Reviews and feedback for “Il raga che porta la pioggia” by Pia Srinivasan Buonomo

Excerpt from the review by Laura Leante / 2007 Yearbook for Traditional Music

The strength and originality of this book are to be found in its lying between genres: not being an academic musicological work, or a fieldwork journal, or simply a travelogue, it fills an empty corner in the literature, in which ethnomusicologists in particular can recognize themselves and their experiences. Il raga che porta la pioggia is an extremely enjoyable work which does not require familiarity with Indian music and which will engage, at a variety of levels, a broad readership.

Excerpt from the review by Giorgio Milanetti / Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici

Being in India during the (there not so much) ‘fabulous sixties’ without being an Indian, Pia Srinivasan enjoyed the unquestionable advantage of a dispassionate eye, and at the same time suffered some of the equally unquestionable prejudices any European woman married to an Indian would have suffered forty years ago … she patiently observes, interprets, and describes.

It is this continuous, courageous, at times almost impossible work of deciphering, translating, and transmitting to her correspondents, to herself, and to us as well, the puzzling reality of ‘India’, that represents one of the most relevant qualities of this valuable book. …

Her approach to this unusually un-exotic India thus closely reminds us of the great Italian travellers of pre-colonial times.

Renata Maione
Conservatorio S. Pietro a Majella, Naples

Pia Srinivasan Buonomo‘s book is based on her letters home during a stay in India and this its epistolary nature it this that gives it a narrative and intimate tone – description, reflection, critical comments trace with success a vast section both of the country and of Indian culture.

The sensitive commingling of language both familiar and high, an incisive and comprehensive description of characters and situations mean that reading the book is something smooth, pleasant and often fascinating. And thus the charme of a culture so different from ours leads us readers too to get involved in it; the love, the acceptance, the understanding that the author shows for the traditions and the ways of life in India, her empathy, that enables her to judge in freedom from her own cultural heritage, are such that the reader too get involved in the India she describes.

The leitmotif of the book, namely her “initiation” in the Indian music, take us to discovering that there are affinities between Western music of the 20th century, in search of new forms, and the millenarian music of this Asian country. Adorno says that true “works of art… call for their interpretation”, and an element characteristic of Indian music as it is practised is precisely the “reinterpretation” of a piece by the same musician each time she/he sings or plays it, thus giving a well-known melody too an interpretation always new. And concerts are performed in the open too, so that the surrounding sounds of nature and every-day human life commingle and become concertistic – one can’t but be reminded of the trials of Cage.

And there is an element too basic to both Western and Carnatic music, an element emphasised by the many musicians Pia S.B. got in touch with, namely constant practice. “Yevvery day four hours practice pannanum” – thus a teacher in the English characteristic of Indians.

Aldo Colucciello
Anthropologist, University Naples

The choice of a book to read is always a personal affair. Like a vessel, this strange travel instrument, in an instant, leaves the fantasy world, the old reminiscenses. It takes on a life of its own, independently from ourselves. Deciding to read a book like The Raga which brings Rain was an experience that brought me to a country, India, which was the goal of my own pilgrimage. I found in it the same intensity as my own experience: the taste of the food, the strength of the smells, and, already in but a few of its words, my vivid remembrance of the Indian Sub-Continent.

I knew Mrs Pia Srinivasan Buonomo as a musician and I had the fortune to witness her performance in Naples, but I find her a brilliant writer too.

The peculiarity of this book is the epistolary style of her description of the events. Mrs Srinivasan Buonomo never forgets her origins and lives the two experiences with depth of analysis, with coherence, like an observer in the field . In fact this book is a very good piece of ethnography.

I found a wealth of information on Mrs Srinivasan Buonomo’ s area of interest, the Tamil Nadu, about music and musicians, and the relationship between the social layers in the complex caste system. [*]

The observer, in my view, reconstructs her personality on a new basis but preserves her napoletanità, becoming an operator, who does not fail in field work, unlike many anthropologists who forget empirical research and involve themselves in armchair anthropology, as seen in the Victorian Age.

My impression about this book is that Mrs Srinivasan Buonomo shares with us her Indian experiences, shows us that contact and pacific existence with other cultures is possible; the secret is to have no sense of superiority of one’s own culture over that of others. She used music as a vehicle to bridge her own personality over two cultures and this medium, often, demonstrates itself to be a real ambassador, to be able to connect with faraway places which, in reality, are very close to our own world, its sentiments.

I love reading this book, leafing through it in those moments of nostalgia for home-India, and I find it incredible how another person resonates my own feelings. Perhaps it is true that human beings respond to the same archetypal forms.

The area examined in this book is a part of India; it is a brilliant description of Madras (called Chennai now) which is different from the North of India, in its customs and on a linguistic level too. Perhaps for travelers like us this form of diversity is one of the most fascinating aspects of this country. There is no one uniform India, the Indias are many.”

Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)

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“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)

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Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)

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“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2

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“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)

Carla Conti
Conservatorio S.Cecilia, Rome

In India one does not need to look for music, instead, it is music that finds us.

Music is everywhere like air, and it has the capacity to refresh all the vitality of the Indian subcontinent to which the title of this book pays homage.

What lies behind this book is an important principle of ethnomusicology I have experienced myself all through my stay in India, which requires one to be a “participant-observer” of the music, and only participation proves to be effective by sharing people’s life experiences, wearing their clothes, living in their houses, using their means of transport, taking part in their religious ceremonies.

The whole of Indian music can be found in Pia Buonomo’s book which introduces the reader into the world of the sounds that fascinated her by the end of the sixties, a world made of the sounds of nature as well as of urban sounds and the peculiar sounds of traditional musical instruments.

The author starts with the sounds of nature, such as those made by the “manikkuruvis”- musical birds singing certain kinds of ragas – or those used by frogs to communicate, which remind us of the example given by the Veda books, where a pupil repeats his teacher’s words. Then she describes the urban sounds, such as those made by the street vendors selling lemons – “Yelemiicche” – and the road traffic roar mixed up with “house” sounds.

The book culminates with the music sounds (in fact, she gives many examples of music lessons and concerts, music for theatre and dance, musical instruments, and also mentions the new phenomenon of the soundtracks of the “blockbuster” movies which have turned into the Bollywood song repertoire) and, most importantly, the author describes her discovery of Indian singing style and vinas.

As a Sanskrit saying goes, “Ranjayati iti ragah”, which means, “A thing that colours one’s mind is a raga”.

In her book Pia Buonomo recounts her encounter with the classical music of Southern India, a kaleidoscope of ragas which succeed in keeping alive its long-time history, thanks to their usage and transformation.

Let me wish the readers that Indian music can find them as soon as possible.

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