(About the author - Sudha Balagopal’s love for music inspired There are Seven Notes, her debut collection of thematically linked short stories. Her work has appeared in a number of literary magazines and journals including Superstition Review, Gemini Magazine, Her Circle, Muse India, Pax Americana, and The Writing Disorder. A second collection of short stories, Missing and Other Stories, is forthcoming from Roman Books later this year. She makes her home in the southwestern United States.)
Carnatic music has affected the lives of so many men and women particularly from Tamilnadu where learning music is considered a requirement, especially for women. Indian Americans have also carried this tradition and we now have a very popular and well-attended US national festival of Carnatic music in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sudha Balagopal draws on the Carnatic music culture to present a set of short stories that beautifully bring out the impact of this music on the everyday lives of many ordinary men and women. These people, who are not musical stalwarts and yet whose lives are deeply affected by the music. The book is very appropriately titled “There are seven notes”. Yet it really is about people relationships that the music brings about.
We begin with the first relationship – the one between a teacher and his reluctant student in Singing Lessons. “As soon as she saw him, the wheels inside her head spun. She did not like her teacher and she did not like her lessons” establishes a familiar theme for many of whom as youngsters dread, the discipline of Carnatic music teachers. The tale takes you into the home of eight-year old Hamsa, whose family is crazy about music. They name her Hamsa, short for the Ragam Hamsadwani. The tale takes several twists and turns and allows you to feel and smell the culture along the way in a R.K Narayanan style.
From the singing lessons we move on to “Ravi’s Ragas” that detail the subtle and beautiful relationship between a female singer and her male violin accompanist. Getting critical presents an unusual yet familiar look at the music critics.
One of the very touching stories was the all-together familiar and yet perhaps not-oft talked about issue of the challenges faced by leading female performing artists as they struggle to balance work and family.
This book is a great read for all Indian children growing up in the United States learning classical arts.