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Music Memoirs From the East and West

April 2009
Music Memoirs From the East and West

Namita Devidayal grew up in Bombay before she came to the U.S. to attend Princeton University. After a stay in Atlanta, she returned to India as a journalist and joined The Times Of India. Her first book, The Music Room: A Memoir, became a highly praised bestseller in India and won the 2008 Crossword Popular Book Award. Outlook magazine picked it as a best book of the year and it was also short-listed for the 2008 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize. Now it’s been published in this country by Thomas Dunne Books.

Devidayal’s training in Hindustani classical music began at the age of 10, when she accompanied her mother to a seedy part of Bombay called Kennedy Bridge, where the legendary singer Dhondutai, then living in genteel poverty, took the initially reluctant girl under her wing. This was Devidayal’s introduction to a rich musical tradition that included other great female exponents, such as Alladiya Khan and Kesarbai Kerkar. Devidayal writes knowledgeably about this world, with an emphasis on the Jaipur Gharana, and she also examines her own complicated evolution as a classical singer. Ultimately, despite her considerable talent, Devidayal gives up the rigors of a calling that demands such intense devotion and sacrifice. But what’s the consequence: relief or regret?

“A compelling narrative of three generations of maestros and students, The Music Room is essential reading for lovers of Indian music, movingly illuminating the transition of Indian classical music from its confident past to a fragile present,” notes Gita Mehta, who wrote about Indian music in a story collection titled A River Sutra.

Another native of Bombay, Zubin Mehta, has also come out with a music memoir. However, in his case, it was Western classical music that drew him westward—first to Vienna as a student. After becoming a conductor, he had long stints at some of the finest symphony orchestras in North America and Europe. Mehta, the music director for life at the Israel Philharmonic, dictated his book to Renate Grafin Matuschka, who wrote it in German. Now it’s been translated into English by Anu Pande and released in the U.S. as Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life (Amadeus Press).

“Zubin loves spicy food and hot chilies,” writes Pandit Ravi Shankar in the foreword. “In fact, he always carries a little metal box with him in his pocket, which contains some hot chilies. He asked me to write some hot chili parts in the Concerto [No. 2 for sitar and symphony], which I did—like the first movement in Raga Lalit?”

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