Monday, November 8, 2010

The Music Room: A Memoir - Namita Devidayal

Rating: 7/10

Review:
Allow me to lapse into a little bit of nostalgia before I review this book. Like many Indian girls, it was customary for me too to learn Indian classical music right from a very young age. Though I love music, the rigid, packed schedule of school, music and home work meant that I was always reluctant to go to music class. But that wouldn't matter, since it was almost blasphemous to mention anything close to 'I hate music class'! Anyway, my Music teacher was always kind, lovely and patient with me, having seen many such reluctant learners.

Music is such an intrinsic part of most Indian families, that it is common to name their children after ragas (Don't we all know our Kalyanis, Ragamalikas and Sahanas?) Music here could be a refuge, a spiritual recourse or  something that people love to talk, discuss and even debate, showing off their musical knowledge. If there is a girl learning music in the family, you can be assured that everyone who meets her will ask about the new Kriti she learnt, whether she's waking up early in the morning for voice culture exercises and if she made it to the recent Bombay Jayashri concert. Music, the great leveler of sorts, is a part of each and everyone I know here and this debut book of Namita Devidayal pays tribute to that universal language of music.

Devidayal uses her personal experiences with her Music Guru Dhondutai Kulkarni to trace the history of two of India's greatest singers: the legendary Alladiya Khan and his disciple Kesarbai Kerkar and their legacies and the kind of environment they lived in. The language is simple, engrossing and filled with small stories and anecdotes about these three great musicians and their lives, even as the concepts that are vital to Indian music, and indeed music as a whole, are explained. 

The narrative, however, is not as simply structured as the language. It jumps into flashback mode quite a lot and often, abruptly. But that is no great fault, as the book is a page-turner that will appeal to just about anyone who loves music or likes to read about India. Devidayal deals with concepts surrounding music and its religious and social repercussions. Sometimes the book might read like a chapter from Theory of Indian Music or the like, but it only adds on to the reader experience, by helping them understand the concepts referred to in the book.

The final parts of the book were a bit of a dampener and it became a rather predictable ending, which is what stops this book from being more than just a good book, in my opinion. However, the good things far outweigh the negative points in this book. The relationship between little Namita and her teacher Dhondutai is so beautifully and realistically portrayed and it is hard not to care for them both. 

Pandit Ravishankar is quoted in the gorgeous book cover, saying that this book is 'A must for every musician and music lover!'. That just about sums it up. Settle down comfortably and prepare for a trip down memory lane and a peek into the wonderful world of Indian music that has long enthralled people across the world, no matter what country, religion, gender or race they belong to. 

9 comments:

Birdie said...

Hi!
Glad to see that you're back in full swing!
This one sounds fascinating; I don't know very much about traditional Indian music, but this book might just be an excuse to find out.
Also, is your blog where I saw Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand reviewed? I'm 1/2 through it and I love it!

Veens said...

Well I really did battle sometime back, getting this one. But I did not.
I learned Harmonium for some months and then gave up :P
But, really a very lovely review.

Kals said...

Birdie - Thanks! This book is definitely a good place to start if you want to know more about Indian classical music :) And no, I didn't read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand though I wish I could asap!

Veens - I was in two minds getting this book too, but a Pandit Ravi Shankar blurb on the cover meant I HAD to give it a try =) Haha see..we all have our Indian classical music experiences! Thanks, it was fun writing this review :)

Vaishnavi said...

Music class was something I rebelled against with all my might and my mum just gave up after a point. I don't regret it now, but this post brings back memories of a long time ago. I would love to read this, given a chance. Lovely review!

priyaiyer said...

Lovely review!! :)

Being brought up entirely in Gujarat, I missed the 'music class' experiences, growing up. I do love music, but do not know the A B C D of it. That's what's stopping me from picking up this book, in spite of having read several wonderful reviews all over the blog world!

Kals said...

Vaishnavi - I'm glad the review could evoke some of the nostalgia that the book evoked for me! Do let me know how you liked it when you read the book :)

Priya - Thanks :) This book has no complicated music funda and everything is explained :) If you love music, this book should be a treat.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

OMG...this sounds like one I would love. Indian writing appeals to me lately. Thank you

Alyce said...

This book sounds great on several levels. I love learning about new cultures and music. I had no idea about the role that music and music classes played in the life of Indians. I know I'm grateful for my parents' encouragement when it came to sticking with the flute. It's become a life-long hobby.

Kals said...

Diane - I hope you read this one :) Thanks!

Alyce - So true. Some times parents prod us to realise our talents and our likes. Dance was something like that for me :) I definitely think you'll like this book!

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