel pusillanimous in my inability to call for blood at all times. Indeed, I have no taste even for the endless argumentation that in India is a sign of intelligence. I want to hear from you and maybe share a little, to learn—that is all. Let’s keep it quiet and gentle—and safe for us to set aside our egos and defences and hear each other out. Perhaps this is because I am not as smart, articulate or passionate as those who would argue into the night. 

Enough, my heart whispers to my mind, very quickly. I let things pass. Everything does not require my commentary or intervention.

Yes, there are things I feel strongly about too, and if you pay attention, you will know what they are and how I feel. I too know how to speak my mind and how to speak out. But I am grateful that till date, I also know how to listen and learn. I have still not learned everything.

And I remember learning this in school: When you point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at you.

In my case, they point to a person who doesn’t always understand what’s going on. There are a few things I know a little bit about and heaps and heaps of things about which I know virtually nothing. I try to learn as much as I can, but that is a lifelong process. I kind of know why I do what I do in a given moment. I make the best choice I know to make. It may not be the best choice ever nor even a good choice. But being true to myself in a given moment might mean acting on that choice regardless of what follows. In time to come, I will learn more and I may know better. But for today, I am doing my best. The three fingers point to a human being doing the best she can. 

That is all.