Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

It’s that time of year again when Bengalis fold away our usual sensible, introverted character and spread out a more joyous, and dare I say it, carnival-esqe side to us like a beautiful, jewel-coloured bed throw from Fab India.  It is Durga Puja time.

But who is she and why do we celebrate her so enthusiastically?

It turns out that Durga is quite phenomenal.  She is the Hindu Mother Goddess, a warrior, a killer of demons and the personfication of energy (“shakti”).  Amazing, given that Indian culture can be so pro-man.  The story goes that she was created to fight Mahishasura, a demon who couldn’t be defeated by man.  The gods became so angry at his destruction that beams of fierce light emerged from their bodies, from which Durga emerged.  She has 10 arms, each of which holds a different weapon including a chakra, bow and arrow, and conch.  Oh and her ride was a lion.  Her battle with Mahishasura was epic, with him taking many forms like a buffalo and an elephant, each one slain by Durga with grace and power.  She finally kills him after 10 days of fighting.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer could learn a thing or two from her.

Durga in action

So Durga is a powerful, multi-tasking, graceful slayer of badasses.  And just like women the world over, she is also a wife and mother.  She seems to have a taste for bad boys as her hubby is Shiva, the cannabis-smoking destroyer of the universe. Rock and roll.

I can’t think of a better deity to celebrate.

Read Full Post »

India’s independence day was on the 15th August and friends and family all over replaced their facebook profile pictures with the Indian flag.  It is great to see such patriotism even in the face of our national team’s abysmal performance at the  India-England 2011 test series.

The day itself also made me think of India’s national anthem, ‘Jana Gana Mana’.  Since we left India when I was just six, I was not lucky enough (no sarcasm intended) to have it drilled into me during school assemblies.  And in Sweden, there weren’t many occasions to catch up so as a result, I guiltily confess to not knowing my national anthem.

Luckily with the help of YouTube and Wikipedia, I can hear and understand the complete version of the song (only the first stanza out of the 5 composed by Tagore is sung as the national anthem).

Here is the wiki link to the translation:

But here’s the interesting thing about this song.  Apparently Tagore wrote the song in honor of King George V and the Queen of England when they visited India in 1919.  Is this really true?  If so, I find it highly ironic and sad that our national anthem is sung in praise to our former British rulers.

If someone can set this straight, please do!

Read Full Post »

Some more Tagore

 

Song of the City, photograph courtesy of Akademi and Southwark Playhouse

In my last blog entry, I admitted that I find Rabindra Sangeet boring and wished it could be set free from its traditional interpretation.  Well, it seems as there are other people who want this as well.  Last night I attended an interesting dance production called ‘Song of the City‘ by Akademi which uses Tagore’s songs in a contemporary way.   The piece is about three characters – Muse, Artist and Man who fall in and out of tune with the city.  The dance blends ballet, bharatnatyam and modern dance while the music mixed stripped back Bengali vocals, pulsating big beats, clarinet ( played by Arun Ghosh who also composed for the production) and an electronica-tinged soundscape.  And then the actual setting.  It was a character in its own right.  Dark, atmosphere and musty vaults underneath London Bridge where the subterranean space was given a golden dirty hue by the naked lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling.

All in all, quite an interesting production.  I didn’t come away spellbound as some bits worked well, others less so.  However, what was most interesting for me was that the Rabindra Sangeet wasn’t boring to listen to!  No harmonium, no irritating bells, no monotonous singing.  The songs were rendered full of emotion and momentum.  Why?  The accompanying music lifted the lyrics from the doldrums, gave it life and meaning.  Layers of dub, electronica and beats along with the modern dance gave the songs the much needed atmosphere and context that has been sadly lacking in other Tagore dance dramas.  Sacrilege for some, a surprising evening for me.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Rabindranath Tagore

It’s the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth this year and so as seems fitting, there have been lots of concerts, talks and events to mark the occasion.  He is a cultural gem for both India and Bengali people.  Having being the only Indian who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the quintessential Indian Renaissance man (he was a poet, novelist, playwright, musician, painter, educationalist…the list goes on), he thoroughly deserves his star on India’s hall of fame.

However, what makes Tagore so unique and unlike other cultural icons is that he is so integral in Bengali family lives.  Virtually every Bengali family I know has a Geetabitan (Tagore’s 2000+ collection of songs) in their house, knows many of his songs by heart and has taken classes in learning Rabindra Sangeet during their adolescence.   It is a rite of passage similar to children in the West learning ballet or joining a scout group.  It is what we do.

My family is no exception.  Didi started singing quite early on.  She initially started singing classical at 5 from a neighbour and then when we moved to Bandra, Ma enrolled her into a well known Rabindra sangeet school called Sahana, not too far from home.  Didi even got the 1st prize in a singing competition at Bandra Saraswati Puja.  Oooh.  So far so normal but interestingly, Ma’s relationship with Rabindra sangeet was less ordinary.  Unlike Didi,  Ma didn’t learn the songs at school or from a singing teacher.  She was entirely self-taught and as a young girl she had no interest in it.  Funnily enough, she opted for dance as an extracurricular activity at school.  Sadly, I have not seen Ma throw shapes on the dance floor. Ever.  As for Rabindra sangeet, she got more into it when the family got a Philips record changer at home and used to play all kinds of vinyls including the aforementioned songs.  They had a full album of the dance drama Chitrangada which she learnt to sing from beginning to end, aided by the trusted Geetabitan from which she could learn the lyrics.

Didi playing the tanpura and I (freshly bathed) attentively watching

As for me, I definitely AM the exception.  While I attentively watched Didi and Ma practice at home in India, I have never learnt to sing, let alone sing Rabindra sangeet.  One of the reasons is that we left India when I was only six so deemed too young to flex my vocal chords.  However, if my skills in crying as a baby is any indication of my potential singing prowess, I would now be wowing audiences worldwide.  Secondly, Stockholm did seem an unlikely place for a Rabindra sangeet school.  Thirdly (and probably most crucially), by the time I had opinions, I decided that Rabindra sangeet was not for me.  I found it (and still do) boring.  There I said it.  Rabindra sangeet is boring.  I can hear the collective sharp intake of breath from every single Bengali mashi and mesho out there.

Let me explain.  The lyrics of the songs are incredible beautiful.  That is not in question.  But as someone whose relationship with the Bengali language is like a shy awkward teenage boy trying to talk to the girl he likes: halting, faltering, uncertain and unable to hold a conversation that goes beyond ‘umm, so like…”  Which basically means that when I listen to the songs, I have no idea what they are about.  And what bugs me is that music and songs should be able to overcome language barriers.  However, here Rabindra sangeet lets me down.  The music which accompanies the lyrics does not do what it is supposed to do.  It does not enhance, complement and reflect the beautiful lyrics.  The music is boring, flat and sound so sad.  As a result, all the songs sound vaguely the same and endless.  If Rabindra sangeet is going to appeal to me and future generations of Bengalis, Indians and just generally human beings from anywhere, it needs to be freed from the strict, traditional chains that imprison it.  I think Tagore would agree.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts