Title: The Music Room
Author: Namita Devidayal
Release Date: February 3, 2009
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5
This is Namita Devidayal’s memoir of her experiences singing Indian classical music. As a ten-year-old girl, she was forced to attend classes with a woman named Dhondutai. Though she never was really interested in classical music and thought it was archaic, Devidayal details how sticking with her music lessons, even through her teenage years, college at Princeton, and job as a reporter, affected her.
When I first picked up The Music Room, I expected something completely different than what I got, based on the dust jacket summary. I thought it would be about a girl choosing between classical Indian music and modern day life. In some ways it was about that, but it contained so much more that I didn’t expect.
The Music Room is about the recent history of classical music in India. Devidayal discusses the history of her teacher, Dhondutai and her teacher’s teacher. Through the stories of these women, the reader begins to understand the intricacies and politics behind classical music. Traditionally in India, women who sang were on the same level as courtesans socially. It was not a path for respectable women. Devidayal’s discussion shows the prejudices that used to be inherent within Indian society and make the reader ask whether they still exist.
Devidayal also teaches the reader a lot about Indian classical music. Though I knew the basics, it was riveting to learn all the ins and outs. Additionally, it was very interesting to learn about religious differences through this subject. Classical music used to be the purview of Muslims, beginning with one Hindu Brahmin family that converted to Islam. Hindus have been trying to recapture and become the masters of Indian classical music ever since.
It was really surprising that so many political and cultural issues could be discussed through the framework of Indian classical music. Devidayal does a great job of it in The Music Room. This is a book I highly recommend for anyone interested in learning more about Indian culture.