The Sitar Diaries- ABC of Playing A Sitar

So you got your sitar, got your mizrab and even coaxed your feet into the slightly uncomfy position sitting like a pretzel. Now it all comes down to holding the sitar properly (aka getting a solid grip on it) and striking a note!

The sitar has a longish neck that culminates in a rounded bottom. While holding the sitar, the neck (daand) is pointing upwards and the player’s elbow rests on the swell of the bottom aka the tumba.

The mizrab is put on the index finger of the right hand and the left hand is pressed down on a fret while the hand does either of these four movements-

DA. RA. DIR. DRA! I added an exclamation after the last mode of playing a note because it’s played in a quick and almost aggressive manner.

DA is the bol representing the upward strike. The mizrab starts from the bottom end of the string and strikes upward.

RA is the bol representing the downward strike. The mizrab starts from the top end of the string and strikes downward.

DIR is a quick flick doing a Da, followed by an immediate Ra. It will seem like a “stutter” from the sitar.

DRA is when the first string is stroked from inward and then immediately outward very fast, giving the outward stroke more power/emphasis than inward stroke.

The left hand moves up and down the neck of the instrument while the right hand continues to strum the strings in a medley of the movements described above and sounds are emitted. Once the proper sequence of notes are put into play, a melody emerges.

Incidentally the higher up you go on a sitar’s neck the lower the tonal quality of the notes and conversely the lower you move on the neck the higher the tonal quality. Highs and lows on a sitar often take novices a while to master since the hand typical tends to reach for a higher place when told to strike a high note and vice versa.

Also, initial days of playing a sitar can be tough in more ways than one- the steel wires cut into your hands and thankfully causing calluses which help you play as time goes by. But till the time the calluses form it’s a wee bit painful and applying bandaids on the index finger of the left hand can help the younger students withstand the discomfort that can occur.

Tuning a sitar is also very important. With all string instruments, the tautness of the wires can make or break the sounds that will be created. The pegs on a sitar are to be tuned gently (by novices) and a good way to find out how your sitar should sound is to sing the sargam (that is singing the notes instead of the composition). The notes, SA-RE-GA-MA simplistically corresponds to the DO-RE-MI-FA in Western classical music.

But alongside learning bits of theory, it’s more important to get to know the instrument, familiarize yourself with its contours and then just jump headfirst into playing it.

Attribution: some texts within the blog post have been taken from these sources-


The Sitar Diaries-Genesis&Evolution

The sitar is a string-instrument which is primarily played in Hindustani and Carnatic modes. It has strings made with steel and the sound is produced by striking at the strings while wearing an implement called a mizrab and simultaneously flexing the right hand palm open or shut whereas the left hand presses down on a particular wire.


The conception of the Sitar is largely been attributed to Persian sources with the earliest sitars being inspired from a Persian instrument called a se-tar i.e 3 strings.Over the years it has been customized to suit the prevailing movements in music in the Indian subcontinent with Amir Khusrow being credited with it’s present form.

A sitar can have 18,19 or 20 strings of which 6 or 7 (corresponding to the octaves) are strung over raised, curved frets. The remainder of the strings run under the main strings and resonate and enhance the melody. They are often played separately as well to add emphasis or a different pitch to the music.

This is how a sitar is typically held-

It takes a bit of getting used to but in time your legs stop feeling like you’re on pins and needles and the heady feeling of strumming a a vibrant note takes over everything else and you’re on your way to a little slice of heaven!

Play on!

Philosophical Masturbation

I happened to speak to someone about relationships recently and that got me thinking about…DUH! relationships. The kinds I have with the people in my life. The kinds I see all around me and those I’ve been a part of vicariously, for whatever oddball reason there maybe.

It struck me during my conversation that sometimes when we walk away or are walked away from, the significant people in our life, we aren’t usually doing it for one reason alone. There are usually a multitude of reasons and one of them might rule the roost but the others play their part in the decision making process-be it a good or a bad decision.

A reason which is a bit OTT but is relevant nonetheless is the act of knowing someone too well. People like some amount of mystique in their lives. They like the element of the unknown, even if it’s an iota and not a dollop. And they don’t want to be an open book where each ‘t’ is crossed out and ‘i’ is dotted before its time.

