Brett Lee Bats for Music Therapy

Former Australian fast bowler Bret Lee is known to cricket lovers as one of the best pace bowlers in the last century, consistently bowling over 155 km/hr. After his retirement from cricket, he has launched Mewsic, which offers music therapy, to underprivileged children and those suffering from cancer.  In an email interview, he speaks about music and children.

Mewsic was kick started by former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee in India in 2011. The Mewsic Therapy Programme was launched along with St Jude’s India Childcare Centres in 2013 in an aim to use music therapy as a complimentary therapy to support children, and their families, who are struggling with cancer.

What does music mean to you both personally and in terms of its power to enhance the lives of children?

My family and I grew up on music so it’s a very important part of who I am. It’s been a part of my life since I was a little kid and definitely something that brought my family together. For children, music can provide an opportunity to express themselves while still teaching important lessons like the importance of practice.

Please could you tell us about your music interests and skills?

A lot of people say this but I really do love all types of music. Personally I play the guitar and piano. I’ve been part of a band, which is a lot of fun because it brings in the element of being in a team, like cricket.

Do you believe music can help children with disabilities and is this opinion based on research or is it your own experience with music?

I’m a firm believer that music can definitely help children with disabilities and other conditions, and there is a great deal of research out there that validates this belief. Our program with St Judes helps children who have been diagnosed with cancer manage anxiety, express themselves emotionally and has even been shown to reduce pain and there are many studies which show the medical benefits of using clinical music therapy on cancer patients.

How much time and mind space do you devote on your music therapy project?

I try to devote as much time as possible. Whenever I am in India I make sure to catch up with the amazing team that helps me put the program into action as well as the beautiful children who are part of the programs. To be able to see the difference that music has made in their lives is inspiring.  And in Australia I often speak at events to raise funds to support and create awareness about our work in India.

How did your love for music translate into compassion Indian children?

I knew from my visits to India throughout my cricket career that it was a country that shared a lot of my passions. The love of cricket obviously, but also a great musical culture. I decided that I wanted to try and use my profile as a cricketer and love of music together to try and help children.

What kind of resources does one need for a project like this? How did you manage to garner funds and resources?

I guess that the main resources that we need on an ongoing basis are donations to keep our programs running.  We need people to ‘sponsor’ the music tuition of our Mewsic Stars, and to help us fund our Music Therapy Program at St Judes.

But we are also looking for other help – donation of musical instruments so that we can give the joy of music to more children, and also opportunities for our Mewsic Stars to perform.  We have formed a band with our students in Dharavi who have become very good and love to get on stage to a live audience and showcase their talents.

We would also appeal to the music and Bollywood industries to provide opportunities for our kids to have musical ‘experiences’ ie see a live studio recording, be in the audience of a music TV Show, have a one off Masterclass session with a famous musician.

What is more satisfying bowling a juicy yorker and getting Sachin bowled or cheering children up with one of your songs?

That’s a very tough question! I think I would really want both because I couldn’t pick between them.

Is it possible to have two personas – one aggressive on the field and the other empathetic and compassionate off it? Were you a different person on and off the field?

Yes I think that’s true to some extent. On the field you need to be a total competitor and, especially as a fast bowler, being aggressive is often part of that. But there is no reason to carry that on after the match. A lot of the batsmen that I had my toughest battles with on the field were good friends of mine once the match was over.

Mewsic helps kids with cancer

Mewsic was kick started by former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee in India in 2011. The Mewsic Therapy Programme was launched along with St Jude’s India Childcare Centres in 2013 in an aim to use music therapy as a complimentary therapy to support children, and their families, who are struggling with cancer.

Executive Director and Founder – Innovaid Advisory Services and Chairperson – Udayan, Kolkata, Emily R Menon speaks about the potential, hurdles and great dedication that music therapy entails. She helps run the Mewsic programme in Mumbai.

What is the scope of your work? When was it started, how many centres are there now, how many musicians involved, how many children and families impacted?

Mewsic was kick-started in India by Brett Lee in 2011 and our initial focus was to establish Music Centres in slum communities so that children could have the opportunity to learn music – singing, dancing, keyboard, guitar and a variety of other instruments.  It was a very successful program – helping keep children out of mischief, exposing them to positive mentors and introducing them to their first experience of learning music!

We launched our Mewsic Therapy program with St Jude’s India Childcare Centres in 2013 when we trialed the program by placing an Australian Clinical Music Therapist at their Parel Centre for two months to provide music therapy to the 30 children and their families living there.  The program was an instant success and the impact on the children was immediate.  Staff noticed marked changes in the behavior of children – less angst and anger, improved compassion and interpersonal skills as they lived so closely together and better management of emotions. 

Thanks to the support of Rotary, we were able to place a fulltime Clinical Music Therapist at the centre for 12months and began to monitor the impact of the sessions on the children. 

There is a dearth of Clinical Music Therapists around the world, and indeed, here in India, so it has been difficult to get properly trained, accredited professionals to continue our work.  We have continued to use music as a form of therapy by providing weekly music workshops and activities with the 35 children at St Jude’s Parel Centre and it has become an integral part of the weekly life of the centre – particularly as children undertake their music therapy, away from school, friends and their homes.  It is easy for them to get bored and feel frustrated.

St Jude’s has three centres in Mumbai (Parel, Kharghar and Cotton Green) and to date we have only been able to supply music therapy to children at the Parel Centre.

Sound Space currently provides weekly music as therapy sessions to children in Parel and Kharghar, and we have just launched Clinical Music Therapy to our children in Cotton Green.

We were fortunate to find an experienced and skilled Indian Clinical Music Therapist, Astha Luthra, who we recently employed to work full time at the new St Jude’s Cotton Green Centre which will be home to 150 children and their parents.  Astha provides both group and individual sessions to children on a weekly basis who staff identify as dealing with particular pain or emotional challenges.  She also dedicates some time to promote Music Therapy as a clinical form of complimentary therapy – talking to doctors, the medical fraternity, students and the media to educate them on the benefits of Music Therapy and how it actually works.

What is your mission? Is there hope and evidence for clinical improvement or does it focus on quality of life parameters?

Our mission is to use music therapy as a complimentary therapy to support children, and their families, who are struggling with cancer.

A growing number of studies suggest that music can aid healing in many ways.  One recent scientific paper from Harvard University showed how music therapy helped stroke patients regain their speech, and other studies have found that music may improve heart and respiratory rates. It also helps to control blood pressure as well as anxiety and pain in cancer and leukaemia patients.

Additionally music therapy is very good at helping patients manage pain, which is traditionally managed through the administration of drugs. Research has shown that those who utilize Music Therapy have a decrease in the amount of drugs administered, due to higher tolerance and pain threshold ability.  Music Therapy is also found to play a key role in helping patients bodies become more receptive to treatment (ie chemotherapy) as it helps to relax patients, ease tension and fear – all of which have dramatic physiological impacts on the body prior to treatment.  Music is also key in stabilizing patients both physically and emotionally in this regard which reduces the pressure on hospital and center staff and promotes overall healing among patients.

What is the spectrum of health issues you have dealt with and with which

At Mewsic we focus primarily on children suffering from Cancer, however we have also invested, in the past, in the establishment of a Music Therapy Academy, operated by The Music Therapy Trust in Delhi, to train Indians in a Post Graduate Diploma in Clinical Music Therapy.  We believe that there is a need for more Music Therapists in India who can use this powerful form of therapy to help people suffering a range of health problems.

While no Indian musician would question the emotional impact of music on listeners, few believe in its healing powers. Does your experience prove otherwise?

Once again, Clinical Music Therapy is so much more than just ‘listening to music’.  And yes, very few people in India are aware of the healing benefits provided through Clinical Music Therapy – which is what we practice at Mewsic and St Judes.  There are many musicians who claim to do ‘music therapy’, however there is no regulatory body (as there is in other countries) in India to regulate the delivery of the therapy.

Whilst there is often an initial skepticism among some patients, parents, even doctors, once they read and learn about the research studies and the results that have been achieved around the world, they are convinced that there is something very scientific about the therapy and the results it achieves.

A growing number of studies suggest that music can aid healing in many ways.  One recent scientific paper from Harvard University showed how music therapy helped stroke patients regain their speech, and other studies have found that music may improve heart and respiratory rates. It also helps to control blood pressure as well as anxiety and pain in cancer and leukaemia patients.

In fact we have been approached by a number of hospitals both within Mumbai and outside, to provide Clinical Music Therapists to work among their patients.  However the dearth of qualified and certified music therapists in India has meant we are unable to provide this service.

A 2007 survey of U.S. health facilities by the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, along with the Joint Commission and Americans for the Arts, found that of the 1,923 facilities, 35% offered some type of music therapy to patients.  Similarly, today in Australia, almost every major children’s hospital in the country houses a Music Therapy Department which delivers a range of services to children to help them better handle treatment, pain, and the emotional trauma of hospitalization and their injury/disease.

This indicates the growing case for support for the inclusion of Music Therapy services and its positive impact on patients.

Are parents and children in India open to music therapy as a viable option of treatment or are they also skeptical?

Yes, once the benefits are explained.  Our primary target market is paediatric cancer patients and in this context, it is a very powerful modality.  Our patients are not only suffering from the disease, but they are also suffering from the emotional impact of being away from their homes (all our patients come from across India), their siblings, their schools.  Their parents are struggling with the financial impacts as they are required to be in Mumbai with their child and cannot earn a living.  So the integration of Music Therapy at our centres really helps them manage their emotions and the variety of issues they are dealing with.

Are the doctors, psychologists and social workers on board with music therapy?

