Indian Night in Providence, RI

The night air became cold as my sandaled feet walked along in search of a destination of which I was unaware. Faint sounds of music could be heard from inside the Multicultural Center at Johnson and Wales University. The lilting tune drew me closer. A handmade sign read “Journey through Indian Music” with an arrow pointing down the hallway. Finding it was easy enough, as the music became louder with each step.

A strong yet sweet smell of incense wafted through the air to my nostrils as soon as the door opened.

The room itself was dimly lit, but became lighter still, as a beautiful young woman, soon to bear her child, traipsed around softly, placing small, newly lit candles on each of the panes of stained glass windows. Her smile and nod welcomed me.

The assembled artisans, seated atop quilt covered tables, surrounded by various shaped pillows were practicing for what was to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I was unaware of how this night would leave such a lasting impression.

Taking a place in the back of the little room was sufficient for me. But after being invited to move to the front, I couldn’t resist. All the guests were soon to find that this would be a night of whimsical fancy, as we were to be taken through the ages of Indian music, from its ancient roots in Classical Raagas to folk music and devotional hymns, to the present romantic and popular renditions of Indian life, love and majesty.

The next few hours spent listening to the various songs were the sweetest journey through Indian music that I had ever encountered. Closing my eyes, the warm air and aromatic odor enveloped around, as the melodious sounds emanating from the mesmerizing chords of the sitar, the pounding of the tabla, the shimmering glissandos of the harmonium and the soothing expressions of the most exquisite instrument, the human voice, welled up warm emotions within me. For all in tense and purposes, we were in India!

The tiny village was filled with the beautiful sounds of those gathered to share their sorrows and joys through music and dance, telling their life stories.

One handsome young man by the name of Nitin Mitta took his place behind the tabla and the crowd was hushed to nothing more than a whisper. At the first leisurely, but insistent and compelling tapping, his body and the audience’s began to sway slowly and gently like the cooling breezes of the night air, which had come to quell the remaining effects of the blistering heat of the day. Closing his eyes, the tempo became faster and faster still, as his skillful hands quickly caressed the smooth form beneath them. The amazing speed at which he performed left me breathless as I watched in awe.

The intensity heightened until I felt myself wanting to rise and accompany him with the passion expressed through Bharata Natyam. If only my inexperience and shyness hadn’t confined me to my seat. Oh, how I wished to be transformed into a dancer wearing my Ghungroo, being free of all restraints and allowed to show how this exhilarating and enchanting rhythm was affecting every part of my being at that very moment in time! Then as swiftly as the throbbing sounds of the tabla had commenced, they ceased, leaving me reeling with their echo pulsating in my ears.

Before continuing on, everyone was invited to a table which bore delicious samosas and tantalizing chutney. A welcome treat for the taste buds. Afterward, we quenched our thirst with spring water.

The air soon became filled with song once again. The Karnatak vocals took precedence and eventually those of the timeless “Rang Barase took their places. First, the men with their deep voices and expressive gestures burst forth in song. Next, the women added their softer renditions of popular filmi tunes. Then a combination of the two styles united. The playfulness and celebratory memories of Holi were conjured up and one wished the festival of colors could be enjoyed on every day of the year.

Unfortunately, the festivities came to an end all too soon and without meaning to, I had been transported back to the place that was discovered just a few short hours before. It was time to leave, but not without taking all the sights, sounds, and tastes with me so that I might be able to vividly recall them for years to come.

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