By Sheila Sarma
Growing up in both the United States and India introduced me to a variety of music that I found exciting and inspiring.
My parents were among the first wave of Indian immigrants to settle down in Rochester, New York, and regularly hosted Carnatic musicians during their concert tour. Balamurali Krishna and N. Ramani were among the many artists who performed, and gave the community an opportunity to reconnect with their roots while introducing the younger generation to a part of our heritage.
My family eventually moved back to India and I was fortunate to have Indian dance and music as part of the cultural landscape. My memories of music in Madras are vivid: learning vocal Carnatic music with my sister, visiting houses during Navaratri with music in the air, attending concerts during music season in December.
I realize I had the best of both worlds growing up. Now, as a parent of two young boys in New York, I would love to ensure that my children will similarly have the best of what the world has to offer. My sons learn Mandarin, are well-versed in international soccer, and have visited many more countries than I had when I was their age.
They are learning much from the world around them, and for this I am grateful.
However, there is also the drawback of getting lost among the various activities, experiences, and environments...
I therefore find great value in opportunities for them to embrace their Indian-ness and help shape their identities in a meaningful way. I hope to cultivate in them an appreciation for South Asian music and dance at a young age that can be a life-long interest for us to enjoy as a family. These performing arts create a strong link to a culture that is thousands of years old and is a significant piece of history as well as modern tradition. I hope exposing my children to South Asian music and dance will enrich their lives.
Having access to a place such as Navatman that is grounded in ancient art forms is special. It would be one way to develop a connection to a strong cultural tradition that they can they can learn from and share with a community. An appreciation for South Asian arts is also one way to help them relate to their grandparents and other family.
While there is no dearth of rich cultural experiences and opportunities in New York, finding suitable options for young children that are enjoyable and not overwhelming takes some effort. At Navatman, I am excited to find a fun and engaging space for children to learn and develop their interests.
At the Drive East series in August, I took my sons to an early evening Bharatnatyam performance and was anxious that we might be disruptive when we were seated in the front row in an intimate space. We had a great view of the performance and could see the dancer’s nuanced expressions and movements. During the hour, one of my sons was restless, the other enthralled. It didn’t matter though since I wanted to them to experience the rhythm, movement and music in whatever way felt comfortable to them. The series of events was an opportunity for us to attend performances where children were welcome, where they could see many of their teachers perform, and experience how music and dance can be celebrated outside of their classrooms.
As Navatman grows, in both scope and size, I am excited to see how my family grows in its ability to learn and appreciate the South Asian arts. The beauty of music or dance is its ability to transcend places and people. We could close our eyes and be at a Kathak performance in Mumbai, at a jugalbandi in Delhi or be creating our very own experiences in New York.