Tabla like any other Indian traditional art (or I could traditional art period) has always been taught in the traditional guru-shishya parampara. According to Wiki –
Category Archives: Reflections
“Heena tu bahu bossy che” (Heena you are so bossy) were the words I was told again and again growing up.
I was smart, and from a young age I showed leadership, but that didn’t make me likable… In fact it took a long time for me to forgive the guys that I went to elementary school with for the teasing, and isolation I felt. The societal message to me was to tone down.
I wanted to be liked, but didn’t know how to be any other way. When I saw a problem, I took charge to resolve it; when I knew the answer, I didn’t hesitate in raising my hand; when I didn’t agree, I spoke my mind. I wasn’t going to be less smart – I didn’t know how to and didn’t want to.
Could I have learned to share my thoughts more effectively? Absolutely! Could I have used less aggression in my style, of course! (But not because aggression is condoned but because it would have made me a more effective leader).
Today, as I learn to be a better leader, I wish that instead of just being told I was bossy – which added even more aggression, which made me feel that I had to prove myself even more that I could be at the top just like the guys, heck even better than the guys – I wish someone had pulled me aside, and course corrected. The word bossy did not inspire, or motivate in a positive way, nor was it a word that gives real (constructive criticism). I wish someone had pulled me aside, praised my capabilities, and most importantly showed me then how to improve upon my innate tendency to lead so I could’ve have learned the adjustments I am learning today over 15 years ago instead of now.
Being called bossy didn’t stop me, but that wasn’t the case for most girls, including my own sister. I started a multitude of organizations, I lead many teams, while many of my girl friends shied away from being the boss. It didn’t seem possible to be the boss and likable at the same time (and now we had research that supports what we girls indirectly already knew at a young age). When I first shared my experiences of being called bossy, she commented – not as judgment of good or bad, but as an observation – that perhaps seeing the feedback I received from displaying ‘executive leadership skills’ (as Sheryl Sandberg says) subconsciously influenced her to be “less bossy” than me. As she said it, I immediately understood what she meant. No doubt, seeing some of the negative repercussions that i faced for being called bossy discouraged her from doing the same. That’s not to say she hasn’t “been the boss,” but she has also taken on more passive roles on teams and in conflicts, when there she could have taken the helm.
Both my sister and I, along with many other women, are working on ways to remove the subconscious shackles that we and society have placed on ourselves that prevent us from truly realizing our potential. The word bossy is by no means the ONLY reason that there are not as many females in leadership roles, but it is an important one. “Bossy” is a great representative of the many preventable factors that stop young woman from developing and embracing their power as changemakers and leaders. It may seem like such a small thing, just a five-letter word, but from personal experience, this one word played a large role in shaping who I am today. Change the word, and with it goes its negative connotations.
#banbossy Encourage girls to lead. Teach girls to be effective leaders when they are young.
Note: As I get ready to head back Stateside, here is a blog I actually wrote when I was leaving to come to India several weeks back.
In May, Talavya ended their spring 2013 North American tour. It was the group’s 7th concert tour in the US and /or Canada in the last three years. Performing in North America has become a regular part of Talavya’s musical career and their geographical reach extends from Atlantic Canada to California. They regularly return back to many cities and every tour, we perform in a few new ones. On this tour, Talavya’s last stop was Charlottesville, Virginia. While this in itself was not necessarily worthy of note, its significance only dawned on me the day of the performance, when one of the guys mentioned how Charlottesville was the city where they debuted in the US (under their former name – Tabla Ecstasy).
We were traveling from Charlotte, actually our second ever performance city, to Charlottesville, when I realized that we were approaching the sam. In North Indian classical music, the sam is the first beat of the rhythm cycle – it signifies an end and a new beginning. For the group and for me, the sam could not have come at a more appropriate time. For a few months, I have been feeling a shift as Talavya’s manager. Seeds that were planted several years ago seem to finally be sprouting, doors that we’d been long knocking on have been opening. The tide has been shifting from only outgoing calls to getting many incoming calls. Tours have gone from being investments to financially neutral to a reliable income for all of us. My designation in the world of music business as an artist manager has been expanding to be more far-reaching than that. Returning back to the place where it all really began in the States reaffirmed to me that a chapter was closing and a new one had begun.
