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Heart to Heart: Remembering Naina Devi

My dear friend Vidya Rao’s labour of love is finally out. She has been working on this project for quite a while. Her book Heart to Heart: Remembering  Naina Devi is a tribute to her teacher, Guru and inspiration who trained Rao as a singer..

Legendary singer, Naina Devi  was born into a Bengali Brahmo Samaj reformist family in the early years of the twentieth century. A childhood replete with music, dance, theatre and social reform gave way to the grandeur and seclusion of the life of a young queen of the Kapurthala royal family of Punjab. Despite seventeen  years of silence necess
itated by the norms of a royal household, she came back to music and a glorious career as a singer, arts-administrator, teacher and patron,  after the tragic death of her husband.

Heart to Heart, traces Naina Devi’s incredible story as she told it to her foremost disciple, Vidya Rao. Naina Devi’s  story traces the changes in the world of Indian classical music, women singers and women in Indian society  over the last century.  Learning seena-ba-seena, heart to heart, in a seamless blend of music and life-lessons,  Rao imbibed not
just a knowledge of her chosen form, Thumri,  but a sense of the very being of her teacher.

The evocative  narrative weaves back and forth between history  and memory,  past and present, and between Naina Devi’s voice and Rao’s own, to illuminate the power  and beauty of music, the lives of these two women and of many others,  of courage, pain, joy and love, and  of the deep bond between Rao and her beloved Guru.

Here’s a detailed review published here […]

January 15th, 2012|books, India, Music|2 Comments

Khusrau, Meera, Kabir: The Fluid Self

An essay contributed by the celebrated singer,writer and spiritualist Vidya Rao

I often ask myself the question why I choose, above all things, to sing, and then to sing a traditional gayaki like thumri. The images that are gleaned from its poetic texts are so often open to misunderstand: pining nayikas, heartless piyas, rakish Krishnas, divine Rams. I ask myself that question again today when tradition is in danger of being smothered by sectarianism, communal violence and a whole culture lies bleeding.
I turn to the music itself for my answer. It has never failed me before it does not fail me now. […]