LIFE IS LIKE THAT

Writings of Anupama Krishnakumar

Poetry

You, Me, Love & Questions

by

Posted on February 16, 2017

Who are you? And where are you?

Are there a million ways to fall in love with you? Or just one? Or none at all?

Would you be the one with expressive brown eyes that flit rhythmically behind that book you hold in your hands?

Would you be the one whose reflection I get a momentary glimpse of, on the window panes of a store?

Would you be the captivating face that I encounter on a street on an ordinary day?

Would my falling in love with you be compressed into one epiphanic moment?

Or would it be an experience that evolves over time?

Would we realise love over conversations? Or would we, over beads of silence strung together delicately over busy days and quiet nights?

Would you love tennis like I do? Or would I love music like you do? Or would we love books like we both do?

Would ours be friendship that distils into love?

Would it take days? Or months? Or years?

Would I say it with flowers? Or would you say it with poems?

Would I express myself over a game of Scrabble? Or would you, by drawing red hearts over a game of tic-tac-toe?

Or would our affection, quite differently, be a silent, unspoken piece of understanding?

Would we be the kind that never finds the need to explicitly express love?

Would we be similar? Or would be starkly different and still be madly in love?

Would I find you in the pink of my youth? Or when my heydays are beyond me? Or, would I find you at all?

(And if and when I do…)

Would love be the stuff of dreams, fairy tale-like? Or would it be rooted in practicality?

Would love be a guiding light? Or would it be a spark of madness?

Would love heal wounds as they say? Or would it inflict pain and leave scars forever on the soul?

Would our love vaporise into thin air over a heated argument and then crystallise into kisses as we cool down?

Would I love you madly enough to let you go, as much as I would want to hold you back? Would you love me that way too?

The questions are boundless. And they don’t cease, my dear.

For now, they float around like restless butterflies, fluttering impatiently.

You’re probably the flower they are looking for. The one I am too.

Who are you? And where are you?

Are there a million ways to fall in love with you? Or just one? Or none at all?

Essays

I Can and I Must

by

Posted on January 5, 2017

Everyone, well, ok, almost everyone makes resolutions at the start of a new year. I have taken some myself but they have almost always lost steam due to lack of resolve to see the so-called resolutions through to success. Despite the repeated failures, I have nonetheless gone ahead and optimistically listed down a few things I want to work on this year. I am hoping things will be different this time because I have tried to be realistic in what I wish to do.

One. Slowly and steadily, the art of writing has grown to be an indispensable part of my life. The joy that one derives from creating any form of art is priceless. And I say that very, very sincerely because I truly understand the meaning of that statement. I used to write as a teenager but the process of completing a piece never really invoked any emotion in me. I used to write as a college student and put those out as blog posts which would receive comments from readers. The comments would give me joy and I have felt great about being able to make a difference to someone’s day. But as the years passed, I have come to realise that sometimes you also need to write for yourself. Writing that makes YOU feel good, feel a sense of wondrous “release”. And that’s important. You don’t have to show the world what you have written and hear what they have to say in order to feel the joy of having written something. It’s the kind of writing that you indulge in without being aware of time floating by, the kind of writing that opens up that pressure lid atop your head and fills you with an exhilarating sense of relief and a remarkable sense of achievement. This year, I wish to do more of such writing, for my own sake. I can and I must.

Two. I learnt classical vocal music from my own grandmother as a child. But to be honest, I never evinced deep interest in the art. Now years later, closely watching my son’s music learning curve, I have begun to see music with new eyes, hearing and interpreting it in a whole new way. Music now reveals itself to me in incredibly beautiful dimensions, ones in which I never perceived it before. Hearing my son play the violin or the piano, or just sing, with utmost sincerity and love for the art, and discuss musical concepts intensely and with remarkable clarity, I have felt moved. The things children can do to your misplaced perceptions! A few days ago, when I heard him sing and play on the violin a lovely composition by Muthuswami Dikshitar on Lord Ganesha set to Eshamanohari raga, I had tears of joy in my eyes. I enjoyed it so much from deep within me that I understood what a beautiful art classical music is and wondered why I had shied away from it so much (and still do, in some ways.) This year, I wish to learn music intently without inhibiting myself, explore many ragas and boldly answer his incessant quizzing on “guess this raga”. I can and I must.

