THE MUSIC ROOM by Namita Devidayal


A Memoir
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A student’s loving tribute to her musical guru.

Growing up in an affluent Bombay family, Devidayal participated in an increasingly Westernized lifestyle. Nonetheless, her mother insisted she must learn to sing Indian classical music from the best teacher available. At age ten she met Dhondutai, a musical disciple of the great singer Alladiya Khan. Dhondutai’s training was rigorous; she instructed Devidayal to start out singing just a single note for weeks, progressing with painstaking slowness through one raga, or musical mode, at a time. Their relationship enfolded the girl in a priceless tradition, which involved knowledge passed down from teacher to student over centuries. In addition to melodies and rhythms, Devidayal absorbed the stories and legends of an illustrious but neglected heritage. Although the physical location of the music room changed a few times, the sacred space that Dhondutai created within and around their lessons remained constant. The author paints herself in the background of this memoir, rendering her teacher’s story in full color. She balances narrative time between the present and Dhondutai’s past, presumably as reported during years of conversation. She seeks to unfold the mystery of why Dhondutai never attained the popular success that seemed to be promised by superlative talent and well-connected teachers, including the fiery diva Kesarbai Kerkar. Devidayal also relates the history of Indian classical music, a blend of Muslim and Hindu influences, and charts the changing roles of female performers, long considered courtesans and unfit for proper society. She pays homage to the precious knowledge with which she was entrusted, not only of the subtle and powerful ragas, but of the art form’s luminaries and their intimate life stories.

Quietly passionate, edifying and inspiring.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-53664-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2008