There is a huge need for ‘awareness raising’ on the issue of Clinical Music Therapy and our full time music therapist, will be spending 1 day a week talking to doctors, nursing staff, medical students, NGOs and journalists about the clinical research findings and benefits of the use of Music Therapy. 

Doctors at Tata Memorial Hospital have been happy with the results of the music therapy on the St Jude’s Child Patients, however we have not had therapists work for long periods of time to create any validated research of our own.

What kind of music activity constitutes therapy? Is it individual or group? Also is there a preference for instrumental or vocal music?

  • Music therapy sessions usually last between 30 to 45 minutes
  • The sessions are conducted in groups and individually.
  • Depending on a patient‘s situation, they may have regular therapy for weeks or months
  • The music therapist will make a ‘treatment plan’ related to ‘referral aims’ or goals, for the patient
  • The Music Therapist and patient will use instruments and voice in sessions to improvise music that will support the referral aims and achievement of goals.
  • The Music therapist uses psychological and psychodynamic knowledge to explore the needs of the patient and to develop a therapeutic relationship
  • Patients do not need to be able to play an instrument to be referred to Music Therapy

Does your project involving teaching music too? If yes how is the course structured?

As outlined in the first question, yes, we have been teaching music to children in Dharavi, Govandi, Mankurd, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Jaipur.  Today we provide scholarships to talented, disadvantaged students, to study music (we support any instrument, but currently have scholarships supporting guitar and keyboard).  We hope to grow and expand this program and anyone who would like to sponsor a child for 12 months of music lessons is encouraged to reach out to us.

Australians engaged with India – Dr Valerie Wilson

“We gradually came to understand how special, how unique each of India’s textiles were” – Dr Valerie Wilson

Dr Valerie Wilson and Sue McFall co-founded MOTI in 2001, which sells limited edition clothing, nightwear and homewares made from beautiful Indian textiles in Australia. In the midst of researching and sourcing photos for her forthcoming book – A touch of India, Valerie spoke about her experiences in engaging and working with Indians.

Valerie has familial links to India. Her mother was born and raised in Mumbai, and her grandfather was half Indian and worked as an electrical engineer for the Tatas.  Valerie’s parents met in Bombay when her English father, fighting in Burma during WW2, visited India while on leave. The young couple married in 1945 and moved to Cambridge where her father’s studies had been interrupted by the World War. Valerie was born in Cambridge two years later. She visited her grandparents in Mumbai when she was was 6 years and again, for 6 months, when she was 10. They family lived in Panchgani where her grandparents lived after retirement.

Dr Valerie Wilson
Valerie’s love for India and her desire to know more about her heritage lead her to take a year of Indian Studies as part of her BA and over the years she says she has read many great Indian writers and novels mainly, but also general reading about India.  

It was during her third visit to India, much later, that Valerie was truly smitten. “There is such a lot to see and do. Just being in India, anywhere, is to immerse yourself in a wondrous new world, landscapes, religions, colours, monuments, textiles, people of all sorts!! All the obvious touristy sites are unmissable. But there is so much else besides. It’s fascinating, exasperating, exhausting, addictive!”

Valerie worked as a consultant for many years before plunging into Moti. And a lot of what she learnt in her earlier profession helped her to navigate through India. “In a general way I think that, as a qualitative researcher, I was used to asking questions and always seeking greater understanding. I was used to being self-employed, to working things out for myself. For several years I had worked in marketing research so I had a good understanding of consumer attitudes. And I had a very good partner (Sue McFall) in the enterprise who is a self-employed architect, familiar with design and production processes.”

Initially they were attracted by the cotton from Mangalgiri and even visited the town of Mangalgiri to watch the various processes in action. “We used to order multiple meterages of different colours. We loved it. We usually ordered through an intermediary in Hyderabad or Delhi. We also came to love Maheshwari, Khadi and numerous other fabrics. There are so many!”

While Valerie says they did not have a lot of direct contact with the weaver themselves, their various suppliers taught them a lot about “the differing techniques of weaving and of block-printing so that we gradually came to understand how special, how unique were each of these textiles. And how humbling. That’s what struck me the most. A garment that we might casually throw on has been through so many time-honoured processes, has taken so much time and dedication to produce.” 


She describes an incident with a bangle producer and how they became impatient with a supplier who seemed to be taking a very long time to provide some resin bangles for them. “We hadn’t realized that they were being painstakingly carved by hand and he could only do two a day. 

So we often had reality-checks of this sort and learned patience and humility!”

Having said that, there were issues with quality and consistency as is wont to happen in handmade goods. “Our business liked the fact that handmade goods are a bit inconsistent because that is what lends character, what differentiates hand-made goods from factory or machine-processed goods. Our customers were often surprised to learn that every thread of fabric in a garment we sold had been woven in by hand. We had to remind them, to educate them. Especially as we often used plain colours and a lot of plain black! (I’m afraid people in Melbourne like to wear black.) So it was even more surprising in a plain fabric to realise each thread was hand woven in. But they were also pleasantly surprised by how hard-wearing such fabrics can also be. However the idiosyncrasies of hand weaving meant that we didn’t ever consider wholesaling our garments. We needed it to be a personal business, where we could tell the stories, educate our customers. Then they could see, as we did, that the idiosyncrasies were charming! (Sometimes however, idiosyncrasies were simply faults and were less charming!)”

Once they ordered 200 metres of black silk-cotton and when it arrived in Melbourne it was grey. “Not even dark grey, but a mid-grey. When we protested we were told “it’s the Indian black”!!

Valerie says that Indians and Australians share a similar sense of humour, and often humour helps to deal with situations. “We see the funny side in things that others may perceive as problems. We enjoy good-natured banter. We can all use humour to defuse difficulties. And there are quite a lot of difficulties for foreigners trying to do business in India: we have to learn to deal with heat, dirt, noise, disease (tummy bugs), indirect conversations (e.g. people not wanting to say ‘no, we can’t do that for you’), power shortages, lengthy delays in Indian traffic, lengthy delays receiving ordered goods….and more! But it’s worth the effort: the rewards are both tangible and intangible, the pleasures, the gradual understanding, the insights, the friendships…”

And finally, one asks Valerie about Cricket. Valerie says that when people would ask them where they were from, while walking in a market, and when they replied Australia, it would inevitably lead to long conversations about cricket. “Luckily I know a bit about cricket via my three children who used to play. But sometimes we were tired and couldn’t cope with cricket-talk so when people asked where we were from we would reply ‘Yugoslavia’. Silence. (But a bit mean of us!!)”

In 2016 twin sisters, Marilyn and Christine Shady took over the running of MOTI. But Valerie says she and Sue continue the tradition of MOTI with their love of India.  

Australians engaged with India – The Evolving Art of Konnakkol


The art of Konnakkol, where percussionists vocalise rhythmic syllables, is fading in Carnatic music – even as Western musicians are taking to it with gusto for everything from learning rhythm to mastering and controlling complex rhythmic structures in playing their own instruments.

For over 20 years Australian vocalist Lisa Young has been dedicated to konnakkol artistry.  As a jazz singer who loves rhythmic expression, she has integrated konnakkol into her contemporary vocal style and compositions. A long time student of gurus Kaaraikkudi Mani (Chennai) and M. Ravichandhira (Melbourne), Lisa shares with us a unique take on what she believes to be a highly creative, and continually evolving art form..

Dr Lisa Young

Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University, Australia, a Jazz singer and a disciple of Karaikudi Mani Iyer, says Konnakkol has a broad range of practical and creative functions for musicians of any genre. “Konnakkol is maybe our default system for rhythmic comprehension and our intuitive starting point for composition and improvisation. This wonderful rhythmic language provides a systematic approach to rhythmic materials, generally absent in Western music pedagogy. It provides a conceptual framework for metred numerical calculations, improvisation, composition, rhythmic comprehension and analysis, transference of musical ideas, and expression of musical pulse,” says Young

Many of her compositions and collaborative works are performed by vocal group Coco’s Lunch, and her jazz/world music group Lisa Young Quartet.  She also has a keen interest in choral music, composing works that combine Western and Carnatic techniques, which are performed by a variety of choirs worldwide.

Lisa began studying konnakkol in Melbourne in 1994 with mridangist M. Ravichandhira and through him became a student of Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani, founder of the Sruthi Laya Kendra School in Chennai.  From 1997 to the present day she has visited India for intensive study periods with Mani, and been “inspired by this sophisticated, expressive, rhythmic vocal language and its complex systems of musical metreand subdivision.” 

In Lisa’s Own Words:

“Over many years I have integrated konnakkol language and Carnatic techniques in my creative practice, for example; laya ratna akin to metric modulation and yati a rhythmic calculation designed to represent geometric shape.  I often combine Western and Carnatic concepts, including ragaand solkattu, as the foundation for melodic composition and improvisation.  I continue tocompose original konnakkol structures and also to integrate and adapt those composed by Mani, in a variety of ensemble settings.  Over time, the solkattu language has become an integral part of my vocal performance, providing an additional rhythmic-based language that augments the melodic jazz-vocal ‘scat’ language, the wordless lingual syllables used for vocal improvising in the jazz tradition. 


Whilst musicians use konnakkol initially to learn the Carnatic rhythmic system and materials, konnakkol is itself a language.  Once a musician has grasped the fullness of this language including the groupings, the phrases, structures and techniques of numerical calculation, metric modulation, expansion and reduction, it becomes the backbone of one’s deep rhythmic knowing and conceptualising.  The artists’ thoughts are regularly occupied by solkattu phrases and structures.  Konnakkol is their default system for rhythmic comprehension and their intuitive starting point for composition and improvisation.

Do you incorporate a lot of Indian sounds in your playing and vice versa do you find Indian musicians learning from you?

It’s not just about sounds.  It is about the whole musical system.  Once you learn the Indian way of developing the rhythmic timeline then your approach to rhythm is expanded exponentially. There is so much to help expand your musical horizons.  Of course, this works both ways.  Composing and improvisation have very different approaches as you travel across the world.  Sharing in each other’s musical systems is one of the most magical things you can imagine.  There are so many treasure troves uncovered when you explore each other’s musical worlds.  Most of the Indian musicians I have worked with are as excited to explore this as me.

In Lisa’s Own Words:

“Over many years I have integrated konnakkol language and Carnatic techniques in my creative practice, for example; laya ratna akin to metric modulation and yati a rhythmic calculation designed to represent geometric shape.  I often combine Western and Carnatic concepts, including ragaand solkattu, as the foundation for melodic composition and improvisation.  I continue tocompose original konnakkol structures and also to integrate and adapt those composed by Mani, in a variety of ensemble settings.  Over time, the solkattu language has become an integral part of my vocal performance, providing an additional rhythmic-based language that augments the melodic jazz-vocal ‘scat’ language, the wordless lingual syllables used for vocal improvising in the jazz tradition. 

Whilst musicians use konnakkol initially to learn the Carnatic rhythmic system and materials, konnakkol is itself a language.  Once a musician has grasped the fullness of this language including the groupings, the phrases, structures and techniques of numerical calculation, metric modulation, expansion and reduction, it becomes the backbone of one’s deep rhythmic knowing and conceptualising.  The artists’ thoughts are regularly occupied by solkattu phrases and structures.  Konnakkol is their default system for rhythmic comprehension and their intuitive starting point for composition and improvisation.



Eternal and Internal Pulse

Alongside my passion for the expression of this sophisticated vocal percussion language, I have been particularly drawn to the Carnatic music systems of tala and nadai where a breadth of attention is given to detailed rhythmic structures and sub-divisions in a wide variety of odd and even metres or metred cycles.  This detailed systematic approach to rhythmic materials is generally absent in western music pedagogy, and thus my Carnatic studies have influenced and enriched my rhythmic knowledge and expression. In pulse-generated music (as opposed to rubato or alapana sections) there is usually an ongoing eternal pulse outlining the given metre.  This is ‘felt’ or experienced in conjunction with at least one internal pulse layer sub-dividing the beats.  In Indian terms this may be thought of as tala and nadai. The internal pulse (nadai) may be altered in certain sections within a composition, or adjusted spontaneously by the improvisor.  Additionally in the Carnatic system, subtly embedded within the internal pulse, is a third rhythmic layer dictated by sub-groupings the solkattu language itself.  The solkattu language places the beats into groups, usually in 2’s, 3’s and 4’s for example as – tha ka | tha ki da | tha ka thi mi adding an independent layer of rhythmic sub-grouping, integral to understanding the Carnatic system.  Thus a subdivision of 7 or 9 is not simply 7 individual septuplets or 9 nonuplets, as the interior language imposes a distinct rhythmic grouping system

Switching the internal pulse of a given metre is used to great effect in Carnatic music.  The technique of laya ratna, which literally means ‘time’ or ‘speed shifting’ in Tamil, is akin to metric modulation in Western music.  When switching the internal pulse of the metre, the tala (or eternal pulse) remains steady, but the nadai (internal pulse) changes speed.  Proficiency with this technique is an important part of a Carnatic musician’s craftA common laya ratna shifts from a subdivision of 4 to 6 to 8Performing these metricshifts is a fundamental element of the Carnatic tradition; it is a tool, which is used to virtuosic effect in performance.   

In most Western jazz music, the metre or eternal pulse is given as a time signature, for example 6/8 or 4/4.  The internal subdivision – if required – is either written descriptively as, for example: ‘swung quavers’ or ‘straight 16ths’, triplets etc, or described as a musical ‘feel’, such as ‘swing’ or ‘shuffle’.  Of course there are many layers of rhythmic complexity that create a sense rhythmic depth in jazz music, including concepts of metric modulation, polyrhythmic structures, rhythmic feel, and groove.  But within the Carnatic pedagogy there is a fundamental relationship between a musician’s instinctive ability to internally subdivide a given metre, and their ability to explore and interpret rhythmic complexity in performance.  

Significantly, solkattu develops a musician’s rhythmic intuition, which can be easily transferred into any musical situation, aiding comprehension and transference of pre-composed ideas and concepts, and engaging the invention of new music with improvisation and composition.

As a musician’s companion, artists (both Indian and Western) fluent in konnakkol move beyond its original pedagogical role to employ its use as a highly creative tool, in which konnakkol provides a conceptual framework for metred numerical calculations, improvisation, composition, rhythmic comprehension and analysis, transference of musical ideas, and expression of musical pulse. 

Along with timbral and pitch variations in contemporary konnakkol delivery, I explore intoned and pitched konnakkol as a fully integrated vocal and musical expression in a Western contemporary vocal or jazz context, embedding konnakkol and wordless lingual sounds within this format to create a unique ‘vocal sound-bank’ as the basis for my vocal expression.  This style of pitched konnakkol is a distinctive feature of my creative practice.  In this process, my compositions integrate konnakkol language and concepts as melodies, riffs and the language for improvised passages.  My recent works for example The Eternal Pulse, Tha Thin Tha and Other Plans, demonstrate the adaptive and evolving use of konnakkol in contemporary performance practice.  In these works I am applying the tools of both the Carnatic and jazz traditions to create a form of musical expression that is not simply an ‘Eastmeets West’graft.  Rather, these processes are a mode of creativity, which involve an understanding of both musical traditions in the development of a performance language and style.     

Conclusion:

As a vocalist embracing two musical cultures, I believe that konnakkol combines an intellectual and intuitive approach to rhythmic comprehension and acts as a faithful companion to my creative musical undertakings.  It is at the foundation of my rhythmic experience and knowledge, assisting my rhythmic analysis and comprehension in both Carnatic and cross-cultural projects.  I enjoy using timbral variations, atypical syllables, applied vocal techniques and personal interpretation in konnakkol recitation, and I hope my creative works that integrate konnakkol demonstrate the way an artists’ aesthetic preferences may influence the evolving adaptations of the konnakkol art form and language.Whilst the role of the solo konnakkol artist may be diminishing in India,certainly many musicians and institutions in the West are investigating and including a core study in konnakkol. I hope that this stunning art form will continue to thrive, evolve and be adapted by both Carnatic and Western musicians.  Again I say, may it be our default system for rhythmic comprehension and our intuitive starting point for composition and improvisation.

Handspun and Handwoven

“India is the only country today that has skills of hand spinning. It is the most unique resource in the world today” – Mayank Mansingh Kaul

Against the background of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi this year – whose call for Khadi led to the Indian freedom movement – Ahalya Matthan of the Registry of Sarees, and designer Mayank Mansingh Kaul – held the third iteration of Meanings and Metaphors in Bangalore. In a free flowing conversation they spoke about handmade textiles, the identities they impart as well as their place in contemporary design.

The sarees displayed at Meanings and Metaphors only hinted at the diversity of textiles that exist in India. A diversity that goes far beyond the textiles themselves.

Ahalya Matthan Director and Founder of the Registry of Sarees, a Research and Study Centre in Bangalore of handspun and handwoven textiles, is trying to create cultural capsules to find commonalities and communicate that using textiles. “I personally feel in India we have nothing in common – not food, not religion, politics, language, geography, music history, etc. And in this diverseness, it is difficult to find common ground except for in our textiles, There is a love for textiles in all of us,” says Ahalya.

Ahalya Matthan is the Director and Founder of the Registry of Sarees, a Research and Study Centre in Bangalore of handspun and handwoven textiles (All Photo Credits: Registry of Sarees)

Take for instance the Bundi saree, which the Registry’s site says is a ‘modern day response to a young nation’s identity’. It merges skill and craft sets from two entirely different regions, Kancheepuram and Rajasthan. The pure cotton saree with the silk borders specially woven using the three-shuttle ‘temple’ technique synonymous with Kancheepuram was combined with the highly skilled block printing technique using blocks developed from inspirations at the Bundi Fort, Rajasthan. They were merged onto the sarees, thereby linking Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. “A rich colour pallet that is appreciated in both states was used to bring forth a similarity of appreciation and culture,” says the Registry.

The Bundi saree, merges skill and craft sets from two entirely different regions, Kancheepuram and Rajasthan

For Mayank Mansingh Kaul, a textile and fashion designer, and Founder-Director of The Design Project India, the most attractive thing is that India is the only country today that has skills of hand spinning. “It is the most unique resource in the world today. Apart from that, the thing that hits people the most about our textiles when they come from outside is that it is so diverse. It is the quality of cotton, the quality of natural dyeing that does not exist elsewhere in the world. It has such an amazing variety of motifs where everything has a meaning. What draws people from outside and within it is endless, but the first thing is the sheer diversity.” With textiles changing even as one moves from one part of Tamil Nadu to another. 

A lot of this fascination is articulated through the stories from foreigners, friends of Mayank. “The Japanese are more attracted to the material quality. They are very interested in the structure, the materiality. Whereas in the West, people are interested in the stories. Today we think of the Kota Doria as being synonymous with Rajasthan, but it was originally the Mysoria Doria. It goes from the Royal Court of Mysore to Kota. I think these are the stories that are very appealing to the West.”

Mayank has researched these stories and his writings talk about the recent history of Indian textiles. “You have to talk about textiles not just as a product but as a confluence of the political and the social. Khadi was political. In the 60s and 70s when everyone wanted to wear imported chiffon, Indira Gandhi started wearing handloom. She even had rules, we believe, that all government offices had to buy only handloom furnishings –curtains and sofa covers and other things. To make that shift when people wanted to look at western references, was something,” says Mayank.

