Friday, September 10, 2010

The Music Room

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).


luv2musik said...

Although many more Indians exhibited their 'prowess' after Arundhati Roy, I cant agree to the possibility of stereotyping 'Literate sounding Indians' to one category. The narrative styles do differ a lot - from Arundhati Roy to Kiran Desai, from Amitav Ghosh to Arvind Adiga.

La Diva! said...

Their styles differ but one can tell that they all come from the same mould.Very few contemporary writers dare to write differently for fear of displeasing publishers.

Suhas said...

Agree that most Indian writers seem to come from one mould. I think this is partly because of the fact that Indian writing in English is still in its infancy, and partly because of the Arundhati Roy template you mentioned which publishers insist on milking.

Occasionally, Indian writing manages to effectively showcase a particular world or community, eg. Rohinton Mistry's works on the Parsis of Bombay, and Amit Chaudhuri's writings on middle-class Bengali life. This is where it works best for me.

There's plenty of good non-fiction Indian writing in English, on sport, travel and history, however.