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Growing up in America: with Indian performing arts
Monday, February 23, 2004
her fashionably frayed jeans and hooded coat, Deepa Ramachandran
looks as American as can be but two little 'jimikis' (traditional
south Indian gold ear rings) peeping out of her hood tell a
They tell a story of love for Indian arts blossoming seven seas
This 23-year-old, who has grown up in Salt Lake City (Utah), sits
cross-legged on the floor and executes a soulful rendition of the
traditional Carnatic (south Indian) classical raga Anandabhairavi.
'Jimikis' are popular as performance jewellery among women
musicians and dancers in Chennai.
Ramachandran, a graduate student in electrical engineering at
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), is just one of the hundreds of
US-based youngsters who have not only learnt but regularly
perform Indian classical music and dance besides pursuing
successful non-musical careers.
What prompted these young people, born in a country often
accused of "westernising" youngsters of non-American nations, to
take an interest in these kinds of arts?
"The influence begins with the parents. They not only put their
children into music lessons but also work with them to develop
an interest in the art forms," Seethalakshmi Madhavan, a
Pittsburgh-based Carnatic vocalist and music teacher, told IANS.
"My father used to drag my sister and me to concerts when we
were very young even if we slept through them. He played fun
games like 'guess the raga', which got us involved, and my
mother taught us small songs and shlokas (Sanskrit verses) from
tapes," added Ramachandran, whose sister Divya is also learning
to play violin under noted violinist Mullaivasal G.
Lakshmi Iyengar, mother of enthusiastic budding dancer Radha,
14, and budding vocalist and percussionist Madhav, 9, insisted
that getting a good teacher was also important.
"But, in the US, teachers like Madhavan are hard to come by and
in that sense I think we were lucky," she added.
These youngsters typically begin with teachers in their area and
go on to take advanced training from Indian musicians and
dancers touring the US. They later travel to India during summer
or winter breaks and learn from their gurus in the traditional
gurukulam style (staying and travelling with their gurus).
Vanita Sundararaman, 17, for instance, trained and continues to
do so under Pittsburgh-based physician and Kuchipudi danseuse
Kamala Reddy. She also takes advanced lessons from noted Chennai
based dancer and guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam.
"Teachers here have very little time because they have alternate
careers, but since there are so few of us learning we are able
to develop a closeness with our teachers and our peers.
"We go to Chennai for short periods and concentrate on learning
as much as we can before it's time to return. It is intense
dancing but less personal," said Sundararaman. She also learns
Cultural organisations also play an important role by staging
performances of Indian musicians and dancers, providing the
youngsters with an opportunity to watch the stalwarts in action.
They also provide budding artistes with a platform to display
Vocalist Anisha Anantapadmanabhan, a management major at CMU,
said she received her first concert opportunity thanks to the
New Jersey-based Classical Music Association of North America (CMANA).
She grew up watching CMANA concerts held in Bridgewater Temple
"In India artistes live closer to home and concerts happen all
the year round. But for us live concerts were few and we lapped
up all that we got as we started getting more and more
interested in classical music," said Ramachandran, who received
the Utah Arts Council scholarship for folk arts in 1997, awarded
to students of these arts in the state.
While these youngsters address their professors by their first
names, as is the practice here, they suffix terms like "sir" or
"akka" (elder sister) as a mark of respect while referring to
their gurus, in keeping with convention in India.
They are called American Born Confused Desis (ABCDs) but when it
comes to Indian performing arts, there's no confusion, just
enthusiasm all the way!
Jhumpa Lahiri - Interpreter of Immigrant Life
London-born, raised in America and looks for inspiration to Calcutta.Toasted by critics
across the globe, Jhumpa Lahiri knows that she has finally arrived.Lahiri's debut work ,Interpreter
of Maladies which is a collection of nine short stories,chronicling the immigrant
experience in the U.S, has left readers craving for more from this gifted writer.
Her writing is smooth
-flowing and gentle .The stories are "on-the-face" direct and embrace you in
their warm folds without you even being aware of it.Lahiri has helped in throwing clearer
light on an Indian's perspective of life in an alien land.However,the book doesn't reek of
ethnocentricity - it has a universal flavor and appeal that an immigrant from any corner
of the world would be able to relate to.
Her style is simple yet
smart,sparing in words yet divinely eloquent,weaving visual images for the reader in a
startlingly realistic manner.What is remarkable about Lahiri is that although she has
never been an immigrant,she is able to step into the latter's shoes without a stumble or a
shoe-bite.Call it uncanny or intuitive but one can't ignore the fact that this lady has a
gift for tucking away memories and observations in the back of the beyond of her literary
mind and churning them into a mixture of sensitive and thought-provoking stories.
32-year old Jhumpa drew
inspiration for her writing from her frequent visits to Calcutta in the formative years of
her childhood and also from the observations that she made about her immigrant Bengali
parents' Indian friends in the U.S.
Her varied experiences
in Calcutta, enabled Lahiri to form closer ties with India and the country's rich cultural
heritage while simultaneously coping with the pressures of everyday American life. Perhaps
this exposure to both the cultures - Indian and American is what assisted Lahiri to tread
through cross-cultural currents with amazing ease in her book Interpreter of Maladies.
The path taken:
Jhumpa Lahiri defined
her dreams to become a writer after she enrolled in a writing program.The path to success
was intially riddled with obstacles.Her graduate application was rejected by several
schools and Lahiri was left debating about her next move.Not the one to give up,she
succeeded in gaining acceptance into a creative writing program in Boston University and
then went onto join a PhD program.
juices were flowing as she pursued higher studies. She continued to submit stories for
literary magazines although she didn't have a clue as to how to sell her work.Opportunity
presented itself to her in the form of a fellowship into the Fine Arts Work Center in
Things started rolling
from there.She found an agent ,sold her work and had a story published in The New Yorker.
"I've been extremely lucky. It's been the happiest possible ending.",Lahiri
says. That paved the way for greater things to come for Jhumpa.Her award-winning work
Interpreter of Maladies came out in early 1999 before which three of her stories appeared
in The New Yorker.
The Rewards of
- Jhumpa Lahiri has
been named by The New Yorker as one of the "20 best young fiction writers in America
under the age of 40".
- Interpreter of
Maladies has been selected for the O.Henry award and the Best American Short Stories.
- Lahiri is the
recipient of the Tranatlantic Review Award from Henfield Foundation.
- Lahiri is also a
recipient of the Fiction Prize from the Louisville Review.
Lahiri is halfway
through her second novel, details of which are under cover now.She plans on continuing
penning short stories alongside larger projects.We wish this promising young writer of
contemporary fiction the best of luck in her future endeavors and hope that her next novel
will enthrall us as much as her first one did.
Jhumpa with writer Marina
Budhos,in a meeting organized by Diasporadics
& SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association)at Maharaja Restaurant in Manhattan.Marina
Budhos is the author of the recently published novel,The Professor of Light.
The cover of Interpreter of