Mayank Mansingh Kaul is a textile and fashion designer, and Founder-Director of The Design Project India

When Ahalya and Mayank thought about collaborating, they found there was a lot of misinformation about textile history. “Suddenly people were selling Hindru sarees. There was never anything called the Hindru saree. Hindru was a fabric woven for shervanis among the Mughal or aristocratic class,” says Mayank.

A graduate of the National Institute of Design, Mayank says it is only in the last 10-12 years there has been an interest in the study of contemporary Indian textile. “NID is one of the oldest design institutions in the world and until my batch in 2001 we were still taught by some of the founders of the NID. NID was formed with international linkages to movements like the Bauhaus (learning by doing rather than the traditional transmission of traditional knowledge) in Europe. So we knew what happened 200 or 300 years back but we had very little understanding of what happened 100 years back or 60 years or post-Independence. I felt those histories were not in books and exhibitions. So over a period of time, my own practice looked at design, fashion and textiles in the modern period and my argument is that we have not sufficiently understood this period.”

Mayank quotes historical inaccuracies, emphasising the need to learn more about our textiles in contemporary times. For instance, the Telia Rumal of Andhra Pradesh was never the saree which it is today. It was a rumal that was exported to the Arab world. “These are more contemporary histories. Another example is the Ikat sarees which people believe have always been made in Ikat in Andhra Pradesh. Whereas it is a much more recent phenomenon. It is only in the 1950s and 60s that the tradition of the Ikat saree emerged. My interest is to look at the more recent history and fill in the gaps through that between the present and the historical.”

Mayank’s previous major exhibition at the Jawahar Kala Kendra was an exhibition on the history of 70 years of Indian textiles since Independence told through 70 textiles using textiles that were both art and fashion.

“Often, we don’t see the story behind these textiles, it stops with buying and wearing them. My efforts are to do non-commercial curated exhibitions. These collections are not about buying, it’s about being aware of the textile, or enjoying the pleasure of looking at it – it’s an educational process.”

At the first exhibition of Meanings and Metaphors at Chirala in Andhra Pradesh, 5000 weavers attended the event. The exhibitions serve as repository of the best work of weavers. In their research Ahalya and Mayank noticed that weavers often sell the best of what they have made. “If they cannot retain the best examples of what they make, how can their future generations replicate that quality? So when you take an exhibition like this they are reminded of the quality that they have made, but that they have not been able to hold on to. In an environment where textiles and fashion are so over articulated, we try to provide non-commercial platforms to view and understand these traditions,” says Mayank.

At the first exhibition of Meanings and Metaphors at Chirala in Andhra Pradesh, 5000 weavers attended the event

Another collection that will be exhibited by them in 2020 – Sarees of India – will feature sarees from the late 19th century to the 1980s.  Whenever the duo gets access to a collection they store it at the Study and Research Centre at the Registry of Sarees and anyone can access it for research or viewing. The center has over 108 variety of fabrics and 108 sarees of which only 51 have been exhibited.

Mayank and Ahalya see textiles as an inheritance that needs to be cherished. Every saree for them has a story as it passes through atleast twenty hands before becoming what it is. At the time when there was a move to remove reservations and subsidies for the handloom sector, Ahalya became a part of the 100 sarees pact. She and her colleagues decided to become proactive and wear more handloom sarees in order to get people to wear handloom and support weavers.

Speaking about identity and the saree, Ahalya says the Registry has seen a lot of interest from expats who are ‘interested to interact with the drape and even to know about the pieces.’ “Expats in cities like Bangalore, Gurugoan, Bombay, not so much traditional hubs like Delhi and Calcutta are adopting the saree to be able to fit into the cultural environment. It gives them an inroad not just into a new ritual or experience like going to a temple or eating from a plaintain leaf, experiences you have as someone coming to a new country, but it also gives them a sense of bonding and community and that I think is very important,” says Ahalya.

Pamela Kaplan, who headed IBM at Bangalore for two years was an American with red hair, and so was very conspicuous among her staff. Ahalya says she started wearing sarees to work every day. “The norm and trend in IBM was western wear and even formals were gowns – Indo Western gowns. And suddenly, she said, in two to three months the culture of the organisation changed. Young women and men started feeling awkward that she was coming in sarees and they started wearing Indian clothes. It is just conditioning.”

“Indians are not Brand oriented but Product Oriented”                               

Mayank did a project last year on 50 years of Ritu Kumar, the brand and the person. Today, Kumar owns a multi-crore company with over 80 stores in India as well as branches Paris, London and New. Mayank is working on a personal memoir of hers, bringing together her notes made over the years. “Ritu says ‘what Chennai wants is fundamentally different from what Ludhiana wants’.”

Mayank says this is not the same as big luxury brands which have over 500 stores around the world with all their shop windows looking the same, and all the products are the same. “We laugh because these stores have outlets in Delhi and other places and in August they have the woollen collection because in the West, winter starts in August. Here we still have four months of summer left. Ritu was also telling us, it is not just about handloom policy, the diversity is so much that even large companies like these who would love to have a standard format, cannot function optimally here. Sizes are different, body types are different from region to region, cultural buying is different.”

In the West, identities come from brands, because they don’t have close family ties, says Mayank. “In India we have so many identities, we have religious identities, geographical identities, cultural identities, you have an identity from your father’s side, an identity from your mother’s side, where you grew up, then your college, your professional environment. In the West you don’t have these identities. So brands give you identities ‘I only buy Gucci or Aesop or Forest Essentials’. In India we go for the product. Only here, we will buy the blouse from one designer and the saree from another,” says Mayank.

He speaks about his great grandmother who was a child widow, and was sent by her father-in-law, to do a PhD in Cambridge and wore only sarees. “From then onwards if you look at the history of women and clothing, somehow the lure of the saree hasn’t gone. There is something about the saree that provides a kind of identity which is fascinating. Even in Indian fashion, fashion designers are always making new versions of the saree. It’s a dress saree or a Chota saree, or a saree with Churidhars. It is something that has consistently been observed to have given Indian women an identity and there is no other equivalent that has given them the same kind of identity.”

 Modernity versus tradition

Traditionally, the weaver in India was the designer, but in the modern context  city-based designers have become the face of our textiles, putting the weaver lower in the ecosystem.

Mayank has expressed his objections to the designer being perceived as the value addition and the weaving and craft as labour. “That is a western referenced idea. We have to remember that design came up in the West in the Post-World War when they had to use machines. Design came up in an environment where you didn’t have crafts people left. In the Indian context unfortunately we have looked at design from these perspectives where the designer is the intermediary. In the traditional systems, there’s a person who designs, person who cuts the cloth and everybody worked together. I have a problem with the designer being the face because in pictures you will see the hands of the craftsman, and the face of the artist and designer. A lot of my curatorial work challenges that. I always show art, design, textiles, craft together.”

Mayank addressed these concerns in his exhibition ‘Fracture: Indian textiles new Conversations.’ While normally the ideas are those of the designer, with the craftspersons producing them, but here they projected the work as collaborations. “So the name of the craftsperson was mentioned alongside the designer. So curatorially, we could provide them that equality. Unless they have social status, they are producing things that someone else is claiming credit for. I think we need to move into a creative era where anyone who is involved in a creative and manufacturing process has equal credit.”

Earlier people would source the sarees from the weaver directly. “Families that would buy from Benaras would go to the weaver’s family directly. There was that contact. Designers have changed that because we have given them the responsibility of training the weavers, giving them new ideas. It’s a two way thing. Weavers are being informed by designers because they are in a different context, cut off from things.”

However, things have improved for the weavers, says Mayank. In the last 5-10 years many of the master weavers have done well for themselves, so much so that their children have gone to design schools.

“In Andhra we visited two Master weavers, and now they don’t sell their best pieces because now they want to keep a creative museum of their own best works. There’s new found pride and there’s financial success. But some would say that no matter how wealthy you are nobody wants to marry a weaver’s son because of the caste and social status implications. It is a very complex situation but I think the first step is to give them a face and a name.”

“Every state needs its own handloom policy”

The diversity in textiles is so huge that it is not possible to have a single marketing strategy for the whole country, believes Mayank.

What may work in Kutch may not work in Orissa. Kutch has been an entrepreneurial community for the last 1000 years and so their crafts are thriving. “The whole world is in Kutch, from Japan to America. But if you take Orissa or Bengal, they are not entrepreneurial communities traditionally. In Sambalpur in Orissa, all the uniforms in colleges and schools are compulsorily handloom. So State government intervention has helped.”

In Kutch, where the problem is not product development or marketing, or design, the government may have to have a different kind of role.  The Government role has to be sensitive to these individual contexts, adds Mayank.

“The role of the government should be to provide an ecology where workers can work with pride and have working conditions that are human.”

“Food for me is an emotion and that emotion is Indian”

Bangalore can lay claim on internationally renowned chef Anthony Huang who in his own words is a ‘thoroughbred Bangalorean’. His parents moved to Bangalore when he was one year old and he has grown up, studied and worked here, heading the kitchens of some of the top brands in the city including The Sheraton Grand, JW Marriott, Hyatt and The Oberoi. In this interview he speaks about his influences and his passion for Indian cuisine and culture

His parents moved to Bangalore when he was one year old and he has grown up, studied and worked here, heading the kitchens of some of the top brands in the city including The Sheraton Grand, JW Marriott, Hyatt and The Oberoi

Growing up in Bangalore and become a chef here, did you feel it was big enough for someone with your talent?

