Three Books Outside Begumpet, Hyd

Now that the Oscar fever had subsided, the delirious movie binges are easing out as well. We are done with most, and the rest are in a tomorrow box that never gets opened, one that the missus and I never forget even when we fight about something else altogether. It also provides for a little more time for reading. It is this way for me, and if you are like me, I thought you would benefit from knowing about three books I read recently that really made an impact on me.

It is a fairly wide range of things that I have got to do with my life. I read a little, but I have never done and do not intend to start doing book reccos, and these are definitely not my desert island books, but these three books were breathtakingly fascinating, contributing to my worldview in ways that compel me to share them with you. I am a firm believer in the purposefulness of all that occurs and in the epiphanic nature of each moment. These books brought me what I needed at this point in time, mystically.  I had lived with what can best be called philosophical shame for a good part of my life, embarrassed to share what I believed.

My disagreements with organized mysticism and psychologists have landed me in more trouble than I had bargained for, inside and out. I grew averse to the entire philosophy-psychology-productivity-self help continuum after overdosing on it in the '90s. Similarly, I have been outgrowing my understanding of music and musical expression, straying uncomfortably close to noise, yet enjoying the precariousness of it. Over the last decade or so, I have been actively pursuing a line of thinking that all we know and believe about the science of music, the conventional theory that all students of music are subjected to, is possibly a very limited, censored, "state sponsored" view of things, and that the truth lies in the voices of the voiceless. This conspiracy theory was further strengthened as I watched Junior explore rhythm, melody and language. What was going on there was not what any convention could explain, and this is evident in the development of this faculty in any child, and it doesn't have anything to do with what you learn when studying music or language.

Two of these books are from the pop psychology genre. The third is a book I was advised against by a fellow music lover who had much greater engagement with the theory and history of music than I ever did and whose opinion I revered.  The likelihood of my reading these three books was close to zero. As my best friend always course corrects me, we don't know why anything turns out the way it does. Our intent is never lost on the universe, it is just that needs have to be met first. These books met a need that I was not entirely conscious of, resolving conflicts that I could not acknowledge.   

The first is Ryan Holiday's The Obstacle Is The Way. After Mom died, I happened to revisit Seneca and then Marcus Aurelius and this led me to buy some of their works that I had not read. Ryan Holiday's book came to me as a suggested purchase on Amazon along with a daily stoic thought kind of a book. I ordered it on a whim, and I have not regretted it. Ryan Holiday takes the essence of stoicism and places it in the context of the present, in the digital consumerist world, AI, off-grid living, and boardroom wars. I would think it will appeal to younger readers as much as it did to me. Very well structured, very impelling, and nice ended. Of course, it is not the same as reading the original thinkers, but it presents their thoughts in a very relatable, contemporary way. If you are unfamiliar with stoic thought, if such people still exist, I would urge you to read this. If not, you have probably already read it. If not, you must.

The second book is Edward Slingerland's treatise on Confucian, Taoist, and Zen schools of thought, Trying Not To Try. This was recommended to me by spouse from many other lifetimes, Sateesh, in the course of our long distance, not at all platonic, romance with the truth. It starts out innocently, exploring the zen of things, but before you know it, you are caught up not only with the philosophy of karma and predestiny, action and effortlessness, but with the history and neurochemistry of the attempt to understand cognitive control. The last I remember being this engaged was when as a much younger (I was wise when I was born, I become more foolish each passing day, I will die a blank slate) person, I came across the pop spirituality of M. Scott Peck and Deepak Chopra. But this book is not in that realm at all. It is an academic excursion into the nature of being, the nature of effortless being, the nature of living in harmony within and without. It packs in a lot of history and references to the basic texts, much of it new to me. If, like me, you have dabbled in the Tao of Physics and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you will love it.  If you haven't, but wonder how people can be happy even when things don't go their way, you will gain some insight from this book. I know it sounds heretic, but I was repeatedly reminded of the chat that Parth and the grown up Srinathji would have had while I was reading this book.

The third book is a book fundamentally on Muddy Waters, but addressing the history of Delta Blues as a genre, Robert Palmer's Deep Blues. Robert Palmer is a familiar and respected name for those who read about music, and I had seen this book back in the late '80s, read a few pages, but was persuaded out of wasting my time on it by a now dead friend. This time around, I had just finished a deeply personal writing project on three bluesmen, and I was exhausted emotionally to the point where I was ready for a little cheating, open to a quick one on the sly. I looked it up, and it was still available, albeit not at the top of search results for the name. I ordered it before I changed my mind. It lay around a few days after it arrived, thanks to the Oscar binges, but when I got down to it, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, one can debate over the banjo-guitar-fife argument or the Americanness of being a slave or whether the profane and the sacred point to the same thing. What I enjoyed about this book was its approach to the why of the blues. There are numerous commentaries on the blues, what makes it blue, why the flattened thirds and fifth tug at your heartstrings so, and on the New World that the blues sang about.

This book goes into the demographic roots of the sounds and rhythms and backs it up with facts. It has an agenda, a little like Ram Chandra Guha's work, but it fuels a discussion that is fair and satisfying. Truth is a destination that few have claimed to have reached. This book goes back to the tribal cultures and history of African literature and music, providing context to why different regions, both in Africa and America, generated the folk culture that they did. Even for those into musical ethnography (that is the closest description of this book), there are opinions that seem a little preconceived and simplistic, but it still remains a fascinating, in depth, innovative approach to understanding the history of this music. For me, it was a treasure hunt, with all the clues having been in front of my eyes life long, and this book opening them up for me. If you are into blues, of if you liked my earlier post on the blues to the point that you would like some more of it, this is the place to go to. My dead friend was right, I would have wasted my time, and perhaps lost my way, if I had read it before now.

1 comment:

  1. There are no other lifetimes; stop clinging so much!


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