From the Discover blog: Why do songs get stuck in our heads?

Having a song, tune, or commercial jingle stuck in one’s head is a phenomenon known as having an earworm. Most people have had an earworm at one time. The experience is harmless and unrelated to both obsessive-compulsive disorder and endomusia, the hearing of music that is not really there. Certain songs—simple, repetitive, or oddly incongruous—have properties that act as mental mosquito bites in that they produce a cognitive “itch.” The condition also arises when people struggle to remember forgotten lyrics or how a song ends. To scratch a cognitive itch, the brain repeats the song, which then traps the hapless victim in a repeated cycle of itching and scratching. Everyone has his or her own list of demon tunes that haunt. Earworms occur more often among women, musicians, and individuals who tend to worry. (OK, so that makes my brain a perfect haven for earworms). Earworms also vary across situations, striking when people are tired or under stress. How can you make an earworm go away? Thinking of something else or actually listening to the song in question are thought to help, but there is presently no research evidence showing what works best. Fortunately, most episodes eventually dissipate on their own.

with Nicolitta Pereira in 2001I recently got back in touch with an ex-student of mine. Nicolitta, a teenager then, was gifted with facile technique, her performance bolstered by many years of practice and attention to detail while studying advanced works by the likes of Bach and Bartok. I recall visiting her leafy cottage in Bandra, and after a piano session over the obligatory cup of tea and snacks, watched her kickstart an old Bullet motorbike and take a cautious ride in the crowded, narrow winding lanes outside her house. That was the first time I glimpsed the hidden spitfire in her. In time, we parted. I moved to Canada, she went on to use her seamstress skills designing bridal wear and garments for export. Continue reading

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national.
Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

[excerpt from the Inaugural Poem by Elizabeth Alexander]

I’ve had the pleasure to  serve as Interim Choir Director at St. Pauls in Newton, MA since fall. If you are looking to attend a Sunday or a special service during the Advent/Christmas season, please drop by. (View schedule and location). Led by the dynamic and oh-so-cool Revd. Gretchen Grimshaw, the music leans toward jazz, mixed in with some gospel and traditional choral styles. And although we don’t have a large choir, (it’s affectionately known as the little Big choir), they’re tremedously capable, having withstood some mean choral arrangements of mine in the past. I will be at this church until the Martin Luther King weekend, which falls on Jan 18th.
P.S. the choir welcomes new voices!

I was in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, the name I find hard to discontinue using since I knew it as such for most of my life) during the month of November, on a vacation to visit family and friends. During this time, we visited our favourite haunts including the majestic Taj Hotel where we lunched at the Golden Dragon restaurant. I distinctly remember how impressed I was by the rich decor, classical ambiance and spaciousness of this century old structure. A few things were different I sensed, compared to my last visit seven years ago. There were more people for sure – milling in the lobby and at the entrance, with hundreds more just outside the periphery of the Taj, a spill over from the squeeze of visitors to the Gateway of India. Just outside the lobby, at the foot of the gleaming marble stairs, was a solitary narrow metal detector that visitors had to pass through before entering the hotel. It looked ugly, out of place in these surroundings, and hardly seemed effective. Once inside the hotel lobby, we tried to capture some video footage on our camcorder of the enormous room with the stunning chandelier and artefacts, but were politely asked to refrain from doing so, as we would be “offending guests”. (Had the staff been instructed to curb people from filming the interiors for security reasons, or was it truly because we might offend the sensibilities of guests and intrude their privacy, albeit in a fairly public place?)

TV reportsA few days later, we were enjoying an exquisite Indian buffet spread at a restaurant in another 5-star hotel a few kilometres away at an area popularly know as the Juhu beach. There was an outdoor wedding reception taking place on the beachfront. We saw headlines flash by on the restaurants big screen TV – there had been shootings at the main railway station in Mumbai, then at the Metro cinema in South Bombay. Within minutes, the channel was showing raw footage of the aftermath of gun attacks at Leopold’s Cafe. We thought it might be gang-related, but Leopold’s was hardly the kind of venue for assassinations of this sort. It was essentially a tourist hangout, and its clients didn’t didn’t seem to be sort who might be involved in trouble of this nature. Within few minutes we heard that the Taj was under attack, Continue reading

Hookah Menu at Tony da Dhaba

I’d mostly seen this ancient pipe being used by people in Indian villages, but it appears that it is a trend gaining popularity among college students in urban areas today. Hookahs are widely being offered in cafes and restaurants in Indian cities, with the tobacco offered in an assortment of flavors. Students come in groups and sit for hours peacefully gurgling communal pipes in casual surroundings. Here’s a hookah menu hanging at a popular ‘dhaba’ restaurant on the outskirts of Bombay. (This place also served served ’emu tikka’ btw).