Anthony Huang: Bangalore has always been exceptionally kind to me. My first exposure to hotels was in Bangalore at a time where everyone called Bangalore a Tier II city and that I needed to move out of the city to really learn. My career took me in and out of the city and I came back to head some of the most prestigious kitchens. Guests in Bangalore are well travelled, unassuming (and in many cases as knowledgeable as you are). This obviously keeps you on your toes all the time, constantly innovating and making sure you are relevant.

You have made a name for your signature dishes with coffee. Did that idea take root here?

Anthony Huang: Having grown up in Bangalore, coffee is something that I take very personally and whose flavours I understand reasonably well. I am a huge crusader of trying to use locally available produce as far as possible and try and do my bit for the environment. There is no doubt in my mind that locally sourced raw materials are always the best option.

 This along with a desire to do something different and an opportunity to keep escaping from hotel life into a plantation got me started.

“I am a huge crusader of trying to use locally available produce as far as possible and try and do my bit for the environment. There is no doubt in my mind that locally sourced raw materials are always the best option. “

How was it working with Oberoi, Hyatt, Marriott and now Elior? How would you describe each of these experiences? How are they different?

Anthony Huang: Well my experiences with Hotels as a Chef gave me a lot of exposure, taught me new things and gave me the platform to try different things all the time.

Elior now gives me the platform to do similar things but on a much larger scale. I wanted to take a little break from hotels and try out something different. This job gave me the opportunity to set up a new facility, handle huge volumes and I am gaining from it personally in the form of learning something I have never done before.

You have mentioned in earlier interviews that you missed a lot of classes while at college. What is the role of Hotel Management schools in producing international standard chefs in India? Is work experience of more value?

Anthony Huang: Hotel Schools have progressed a lot ever since I have passed out of college. They are today supported by easier access to data, information and infrastructure. There were many things that we heard for the first time like Pasta and cheese. Today’s kids enter college having already tried at least 15 varieties of each, so they start of at a much higher platform so to speak. I have visited my Alma Mater “Christ College” and I must say that I am pleasantly surprised to see the progress that they have made and the quality of students they produce.

Work experience and academic qualification go hand in hand for me. There are just so many things for a professional to learn besides just learning how to hold a pan and cook a few dishes.

Anthony Huang with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

You have cooked Chinese, Vietnamese and French food…. and also Indian. What is it about Indian food that appeals to you?

Anthony Huang: Well I am an Indian at heart and an Indian in my head. I have grown up eating some of the best Indian food in my friends’ houses and have always wanted to learn how to cook it myself at home. The memories of Indian food is something that reminds me of my growing years, of my friendships and bonds that I will cherish forever.

Food for me is an emotion and that emotion is Indian. The day I don’t feel it I just don’t enter the kitchen. Only happy chefs can make food that talks to you.

How does one create a clientele who will come back again and again for food in a luxury hotel?

Anthony Huang: Clientele in a luxury hotel looks for that one extra touch of luxury in a plate that a free standing restaurant cannot provide him. Today the gap has become narrower but still has some catching up to do. It could be simply sourcing the best and responsibly grown lettuce or getting your desserts made with the best chocolate. Everyone’s perception of luxury is not the same, the key lies in identifying that perception.

“Sometimes it really makes me feel that these street vendors are the True keepers of our culture. We were completely blown away by the fact that she refused to take a penny for the vegetables that Chef Kuan picked up because she considered him as a guest to her country. I’m sure that these are the memories that he is going to take back!! So proud of her.”

What about your family. Do they like Indian food?

Anthony Huang: My family loves Indian food as much as I do. In fact my 15 year old daughter’s favourite food is “Ragi Mudde”. That says a lot I guess.

How much of food is authentic to cultures. We have ‘Gobi Manchurian’ being more famous than any other Chinese dish, but it is not authentic Chinese food. What are your thoughts on this?

 My thoughts are very simple. Some intelligent guy was able to identify what the masses wanted and made sure everyone went home rubbing his tummy. What’s the harm? I believe that a Chefs primary job is to keep the people he is cooking for happy.

“India led the world in science and medicine because society and rulers respected and supported science and scientists” 


Biologist Dr Gangadeep Kang is the first Indian woman scientist to be elected Fellow to the 360-year-old Royal Society, London. Kang was part of the Royal Society of London’s announcement of the list of 51 eminent scientists elected to its fellowship in the year 2019.

A professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore, and executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, Kang has been working on diarrhoeal diseases in children for over 30 years and has helped develop Rotavac, India’s first indigenous vaccine against the rotavirus that causes severe diarrhoea.  Her research focuses on enteric infectious diseases and the consequences of intestinal infection on immune response, gut function and nutrition in children.

Over the past 20 years she has built a strong inter-disciplinary research and training program, where young faculty and graduate students are mentored before embarking on independent research careers. She leads a multi-disciplinary research team that conducts comprehensive and complementary studies in the description, prevention and control of diarrheal disease using state-of-the-art tools in the laboratory, hospital and the field. The laboratory has studied human and bovine-human reassortant rotaviruses in children with gastroenteritis in hospitals, the neonatal nursery and the community. Complementary studies on water safety, vaccines and treatment trials have evaluated interventions to effectively prevent or reduce diarrheal disease. Her work has led to practical interventions to prevent diarrhea, and continues to lay the groundwork for further interventions in the form of treatment techniques and vaccines.

Biologist Dr Gangadeep Kang is the first Indian woman scientist to be elected Fellow to the 360-year-old Royal Society, London. Kang was part of the Royal Society of London’s announcement of the list of 51 eminent scientists elected to its fellowship in the year 2019.

In an email interview with Aparna M Sridhar, she speaks about the role of India in the world of science

Ancient India had been in the forefront of science and technology and medicine. What do you think should be done to revive the scientific temper among youth?

India led the world in science and medicine because society and rulers respected and supported science and scientists. Today, we need to understand that without investments in science and technology, no nation becomes an economic power. This investment needs to be all across the spectrum, including encouraging curiosity and exploration among our young people. Training of teachers, well equipped facilities and time set aside for exploration are important for school and college students, but society as a whole would benefit from high quality museums.

What does becoming Fellow to the Royal Society, London mean to your work?

I think this is an important recognition of the importance and impact of the work that we have done for children’s health in India. Too often, Indian media denigrates work done in India and ascribes all kinds of ulterior motives to researchers.

My team and I have worked hard for over two decades to build relationships with the communities we work with and for, and this recognition of the quality of the work we have done together makes us feel good that our contributions are being recognised.

Why has it taken so many years since the first Indian male scientist was made a fellow for a woman to achieve the same?

Indian women are not encouraged to stand out or stand up for themselves. Things are slowly changing, so I hope that we can accelerate the pace, so that soon there will be as many women as there are men.

What is your opinion on the status of public health in India? How does this impact on the impression that the world has of India?

India has a very long way to go with improving preventive, promotive and curative health to all of its population, and although things are improving, particularly with new programmes, our trajectories are much lower and slower than many countries that were similar or worse off than India not so long ago. India’s poor investment in public health and lack of equity in health has been a matter of concern within and outside the country.

As a very influential Indian scientist, what is your message to the rest of the scientific community in India.

We need to focus on ambitious, high quality research in whichever field we choose and where we are in the spectrum from discovery to impact on society. Scientists need to communicate outside their own circles and speak up and stand up for science especially when there are nay-sayers who capture public attention.

An American nuclear physicist’s love for India

The family of Arthur Herrington, American scientist and strategist analyst, who passed away recently at the age of 87, visited India in April to ring in the Tamil New year visiting various temples in Bangalore. His daughters Eldrid and Edith Herrington speak about their family’s deep connect to India and to Veena player Vijaya Krishnamurthy whom Herrington cherished as his third daughter

Arthur Herrington’s daughter Dr Eldrid Herrington, Senior Fellow in Medicine at the University of London and a member of St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, in History and Literature, wrote in her tribute to her father in the Daily Telegraph this January:

“Arthur Herrington joined the US defence department in 1965 to find that it had no complete inventory of nuclear arsenal. As Director of Nuclear Weapons he developed a full picture of the stockpile and advised that $ 500 million of weapons be scrapped. In an era of gung-ho naivety he became a bridge between scientists and politicians, educating decision makers about the life and death implications of nuclear science.

He developed MIT’s first graduate programme in Political Science, with a focus on the effectiveness of defence and intelligence. He was hired by the government for his unusual combination of scientific and strategic acumen. Without him the Johnson Nixon and Carter years may have been even more volatile than they were.”

Arthur Herrington was a man of many interests. He went to MIT for undergraduate and postgraduate studies, then worked for Standard Oil of Indiana, the Atomic Energy Commission, MIT, the MITRE Corporation, and finally the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, from 1965 to 1980, in various roles – from 1970 to 1980 as a consultant. After that time he started and stopped a couple of companies – one designing and building boats and the other in commercial real estate.

The family’s relationship with India began with their grandfather- Arthur William Sidney Herrington. Eldrid narrates the story. “The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and America entered the war. In March 1942, Roosevelt knew that Churchill was sending Sir Stafford Cripps to India to discuss Indian “independence” and India’s participation in the war effort. He sent his own envoy to counter the Cripps Mission, Louis A. Johnson, who had been his Undersecretary of War. Louis brought my grandfather, whose company, Marmon-Herrington, had been making tanks and trucks prior to the war and for Lend-Lease.

Arthur Herrington in India in 2006

“Louis and my grandfather befriended Nehru and my grandfather in particular had great sympathy with the Indian industrialists he met, all of whose efforts had been stymied by the European preferences scheme: GD Birla, Walchand Hirachand, Tata, JC Mahindra, and, I believe, Visvesvaraya. Louis’s and my grandfather’s sympathies for Congress and for these Indian industrialists infuriated Churchill to such a great extent that he and Roosevelt had the greatest fight of their relationship. We know what happened next: Quit India.”

