The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey Through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows by Kent Nerburn

I love stories about Native American Indians, always believing I had at least one life in an American southwest tribe. Nerburn’s story is a fictionalized account based on real events that captures the attention of the reader as we learn the plight of Indians today fighting to accept the horrors of their past.

An Indian elder, Dan, searches for a sister lost years earlier at one of the government schools set up to educate the youngsters, which meant brainwashing them to lose and forget their traditional ways. I found the story fascinating even if the ending of the story seemed contrived, and I learned much and was caught in the emotion of the lessons.

The Indian elder tells us to help the children and provide them a healthier way of life:

The way we are living today is not good for them. It takes the light from their eyes, because it does not teach them to see the spirit in all of life. It takes away their connection to everything else. It does not allow them to see the part they play in creation… They are not taught that they have an important role to play just where they are, and that it is they alone who can fill that role.

He also reminds us to listen. This seems so trite until we look at our own lives – are we listening to the world around us or are we too busy in our hectic lives to pay attention to others and our surroundings? Another idea, again one that is so simple, is the idea of sharing. Native Americans and other indigenous peoples know that those that “have” share with those that don’t, not a complicated lesson but one that often seems lost in our world of the very wealthy getting richer while the poor continue to suffer. This is not a political argument but a humanitarian one.

This is a story of a history we love to forget – the history that reveals our dark side in the treatment of American Indians. It is a good thing to recall, not just so we suffer through the agonies that they endured but because we must always remember who we are and what we did in the name of progress and civilization. If you are not American, you have your own tales, and many involve exploitation of weaker, poorer, or less fortunate peoples. What will be revealed when history looks back on our era, what wrongs will be exposed in each country? While there are obvious examples occurring in the world now, what are those stories that don’t seem important or are hidden? What are those shadow incidents that will eventually be discovered? This is not a condemnation of anyone, any group, or any country, simply an understanding of the steps in our human and spiritual evolution.

Indian Music Vs Western Music

The Indian music characteristics are evident when you compare it with Western music. In both the systems you will find some essential differences: the Indian music is based on melody or single notes played in a given order, while the Western music is based on harmony: a group of notes known as chords played together.

Dr. Rabindranath Tagore who was well familiar with both the systems, explained the difference as follows: “The world by daylight stands for Western music which is a flowing concourse of vast harmony, composed of concord and discord and many disconnected fragments. And the night world stands for Indian music: one pure, deep and tender raga. Both, touches our heart, and yet both are contradictory in spirit. But this is natural. Nature, at the very root is divided into two, day and night, unity and variety, finite and infinite.

Indian men live in the realm of night; we are inspired by the sense of the One and Infinite. Indian music draws away the listener beyond the boundaries of daily joys and sorrows and takes us to the solitary space of renunciation which exists at the root of the universe, while Western music leads us to dance through a limitless rise and fall of human joy and grief.

” Indian classical music basically stirs our spiritual sense and discipline – a longing for realization of the self salvation. Singing is a worshipping act and not an intellectual exhibition of mastery on the technique of a raga. In Western culture, singing is a formal and secular exercise, and does not involve piety or devotion as compared to Indian music

The teacher-student (Guru-Shishya) tradition in Indian music is responsible for the deep dedication and attachment of the student to the teacher. In the West, a music teacher is taken as a hired person who teaches lessons and there is no deep attachment between the teacher and student.

Like Western music, Indian music too is based on melody and rhythm, but it has no foundation of harmony which is so significant in Western music. Indian music is “modal” – based on the relationship between the permanent individual notes known as tonic, with the successive notes. This is the reason why Tanpura (drone) is played in the background of Indian music which reminds one of the tonic notes.

The Indian classical music system is horizontal; one note follows the other, while the Western music is vertical; many notes played at a time. Yehudi Menuhin, the noted musician, highlights the differentiates both systems by describing Indian music as: “for appreciating Indian music one has to adopt totally a different set of values… one must orientate oneself and at least for the concerned period, forget the passing of time and just sink into a kind of thematic, almost hypnotic trance. The rhythmic and melodic features of Indian music that are repetitive, acquires an extraordinary charm and fascination… despite the domination of this hypnotic mood’s domination, which is an Indian music characteristic, actively frees the mind.”

