The Magic In My Fingers

The Magic in my fingers is a delightful picture book by Nandita da Cunha, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath and Kanimozhi and published by Karadi Tales.

The story starts out with a bright picture of young Roohi in her courtyard with doves flying all around her as she hears her Baba callout to her brother to start his music practice. Now Roohi doesn’t want her grandfather to be angry or he might not go to the market with her to buy the kite she has her heart set on. She wants to win the kite flying competition , so she can show baba the ‘magic in her fingers’. Young Ayaan of course, is busy with playing king, to cook to searching earthworms in the garden. After several attempts of trying to avert the catastrophe of Baba in a bad mood, in a moment of total desperation, she decides to pretend to be her brother and play the instrument before Baba finds out. What happens when Baba walks in and finds her playing? Does she get her kite to show the magic in her fingers to Baba? Or is there another kind of magic , the one that would make Baba beam proudly.

Do watch the video here ( ) and read this lovely book by a very musical author to find out…

This delightful story is loosely based on an incident in the life of the brilliant Annapurna Devi, one of our finest sitar and surbahar (bass sitar) players of Hindustani classical music. The last page of the book provides us a little more insight into her life. Truly thankful to the author for picking this gem of a musician to spotlight.

The illustrations in the books are striking. I am also delighted that this book is from Karadi tales, who have probably been responsible for Indian music percolating in to our lives from our childhood. “ Chai Chai coffee coffee” , “Oh, I am just like you” and “Ganesha and Kubera” were some of our delightful musical favourites .

Grey Matter Questions to ponder over

…What do you think about the illustrations in the books? How do they add to the narrative?
“It’s flowing like her thoughts or may be like music”, my 10 year old volunteered as I read it out to him. “They stop in the page when Baba finds her. May be that’s frozen in fear?” We talk about how Baba looks almost humongous . Is it perspective , from her size? Or does it represent how he was a towering , larger than life persona for her?

…Why does Roohi care so much about making sure Baba is not angry with her brother? Should she be punished and lose her chance at buying a kite , if her brother did not practice? What would you do in her place?
…Do people avoid upsetting people who get really angry ?

Roohi clearly wanted to show Baba the magic in her fingers and win the kite flying contest. She put every bit of her effort into ensuring her goal of getting her kite from the market was not hampered. What does this tell you about following your dreams?

Do you know the different Indian stringed instruments? Can you tell the difference between a veena, a tanpura , a sitar and a sur bahar? How about how an Esraj , santoor or sarod sounds?

Consider a visit to a the Immersive Indian Music Experience museum in Banglore with its Instruments Gallery -a stunning double-height display of over 100 musical instruments from across the country, along with information on their origins, making and playing techniques.

One brilliant visual in the book, the little girl with her sitar , looks just like Goddess Saraswati in that pose. Then the question arises if Roohi was awarded the title of ‘ Annapoorna devi’ by Maharaja Brijnath Singh for her music , why would he called her “Annapoona “ and not another name for Saraswati or anything to do with music:) Do you find some gender bias creeping in?

If you research a bit about this incredible genius, you will often find people saying it was a loss for the world that she did not perform publicly at all. What is the purpose of learning music ? When we follow art or music or dance passionately, do we learn it to perform? Can the pursuit of her music have filled her with enough divine joy that she did not need to seek the validation of any audience?

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