Eldrid has in her possession the gifts that Nehru bought for her grandmother – ‘a shawl of some of the finest handiwork ever known’, as well as a photograph inscribed by Nehru to her grandfather.

The shawl gifted by Nehru to Arthur’s mother

For Arthur himself, his love for India came with veena player Vijaya Krishnamurthy, whom he called his third daughter, along with Eldrid and Edith. Arthur was very close to Vijaya’s family and visited India to attend her nephew’s wedding. Both Edith and Eldrid have visited India several times.

Vijaya moved from Wisconsin to Maryland around September of 1992 to teach Computer Science at the local college in Montgomery County. She taught during the day and in the evening sat in Arthur’s C++ programming class.

“He was sitting across from my table and as usual I started chatting like I do with strangers. One thing lead to another and soon we went out for dinner and I was invited home for Thanksgiving in November 1992. After that I went for Christmas and then never stopped. From day one he treated me as his third daughter. We argued and cooked and talked about all topics in the world,” says Vijaya.

Her parents Alamelammal and Krishnamurthy who had visited USA from India had just returned in October 1992 back to Bangalore. They thoroughly enjoyed their visit to US but could not come back on another visit to US. Vijaya’s friendship with Arthur blossomed and in the next many years he had mastered Indian cooking and his kitchen was well equipped with all Indian spices.

Arthur with Vijaya’s father

“Art was part of my life like I was for him. He was very generous to include me throughout every event that happened after 1992. I truly feel lucky to have him as an additional American parent in addition to my loving parents. I come from  traditional Iyer family and it is amazing that everyone from the Herrington family followed all Iyer rituals when they visit India. Even recently when Art passed away on Dec 31st the Shubam for him was done as per Indian rituals on January 12, 2019.”

Vijaya introduced them to a lot of Indian customs and practices. Eldrid is a vegetarian and this dismayed Arthur, who grew up during the Depression. “He grew up during the Great Depression. He felt that no one should refuse any kind of food. I do not find that lifestyle healthy, sustainable, or ethical. He tolerated my vegetarianism because he accepted Vijaya’s vegetarianism, which he realized predated the Great Depression by several thousand years,” she says.

Her engagement with things Indian is not a dabbling kind. Eldrid loves and practices Yoga, but believes that its spiritual and cultural practice is less understood in the ‘west’. “When Vijaya’s parents were alive, I did namaskar to them. They are no longer here; so I do namaskar to their images. Vijaya showed me a form of yoga which functions as prayer.”

She loves listening to Vijaya play the Veena, and through her was introduced to Bangalore based Vainika Dr Suma Sudhindra. She also loves the music of the legendary Veena player Chitti Babu.

Arthur with his three daughters

There are parallels between her love for classical music and architecture, both Indian and Western. “This is how I think about my introduction to Indian music, having grown up with “classical” music. I grew up loving cathedrals and knew the stonemasons who created the National Cathedral in Washington DC. I went to many churches and cathedrals across Europe, spanning a wide variety of styles. Vijaya took me to Hoysala temples in Karnataka, with stonework so fine and strong that thin strings are suspended from their player’s fingers by the width of a reed. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I feel a bit that way about Indian music. It is ancient and complex and seems to have incorporated in its origin musical aspects only latterly embodied in jazz and compositions by Schoenberg and Webern.”

Edith Herrington lives across the Potomac River from Arthur Herrington’s house (South), in Northern Virginia (outside of Washington, D.C.) on her husband’s family farm. She visited India almost 20 years ago and says she shares her father love for travel. On her first impression about India, she says, “Viji’s family was so welcoming, the food was amazing, and that the traffic was crowded and would have scared me if I had tried to drive!

Edith says that having someone who knows the area, culture and language when traveling to other countries provides a deeper experience. “Staying with Viji’s family, I was allowed to see a home and the traditions of visiting/having visitors first hand. She and her family truly ‘rolled out the red carpet’. Hiring a car to take me to almost every temple within driving distance, going to see nature/animal preserves, even a bus ride with a group of people that allowed me to stop the entire group, just to take a picture of a haystack! (My husband does hay for his family’s farm and I was thrilled to see how it was done differently, if even for a moment.)”

Had Vijaya not invited her, Edith says she would have visited India anyway, but “more likely gotten the “tourist experience” up north, including the Taj. I have a whole “bucket list” of places to travel, and after my husband retires we will probably visit those locations!”

The love and respect that Vijaya’s family and the Herrington family share is very apparent to anyone seeing them together. Curious, I asked Edith if this very obvious kindness and graciousness is a cultural trait or something unique to their families.

Edith observes that her father was always bringing home strays – human or animal! “We have a tradition passed down from his parents, to share in our good fortune, provide shelter, and a comfortable place to stay for anyone who needs it. I carried that tradition along by bringing home from school people who didn’t have a place to celebrate the holidays. Sometimes my car was packed to the brim with people, and dad was always happy to have a crowded house.”

Edith is not sure whether this love for the athithi or guest is a global, regional, or cultural trait. “My first thought is that dad got it from his British family, but truly I think it is just what he would have called “good breeding” — just the right thing to do, the right way to be. If you have the food, the space, the ability to do so, why not get to know someone new over some good food and time together? I don’t have much space at my house, but I do what I can to house our many family members and friends when they are in town! I am not the consummate host that my dad was, but I try!”

One can’t help but think, Arthur’s daughters are so very Indian.

Grammy Award Winner Ricky Kej on creating music from the heart

By Aparna M Sridhar

Bangalore based musician and composer Ricky Kej won the Best New Age Album Grammy for Winds of Samsara. The album brings out parallels between Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela with lessons on conserving the environment. Ricky quotes Mahatma Gandhi’s translation of the Ishavasyam Idam Mantra where he says ‘there is the divine in every single atom of the universe, whether that atom goes on to building something that is living or non-living,’ which means that one has to co-exist not just with all life but with all elements of nature. To Ricky this is what needs to be brought out through Indian music:

What kind of Indian music can win a Grammy award?

There are only four solo Indian Grammy award winners. There’s Pandit Ravishankar, he has won two Grammys and a Lifetime achievement award and his was not a collaborative effort. Second was Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt and he was the leading artiste on that album. Third was A R Rehman, he was the only composer in Slumdog Millionaire and he won two Grammys for best song and best score. It was pop music but it was Indian with a lot of classical influence. It had the sitar and a lot of Indian vocals. My Grammy was for my album Winds of Samsara, which was with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman in the Best New Age album, but I was the lead artiste. There are others who are part of an ensemble or maybe part of 12-13 artistes on an album which is in itself a huge honour.

“My music is very cause driven, so for me the Grammy gave me a greater platform to further the cause of protecting the environment.”

How did the award change the course of your life?

One has to look at the platform that the award gives you, to do bigger and greater things. My music is very cause driven, so for me the Grammy gave me a greater platform to further the cause of protecting the environment.

The awards for music are different. In India you have sevaral awards for films. Internationally too, you have the Oscars, the BAFTA, the Cannes, the Golden Globe Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Award, the Sundance Award. For music there is only one award – the Grammys.

There is no award in the world that comes close to the Grammys for music. If you look at the other awards, in Canada the biggest award is the Juno award and you have to be a Canadian to win the award. You have to be a South African to win the South African music Award. In India it’s the GIMA awards you have to be from India and the music has to be recorded in India. It is only with the Grammys, which is like the Olympics of Music, anyone from anywhere in the world can win the award.

In your Grammy acceptance speech you quoted Asatho ma sath gamaya. What inspires you about that phrase?

It’s a beautiful phrase of darkness to light. That album was about the ideals of peace and tolerance. I collaborated with a South African musician. So we brought out parallels between Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela but from an environment perspective.

How does the use of big national icons help in sending out a message through music?

The problem with big icons is that they come with the faults of being human… many many faults most of the time. The idea is to go with what people have said rather than what they have done in their lives. Right now Michael Jackson is coming under so much scrutiny because of the recent documentary. But Michael Jackson was one of the first few musician environmentalists in the world. He made the Earth Song which became so popular that it reached the masses in a way in which even a love song or pop song does not reach. People started thinking about the earth and the planet. There are things that Michael Jackson has done that are of absolute greatness. It is the same with every leader.

You use a lot of Sanskrit in your music. How do we put out correct ways of pronouncing Sanskrit words in World Music?

The only way is to put out equally amount of content ourselves. Atleast our culture is represented correctly most of the time. If you look at Zulu culture… South African and East African cultures have been bastardised, at a different level altogether, where people are doing chants of Ooha Ooha and stuff. When it comes to Greek mythology, that too has been distorted. The only way to stop it from happening to us is for us to put out our content. We need to popularise our content. That is why I use a lot of Sanskrit. The Grammy winning album had a lot of Sanskrit in it. My latest album Shanti Samsara is almost 50 per cent Sanskrit. These albums are mainly marketed abroad, they are not marketed in India. So people atleast can come to know what the authentic way of doing things are.

Can Indian music be popular among teenagers across the globe?

Ofcourse. If you go to a Vishwamohan Bhatt concert in the US, it is mainly youngsters who are in the audience. When I perform in the US, in Europe in Australia and other places, we do have a lot of English lyrics along with Sanskrit. I have seen the eyes of the audience light up, and mine is mainly a youth audience, as soon as they see a flute player or a sitar player doing an alaap or an improvisation piece. That is what captures their imagination.

How does one create music that has lasting popularity?