The place of “composition” in these two systems is notably different. In Western music, the music is first composed by the composer and arranges it in notation: then the musicians play this composition under the guidance of a music conductor. Here improvisation hardly takes place, and the performance value lies in the uniformity and the pre-determined conduct of tone and music speed (tempo). In Indian music, while the melody grammar and rhythm is fixed, the ingenuity and skill of the musician lies in his creativity and improvisation, especially in mood evocation and rasa of a particular raga.

In this context, an international musicologist has written: “In the West, solid blocks of music are constructed. After carving out like building stones, the seven degrees of diatonic scale, lined up and placed on top of each other with cleverly worked out harmony and counterpoint. In this way fantastic edifices in sound are erected.

In Indian classical music, no one can think of dividing sound into blocks; instead it is refined into a wire-thin thread. The sound is stretched out to refine it to an extreme point of delicacy… No standard materials, no building of three or five floors, but just like silk thread which unfold and rises and falls and evokes a world of sensations and feelings.”

In music of India, melody and rhythm offer a variety of subtleties, which is not possible in Western music. Indian notes are divided into units called shruties (22 microtones), whereas Western music consist of 12 semitones. The microtones are more subtle than semitones. These microtones adorned with gracetones (gamakas) create a magical effect.

Western music has the capacity of producing many feelings and moods. While Indian music, has the capacity to produce a principal emotion or a mood in a raga. An Indian musician improvises with his own creative genius within a raga’s framework, but in Western classical music, except in jazz, such an improvisation is inconceivable. Moreover, the percussion in Indian music emphasizes its rhythm. It is only through keeping one’s mind and ears open that one is able to appreciate the melodies and sequences different from one’s own. This applies to Indian audiences attending Western music performances, and to Western audiences attending music of India concerts. Just remember that the both music systems are complementary, like two halves of classical music.

Western Influence on Indian Fashion Wear

Due to British colonialism in India, India’s culture has been significantly affected by the West. With globalization, Indian fashion today does reflect the Western influence. Halter tops, handkerchief-cut kurtas etc are common today and have become a part and parcel of one’s wardrobe. With 28 states, 7 union territories and multiple dialects, India is a land of great diversity and each state has its own unique fashion.

Conventional sarees, blouses, salwar kameezes and necklines have undergone great changes. The latest Indian fashion trend has a touch of the West. Indian fashion designers are working day in and day out to meet the new demands of the market. Let us see some of the Western influences on Indian dresses.

Short- Style Kurtis

Even a few years ago, traditional kurtis with bold prints were popular among the masses. Though they still continue to be in demand, yet short-style kurtis with halter necklines are giving their traditional counterpart a tough competition. Earlier, kurtis were worn along with chudidars, but today wearing them over jeans is the latest Indian fashion. Right from a celebrity, to the girl next door, short-style kurtis are a rage. Floor length anarkalis are also in high demand these days.

Casual Crinkled Crepes & A-Lined Skirts

Lehengas have always been loved by ladies among all age groups. The traditional embroidered lehenga is one of the best Indian bridal wears. However, lehengas have evolved into a casual crinkled crepes and A-lined skirts which are considered ideal for a party, social gathering or an informal meeting.

Half-Lehenga Style Saree

Saree is the most traditional Indian wear. Sarees are the perfect wear during weddings, religious functions and parties. However, the latest Indian fashion has seen the evolution of a new style saree which mixes both the saree and lehenga into a single wear. This is capturing everyone’s attention. This type of saree is known as half-lehenga style saree. This is pretty comfortable for those who are not well-acquainted with the traditional hanging saree.

Strap & Halter Neck Blouses

Earlier and even now, short-sleeved or long-sleeved blouses are very much popular among ladies. However, today blouses with straps and halter neck styles have also started making inroads. These types of blouses have become very common and are in great demand.

Denims

Denims are highly popular among men and women in India. Earlier in parties, formal wear was a common sight. Though it still is, yet today in many parties and even in offices, there is no dearth of people wearing denims. There are several international brands of denims available in India and each and every day the market is witnessing arrival of new designs.

There are always new styles which are developing from time to time. The western influence on Indian clothing is making them trendy and elegant. A new design can evolve anywhere. It is up to us to adapt to the changes according to our own style, convenience, preference and choice.