Welcome to reenainindia! I kept this blog during the 2011-2012 academic year, when I was on a Fulbright grant in India, studying Hindustani classical music. (I am a western-trained composer — for more information about my current work, you can visit my website, and for more specifics about my work with Hindustani classical music, click here.)
There are almost a hundred entries in this blog on all sorts of topics, from music to travel to memorable encounters. While you’re welcome to read through all the posts, I’ve compiled some of my favorite posts from the year in the paragraphs below, so you can navigate to whatever interests you.
The post Two Rings is perhaps the most important post in the blog — it is essentially my ‘story’. It traces some of the important moments that compelled me to be a musician, and that eventually led me to India to study Hindustani music.
If you are interested, there is also an interview I did (with Libby van Cleve, from the Oral History of American Music at Yale) a few weeks before I received the Fulbright grant. In it, I talk about my music, as well as a variety of other things from my childhood love of Barbra Streisand to the Hindi a cappella group I used to run at Yale.
I had a variety of incredible musical experiences in India. One of my favorite musical moments of the year, described in Universal Language, is an exchange I had with a tabla player, where music was literally the only language in which we could communicate. The post Spring describes how different cultures associate very different sounds with the same emotions or phenomena — in this case, the season of spring. The post Reverse Reduction discusses how western classical music is perceived (and perhaps pigeonholed) in India, as we sometimes do with Indian music in the west. But on the other hand, I had the unlikely experience of being part of a wonderful production of Mozart opera scenes in Delhi (Mozart in India), which was sung, played and conducted entirely by western-trained Indian musicians. Studying Hindustani music also led me to a reevaluation of the meaning of perfection, and in the post Studies in Perfection, I break down what the idea of perfection means in western music versus in Hindustani music, and how conception of perfection has evolved.
I spent the year taking in massive amounts of new information every day, both musical and otherwise, and I think the post Chants Sans Paroles (Songs Without Words) best describes what it felt like to develop an intuitive understanding of things that were simply impossible to describe in words.
In addition to going to many music festivals and performances, and performing myself, I was also invited to do many public speaking engagements. Talking about Music describes some of my experiences (and terrors) speaking to audiences of hundreds of people throughout India. One of the most amazing moments of the year was speaking at the INK Conference (in association with TED) in Jaipur, which is described in The Power of the Journey: INK 2011.
Though I was based in Delhi, I travelled all over India, visiting cities and states including Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jammu-Tawi, Chennai, Goa, Kerala, Kanyakumari, Assam, Sikkim, Darjeeling and Pune. The post Kanyakumari is about my trip to the bottom tip of India, one of my favorite places I visited. Travelling in India was sometimes a little more… well.. adventurous than I expected: Getting to Jodhpur and Getting to Goa describe two of my wildest travel experiences.
I met two amazing kids during my travels that I profiled in my blog. One was a 12-year-old boy named Irfan, from a tiny dwelling on a hill in Jodhpur’s Old City, who had learned phrases from five different languages from tourists passing through, and invited me for chai with his family. I also met a young girl named Roshna in a tiny village in the mountains of Sikkim. She was the runner up for Sikkim Idol (yes, based on American Idol), and she is an incredible young talent.
My favorite travel post is all pictures: my friend Crystal’s birthday was in March, and since I was traveling all month, I took pictures with letters that spelled out “Happy Birthday Crystal” wherever I went that month as a birthday present for her. The pictures were taken in cities throughout India (my favorite one was the “y” of “happy” – with a smirking pink goat in Assam who had gotten caught in some Holi crossfire!)
Even day-to-day life in Delhi had its hilarious moments. Interactions with our maid, Anita, provided many laughs in moments of misunderstanding: (Apne Peir, Raisin-Fest, Lost in Translation and American Fashion). I also found that the dupatta, a shawl Indian women use to cover their heads, had a variety of other amusing uses (The Versatile Dupatta).
Trying to celebrate American holidays in India (described in the post Customs) led to some interesting hybrids of Indian and American culture, including coconut jack-o-lanterns, christmas stockings made from Indian brocades (and a tailor who refused to believe that people put socks on their walls), and a very different take on the concept of thanksgiving turkey. On the other hand, I learned to cook many Indian dishes from our maid (Cooking with Anita), which, in addition to being able to make a pretty mean aloo parantha, gave me a view into her life, and consequently, into a part of India that I never would have otherwise known.
Of course, I had many reflective moments over the course of the year, and I would be remiss not to list a few posts that talk about some of these deeply personal revelations. In Reena in India, I realize how even the way my own name is perceived in India completely changes my perception of myself. In Malhaar, I describe a moment standing on my balcony in the downpour of a monsoon singing Raag Malhaar, and starting to feel not like an American who has come on a trip, but like an Indian in India. In Exploring Old Delhi, I begin to see things through my grandparents’ eyes, and finally understand how hard it must have been for them to move to America. In Airport Musings, I start to grapple with the deep chasm that seems to exist between what I value about India versus America, and how, if ever, I can begin to form a life that includes all the things I love. And Return expresses the impending return to America, and how deeply connected I grew to India over those few months.
I hope you enjoy perusing this blog! Please feel free to leave comments – I love to hear from my readers!