What a journey it has been thus far. One that has questioned all of our determination and thrown up unexpected challenges, while solidifying our goals and creating new avenues. Personally, this journey has also been a test of my trust in myself and in the universe. It has been four years since I started out an artist manager. When I began, I didn’t have that title, nor did I understand what it mean. It began with a desire – a desire to share the amazing work that my music brothers (and sister) or gurubandhus and Guru were doing. I didn’t know what I was doing (after all, being a water and sanitation engineer isn’t exactly the right training to join the music industry), but I had a goal. While the lack of experience could be seen as a disadvantage, I took it as a way to find my own way without preconceived notions of how it should be done. The “outsider” perspective allowed me to view things from the periphery and perhaps that is why today, my objectives and work in the industry have extended beyond just the career of Talavya or the other artists in my musical ecosystem.
Before I even began with Talavya, from my cultural experiences growing up in Canada and living the States, I knew one thing – Indian artists had yet to really make it into the wider musical consciousness in large masses. Everyone knew and attended concerts by the thousands if Raviji or Zakirji were to perform, but what about all the other fantastic artists? Slumdog Millionaire hadn’t yet happened – so the larger Bollywood crossover was also still to come. I didn’t know how, but I figured if other world music artists coming from African and Latin America could be known by those beyond their diaspora, Indian artists could do that as well. Through Talavya, I learned, made mistakes and learned some more (and by no means am I done learning). We have gone from performing almost exclusively for the diaspora to having a large diversity in our audiences, from performing primarily in homes and temples to festivals and concert halls. And it is not that we have left the diaspora behind, but rather the opposite. Through Talavya, I have been working to building bridges between the diaspora and larger community. We have a long way to go, but the initial struggle of craving a space is over. Talavya, Rhythm Riders, and I are no longer newbies and unknown to the space. We have a presence and recognition. We are going to build on it, not just for Talavya, but for South Asian performing arts a whole. Through my work with Talavya, I have been able to identify the gaps in the market that limit the penetration of South Asian performing arts in the mainstream and now I’m working to fill them. No longer am I “just” an artist manager. I’m now a consultant – for presenters, for artists and can be a dot connector all over again within the music space.
In Gujarati, there is a saying that you have to sit at your business for 1,000 days for it to become “solid” or established. In music, there is a saying that you need to play something 1,000 hours or 10,000 times for you to “owe it”. Talavya has completed its 1000 days as internationally touring artists. I have completed my 1000 days as an artist manager, now onto the next cycle.
PS. If you haven’t already, check out how amazing “my guys” aka Talavya are. Yup that’s me on harmonium. Somewhere after year 1 of touring with them as the manager / emcee / photographer, I learned to play the harmonium so I could join them on stage. Yes, I play tabla (with Taalika), but I’m not quite at the level of performing with Talavya on tabla yet.
“Volunteering abroad to build schools or dig wells might make people feel good about themselves – but it can be detrimental to those who are supposed to be helped, writes tour company founder Daniela Papi.”
(post inspired by this article in BBC News, where the above quote comes from)
When I was in grade 10, I went to an infosession on a volunteer trip to Thailand. I still clearly remember how much the teacher emphasized that the trip was really about us (the volunteers) not the orphans – we would get much more than what they would receive and needed to be clear that we were not going to help someone else.
When I was volunteering at an NGO in India, I again saw the same thing… People were coming in to teach English for a few weeks feeling that they had an impact, but in the macro view it wasn’t really beneficial for the students (I’d even go as far as saying it was bad for them). The volunteers didn’t necessarily know how to teach English, nor was there consistency from volunteer to volunteer (whether they taught simultaneously or consecutively). Seeing this lack of cohesiveness and long-term impact, a friend who was a mid-term volunteer (ie several months vs few weeks) actually worked with the local teachers to change the system and stop the volunteers from teaching English anymore, instead assisting them in developing a methodology to teach English thru the local teachers. Her work may not have been as “fun” as working with the kids everyday, but the systems that she helped create are being used to this day.