In India 99 per cent of all content is basically created by Bollywood. So every song that is created in India is either a love song or an item song. That comprises most of the music that comes out in India. Musicians are not making music from the heart. Musicians are not creating music based on their own personalities or their own beliefs.

“I have seen the eyes of the audience light up, and mine is mainly a youth audience, as soon as they see a flute player or a sitar player doing an alaap or an improvisation piece.”

In the film industry here, people are under pressure to produce upto four films a year. In the Kannada film industry people produce 12-13 films a year. Even if you are doing four to five films, it means 20-25 songs a year. This means every two weeks you have to come up with a song and you have to promote the song. Everything becomes an assembly line.

In the West too there is commercialisation but the artistes there are producing music that they are creating. Musicians abroad make an album every two years. They are not under pressure to create. So their music reflects their personality. When you listen to Adele, you know what kind of a personality she is. So is the case with Beyonce or Britney Spears.

In India you have Vishal Dadlani, a good friend of mine, a strong supporter of gender equality but his most popular song is Sheila Ki Jawani. He has even written the lyrics for that song. Basically it’s a misogynistic song, extremely violent towards women, it does not define him as a personality and I cannot imagine him sitting down and listening to it. So why is he making music which is the exact opposite of his personality? That is what the film industry does to you.

Another example is Shankar Mahadevan. I consider him one of the greatest singers in the world. His most famous song is Kajra re again a very misogynistic song. You may say that these musicians do their own independent music — either Vishal doing rock music or Shankar doing classical stuff, but the fact is that the music you do for the film industry far outweighs what you do for yourself. So much so that your legacy is going to be your film music not your own music.

I don’t want to make music that will define me as a musician but is not from my heart. That is why I will never be a part of the film industry.

So how do we create the space where musicians can put out their own music and be successful?

If you look at the greats like Pandit Ravi Shankar, or Ustad Zakir Hussain,  Anoushka Shankar, Fazal Qureshi or Ali Akhbar Khan all of them had to move abroad because they realised that their music is not getting much respect over here. It’s not that they started doing Western music. Pandit Ravishankar would be playing with the Beatles but he would still be doing classical music. He was true to himself, he was true to the kind of music he was making.

In India, music is not a monetisation medium. It is not a money making medium for film makers. It is a publicity medium to get people to buy movie tickets. The music is released a month before the film. Producers need the music to go as far as possible, so then the content creators of music don’t bother about piracy.

The music too has become very commercial where the main hook line has to come within the first 30 seconds of a song, and people don’t have the patience to let a song grow on them. Earlier there used to be pride of ownership when it came to music. People would buy CDs, LPs, cassettes. Later it moved to MP3s where music was stored on their phone and now it’s come to a point where people only want to stream music. Everything is volatile. So the shelf life of a song is less than thirty days to three months.

We need to get royalty and residuals for music. We have to create a system where money comes every time a film is screened like it happens in the US and elsewhere. The producer needs to feel that ‘I can create a few things which will be enough to secure my living’. The pressure has to come from musicians to stop piracy and ensure standards.

If I am an independent music maker, how am I going to sell any music because so much free content is thrown everybody’s way? Gone are the days in India where in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s where people would actually look outside and try to discover new music. Now it is a period where people are being bombarded with music and so they take in whatever comes their way. I believe that change can happen in India only when more and more musicians start making music independently. In the West the big names are not composing music keeping popular trends in mind, they are just creating music and that music happens to be successful. It touches people because anywhere in the world people can make out whether that music is honest or not.

Music and Conservation

How did your passion for conservation begin?

I am not sure whether my love for nature led to my music or my music led to my passion for the environment. For me it has been one and the same. As a child when my parents and friends would run away from seemingly dangerous animals like snakes, mice, I was always drawn toward them. I would look into the eyes of the animals and see the personality in every single animal. For me it has never been their world and our world. It has always been our world. I have always had pets, cats and dogs, birds and lizards. They have always been a part of my world. An animal has always been an individual for me.

How does one bring in Indian values in promoting the environmental conservation through music?

India has been very reverent to forest and wildlife for the longest period of time. If you look at European countries or America, all the mammals have gone completely. We have huge problems when it comes to human and animal conflict simply because we still have forests and animals. For us everything has always been about co-existence where you look at Vasudhaiva kutambakam.

Today people see it as only as co-existence between the entire human race. But in the Vedas, it is coexistence not just between all life but co-existence between all entities living or non-living. Mahatma Gandhi had translated the Ishavasyam idam Mantra and in his translation he says there is the divine in every single atom of the universe, whether that atom goes on to building something that is living or non-living. Which means that we have to co-exist not just with all life but with all elements of nature. And this is what needs to be brought out through Indian music.

The music of the spheres

For astrophysicist Priyamavada Natarajan, both science and music help us reach out to the sublime, and music is as much about moods and emotions, as modes of thinking.

Music, mathematics, and science have always gone together, not just in the physics of sound and the mathematics of pitch and frequency, but in the lines of inquiry that open up to cognitive scientists, evolutionary biologists, and the like.

Take a top scientist tackling the most advanced problems in astrophysics — like the mysteries of dark matter and the true nature of black holes — and a deep passion for classical music, with its notes, sounds and rhythms resonating and echoing with the most elemental forces of light, mass and energy over the vast infinities of space and time, and you get Priyamvada Natarajan, professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, Connecticut, one of America’s most prestigious, “Ivy League” institutions, and the very first woman to receive a Ph.D in astrophysics from Cambridge University, UK.

“Music is very much part of my life. I can’t really describe it,” says Priyamvada from the US.

“There isn’t any real time aside from when I am in my office, when I don’t listen to music. If I am meeting students, colleagues, or reading, I actually don’t like to listen to music as background. But music is something that I am involved with when I am actually working on problems, it is very powerful to me. And I listen to everything and anything. I am always living with music.”

Priyamvada has role models not just from her immediate genetic pool (both her parents are scientists) but also from the pool of music, past and present. She is inspired by the personal lives of musicians whose genius and accomplishment equal the best in science.

As a consequence, she has a dominant musical self which she believes is as integral to her as her love for science.

Music streams ideas into her all the time, segueing into science seamlessly. And she firmly believes that in the brain they are connected.

 “The kind of neural activity that you can see in the brain when you do mathematics and when you play an instrument are very similar. And I think there is some real connection beyond just the general patterns. There is a deep connection with the level of abstraction that you have with mathematics and music — possibly more broadly with science, but definitely with Mathematics,” she says.

At the age of 17, after finishing schooling in New Delhi, Priyamvada went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – itself a rare accomplishment for a young girl in 80s India.

Priyamvada Natarajan is a professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, Connecticut, one of America’s most prestigious, “Ivy League” institutions, and the very first woman to receive a Ph.D in astrophysics from Cambridge University, UK.

Before the move to MIT, at a time when “American global culture was not as prevalent in India as it is today,” Priyamvada, with her good singing voice had learnt not only Karnatic and Hindustani music, but also dance.

“When I was growing up I was very much rooted in Indian traditions. I loved MS Subbulakshmi, whom I worshipped. I listened to ghazals, I listened to Farida Kahnum, one of my favourite singers,” she says.

After landing at MIT, she made time for music, even as she gained rapid strides in the field of astrophysics.  If, even today, women are rare in science, they are even rarer in astrophysics — her professors and peers recognised early her facility for large numbers and abstract problems, her succumbing to the “allure of the night sky,” and the unique yearning to enquire into the deep mysteries of outer space, far away from the conflicts and drudgeries of mundane existence.

She enrolled for a music appreciation class and also started to learn to play the piano. Life at MIT was also about adjusting to a very different culture. She coped with the transition by getting into Western classical music and opera.

“I landed in an extremely high-brow culture with these deeply intellectual people. So I had to find out — what were the bones of this culture, what it was about. I believe music is a cameo of any culture. And so I dove into Western classical music.”

Modes and moods

Today, depending on the work she is doing, Priyamvada picks the music. She is comfortable in dealing with phenomena involving large time scales and distances that cannot be apprehended by the senses. Frequently, the calculations she is tackling are the mechanical kind, a series of never-ending steps, where she knows what the next step is but not the final answer.  In such cases she listens to music that is “very agitato, very brisk.”

Then there are the bigger challenges, where en route to discoveries and new answers, the problem has to be first set up.

“You don’t even know if you can solve this, and you don’t know how to pose it — and that’s where, for a lot of the work that I do, there’s creativity.”  At such times, she gravitates to more measured, reflective, music.

“So for every mood when I work, or when I am thinking, there are particular kinds of music, I almost use music as a priming cue for myself not just in terms of mood but beyond that — into a mode of thinking.”

Priyamvada is being noticed for her key contributions to two of the most challenging problems in cosmology — mapping the distribution of dark matter and tracing the growth history of black holes. Dark matter and dark energy dominate the universe, but we know very little about it, beyond seeing its effects and influences. It has a lot to do with going beyond what we can deal with directly. Just like in music.

 “Music has the ability to transport one, to transcend your day to day life and to feel and live in a way that is beyond the mundane. I feel music of every kind is very sublime,” she declares.

And so is work, when one is deeply connected to it. “I have the same sensation when I do the work that I do. Part of the motivation for the things that I do… like working with these large numbers in the cosmos, is that I like to be transported away from the earth. I don’t like the world the way it is — inequitable, unjust, messy. One of the attractions is that my work offers an escape from this sort of messy, conflict-ridden world, to this sublime place, with the numbers that I deal with. To me music does something very, very similar. It transports me to different realms and definitely affects my state of mind.”

She decided very early not to get confined by traditions, which abound even in science, and instead went on to be among the few women to “map the detailed distribution of dark matter in the universe, exploiting the bending of light en-route to us from distant galaxies”.