Three. Pisceans are usually known to be good listeners. I wouldn’t disagree. I have always liked to be more on the listening side than on the talking one. But time, I guess, changes you in ways you never thought you would. My biggest bane now is my impatience. I am never quite willing to stop by and listen. I realise I have grown dismissive and often tend to presume things. For some reason, listening tires me. This year, I wish to listen more, to everyone who wants me to lend an ear, but particularly, children and older people, the former who are full of interesting and thought-provoking ideas and the latter, to whom, your listening can make all the difference in this world. I can and I must.

Four. Ninety nine percent of the time, it’s so easy to get carried away by motherhood. Being a mother, especially to young children, takes up a whole lot of your time and this hardly leaves space or energy to dwell upon anything or anyone else, including your own self. It really has taken time for me to understand that it is not at all necessary to not love yourself in order to be a good mother. It is quite unfortunate that the “sacrifice” tag gets attached to a mother the moment her child enters this world. So much so that a woman begins to think (not to mention, with an overload of guilt) that it is selfish of her to love herself. As much as I understand what I am putting down here in words, I know this is going to probably be the toughest resolution to work on practically. This year, I wish to consciously pay attention to myself and make time for things I love to do. That would mean reviewing my eating habits to taking brisk solitary walks to indulging myself with things I love to have and do. I can and I must.

Five. What on earth am I doing with so many books? It’s been so hard to focus on reading in the recent past for various reasons. In our new home that we moved into a month back, I have finally realised my dream of many years – having a nice little reading zone with wonderful books (and the Kindle, of course) stacked into a gorgeous-looking open bookshelf! A piece of self-designed motivation. Now, if that isn’t enough inspiration to soak myself in pages and pages of creative expression, I wonder what else is! This year, I wish to pick up on my reading and being back to what I once was – an avid reader. I can and I must.

“That’s a great start”, I would love to say and puff up in pride but then there’s something of a truth to keep me grounded: Resolution making and keeping up is tricky business.

But then isn’t life also about hope and determination especially when your heart is in the right place?

Oh well, I can and I must. Bring it on, 2017!

Fiction

When Pinki Became Pri

by

Posted on November 16, 2016

Priyanka didn’t quite remember when she began being called Pinki. She wasn’t particularly fond of pink. Yet, Priyanka, the name, somehow underwent a series of transitions to eventually settle on Pinki without any real reason. Initially, it was her friends who called her that way and her parents too kind of found it ‘very modern’ and absorbed the name into their routine. Priyanka protested in the beginning. “Why not Priya at least?” she asked but when people didn’t really care, she ended up conditioning herself to respond to Pinki.

As a child, Priyanka never asked for expensive gifts from her father who worked as a peon in a nationalised bank in one of the small towns in Maharashtra. She never asked for pricey toys, clothes or fashion accessories. She never asked to be taken out to all those posh-looking restaurants that lined up the streets she walked through on her way back home from school, despite the tempting smell of a whole variety of food that tickled her nostrils. But Priyanka loved movies. She loved them like nothing else in the world.

She asked her father, a man crazy about movies himself, for just one thing. ‘Take me for a movie every fortnight.’ A request that met with serious displeasure and scorn from her mother. “The girl will be a spoilt child by the time she is twenty,” the distraught lady declared emphatically. But nothing could break the father’s resolve to take his only daughter who had unmistakably inherited his love for cinema, to watch films.

Since the age of five or so, Priyanka grew up with movies and consumed them like it was food. At twelve, she was in awe of the king of hearts, Shahrukh Khan. She didn’t miss a single movie of his. Rather, her father ensured that his meagre income didn’t come in the way of his daughter’s biggest desire in life. When Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge released, Priyanka was 13. Suddenly, the awe for her matinee idol turned into something more, something inexplicable. She felt she could do away with everything in life and spend every second looking deeply into the nasheeli eyes of this man, this magician. She scourged newspapers looking for pictures of him and stuck the ones she found all over her cupboard. She hid some secretly inside the pages of her school books and stole a quick glance by flipping the pages during classes.