Recently a friend who is serving in India shared her frustrations as she was sitting behind a computer looking at spreadsheets when she wanted to be in the field working with the women (her project is focused on self-help women groups). I understood her frustrations, but my immediate thought was – while it’s not what you expected to do, what you are doing is likely going to have a greater impact.
Volunteering abroad has great benefits – it is a chance to learn about other cultures, about people from different socio-economic groups than yourself and more (I don’t need to rehash its benefits). The image of volunteering is spending time with “poor” kids or woman, helping them. But the reality is is that NGOs usually have GREAT field workers – people who understand the language, the people and their hardships. Generally, the biggest way you can support their activities is behind the scenes – helping to create more efficiency in the workflows, assisting with documentation or grant applications. That is not to say there is no local interaction, but instead of being with lots of people, it will be with a select few. In the background, it is about capacity and skill building with the staff to assist them in doing a job they already can do better than you (ie. working with the local community). Initially it may not seem as rewarding, but in the end I believe it is because you really create relationships with those few that you are working with and helping others grow is such a beautiful thing.
So, is volunteering abroad a bad thing? Not necessarily, but I think the perspective with which volunteers go to serve needs to shift (recognizing they will get more than the local community) and there needs to be an awareness and understanding to do the things that may not be as “glamorous” (and shareable on facebook) in order to really create value for the community vs just for oneself.
It can be easy for an strong, independent woman (dare I say feminist though I don’t really use the term) to look on from the outside and decry orthodox traditions as backwards, sexist or a violation of a woman’s right to equity. But I have learned over time that one needs to look beyond the surface, understand the circumstances that moulded traditions and be realistic vs idealistic in the battles we choose to fight.
I remember going on a heritage walk through the old city of Ahmedabad. Some of the non-Indians on the trip had stopped to point at and take pictures of a sign outside a derasar (Jain temple). The sign asked females to refrain from entering during menstruation. I was not at all fazed by the sign. After all, I had grown up being told that I could not enter the temple area or participate in services during the first four days of my period. It was only on the fifth day and that too after bathing and washing my hair that I would be consider “pure” and “clean” again. It went much further in the home of my orthodox grandparents in India. There the whole family knew when you had your period because you were served food separately, sat on a different sofa from anyone else and in general avoided physical contact with anyone. For those reading of something like this for the first time, your reaction might be WHOA! How is that possible in the 1990’s or 21st century. Let me tell you that it exists in many homes beyond just that of my grandparents.
I used to get frustrated. I mean girls can do anything while they have their period, including going swimming and how could an aspect of the biological cycle which allows for reproduction make a woman unpure? But then I heard the stories. A friend told me about her grandmother’s mother-in-law. She would not let her daughter-in-laws sit idle for a moment. There was always cooking or cleaning or children to attend to and if there really wasn’t anything to do, she had on occasions, mixed together dry lentils and rice and asked her daughter-in-laws to separate the two…. It was physically exhausting. If this was a the case for women just two generations removed, it is not hard to imagine that this has been the case for centuries. So what is the easiest way to the get the masses to do something? Religion. Women were sanctioned four days of rest per month and that too on the days she was likely to feel weak or in pain as she lost blood. It’s not rocket science to see how blood can become associated with impurity / uncleanliness especially when pads and tampons were not around and you have the stigma that exists today.
Circumstances have changed, so the idea seems backwards, but the reality is that the tradition came into being to protect a woman’s well-being, not take away from it.
