Review : The Music Room

by Satadisha Saha Bhowmick on October 19, 2012

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Author: Namita Devidayal
Publisher: Random House India
Year: 2009
ISBN: 978-0312536640
Rating: ★★★½☆
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In the ocean of life, sailing through the tides of incidents, accidents and change, the one thing which keeps the sail high and upright is perhaps music, the only thing that makes us feel closer to ourselves. Somehow, while reading The Music Room, this faith will get established in you. The book, as the name itself says, is a memoir. It is the tale of Namita’s musical education from her beloved teacher Dhondutai. Nevertheless, the story goes well beyond that depicting a marvellous bond between two people belonging to different generations but uniting at the courtyard of learning. A teacher is someone who moulds our life and shapes it for the better. So does Dhondutai. As little Namita enters the portals of her abode holding her mother’s hand there initiates an era in her life. The journey which Namita embarks on with her teacher since that day encompasses her knowledge, perceptions and also her outlook towards life. She sees the times before hers through her teacher’s eyes and then narrates it through her own. Moreover it is a journey paralleled with her growing up. Studded with the impeccable beauty of India’s rich musical heritage, the book unearths the secret of living with and living for music in its innumerable layers.

Dhondutai Kulkarni is a lesser known name of the renowned Jaipur Gharana and supposedly the last living icon of the same. Though not born with the silver spoon of the Khansahib lineage, she received the tutelage of Ustad Alladiya Khan and the melodious Kesarbai. Under their training and influence she becomes a protégé who dedicates her life to music. She does not seek a marriage or a family and opts out of every social norm to give her music the foremost importance. With the support of her father Ganpatrao, Dhondutai does fulfil her immense desire to learn. What inspires us the most is that, even in those ages of social divides and catastrophes there existed people who considered going above the petty boundaries which cripple our entity and liberate their own for the sake of their art. For art is one of those things which enlightens the soul. It is like that flame of hope which illuminates the dark corners of our inside, giving light to those rooms that have been pained for long before emancipating us from the clutches of worldly vices. Art is adoration, it is holy like the name of a sacred being and practising it requires unsullied devotion, honesty. Dhondutai is a living example of a person with all these qualities, someone who would make the ends of the world meet for her music. However every story brings a question of what after that. Thus when Namita shows promise as a student, the artist wishes to pour in all her knowledge on her own little Kesarbai. She loves her student and gifts her little by little that unmatched musical talent flowing through her veins. Sometimes she scolds her like a strict mentor and at others she would start a debate over contemporary issues. Though Namita does not believe in every opinion that her teacher puts forward, she respects her like a doting student and seeks inspiration from her in every possible manner. In return Dhondutai ushers her with unconditional love expressing it through the only language she knows, music. In beautiful metaphors and divine ragas, Dhondutai unfolds before her a whole new world away from the sordid pastures of monotony on which we live. People who connect to music and its subtle nuances would feel what freedom and pleasure this might hold, to rise above the ochre old mazes we all run through.

Among the many histories which reminisces itself through this book, we can conclude a single moral, the heavenly bliss which we achieve through music and the inimitable struggle which people undergo to deserve it. One needs courage for such daunting effort and incomparable tenacity. But that is what makes them different, especially from the ones to whom Pinkfloyd says, “Running over the same old ground what have you found? The same old fears.” Though Dhondutai wishes the same for Namita, the latter has a world of her own different from that of her teacher. It begins with Abba music and culminates to the epitome of modern education, the Princeton University. Namita cannot devote herself entirely to her art but she never ceases her meetings with the teacher. It is one practice which continues without disruption through the thick and thin she faces in life. Family, education, marriage, everything is put aside for her rendezvous with Dhondutai at her little Borivli abode. Thus, weaved in strings of fondness and admiration, their relation becomes that amazing tangible feeling which on contact with the reader’s heart, gives it warmth and heals the same from mortal afflictions.

The story provides inspiration. Maybe a more deft hand would have weaved it in a more gripping manner. But with the richness of classical music, the short biographies of its maestros and the wonderful attachment between two people coming together through these, it reaches a surreal arc. It ends with a note of longing that emits from the voice of some unknown singer, whose pathos, pleasures are all imbibed from her music and her music from the same. The experiences it elucidates in simple prose make us travel the highs and lows of human emotions. It amalgamates religion, music and life and spreads that one thing which keeps us real in its very own brilliance; it completes us. Informative and touching, this is a good read.

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