Even though I feel a little self conscious about this, I think it’s important to post my personal statement from my Fulbright application here. I don’t always say these things eloquently when someone asks about my project, so I feel that it’s important to establish some background about who I am and what has prompted me to move in this direction. So with as little apology as possible, here it is.
I have found that the knowledge of two possibilities creates the potential for knowledge of infinite possibility.
Though both of my parents are ethnically Indian, they come from very different backgrounds. My mother’s side of the family is from Goa, in southwestern India, but she was born and raised in Kenya. My father was born in Surat, India but his family moved to Pakistan after the Partition, where he spent most of his childhood. My mother was raised as a Catholic, and my father as a Dawoodi Bohra, an Islamic sect. My mother’s family spoke Swahili and Konkani and my father’s family spoke Gujarati and Urdu.
Growing up, I was constantly aware that there was more than one right response to any
situation. It could be as simple as finding two words to describe the same object (I grew up
speaking both Gujarati and English). But I also began to become aware of the more complex clashes that inevitably arose from having parents from a different culture than the one I lived in, ranging from basic differences in manners to discrepancies in the core values and priorities of each culture. My parents did not consider these cultural differences to be drawbacks, but opportunities to broaden their thinking. For instance, I remember a dinner table discussion when I was about eight years old, where my parents recalled various passages in the Bible and the Quran that mentioned rainbows, and compared their meanings. Knowing that there were at least two ways of looking at something made me realize that the world could contain still more possibilities, and prompted me to look for them.
Though so many aspects of my life have been informed by this sense of dichotomy, until recently, my life as a musician has not. The music of India stems from the Hindu religious tradition, and therefore, neither of my parents were exposed to it or thought to expose me to it. My parents enjoyed Western Classical music, so that was the music I heard as a child and grew interested in. I began playing the guitar at age 8, moved to the piano after a few years and achieved a high level of proficiency in performance. Then, when I was 17, I began composing music, and the following year I was accepted as a composer at Juilliard. I was excited to be involved in the creative process, but I still felt that my music rehashed many older techniques that had already been explored masterfully by others, and that somehow never felt innate to me.
I was always interested in exploring Indian music, and had collaborated and studied with
a variety of Indian musicians, but it wasn’t until this past year that I was able to really delve into it during a semester-long class in Hindustani (North Indian) music at Yale. In my short time exploring it, I’ve learned so much more than just the mechanics behind the music. A whole facet of the culture of India that had been previously closed to me suddenly began to reveal itself: I began to see that many of the traditions of Indian Classical music were the musical representations of the traditions of my family’s culture, which I had to disown to fit in as a child growing up in the West. While I may be a technical novice in Indian music, there is something about its sensibility that I innately understand as the thing that has been missing from my own music for all these years: the absence of the self, the sense of infinity, the intuitive and improvisatory methods, the extended and effortless flowering of melody, and the resultant aural coherence of the music. My goal is not to compose music that sounds “fused” but to establish a method of working that appeals to both the Eastern and Western sensibilities, that honors each tradition and culture, and therefore, that allows me to express the full palette of who I am.