I am generally wary of the 'prowess' of contemporary writers, more so if they're Indians writing in English.There is something very unnatural about the writing style of most contemporary Indian writers who use English as a medium of expression.It's not that their writing comes across as foreign,it just appears as though they make a tremendous effort to sound literate.It is with this skepticism that I sat through a book reading by Namita Devidayal, a Princeton educated journalist turned writer, as she read out excerpts from her first book and memoir,'The Music Room'.
'The Music Room' is an account of the author's experiences during the course of her training in Indian classical music.It also contains the histories of Dhondutai(the author's teacher),Kesarbai(Dhondutai's teacher) and Alladiya Khan(Kesarbai's teacher).It begins with a reluctant child being brought to her teacher, Dhondutai,to learn music. It then covers the dichotomy of the author's 'double life'.On one hand she studied in a westernized school for the elite, and on the other hand she took lessons from a traditional Indian guru. The book talks about the author's personal strife to reconcile the two worlds, and the personal strife of her guru to carry her musical tradition forward.
The narrative tends to sound like what Indian writing in English has sounded like ever since Arundhuti Roy won the Man Booker Prize. What redeems this book is that it doubles up as an anthology of anecdotes that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. The occasional clash of cultures that are diametrically opposite was something that most readers will find fascinating.The musicians mentioned in the book hail from a variety of backgrounds and, as the author said, 'would probably not eat food in each other's houses'. Yet they somehow touch each other's lives and, quite inevitably, the author's. The inexplicable relationship shared between a music teacher and her student can only be understood by one who is musically inclined. This book gives us rare insights into a world that is slowly withering away due to its inability to carve a niche for itself in the present.
Reading 'The Music Room' was a pleasant experience on the whole. It left me with a deeper understanding of a tradition that I've struggled to come to terms with(a different story all together).