Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Raga of the Gurus.....and Western choirs!


I'm not a classical music aficionado but I love music, especially Hindustani classical music and I basically follow my ear to find and listen.
This morning - a gorgeous blue-and-gold winter morning - I was looking for early morning ragas and found this gem of a raga...


A name that conjures up a fragrant, little, white flower blooming in the soft-grey semi darkness of dawn….

And so it is – a calming, stilling raga that belongs to the illustrious Bhairav thaat of early morning ragas, which is performed just after dawn. And perhaps because of the soothing sound of its swaras, it’s also a raga that is sung usually in summer.
More importantly, this raga is said to uplift the spirit and so is  a favourite of yogis and bhakti saints, especially of the Gurus of Sikhism. But it’s special place is in Guru Granth Sahib, where of the 31 raga compositions, Ramkali is the 18th and many of the Granth Sahib’s most well-known celebrated compositions are composed in this raga.

But as I trawled Youtube, listening to so many renderings of the Granth Sahib in this raga, I stumbled on an astonishing thing….

Apparently, the raga somehow caught the ear of Ethan Sperry, an American composer and professor of music and he composed a Raga Ramkali choir piece which has been performed by hundred of choirs, not only in the US but also in Europe!

And so, the gentle, uplifting fragrance of this raga wafts through my mind today as I hope it will yours.

Naturally, I cannot end without doing two things.

One, sharing the great Pandit Bhimsen Joshi performing this raga

And two, answering the question – does Ramkali find a place to sparkle in the massive treasury of Hindi film music? Yes – but apparently in two songs and here is the more famous of them….

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today’s Food Epiphany

It happened as I was eating breakfast this morning, chewing slowly on a bit of hot chappati covered with melted butter…

As I savoured each buttery, delicious mouthful, the thought crossed my mind that….

If a vegetarian diet is supposed to be the healthiest one, then the Innuit people (or Eskimos as we call them) must be the unhealthiest people in the world. And they should be dropping dead like the proverbial flies from heart disease and all the other diseases that are apparently brought on by a diet high on meat and low on vegetables. Make that almost no vegetables. Or fruit. Or any of the foods that are considered indispensable in a healthy diet. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

And so, this is my question…

Could it be that different sets of people are programmed by a combination of genetics and evolution to accept the kind of food that is naturally and abundantly available in the natural environment in which they and their ancestors have lived for centuries?

Could it be that one man’s food is indeed another man’s poison and vice versa?

For example, we South Indians eat rice in one form or another in almost every meal. But the North Indians lay many ills at the door of “too much” eating of rice (which would be daily?), from flatulence to worms to obesity.

In my own home state of Karnataka, the Kannadigas of Dakshina Karnataka swear by coconut oil and consider peanut oil to cause ‘pita’, while in interior South Karnataka, it is the reverse…

And so, could it be that in severely cold climates, a certain amount of red meat and saturated fats are vital to survive the cold? That judicious amount of this reviled meat coupled with the right life style, need not be the poison it is considered to be?

And I remembered a study by Dr. George Mann, an American scientist, conducted a study among men from the Masai tribe in Kenya and Tanzania who traditionally ate a diet that was more than 60 percent fat – and half of that saturated. The results of the study rocked popularly accepted hypothesis about the causative role of saturated fats in heart disease. Closer home, studies have shown that ghee and coconut oil are not necessarily the dietary villain that they have been made out to be.

coconut 2



And therefore, could it be that a single, blanket diet plan for good health need not necessarily be valid for all us?

I am not for a moment advocating that we start eating red meat by the kilo or jettison those lovely veggies from our plate for French fries. But, maybe instead of blindly adopting “healthy eating” mantras from the West, we need to take our own diets -  food that we and our ancestors have eaten – and tweak them to suit our particular lifestyles and needs