Sometimes as she sat helping her mother in the kitchen, she would stare and keep smiling even as she absent-mindedly went about the work her mother had assigned to her. Once she cut her finger when she was slicing onions and her utterly dismayed mother yelled, “Pinki, you stupid girl! Stop dreaming!” Another time, she added sugar to the dal instead of salt, as her horror-struck mother burst out wailing, “Look what this mindless man that I have married done to my only daughter! Now who will marry this mad girl?”

But seriously, Priyanka never cared nor did her father. At 18, when she finished her PU and her parents decided that they couldn’t afford to pay for her college and so made her stay home, Priyanka began wondering how she could start looking better than the female actors who played the love interest of her beloved. Every time she walked by the “Sultan Mirrors” shop, she would check herself out in the many mirrors that were placed outside the shop. She would tuck a curl behind her ear, quickly examine the colour of her lips or just flutter her eyelids and chuckle shyly. And almost every time she stared at her ordinary self in the mirror, she would find Charan, the young man who worked in the shop, look at her with fondness in his eyes. She imagined that Charan looked at her that way because something had changed about her. She never really evinced interest in him or his romantic advances. She merely saw his reaction to her as a sign of her growing beauty, the glow she imagined she was gaining.

She longed for the world that the movies showed to her. She created an imaginary universe which revolved around her. She spent hours listening to film music, lost in thought, creating tales spun with the threads of her dreams. Soon she demanded money from her father – to buy expensive, fancy-looking clothes, accessories and ‘make-up’ material, leaving the ageing man wonder for the first time ever, if he had been instrumental in taking things too far and beyond his hands. For, his beloved Pinki didn’t listen to him anymore and went about watching movies, more than one sometimes, in a week.

She spent hours watching movies after movies on TV, stayed away from her friends and came up with strange demands. Once she declared that she wanted to go to Bombay to visit King Khan. “I know where he lives,” she announced proudly, “I have found it out. Come father, let’s go.” Her parents were left speechless. Her mother told her to shut up, to no avail. Her father, still brimming with love for his daughter, told her politely that the thought of going to the big city terrified him and that it was impossible for simpletons like them to get to meet a superstar. But so firm was Priyanka in her belief that she could meet the actor, that she packed her and her father’s stuff into a suitcase and dragged her protesting father out of their modest home one morning, until the man pretended to have a fainting fit in a bid to end the ordeal, at least temporarily.

Priyanka was so annoyed with her father that she never spoke to him for months together. She ignored her mother and of course, the brown-eyed boy at the mirror shop who continued to throw fond glances at her. Once he even spoken to Priyanka’s parents asking for her hand in marriage. They, who were more than willing to get her married to someone, didn’t even mind the fact that he belonged to a different caste.  “Pinki,” her father told her one evening, “get married to Charan. He is a good boy.” In return, she had laughed and said, “he isn’t the one for me. If you speak a word more, I will run off to Bombay.”

Months later, she watched a film on TV in which the female lead, all beautiful and full of attitude, was called Priyanka. And everyone called her Pri in the movie.

How nice, Priyanka thought, “Pri sounds so good. Pinki sounds like a dull head’s name and I have lived with it like a fool for so many years!”

That evening she spoke to her parents for the first time in months. “Don’t call me Pinki anymore,” she said caustically. “Call me Pri from now on. I am Pri.”

Her parents looked on helplessly.

Another day. Another demand. The story of Pinki turned Pri took yet another turn.

Essays

The Joy of Telling Tales

by

Posted on October 21, 2016

One fine day, more than a decade ago, as a journalism student, I stumbled upon the magical world of blogging. Fascinated by the idea of having a dedicated online space to record one’s writing experiments, I embarked on a journey that I had no clue would lead me to where I am today – a writer, a writer of stories. I must say that while I stepped into the world of blogging with excitement, I had no expectations from it. I still hadn’t understood that blogging was not just about recording your written work and storing it out there somewhere. It was much more than that. What it also meant was that people from across the world could discover your writing by a process called ‘blog hopping’ or by doing something as basic as a Google search that would lead them to the little nest that you have been building painstakingly with words.

