Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hindustani Classical Music

 (Written by Sarayu Narayan and Venkat Narayan)

"The world by daylight stands for Western music which is a flowing concourse of vast harmony, composed of concord and discord and many disconnected fragments. And the night world stands for Indian music: one pure, deep and tender raga. Both, touches our heart, and yet both are contradictory in spirit. But this is natural. Nature, at the very root is divided into two, day and night, unity and variety, finite and infinite.”
– Rabindranath Tagore

One of the more complex and comprehensive of music systems, Indian classical music has roots that trace back to the 2nd millennium BC. There are two main traditions of Indian classical music: Carnatic, popular in the southern parts of India, and Hindustani, prevalent in the northern and central parts of the Indian subcontinent. These two forms, while sharing common roots, began to diverge around 13th century AD. Carnatic music flourished in relative isolation, retaining its purity in solely Indian roots. Hindustani music, much like plural India herself, ripened syncretically, as it met with and embraced the cultures of Persia and Central Asia.

In common with Western classical music, Indian music shares similar structural design, attention to detail, and instrumental variation, amongst other more “specific” categories. Standard pitch temperament is based primarily off of octaves that are divided into 12 semitones for both styles of music. There are ingrained scalar systems, rhythmic meters, composition styles in classical Indian music, similar to structural conventions of Western Music. Scales and meters in Western theory may be considered loosely analogous to ragas and taals in Indian music.

In contrast with Western music, however, the base frequency of the scale in Indian music is not fixed. As Tagore expressed, the primary focus of the two music forms differ - while Western classical music is the epitome of harmony, focused on chords and group arrangements, Indian classical music is the ultimate exponent of melody, focused on individual expositions of emotions and moods

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sugar and diabetes

Reflections from Kingston, Jamaica (23 November, 2014)

The University of West Indies, Kingston is a sprawling campus nestled among little hills, somewhat a secluded oasis in this otherwise busy but laid-back harbor city of Kingston. Much of Kingston holds harsh but forgiving memories of the horrors of slavery, indentured labor, and European colonization.

Even today, although independent, free, and democratic to a fault, Jamaica remains under the British Queen, and the streets and buildings still carry the names given to them by the colonial masters, who were reminiscing their own England in such distant foreign lands or worse were using the symbols of names and culture to dominate the innocent natives of these lovely islands and the slaves brought there.

Regardless, the place has begun to change and is now witnessing the American influences of KFC and McDonalds, not any less the creeping presence of Chinese trade. People are nice and innocent, and there is something in-built in the culture to be laid back and to enjoy life - perhaps, coping mechanisms that have helped them survive so many centuries of oppression, while the colonial masters lived a life of luxury feeding off the greed for sugar and rich mineral.

Now the population faces unprecedented levels of obesity and diabetes, and even on a morning walk one cannot miss this epidemic. Of course, it is easy to blame a single evil - Sugar, but is it that simple, I wonder?




Monday, October 10, 2016

India's Enduring Pluralism - Threatened but will survive

A remarkable feature of India's history is that for the past several thousand years, the country has managed to not succumb to totalitarianism or to completely cave in entirety to a new power or to a new culture or new way of life - thus retaining the huge strength of diversity and pluralism. 

India's has given birth to several faiths (Hinduism of so many varieties, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism), and has been exposed to Christianity from 52 BC, to Zoroastrianism for over 1200 years, to Islam from very soon of the founding of that faith. India has had numerous outside influences - Greeks, Turks, Mughals, British. 

Yet, the culture of plurality and resilience against totalitarianism has thrived in the multiplicity of India's religious, cultural, lingusitic diversity and in the ethos of tolerance. 

This can't be said of too many places in the world - Europe quickly became fully Christian once Constantine made that the state faith, much of Latin America lost the indigenous faiths and languages and succumbed to the colonial cultures, the Middle-east shifted with each new faith, China succumbed to Communism, etc. India did not tolerate Mrs. Gandhi's Emergency, and few fringe groups have been able to take the center. India has also absorbed English without losing her languages.

