Big Gora Learns Hindi

Big Gora Learns Hindi

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Maine sitar bajata hoon!

मैंने सितार बजाता हूँ ! (I play the sitar!)
Well, sort of. I try. I took a few hundred dollars that would have gone towards a conference (which I just didn't have the heart to attend this year--long, boring story, so never mind why), and instead bought this beautiful sitar! Check it out...
It came in this huge box! I am, as you know, a Big Gora, and this box comes up to my chest! Heavy, too. So I unpacked it, screwed on the smaller upper resonating bowl, and started goofing around with it.
You can tell this is fresh out of the box in two ways. First, I'm sitting on a bench in nothing near the same ZIP code as proper sitar-playing position. One of the very first things I learned is how to sit, and it's not this: instead, sit on the floor or a fairly flat cushion, cross the legs with left foot underneath, and prop the sitar against the left foot and right, upper leg. Second, I'm holding it like a guitar--another big no-no. Any sitar player can tell you that you hold its strings/frets exactly 90 degrees from the floor; you should be looking at the strings that mark each fret from about a foot behind the instrument. Unlike with a guitar, you don't look at the strings--they're on the other side of the board from you.
But what the hell, eh? As with learning Hindi itself, this is all about having a good time as I enjoy participating in Indian culture. I'm an amateur, etymologically meaning that I do it just for the love of it. What does it matter if I'm any good?
I'm intrigued by the Indian music notation system. It's called "Sargam," an acronym for the first four notes. Just as Western music has "Do Re Mi Fa" and so on, Indian notes have names: "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa." There are three octaves, so the middle or base octave notes are just written as the (capital) letter without embellishment, whereas the upper octave places a dot over the letter and the lower, a dot below the letter. Thus, "S R G M" is all the notation you'd really need for those four middle-octave notes. Apparently--and I haven't gotten to this yet, in practice--sharps and flats, which is to say keys, are taken care of by tuning beforehand and/or by pulling a string to change the pitch. For now, I'm playing little scales and learning-the-notes and getting-used-to-the-notation-type exercises. I'll put up a short demonstration video as soon as I feel a little better about making that public.
It's a gorgeous instrument, and very satisfying to play. It's also one of the most engrossing things I've ever done; when I'm concentrating, I lose myself completely, more so than playing a video game or reading a good book. There is so much to learn! I need to learn the complicated art of tuning all those main and sympathetic strings, the "chikar" strokes (strumming the bottom few strings during play), how to keep a "drone" going (the signature sound of the sitar), and of course gain some dexterity/skill at basic play. Here I go!