But others traditions continue to have relevance today. From the outside we can assume that it has been imposed by society, but could in fact be an informed decision by the women themselves. A great example of this is purdah (or drawing of the veil). In the ideal world, a woman should be able to walk around wearing whatever she wants without fear of harassment or bhuri nazar (evil or bad eye). A married woman should not have to be concerned that her brother-in-law will look at her with lust and potentially physically act upon that desire. But the reality is not the same. One of the reasons for the purdah is to avoid such circumstances. Perhaps the choice of words is “anti-feminist,” but to avoid creating circumstances that can lead to harassment. In Hindi, the veil is many times referred to as one’s laaj or dignity. A mother-in-law would tell her daughter-in-law to keep her laaj or pull her veil to cover her face.
As unfair as the reasoning may seem, it is for the protection of the woman and there are countless cases when woman veil their faces or bodies not because society or men demand it, but out of their free will. I personally recall the comments and whistles that men would pass when I used to walk the streets of Ahmedabad (easily identifiable as a foreigner). At that point, I had two choices – to continue without doing anything or keeping a dupatta to cover my head and face when I went out. While I felt frustration that I could not walk down the street without the chance of harassment, my going unveiled would not stop the eve-teasing nor was it going to educate the men (but I would call them boys) would partook in it. The harassment did not disturb them, but it was affecting me. I had to pick and choose my battles. By covering myself, I could walk with more comfort and do what I needed to do with fewer disturbances. Even as a Westerner, I chose a form of purdah out of my own free will.
Before writing practices off as backwards or orthodox, its origins and reasoning should be understood, then one can make an educated comment on its validity or lack there of. The example of the days of rest during menstruation and purdah are great to illustrate how a tradition can lose relevancy or be just as needed as it was during its inception.
As much I would not like to acknowledge it, it is still to a great degree a man’s world out there. Women are making strides in leaps and bounds, but certain attitudes towards women will take a long time to be removed (if they are). It can be easy to get frustrated and also dog on practices that come across of stifling or anti-women, but they may in fact be in place for the benefit of women. We have to pick and choose our battles, be optimistic, yet realistic. There are bad things out there, not just for women, but for children and even for men.
As I light oil lamps, one from another, alongside millions around the world, a song and story spring to mind.
Jyot Se Jyot Jalate Chalo Prem Ki Ganga Bahate Chalo Raah Mein Aaye Jo Deen Dukhi Sab Ko Gale Se Lagate Chalo
My own loose translation
As you go along light another’s lamp with your own
Let the river of love flow as you go
If you meet anyone with sorrow along your way
Embrace him as you go
I am reminded of a story I read long ago, yet cannot find. Here is it paraphrased (which I know is not as beautiful as the original).
A man made the long journey to the sacred fire. He crossed rivers and went over mountains. With his candle lit, he began the journey home. Along the way, he came across a women with an unlit lamp, who asked him to light her lamp with his own. Not thinking of the pains he took to light his lamp, he put his candle to hers. As he continued, the rains came down, extinguishing his light. But he had shared his light with another. So instead of having to take the long journey to the fire, he made his way back to the woman and lit his lamp from hers.
As you light your lamp, embrace the nature of its fire that does not diminish when shared with others.
Jyot se jyot jalate chalo.
Today the topic of our conversation veered from a question about how patriotic Jana Mana is to everyone’s favourite – Ice cream. Well, actually the importing of ice from Britain to India. (Did you know that ice was imported? that too over ships that took weeks to reach their destination?) The reason for the import? British officials wanted ice cream.
How was ice cream invented? There are many stories. Wiki would probably give you more insight, but the story that was shared was how after much struggle, someone got the idea to add salt to the ice to enable the creation of ice cream.
It got me thinking. Everything in the world around us, was at some point someone’s invention. A random thought or idea that took time and patience to develop. Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb in a day. So many people died in the process of creating airplanes. And what about our computers and phones? The things we consume on daily basis where the result of someone’s idea, someone’s perseverance and dedication (in many cases, that of many people). As our conversation moved from ice cream to airplanes, I was filled with gratitude for all those that came before us, for giving us the many luxuries and little things that we take for granted, yet have a place in our lives. In that gratitude, I was reminded yet again of how we are connected to not only the world we live in at present, but that which came before us and that which is to come.