Saturday, October 17, 2009

Anouska Shankar

The day after I made the wish to hear a woman play the sitar, pouf!

You Tube links to Anoushka Shankar appeared in my inbox.

Thank you to Abby, who waved the internet wand:

1) Anouschka Shankar and violinist Josh Bell performing together. "Much easier to follow for the Western ear," comments Abby.

2) Anouschka with her dad, Ravi, performing together. "Watch to the end for a charming little surprise visitor," adds Abby.

3) A slide show of Anouschka and her half-sister Norah Jones performing together:

I am enchanted by seeing Anouschka perform. A whole concert would be heavenly.

I relate so much better to everything from music to politics when I see a woman before me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Good News on Abortion

Abortion is declining world-wide, reports the Alan Guttmacher Institute in a press release today.

Where both abortion and contraception are easily available and legal, fewer abortions are occurring--only (?) 41.6 million in 2003 compared to 45.5 million in 1995.

But unsafe abortion is still causing the deaths of 70,000 women per year.

70,000 too many.

"...In much of the developing world, abortion remains highly restricted, and unsafe abortion is common and continues to damage women's health and threaten their survival," reports Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Irene Vilar: 15 Abortions, 2 Kids

Irene Vilar is a woman of courage and a married mother of two little girls aged three and five years.

At age 16 she began a relationship with a 50-year-old man who didn't want kids. She married him and for eleven years swung between desire to have children and fear of losing her husband. She also made several suicide attempts.

Now at age 40, with a new husband, she has had the courage to write the story of her life, which begins with her grandmother and mother in Puerto Rico and their struggle for control of their lives in a country under colonial control.

Read Robin Abcarian's review in today's Los Angeles Times.,0,7832320.story

Then buy Irene's book, Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict.

In case you're thinking the moral of this story is that abortion should not be legal, ponder this: Irene is sure she would not be alive today if that were the case.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sitar in Los Angeles

I approached the sitar concert with some trepidation.

Would I understand it any better than my first sitar/raga experience last July in Varanasi on the steps above the Ganges River? Or would it be an impenetrable mass of musical artistry?

(I approached it with some tripping, too--my first attempt to wrap myself in a sari without the expert hands of an Indian friend.)

Nishat Khan, a seventh-generation player of sitar, sat before us on the stage at USC, explaining that each raga is composed of a tune about sixteen beats long, introduced and then improvised as the player is moved.

The good news: tuning the sitar took only five minutes, not fifty. Khan later explained that the tuning is actually part of the performance, like getting acquainted with small talk when you meet someone.

During the first raga, "Yaman," I was determined to note the central theme and follow the improvisation but, listening with the intensity of an arm wrestler, I never found it.

Khan moved on to a 170-year-old song, where I did catch the tune easily and enjoyed the variations, at times meditative, at times a frenzy of impossible virtuosity, like Eric Clapton on guitar.

After a third raga and the intermission, there were two more, "Sugre" and "Parovi," which began with the cry "Ta-di."

Khan explained that the entire words to this twenty-minute performance were the passionate demand of a girl to a boy: I want a red scarf--make my scarf red.

In Rajistan, he said, young men wear (wore?) a red turban, so she is saying she wants to marry him.

How this works in a society where marriages are arranged he didn't explain.

The performance was part of a conference in honor of the 140th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth, October 2, 1869.

For some reason the three performers (on sitar, tabla, and another guitar-like instrument) were all men, just as they had been in the concert I saw in India.

Yet the paintings and photos above on a screen included some female sitar players. Abby, who with her husband Davan had invited us, assured me that Ravi Shankar's daughter, Anoushka, plays the sitar.

Abby had another revelation for me: it's okay to sit there and relax, letting the music wash over you as your mind wanders, rather than strenuously trying to follow it.

I'll remember that next time, and my next sitar concert will include a female performer.

An amazing footnote: Abby and Davan's two kids, Armaan and Maya, 12 and 9 years old, sat through the whole performance without a complaint. My kids at those ages would have been squirming and asking to go to the bathroom.

I remember plying them with candy to sit through The Nutcracker Suite when they were 8, 5, and 3 years old.

Armaan's comment on the concert: "It's cool."

Dying Children

Today's Los Angeles Times features two of the 268 children who died during the year and a half from January 2008 to August 2009 while under the supervision of the LA child welfare system.,0,200157,full.story

Miguel Padilla, a 17-year-old who had lost half an arm in one accident and the sight in one eye in another, hung himself. Lazhanae Harris, 13, was stabbed to death. Both had been neglected and abandoned by birth parents before coming to the attention of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Their moving stories were written by Kim Christensen and Garrett Therolf. Read them and weep.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama: Profoundly for Peace

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul...

Emily Dickinson captured the ephemeral power of hope, and today the Nobel committee awarded this year's peace prize to President Barack Obama--for bringing renewed hope of peace to each person on the planet.

What a good day! "An imaginative and surprising" handling of this year's award, said Desmond Tutu, who won the prize in 1984.

And yes, an obvious "a kick in the leg" to the Bush administration's war policies, commented Thorbjorn Jagland, chair of the Nobel committee.


Just one year ago the immense political, economic, and military power of the USA was stuck in Belligerent Mode. American imperialism blew around the world unchecked like a cloud of poisonous gas.

But today a small bird perches in many souls "And sings the tune--without the words / And never stops at all."

When I was travelling in India last summer, I met people on the streets, the banks of the Ganges, the walkways of historic sites like the Taj Mahal who spoke fluent English--and others whose English was almost as limited as my Hindi.

But in every encounter, as soon as I identified my nationality, Indians spoke one word that brought smiles to all our faces.


The t-shirt I happened to wear today says "Wage Peace" silk-screened over a blue-green planet earth.

Obama's greatest initiative in waging peace was his speech in Cairo last June. He spoke respectfully of Islam and quoted the Qu'ran, touching the hearts of all Muslims, who had been nearly equated with terrorists by the previous president.

To learn about Obama's decisive leadership in the writing of that speech, read the report of Christi Parsons in "The Making of a Message" (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 2, 2009). You can buy the article from the LA Times or access the full text through Proquest Newspapers if you have connection to an academic institution.

Parsons concludes with this measurement of the speech's impact:

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, heard [from a friend in Cairo]... that on the day of the speech, he saw a little boy walking along the street, a smile on his face as he chanted in a soft, singsong voice: "Obama quoted the Koran. Obama quoted the Koran."