The limitless space and freedom that blogging gave me to experiment, at one point, led me to try my hand at writing stories. I began posting one story after another. And with every story I wrote, I tried to find and define my own writing style.

The process of arriving at your signature style of writing takes years. This style is what defines your writing, what makes you feel comfortable as a writer, what makes readers instantly connect with you and again what makes you connect most perfectly with your audience.

Soon, I had my own little audience reading the tales that I wrote – readers who left thoughtful comments on what they liked about my stories. Some would even take the time to send long emails elaborating on what reading my work meant to them. Some of the feedback I received have moved me deeply because of their honesty in stating how the world of my stories have helped them forget their worries for a while or how they could relate to the characters in my stories and the situations they lived in.

Such feedback showed me that beyond the personal satisfaction your writing gives you, there’s this unique happiness that comes from knowing that you have made a difference to somebody’s day in your own little way through your words. The knowledge that people who you haven’t even met, chose to tell you something about your writing and how they could connect to it, is in itself a priceless reward. This encouraged me to take up writing fiction seriously and passionately.

Over the years, I have figured that I like to keep my writing simple, direct and honest. I have also realised that for me, writing is a constant process of demystifying what life is all about. Therefore, whatever I write, including stories, focus on celebrating the ordinary things that define our lives. In my tales, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.

My stories are not as much about twists and turns as they are about making you see yourself or someone that you know through words. And letting you know that you are not alone in this world in dealing with unsettling situations in life. They are about our fears, our hopes, our strengths and our weaknesses.

I choose to focus on the ordinary things that make life what it is. I strive to make readers feel a connect through my characters and what they go through. Therefore, my stories are about memories, pleasant and unpleasant, relationships, ways of life, daily physical and emotional problems that we deal with as we make our ways through the journey called life.

My second book, “Ways Around Grief & Other Stories” published by Authorspress, is a short-story collection that silently captures the flavour of my storytelling the way it has evolved over the years. The stories in this collection will point out to you that you are not alone in dealing with testing situations in life. They will show you that each of us have our own ways of dealing with what our lives have to offer.

This book is a representation of something I am very passionate about – creating stories. It’s a work of labour and love and when I hold it in my hand, the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is something very precious.

I hope you will share my joy by picking up a copy if you still haven’t. And if you do, I hope you enjoy the read. 🙂

The book is available on Amazon @ http://www.amazon.in/Ways-Around-Grief-Other-Stories/dp/9352073673/

Poetry

On the Way Back From School

by

Posted on October 21, 2016

“So, what’s the news today?” is the first question
I would ask him every evening, when I pick him up
from school. And he, my son, on some days, would
say, “Nothing special, just the usual things.”
On certain days, though, he would have a faint smile
on his lips and he would respond, “I’ll tell you in the car.”
“Ok…” I would say, my heart racing, the excitement
climbing to my head in a dizzying swirl.

He knows how to keep an interesting little surprise
on hold and unwrap it like a delicate present within
the comforting confines of the car. And then, he would
lift the veil on the suspense: a star, a certificate, an all-
correct assessment, or a nice remark from a teacher.
A wide smile and a hug, and a kiss of joy and pride
would be my gift. Soon, we would move on to other matters.
Ma, you know, this happened today and that. And music.

Snaking our way through nerve-wrecking traffic, our next stop
would be daughter’s school. We would invariably find her
in the sand-pit, engrossed, making cupcakes and castles with her
little friends. They are heart-stealers, each one of them, full of
innocent laughter and delight. Later, when we’d have settled
inside the car, she would pull out her lunch box. “Ma, I finished,”
she would exclaim. On certain days, when she doesn’t, she would
have ingenious reasons. The workings of a three-year-old’s mind!

The Daughter is definitely Miss Funny Bones. She would
turn the car into one entertainment box. And the Son
is the type who finds all her antics amusing.
“I wrote letter D,” she would announce with an air
of pride. And then suddenly burst into a song. All that
the Son would need to screech and giggle. And that,
would be fuel for more entertainment. She would
pull his ear and say, “I’ll tell you a secret, Brother!”