Incidentally, one of my upcoming performances (20th November) will be at a restaurant in Pune called the Shisha Jazz Cafe, ‘shisha’ being a common term for the hookah in the Middle East. For reservations call 20-65200390.

Getting pronunciation correct, especially when it comes to names of countries, religions and personal names is a basic sign of respect for a nation and it’s culture, and not an ‘exotic’ endeavour. I’m glad this is being discussed here. As for our politicians – anyone who claims to remotely have anything to do with foreign policy should stop critiquing Obama. Sometimes, just the pronouncing of a country’s name correctly, can evoke a gush of goodwill from that nations’ citizenry. A basic step in good ambassadorship.

Most folks in the US wouldn’t be aware of this, but it’s nearly time for us Canadians to elect our new PM – Oct. 14th actually. In June, CTV and the Globe & Mail did a survey which stated that Canadians preferred Obama over their own leaders. In an article out yesterday, the Vancouver Sun reports that it is a case of Obama-envy with 42% (a huge increase in margin!) of them choosing Obama, well ahead of the 29% that current Conservative PM Stephen Harper garnered. Ouch. Inspired by this solid enthusiam of Canadians for the US candidate, there’s a “Barack Obama For PM” website with spiffy T-shirts, complete with igloo and maple leaf logos.

Well, I wouldn’t wish it to happen, but after the results of the last US election there’s always a nagging fear of history repeating itself. So if McCain wins, at least we know that Obama can always head over to Parliament Hill in Ottawa 🙂 So to those among my friends who I know are thinking of re-locating to Barcelona, Amsterdam or Auckland if the Republicans win, perhaps you may not have to move that far after all!

Obama For Prime Minister

Have been trying to make some some moral decisions when buying seafood … it’s not easy and there have been many mishaps along the the way. Came across some info that helps one make the right eco-choice. Based on the zones you live in, here’s one that displays sustainable seafood choices. Also some great buying advice from Henry Lovejoy, president of the sustainable-seafood purveyor EcoFish. And here’s a scorecard of how the top 20 US retailers did when it came to seafood sustainability. Even the winner didn’t make the grade 🙁

It’s 2008 and New Year’s greetings and best wishes to all! Heard a brief interview on NPR this morning with Eric Weiner whose book is on my reading list, called “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World“. Besides referring to the World Database of Happiness, he mentioned a trip to Bhutan where a man’s suggestion for being happy was to set aside a few minutes a day to think about death.

In the East, the cycle of birth and death can be table talk, linked figuratively to the waxing and waning of the moon, and change of seasons. Dealing with adversity differs among people and nations. Growing up in India, it was not uncommon to hear people when speaking of their problems, end their speech with a ‘What to do?’. (Kya karega?). The phrase adorns the end of every monologue that has to do with recounting a problem or ‘situation’ and is accompanied by a shrug of the shoulder. If pressed for time, a Jaguar will not get you to your destination faster than the lowly auto rickshaw in Bombay’s crawling, leaden traffic. What to do? The telephone has been dead for over two days. What to do? Resignation, an apology that one can’t have control over all things in life. Just saying it insulates one from obsessive worrying – sort of a tension exhale. Apparently the phrase is infectious too. I had to do a quick double take and rewind when I heard it casually uttered by John McLaughlin while I watched the DVD Remember Shakti – The Way Of Beauty. There was an upcoming tour, and he was trying to locate L. Shankar the violinist who had strangely disappeared for several months, to no avail. Finally he engaged the talents of the mandolin prodigy U. Srinivas. And then he said “What to do?” With a shoulder shrug. It was strange to hear an Englishman say that – but then John in many ways is even more a desi than I am. He’s spent several years of his life in India, immersing himself in the classical music, spirituality and culture of the country. Speaking of him, I need to revisit more of his amazing works from the 70’s. Also check out his latest DVD: The Gateway To Rhythm, which explains the system of ‘konakkol’ (the art of vocal drumming and rhythms from South India).