Thus, the Indian approach has been one of absorption and hybridization, and toward keeping a mosaic plural culture. Today, the Hindu fanatics want to make India a "Hindurashtra", and their power is being felt. Based on India's long history and remarkable resilience, however, one can safely bet that they are unlikely to succeed, but they can create trouble - and things can be ugly.   Mr. Modi needs to reign in these forces if he wants India to succeed.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Twelve personal tips for creative intellectual leadership

  1. Read widely, often outside of one’s main areas of work, interest.
  2. Remain constantly curious, skeptical, and question everything to get to the fundamentals.
  3. Continuously debate with one self and with others to stay free of prejudices and to learn and innovate, and to build a network.
  4. Combine humility with confidence.
  5. Go to the balcony often and look at the big picture – do this alone.
  6. Enjoy the race, but be indifferent to the results and credits.
  7. Surround oneself with good, bright, motivated, and questioning people – select them. carefully, learn from them, mentor them, coach them, and let them coach you.
  8. Don’t allow “group-think” to set in, avoid attending too many canned talks or large conferences or courses.
  9. Don’t let conventions, norms, social rules come in the way. In fact, every convention or norm hides a truth, expose it.
  10. Try something new every day.
  11. Dedicate 1 or 2 of your best work hours  each day to focus on high-impact work, which you may otherwise put off.
  12. Constantly work toward making oneself redundant – life is short, and you want to be free to leave any time.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Living, joy, and pain

Some very special experiences in life evoke our most intense and passionate emotions - bliss, joy, happiness, human bond, love and make our journey through life seem so exciting and positive and rewarding.

Ironically, sometimes, the very sources of those same special experiences also evoke some of the unsavory but equally intense and passionate emotions - sadness, hurt feelings, loss of self and connection, resentment and make our journey through life seem so demanding and lacking in purpose.

 Learning from experience may boil down to being able to feel both of these sides of intense and passionate emotions. But how we come out - whether happy and wise or sad and bitter may be a choice, but not without prolonged hardship and pain.

At the end of the day, our living, not existence, is defined by both joy and pain, in equal measure.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fathers' Day Reflections

While all of this "Fathers' Day" postings and greetings are all so sweet, it also makes one question how these new traditions get marketed and institutionaized into society. Are we so gulllible or do we lack enough core as humans to avoid falling into these superficial traps that make us behave like programmed robots or worse still controlled by some powerful forces to their own gains? Isn't everyday a "Father's Day", a "Mother's Day", a "Sister's Day", etc? Do we need to set aside days to celebrate each relationship, as if they are just important one day in the year?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

True sustainable change versus short-term reactions and counterreactions

True and sustainable change is counterintuitive, nonlinear, disorganized, and invisible. History is a mixture of visible, high-profile, short-term events that draw much attention and cause fear, and slow, relentless, long-term changes that go on regardless, often unnoticed but powerful and transformative, nevertheless.

While we panic and pay attention to the horrible terror attacks, which we should or to hate-mongering  and fear-stroking politicians, as we should, slowly unbeknown to us but surely major positive changes accompanying globalization continue - people and cultures intermingle, positive innovations happen, capital and businesses move, information and ideas spread, transformative solutions of huge import happen. These are the forces that will ultimately shape destiny, not just the cycle of reaction and counter-reaction to hatred.

Much as we may perceive that the world has become unsafe and violent, and we have reason to think so, as we constantly hear of the terror attacks, the murders, and the hatred that spills around, we need to also ask an important question. Why don't we hear more about the positive stories of human nature, which are bountiful?

Indeed, when we examine the statistics, as Steven Pinker did in his book "Better Angels of our Nature", we reassuringly find that the world is actually a safer, better, less violent place than it ever has been in the vast span of human history
If only our cognitive senses could be shaped to perceive the invisible, to gain perspective, and to imagine the positively unimaginable, we would hope more and fear less. True, hope may be a delusion, but isn't fear too? Better to live in hope than die in despair, as some fellow said.