Tickled, he would laugh. She would, too, and throw
more stuff our way. “I coloured today, I climbed the slide.
What did you do?” “Well, serious stuff,” he would respond.
She would look thoughtful and ask, “Are you good or bad?”
A moment of silence and a burst of infectious laughter…
We would laugh and laugh till our stomachs hurt.
Till our eyes grew watery with joy.
Such are our evenings on the way back from school.

Valladolid, 10/1/2016. Bindu Subramaniam en el Centro Cultural Miguel delibes. Foto Ricardo Otazo.

Interviews

Teaching Music the SaPa Way : In Conversation With Bindu & Ambi Subramaniam

by

Posted on September 10, 2016

Nestled amidst houses in one of the quiet streets of Sanjay Nagar, Bangalore, is a building with a modest board that hangs on its façade and reads “Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SaPa)”. As you enter the premises on a warm Saturday afternoon, you hear mellifluous voices singing strings of swaras. You hear a series of notes being played repeatedly on violins by deft hands, demonstrating strenuous practice. There’s also a surprising dose of piano music that emerges gently in the background. Little kids and older children parade up and down the stairs, with their SaPa courseware and water bottles in hand while some bounce along with their violin cases strapped to their backs. There’s so much music in the air and before you realise, the musical mood catches on to you too.

Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts, whose acronym, SaPa, interestingly, is a combination of the two notes Sa and Pa, known as the prakriti swaras, was established in 2007 by renowned violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam and singer Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam. While the music school’s primary focus is teaching south Indian classical music, or Carnatic music, as it’s popularly known, they also teach western classical music.

Anupama Krishnakumar interviews singer, songwriter and Dean of SaPa, Bindu Subramaniam, and violinist and Associate Dean of SaPa, Ambi Subramaniam, about SaPa’s approach to teaching music, its vision, its curriculum and SaPa’s flagship program, SaPa In Schools (SiS). Excerpts from the interview.

What is the state of Carnatic music education in India?  What is SaPa seeking to contribute in this space?

Bindu: Very simply, we want to make great music fun. There are many great gurus out there, and a lot of traditional teaching methodology. We want to take forward the technique of our grandfather and the vision of our father, and engage with very young children and people who come from non-musical backgrounds. Both these groups don’t fit within the traditional structure very easily. We want to create an experience where a young child without a music pedigree can come and be provided all the tools he needs to be a great musician.

Ambi: Our aim at SaPa is to make professional musicians who learn Carnatic music in a global context. Like Bindu said, there are a number of fantastic gurus of Carnatic music out there who are taking our music forward, but sometimes we come across some wonderful young Carnatic musicians who are not aware of how to adapt their music to different audiences. We hope to teach kids in a way that they are equally comfortable performing in a sabha in the heart of Malleswaram, as well as at a world music festival in France. We try to have regular workshops at SaPa, where kids can meet both wonderful Carnatic artists (such as a workshop on percussion we recently held) and fantastic global artists (such as an Irish violin workshop). Although most of them wouldn’t become Irish violinists, the hope is that they take away even one idea from the workshop that will make them better musicians.

How have your teaching methodology and curriculum evolved since your inception?  What were the driving factors behind these changes?

Bindu: I’m very inspired by the kids – the SaPa Babies. I learn so much by just watching them, and try to incorporate what I see into the methodology and syllabus. We start with a syllabus that we think will be effective based on our experience, but are open minded enough to keep tweaking it as more and more students go through it. It took me almost a year to bring out SaPa Baby Book 1 after we had a final draft of it, because I would try and get rough copies of the book into as many small hands as possible, just to see how children would react.

We wanted a design that would appeal to them and excite them, something with enough information so that they would learn a lot but at the same time, not so much that nothing would stick, and fun trivia that would make it conversational for them. Kids love saying “You know what?” and then sharing some new factoid that they’ve picked up somewhere. We wanted a book that could fit into the hands of a three-year-old and wasn’t too big or heavy but the pages should be thick enough not to tear with some rough use. In less than two years, we’ve gone through about ten thousand copies and three editions. There’s always something that we’d like to do better with each version.

Our methodology has also developed over time, as we deal with younger and younger children.  I greatly enjoy watching children in diapers passionately sing nottuswarams. When children are very little, they learn in a very special way. It’s always a delicate balance to keep classical music traditional and serious enough, but still approachable enough for a small child. Music is fun, but it’s not a joke.