Musically she has tried to imbibe and learn from every form she has come into contact with. When she moved from MIT to Cambridge, UK for her PhD, she again went into a very traditional culture.

“That was when I got started in opera. Earlier, I had gone to Europe as an undergraduate and I went to all the opera houses, I went to La Scala and listened to Pavarotti. I went to every opera house in every city I went to as I had a Euro rail pass.”

After coming back to America, she got into jazz in a big way, because there were a “lot of things happening in jazz.” One of the fresh new voices in jazz, pianist Vijay Iyer, whose music she enjoys, is both a friend and fellow physicist.

Despite the moving around… all the flux, she says there are some pieces of music that will always stay with her. One is raga Hamsadhwani, “a ragam whose very meaning – sound of the swans- is as beautiful as its sound. It is the same ragam in both Hindustani and Karnatic traditions. That to me is part of the appeal. Plus it is one of the most sublime ragams I have ever heard. It sounds beautiful in the voice. It sounds beautiful in any instrument that you play.”

Then there is Bach’s Chello suite. “If I am ever really really down all I have to do is to really play that. It lifts my mood.”

Scientists need to question the status quo all the time …that makes for progress. In music, classical music, tradition is a sacrosanct.

“Science by its very nature is a very different beast. Science is provisional. Science isn’t fixed in the way sampradaya and traditions are for either musical traditions or dance. Our state of understanding of any phenomenon in science really depends on data and empirical observations. With more accurate data your current understanding is likely to shift. It can either refine your current understanding or it may completely upend a theory… show the need for a completely new theory.”

In some ways, she believes however, music is similar.

There are some things about sampradaya which are “worth continuing and keeping alive obviously and probably there should always be a set of proponents who are guarding traditions. But at the same time you need variations; you need room for improvisation, because in an art form, as we have seen with a lot of art forms, if there isn’t room for improvisation, the art starts to die out. It’s hard for the next generation to feel no room for creativity because every time you perform that is a creative act, even though the notes are enshrined, the ragam is specified and all of that. Your rendition is a creative act, but to not have room beyond that, to improvise, I think is restrictive. “

Allowing for improvisation will also change audiences. “One of the things that I find, when I come for concerts to India in the winters, is that a lot of the younger people are not there in the audience. I think we need to reclaim them, get them back.”

The music of the spheres

For astrophysicist Priyamavada Natarajan, both science and music help us reach out to the sublime, and music is as much about moods and emotions, as modes of thinking.

Music, mathematics, and science have always gone together, not just in the physics of sound and the mathematics of pitch and frequency, but in the lines of inquiry that open up to cognitive scientists, evolutionary biologists, and the like.

Take a top scientist tackling the most advanced problems in astrophysics — like the mysteries of dark matter and the true nature of black holes — and a deep passion for classical music, with its notes, sounds and rhythms resonating and echoing with the most elemental forces of light, mass and energy over the vast infinities of space and time, and you get Priyamvada Natarajan, professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, Connecticut, one of America’s most prestigious, “Ivy League” institutions, and the very first woman to receive a Ph.D in astrophysics from Cambridge University, UK.

“Music is very much part of my life. I can’t really describe it,” says Priyamvada from the US.

“There isn’t any real time aside from when I am in my office, when I don’t listen to music. If I am meeting students, colleagues, or reading, I actually don’t like to listen to music as background. But music is something that I am involved with when I am actually working on problems, it is very powerful to me. And I listen to everything and anything. I am always living with music.”

Priyamvada has role models not just from her immediate genetic pool (both her parents are scientists) but also from the pool of music, past and present. She is inspired by the personal lives of musicians whose genius and accomplishment equal the best in science.

As a consequence, she has a dominant musical self which she believes is as integral to her as her love for science.

Music streams ideas into her all the time, segueing into science seamlessly. And she firmly believes that in the brain they are connected.

 “The kind of neural activity that you can see in the brain when you do mathematics and when you play an instrument are very similar. And I think there is some real connection beyond just the general patterns. There is a deep connection with the level of abstraction that you have with mathematics and music — possibly more broadly with science, but definitely with Mathematics,” she says.

At the age of 17, after finishing schooling in New Delhi, Priyamvada went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – itself a rare accomplishment for a young girl in 80s India.

Priyamvada Natarajan is a professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University, Connecticut, one of America’s most prestigious, “Ivy League” institutions, and the very first woman to receive a Ph.D in astrophysics from Cambridge University, UK.

Before the move to MIT, at a time when “American global culture was not as prevalent in India as it is today,” Priyamvada, with her good singing voice had learnt not only Karnatic and Hindustani music, but also dance.

“When I was growing up I was very much rooted in Indian traditions. I loved MS Subbulakshmi, whom I worshipped. I listened to ghazals, I listened to Farida Kahnum, one of my favourite singers,” she says.

After landing at MIT, she made time for music, even as she gained rapid strides in the field of astrophysics.  If, even today, women are rare in science, they are even rarer in astrophysics — her professors and peers recognised early her facility for large numbers and abstract problems, her succumbing to the “allure of the night sky,” and the unique yearning to enquire into the deep mysteries of outer space, far away from the conflicts and drudgeries of mundane existence.

She enrolled for a music appreciation class and also started to learn to play the piano. Life at MIT was also about adjusting to a very different culture. She coped with the transition by getting into Western classical music and opera.

“I landed in an extremely high-brow culture with these deeply intellectual people. So I had to find out — what were the bones of this culture, what it was about. I believe music is a cameo of any culture. And so I dove into Western classical music.”

Modes and moods

Today, depending on the work she is doing, Priyamvada picks the music. She is comfortable in dealing with phenomena involving large time scales and distances that cannot be apprehended by the senses. Frequently, the calculations she is tackling are the mechanical kind, a series of never-ending steps, where she knows what the next step is but not the final answer.  In such cases she listens to music that is “very agitato, very brisk.”

Then there are the bigger challenges, where en route to discoveries and new answers, the problem has to be first set up.

“You don’t even know if you can solve this, and you don’t know how to pose it — and that’s where, for a lot of the work that I do, there’s creativity.”  At such times, she gravitates to more measured, reflective, music.

“So for every mood when I work, or when I am thinking, there are particular kinds of music, I almost use music as a priming cue for myself not just in terms of mood but beyond that — into a mode of thinking.”

Priyamvada is being noticed for her key contributions to two of the most challenging problems in cosmology — mapping the distribution of dark matter and tracing the growth history of black holes. Dark matter and dark energy dominate the universe, but we know very little about it, beyond seeing its effects and influences. It has a lot to do with going beyond what we can deal with directly. Just like in music.

 “Music has the ability to transport one, to transcend your day to day life and to feel and live in a way that is beyond the mundane. I feel music of every kind is very sublime,” she declares.

And so is work, when one is deeply connected to it. “I have the same sensation when I do the work that I do. Part of the motivation for the things that I do… like working with these large numbers in the cosmos, is that I like to be transported away from the earth. I don’t like the world the way it is — inequitable, unjust, messy. One of the attractions is that my work offers an escape from this sort of messy, conflict-ridden world, to this sublime place, with the numbers that I deal with. To me music does something very, very similar. It transports me to different realms and definitely affects my state of mind.”

She decided very early not to get confined by traditions, which abound even in science, and instead went on to be among the few women to “map the detailed distribution of dark matter in the universe, exploiting the bending of light en-route to us from distant galaxies”.

Musically she has tried to imbibe and learn from every form she has come into contact with. When she moved from MIT to Cambridge, UK for her PhD, she again went into a very traditional culture.

“That was when I got started in opera. Earlier, I had gone to Europe as an undergraduate and I went to all the opera houses, I went to La Scala and listened to Pavarotti. I went to every opera house in every city I went to as I had a Euro rail pass.”

After coming back to America, she got into jazz in a big way, because there were a “lot of things happening in jazz.” One of the fresh new voices in jazz, pianist Vijay Iyer, whose music she enjoys, is both a friend and fellow physicist.

Despite the moving around… all the flux, she says there are some pieces of music that will always stay with her. One is raga Hamsadhwani, “a ragam whose very meaning – sound of the swans- is as beautiful as its sound. It is the same ragam in both Hindustani and Karnatic traditions. That to me is part of the appeal. Plus it is one of the most sublime ragams I have ever heard. It sounds beautiful in the voice. It sounds beautiful in any instrument that you play.”

Then there is Bach’s Chello suite. “If I am ever really really down all I have to do is to really play that. It lifts my mood.”

Scientists need to question the status quo all the time …that makes for progress. In music, classical music, tradition is a sacrosanct.

“Science by its very nature is a very different beast. Science is provisional. Science isn’t fixed in the way sampradaya and traditions are for either musical traditions or dance. Our state of understanding of any phenomenon in science really depends on data and empirical observations. With more accurate data your current understanding is likely to shift. It can either refine your current understanding or it may completely upend a theory… show the need for a completely new theory.”

In some ways, she believes however, music is similar.

There are some things about sampradaya which are “worth continuing and keeping alive obviously and probably there should always be a set of proponents who are guarding traditions. But at the same time you need variations; you need room for improvisation, because in an art form, as we have seen with a lot of art forms, if there isn’t room for improvisation, the art starts to die out. It’s hard for the next generation to feel no room for creativity because every time you perform that is a creative act, even though the notes are enshrined, the ragam is specified and all of that. Your rendition is a creative act, but to not have room beyond that, to improvise, I think is restrictive. “

Allowing for improvisation will also change audiences. “One of the things that I find, when I come for concerts to India in the winters, is that a lot of the younger people are not there in the audience. I think we need to reclaim them, get them back.”