Reflections on the learning process, music, and life in India (2004-2014)

I am a singer, that is one thing I know to do without struggle, I can sing. But nothing prepared me for the immensity and vastitude of this learning process and experience. It was like being thrown into a pound with no foothold and had to perpetually swim to stay at the surface.My teacher was extremely fierce & demanding with me and I felt overwhelmed a lot of the time. But my love for music was stronger than any of the difficulties. It was in a way as if Ididn’t have a choice, my only choice was only and always to just « keep going ». Internally it was like a fire constantly burning, constantly shaking my world, my system belief, the mechanics of my mind and emotions. But one moment of music, one note truly heard, one phrase truly sang with complete presence revealed such beauty, as if it contained the secrets of the whole universe.Those were moments of grace, when I felt swept into the world of music, where my mind disappeared, where my resistances vanished, and the only thing to do was to cry in awe. My heart was taken, joy and delight would just run through my whole being. From being a stubborn and constantly arguing french student, I would in these moments, jump into a inner state of acceptance and surrender, not just to music but to Life itself. Everything would then become clear, limpid. Everything seemed in perfect order. When a minute or even just a few seconds of such a moment would occur , it would fuel me up to endure months and even years of further inner struggle and challenges in the process of learning this music .

Summer 2004, moving to India

I moved to India when I was 19 and lived there for 10 years, being completely immersed in the music and the culture of South India. These 10 years have been my formative years of adult life. I moved out of my parents home, not to get an apartment in the nearby town and go to college, but flew across the world and started my adult life there, in a different country, and a very different culture. Everything I learned during these years, was in the context of my training in Karnatik music, and at the core of everything was the one on one « guru-sishya » relationship or teacher to student relationship.

I guess I was extremely lucky. We were in 2004, it was easy to communicate with family and friends in France, I had a somewhat comfortable appartement, very basic but yet still. I didn’t find myself in a

village in the middle of rice fields. I could go to restaurant to the movies, even to bars. I experienced modern India. Yet, some things remained completely different. There wouldn’t be good terrasses in a quiet area of the city where to have a nice cup of coffee in the morning, or sip a glass of wine & smoking a cigarette in the evenings while watching people on the streets.That may seem like little details, but to a French person, its not ! Those are vital parts of the culture! (Much later on in my Indian life, I discovered Indian’s own such joys: the chai-s in the streets ! Bellpooris , samosas, etc ! But that was much later!). So I would secretly smoke on my balcony or go eat chicken when I was really angry after a difficult class (which at the time felt like the ultimate act of rebellion) . I would sometime put music really loud and dance madly in my flat, I would talk on the phone with friends and family back in France.

When I was 29, and after nearly 10 years of intense training, my teacher and I decided together that it was time that I made a choice: I had been there for all these year, and now what was my plan?

So one afternoon , as I went to his house and to the music room like every normal afternoon for class. We both sat on the floor, and he asked me « So…what do you want to do? ». All these years whenever I was asked that question, my answer always was « I just want to sing » , singing had become my whole life, it was my ultimate act of love and devotion. It was the only thing I was interested in, the only thing I was working for, and of course my being got churned up side down by the process.

So I was sitting on the floor of the very familiar music room facing my teacher. This very place where many moments of joy and beauty as well as tears and desperation had taken place, the place where my whole belief system had been countless times challenged, and at times completely destructed , the place where I became aware of so many of my mechanisms, bluntly facing my limitations, and also the place where I experienced profound delight, and pure joy of discovering step by step, this magnificent music. When Krishna asked me that fine afternoon « So what do you want to do? », i practically heard the words come out of my mouth « I want to serve Karnatik music in the West » ….to which Krishna replied « OK, Good ». And that was it.

I hadn’t planned this answer, I just also knew and felt the time had come to move on. I can’t say why this moment was the moment, even tho there were many facts that could explain it. Until then whenever was mentioned the possibility of me leaving, my body would practically paralyse with pain, I could not move my arms or legs and felt an anguish as if I was going to die. For a long time, leaving this process equaled to death. It was just unthinkable. Even if at times I was really miserable ! The image I often had at the time was that of golden chains to my ankles; I had chosen them and I loved them, it was as if I had voluntarily made myself a slave to this process. But in this moment, it was so simple, so clear. Of course another option would have been to decide to stay in India and aim at a full fledge Indian life, a Karnatik carrer, probably an Indian marriage etc. But I knew it wasn’t my destiny. I knew it since the very first day I encountered this music and was held captured ever since.I knew I was to be there for an indefinite time , and when that time would be up, I would return to my homeland to continue the journey there. But of course I didn’t know how, when, with whom etc.

We didn’t need to talk more about it, he jut said « There are some things you still need to work on before you can be independent musically. I give you one year, in one year from this day , no matter

what, you move back to France, you have one year to work on your Ragam, Neravil and Svarams ». There was no emotion, no further thinking over it, it was just it; the continuation of the vocation carrying the whole process. It was as if independent of my will. And i was ready, I didn’t argue with it internally ( an art I am truly a master of ), I didn’t feel sad, it felt clear and irrevocable, as an unspoken agreement …as if the Guru Sishya principle as I liked to call it was once again at work, taking care of the process. I didn’t know why then , but that was it.

So a year later, I moved back to France.

It has been almost 7 years now since I have returned to my « home country » and it is only now that I am able to sit and start writing about this adventure that I have embarked upon 16 years ago.

Publié par Emmanuelle Martin

EMMANUELLE MARTIN est aujourd'hui une référence en France et en Europe dans le domaine de la musique classique traditionnelle et sacrée du sud de l’Inde, la musique Karnatique. C’est un véritable parcours initiatique qu’elle a vécu pendant 10 ans à Chennai, en Inde, où elle s’est consacrée à l’apprentissage de cette musique auprès d’un des plus grands maîtres de cette tradition, T.M Krishna. Depuis son retour en France en 2014, elle voyage entre l’Inde, l’Europe et les Etats-Unis où elle donne des concerts, transmet cet art et continue sa propre pratique. En janvier 2016, elle rejoint Ariane Mnouchkine et la troupe du Théâtre du Soleil afin de former les acteurs au chant et à la musique Karnatique pour leur dernière création Une Chambre en Inde.

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