“I greatly enjoy watching children in diapers passionately sing nottuswarams.” – Bindu Subramaniam

For very young children, small things make a BIG difference. Making eye contact, giving a child a high-five, being encouraging, being open to all questions – these things are important. When you teach a child, you have a chance to change that child’s whole world. And in that sense, it’s important to look at yourself as a potential role model for that child. I think one thing that is different about SaPa is that we pay a lot of attention to the little things (and little people!)

Ambi: Bindu always like to talk about the babies, while I like to talk about the older ones! We’ve tried to create a syllabus that makes well-rounded performers. In many cases, when a musician goes on stage and starts performing, most of the audience may not be aware of the subtle nuances of the raga or tala that they are trying to do. The two most important things that audiences pick up is whether the music is aesthetic – beautiful tone, pitch and sense of rhythm, and whether the musicians are enjoying themselves. These are the most important things that musicians (of any age) have to keep in mind in my opinion. We try to put a strong focus on how you play and not what you play. I, as a listener, would much rather hear a simple kriti played beautifully than something very hard that sounds hard.

Another focus of ours is multi-discipline. It’s important that a violinist doesn’t just study the violin in isolation from everything else. In order to be a performing musician, you must be equipped with a variety of things. Both Bindu and I have greatly benefitted from learning different things. Learning Carnatic violin, western violin, Carnatic vocal and piano gave me different perspectives when looking at or hearing the same piece of music.  It’s heartening to see a number of our kids at SaPa learning say Carnatic violin and western theory, or vocal, violin and piano. At that age, when they learn to apply the raga concept into their western piano playing, or try to figure out harmonic structures for Carnatic pieces they learn, it’s fascinating to see!

How does your curriculum encourage very young children to sustain interest in learning music?

Bindu: Very honestly, we think our primary job is to get kids to love music. If they love music, they will stick with it. Everything from our baby rooms, to the characters in the SaPa Baby Books like Baby Dikshitar and Baby Thyagaraja, to the murals on the wall and our (soft toy) baby tamburas are designed to make children love music. We have performance pieces from book 1, and we give children performance opportunities in no stress settings. For very young children, enjoying music is more important than being perfect – and the best part is, if children enjoy music, they themselves will focus more and drive themselves towards perfection. We’ve seen that with so many of our kids.

Bindu Subramaniam in a vocal session with young children.

Bindu Subramaniam in a vocal session with young children.

You have periodic evaluations and certification for students.  At what stage/age do these begin and what is unique about this system of evaluation?

Bindu: At SaPa, we focus on creating professional musicians. When a three-year-old toddles in, we look at her as the next MS Subbulakshmi, and treat her accordingly. Students in the program have assessments at the end of each book or level, which on average can be about once a year. So children can be as young as 4 or 5 when they take their first examination. When our babies take exams, they aren’t frightened, they are excited – we try to make sure that even our certifications are fun, at least in the early stages. Exams are important because they give kids (and parents) goals, and an understanding of what is going on and where they are in the larger scheme of things. Children feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish a level and get a certificate. We want students to emerge as confident performers.

Ambi: The exams aim to test a student’s complete skills – it has technical exercises, theory, a rhythm component and performance pieces. The theory component is examined orally for very small kids while the older ones have a written exam. For exams at advanced levels, we also have presentations on Carnatic concepts. For a performer, a very important skill to have is to be able to explain and present your art form. Very often (especially when you travel abroad) musicians are asked to give workshops – some targeted to uninitiated audiences and some to professional musicians.

Tell us a bit about SaPa in Schools (SiS). What led you to start a program like this? What are the goals that you have in mind for this flagship program?

Bindu: There are so many ways that music benefits children. In most countries, music is a compulsory part of school curriculum, and even in India, on paper music education is encouraged by all school boards. However, the real situation is a bit different. Very few schools are actually able to provide quality music education to their students, for a number of reasons.

SaPa in Schools started very organically. Although we have a very limited intake at SaPa, we wanted to be able to reach out to more children, and share the knowledge we have gained. The first year, we ran a pilot with 1000 children, and now in the third year, we are rapidly approaching ten times that. The amount of support we have received for the idea has allowed SiS to become a movement.