One of the other factors which go hand in hand with being known very well by the significant other, is knowing them a little too well.

Ergo predictability rules the roost or we imagine it to do so and often opt to be away from the severity of known and cozy up in the warmth of the unknown. Let’s face it, a person who knows you, warts and all, will lay you bare and none of your excuses will work in front of them. The fallacies you might want to hide behind will be ripped apart from you and you’ll be shown a mirror to your own self. Again. And again.

It’s tough. Sometimes unsavory and often unpalatable. And the easiest way to avoid it is to be rid of the person who knows you so well.

Starting over with a new person lets you be someone you wanted to be but couldn’t. Or atleast pretend to for a while.

Familiarity isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be at the end of the day. It’s just another state of being. And you might want to be someone else.

The Sitar Diaries- Anatomy of a Sitar

Last Friday I went to a neighbor’s house and saw a veena propped up in a corner. And it brought to mind the little time that I’d spent learning to play a sitar. It made me think of this series of blog post titled- The Sitar Diaries which will explore the structure and form of a sitar, how to play it, what is typically played and a bit of intro to some of the most famous Hindustani Classical raags and taals.. Am not delving into the Carnatic style at all since my exposure to that methodology is absolutely nil!

So here goes and I hope that more people will continue to embrace musical instruments as a way of self-expression, recreation and pleasure. I, unfortunately, was not able to continue with my sitar lessons but I have a yen for the instrument and still wish that a time comes when I can reconnect with it. Till then the days of my air-sitar will continue instead.


Parts of a sitar labelled.

Movie Review- Ghost Shark

First off- 0.5 points for having a slightly hatke theme on a creature flick aka a vengeful reincarnated shark. In all my years of watching dumbass movies where the sharks chomp through people like an all-you-can-eat buffet at a tapas bar, the notion of a shark who comes back from the dead to wreck revenge is awesome! Well…awesome is a strong word…not-so-bad comes to mind in its stead.

Anyhow what makes this movie hilarious is the reincarnated shark’s awesome powers. And this time I mean awesome to the nth power. Just think…a shark that needs only a bare modicum of water to appear in, albeit in an astral form, and then wreck havoc on unsuspecting Americans because one must remember, all of this tomfoolery always happens in the United States, Apparently Canada is happy enough with its maple syrup and Mounties. America has inherited the whack jobs!

Back to the totally BODACIOUS shark dude that can appear in a water dispenser, a pool, a slip&slide, a sprinkler AND from inside a toilet…I mean who do we know that can do *that*? This basically makes Ghost Shark a movie that you cannot miss out on during Laugh-a-thons, feeling bored right out of your skull or while wondering where you ended up in your life. Because this movie will put that spring back in your step, make you look at the absurdities of life with a kindlier eye and rekindle love and good will in your heart for your fellow man and help you share the love like so

Here’s to crappy…erm…happy viewing!


Terrors Closer To Home

There’ s no denying the utter unspeakability of the things happening to the people of Gaza. And the families of the people who have lost loved ones to the Malaysian Airlines disasters. Tragedies in every sense of the word. The civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the daily civilian casualties I mean.

And yet when things happen closer to home, almost right on your doorstep it seems to overshadow the happenings elsewhere in the world. For me at least; to some extent.

It almost feels like in the past 2-3 years we as a nation have taken on the sordid task of proving our bestiality, sadism and passivity as a citizenry. Rapes are rampant with the cruelty factors going off the charts and the rapists trying to outdo each other with their fiendish disregard for human life, man/woman/child notwithstanding.

Intolerance seems to have achieved new heights with fatal attacks on people who look and talk differently.

Handicapped people getting abused for no fault of theirs and merely because they are vulnerable and the powers that be are stronger than they are.

Children falling prey to predators who should not even be allowed to be in the same breathing space as they are. And the people who have willingly taken on the responsibility to be lawmakers, custodians of the public welfare are either off making irresponsible statements to the press or sitting with their thumb up their butts.

It all seems to be cascading one over the other…EVERY SINGLE DAY.