In every school we work with, we create a SaPa Room or music environment, and students have one compulsory music period a week, which is taught by our trained facilitators. Students follow our textbooks and sit for exams at the end of the year. We provide two workshops or interactive sessions with professional musicians, so students get a chance to see musicians in action. Our syllabus is a mix of Indian music and global music. We use Indian music as a reference point for global music too. We also use global music as a way to start a conversation on different cultures, and how it’s important to understand and respect everyone. The SaPa Method uses a lot of activities and consciously shies away from using too much technology. We have collaborations with the Norwegian Concert Institute and the NMH – the main music conservatory of Norway, which have been very helpful.

Students during a music class as part of the SaPa in Schools program.

Students during a music class as part of the SaPa in Schools program.

We are grateful that with support we are able to provide this program free to almost 2000 children.

Our dream is to be the Akshaya Patra of music – to be able to provide high quality music education to every school going child in India, whether or not they can afford it. Through SiS, we hope to be able to give all students an idea of Indian and global music in order to ultimately make them good global citizens and tolerant humans.

How does the SiS program compare with the regular SaPa courses in terms of teaching methods and curriculum?

Bindu: We look at SaPa as a place that creates professional musicians, and SaPa in Schools as a music appreciation movement. At SaPa, the syllabus is much more rigorous and our standards are much higher. We expect a lot more from students at SaPa.

SaPa in Schools starts with a similar syllabus in level 1, but the curriculum doesn’t progress at the same pace, because the format is different. There are many more children in a class at SaPa in Schools, and it’s one period a week for children at all interest levels. We want music to be a positive force in the lives of all students, a break from everyday pressures, and an outlet for their creative instincts. We also want music to be a lens through which they view other cultures. We use music as a starting point for them to have a dialogue on social, economic, political aspects of music. We take an interdisciplinary approach and use a lot of activities to make it more suited in a prescriptive classroom environment. SaPa in Schools is a lot of fun.

We are lucky to have a passionate, dedicated set of about 25 teachers who go into schools every day and inspire thousands of children. Surprisingly, many of our teachers are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and counsellors – people who are trained in various professions, but teach music because they are passionate about it. And their conviction is a very powerful motivator for children.  Our students in the SaPa in Schools program love their teachers!

Ambi: The global component in SaPa in Schools has had interesting results. We’ve had kids who have come up to us and asked us if a particular Katy Perry song was in Adi Tala!

“We’ve had kids who have come up to us and asked us if a particular Katy Perry song was in Adi Tala!” – Ambi Subramaniam

We are delighted to be working with NMH Music Conservatory from Norway – that has more than 50 years of experience teaching music to school children in Norway. They summed it up nicely – in a school of five hundred, maybe five of them will become musicians, and the rest of them will become good audiences that love music.

Through all these years of establishing, strengthening and running SaPa, what are some of the important lessons you have learnt along the way? Have any of these been incorporated in your methodology/curriculum?

Bindu: Working with so many different institutions and children has given me a broader perspective. I used to just assume that everyone knew what a djembe was, because that was within my scope of ‘normal’. We now consciously try to include things just to open up the minds of students. It could be a global music workshop, or the political context of a song. Anything that could inspire what Maslow referred to as a “peak experience”.

We’ve also learnt that so many musicians are kind and supportive and very willing to share knowledge with us and with our kids. We can all benefit from collective wisdom.

Running SaPa and SaPa in Schools has taught me to be organised and it’s added a lot of value and meaning to my life. Any day I walk into SaPa and see kids light up at the prospect of making music, I feel so grateful that I am able to play a part in it.

Ambi: The more fun it is, the more kids are going to enjoy it! Over the years, we’ve tried to make music learning more fun, while maintaining the same strive for excellence. If they don’t like what they are doing, we can never get sustained results.

Another thing we try to focus on is to enjoy performance. The classroom and practice time at home is when we sweat the small stuff. If something is not ok, we try to work a number of times to improve that, and it’s important that students start paying attention to the minor details. But come performance time, when they are on stage, it’s time to ignore all that and just go and try to have some fun!