And be it a malaise of the modern world, of the times we live in…it’s so unpalatable and unhealthy for us to have to live in these times where humanity can be switched on and off at will and only the baser instincts of many seem to be flooding our ambiance. Am surprised more people have turned into vigilantes. Oh wait…we’re busy doing candle light vigils.

So even if it’s all about Gaza right now on social networks and it’s trending in half a dozen places, excuse me if my mind’s more caught up with what’s happening in my backyard and worries about teaching my 5 year old about the bad people out there who can hurt him.

I am not doing anything to impact the prevailing situations either but I don’t want to “show” my discontent passively either. Writing about it on a platform that has global reach seems to be a better way of getting the information out there.

We aren’t living in the midst of a war in my country but we aren’t living in a country that’s a good place to be in right now either.

These are shitty times to live in. Period.

Shutter Happy#7

Once upon a time. A slightly borderline woman bought a nice camera. And promptly crossed the border.

Here are things her eyes viewed.

Yellow rope on window cleaning platform.

Yellow rope on window cleaning platform.

Tree bark amplified.

Tree bark amplified.

Ant on flower- magnified.

Ant on flower- magnified.

Portion of flower- magnified.

Portion of flower- magnified.

Segment of flower- magnified.

Segment of flower- magnified.

Flower in a bunch- magnified.

Flower in a bunch- magnified.

Flower- cinemascope format and filter applied.

Flower- cinemascope format and filter applied.

Ant- zoom in.

Ant- zoom in.

Ant on a two-leaf junction.

Ant on a two-leaf junction.

The Perils of Healthy Living

The biggest irk about “healthy living” is when it’s forced down your throat by someone who thinks they (meaning the rest of the family) ought to change their eating habits.

Recently Red went on a road trip with a childhood friend who has embraced healthier options in his life vis-a-vis his eating habits. This individual didn’t wake up one day and find a roll of fat around his waist and decided to go the Atkins way but thoroughly researched everything there is to find out there online and made changes right from the cooking oil to the stuff that finally winds up in his stomach.

Red was impressed. I wasn’t. It’s very easy for someone who doesn’t manage the kitchen to waltz in one day and ask for top-bottom changes in what we eat, what it’s made in and how it’s going to be made; and not lift a finger in the process. And the person asking for the said changes is slightly finicky about his grub to begin with.

But housewives being the modern-day Atlas, the brunt of doing the research fell on me, as was wont. Keeping all preconceived notions aside of what passes for good cooking traditionally I hit the Internet and started looking for credible sources (meaning I looked beyond Wikipedia) and I was surprised to find that Red and consequently his friend weren’t wrong. Canola oil, rice bran oil and many of the “lighter oils” I had known about earlier and thought were good for the heart and the overall health of a person, were actually not all that great. I found this and this to be helpful in understanding the matter at hand.

Still, I find that new findings crop up every now and then and there are still things which may end up being matters of long-term debates viz microwave cooking- impending health hazards vs. unsubstantiated myths. And now suddenly making these kind of changes is a bit tough. And we do it because no one wants arteries clogging up at 35. But more still because if there’s the slightest possibility of any of the findings being accurate then we owe it to ourselves to read a significant amount of literature backing pros and cons of the issue and then taking a call.

But in the meanwhile it gets me a bit testy to have Red looking over my shoulder of signs of improvement of “healthiness” in our eating patterns.

Very tough to be a meat and potatoes kind of person AND a midnight snacker in this day and age I must say,


Just Because

This is a post just because. Just because someone did something that benefited them in no particular way but added happiness to my day.

Just because someone took a little bit of trouble so I could do something non-critical and non-urgent and insignificant to everyone else but relevant and significant for me.

Just because.

And these are the things that you remember. And this is how red-letter days get made.

Electrified Alphabets

My son thoroughly dislikes handwriting practice. And his alphabets bear the brunt of his displeasure with the entire exercise. They look like someone electrocuted them and left them hopping all over the place on their own devices.

You start out with one letter written properly, with the line: space ratio maintained but five letters down and it’s like the Titanic; sinking fast and no rescue in sight.

We do the whole cajole-growl-praise routine and somehow things get accomplished. But those letters still look like they’ve been touched by a live wire.