As the night was slowly settling and the night creatures’ melodies accompanied the radiance of the crescent moon, a voice resonated from the depths of Tamil Nadu’s greenery. The notes lingered in the air and I was overcome with a feeling that was deeper than melancholia. When Pujasree sings, she wears her heart on her sleeve. Her voice gently takes you by the hand and whispers centuries-old tales in your ear.
I met Pujasree at Joy Community in the experimental town called Auroville. Originally from Calcutta, Pujasree has come a long way. After six years of studying fine arts at Baroda in one of the best institutes of art in India, she left everything behind and dedicated her life to singing and painting while leading a nomadic existence.
“My purpose as a painter is to shed light on what women are facing. My miniature paintings mostly tell stories of women that I have attracted into my journey. The stories that I have gathered are so vibrant, so inspiring. It’s this magical moment that I love: when you connect to a woman, no matter where she is from. You learn from her and your journey takes a slightly different turn through all those lessons.”
Pujasree’s connection to women through her painting reminded me of the magic that occurs when I connect to women through the Creatress Project. At one point during my interviews with the Creatresses, time stops and a sort of ancient wisdom, a mutual understanding takes its place instead.
“I can easily connect to women’s pain because I was raped when I was 17. It was a huge disruption in my course of life, it took me 4 years to understand what had happened and produce an artwork that openly talks about the event. Addressing disruptions like these in art, is such a relief. I can’t be complete by keeping the abused part of myself secret. I wasn’t able to connect with people for a long time until I finally opened myself up.”
Pujasree’s journey is filled with so much pain but also with so much bravery and self-respect. The Creatress had to throw herself into cold water and start anew after a number of events in Baroda. As she was looking for a better place to live, Auroville seemed like the right place for her to explore herself as a musician and an ever-growing human being.
“I am still fighting in a molestation case. Last April I got molested by an older man, who burst into my house, he was my neighbour. It was a horrible experience. I was broken again and I just wanted to leave everything behind and start my life anew. I literally gave up everything, I gave away my clothing and declined job offers. I was ready for a new start and I came here to Auroville. A lot of people call me escapist, as if I was running away instead of facing my responsibilities. But I say, no one knows about my healing journey. I had to heal my inner wounds and also do the hardest part: forgive, which a crucial part of healing.”
For the two past years, the Creatress has been living on and off in Auroville, learning about the community and diving deep into herself. The town’s diversity of people and talents are so inspiring that it is hard to resist experimenting with different forms of art and music.
“I’ve been looking for musicians to connect with and it rarely happens that I do. It’s been six years since I am on the road and I’ve been making music with a variety of people. I had a deep connection with folk musicians from rural villages who changed my view of music completely. I also don’t want to market my music, nor do I want to make a business out of it, my connection to music goes beyond all of this and I don’t want it to lose its worth. I am trying to sustain myself in different ways while also making music every day. For example now I teach at the Language Lab here in Auroville.”
I was particularly drawn to Puja’s singing, her voice took me on journeys through emotions I never knew existed. She would embody each note, each vibration and transform her surroundings into something mystical.
“I’m training my voice at the moment. Not in a classical way, but rather in a more natural, bodily way. The idea is to connect to your voice through emotions. The voice transforms according to what you feel. Whenever I’m singing I’m trying to imagine what I’m singing. If you don’t imagine you will never be able to express that story with your voice. For me music is like acting. I know I still have to work on this connection between voice and emotion, so that’s my current project.”
When Puja and I spoke about music, it was precisely that magic moment of connection that I mentioned earlier. Not only that, but also a strong moment of realisation for me. Puja’s music journey reminded me so much of my own journey that I finally understood why I have been having such a love-hate relationship with it and how my current reconnection to music is an emotional and a bodily one.
“I started with northern Indian classical music at the age of 10. I was singing and playing harmonium, it was a good basic training but at one point I just gave up and did not want to do it anymore. I stopped when I was 14 and revolted against my father. After that, I had no connection to music for four years and when I watched a live show on television, a contemporary musical reproduction of Tagore’s work when I was 18. It was so beautiful that I reconnected with music and I needed to travel in order to find my way as a singer. I hit the road with new aspirations. I was interested in folk musicians and their “untrained”, untamed ways of making music.”
The majority of Indian folk musicians do not have any classical training. Their rawness and their experimental approach to singing fascinated Pujasree. She travelled around rural parts of India and learned from the villagers whose skills opened new inner portals. A journey of unlearning started for Puja. Her voice had changed a lot after her experience with the folk musicians. Instead of adapting her voice to the classical regulations that she had learned, she finally freed herself from the chains of institutionalised music and connected to her real voice.
We talked about vocals and music for quite a while, and concluded that music and singing are both natural practices to humans. It only takes a tiny step to learn how to explore these innate talents. All of our ancestors sang and told stories, then why are we so self-restrictive now?
“My growth as a musician is never completed. When I moved to Auroville, I was introduced to all this world music and started expanding. I learned so much about Arabic music, Hebrew songs and Brazilian music. I want to buy a loop station now and learn how to actually understand the music of all these different cultures that I learned. Once I have understood it, I want to incorporate it into what India has to offer musically. The indigenous parts of India. I want to merge all that I have learned so far. Make all these different emotions converse with each other.”
The Creatress finds that, as a musician, it is important to detach oneself from the ego. For her it was a struggle to do so. The self-centredness that can come with musical talents is toxic not only to one’s surroundings but also to oneself. Shutting down the ego and learning how to listen to others is an important component of being a successful singer. Otherwise there will never be a harmony with fellow musicians. Pujarsree does not play an instrument and for her, this is a big part of her journey as a singer. Not mastering an instrument but her voice teaches her how to connect to other musicians and work on her voice in different environments with different people. Collaborations transformed her in every possible way, bringing new colours into her artistry and her inner being. As a hard worker she is always challenging herself, makes herself step out of her comfort zone but is also very much in tune with her personal boundaries as a female singer.
At the beginning of each jam session, Puja likes to set a mood, which is an important part of collective music making.
“We enter a specific mood and we all try to sink into that mood. In India, this is so important! We have music in regards to weather, time of the day and in regards to how you are feeling. It’s called rasa, it means “the taste”, so the taste of what you feel inside. There are 9 rasas in Indian music. Unfortunately these rasas do not have an accurate English translation. But all these little terms can be used in order to describe the moods in music in local languages.”
One can read about these moods in ancient scriptures like Kamasutra and other Vedic works. These texts explore the different moods and emotions. Whenever Pujasree finds herself reading the ancient scriptures she is overcome with a sense of freedom.
“It is so hard to understand the Indian culture NOW. I read these ancient texts and they talk openly about emotions and sexuality. Things have changed. We have completely detached ourselves from this divinity. We follow the footsteps of the West here in India and forget ourselves. If I take my roots and place them in a contemporary situation, I am definitely obliged to modernise them. It’s difficult for the art practice nowadays too. Most contemporary art is all about fooling people into believing that it’s real art.”
Being a woman of strong character, Pujasree has always been a woman who breaks the rules. Her family is very orthodox and while growing up Puja had to live by a number of rules. There were many expectations of the Creatress from her traditional family members. This meant that she had to be a perfect member of Indian society and conform. Pujasree liberated herself from this, although with a lot of struggle and disappointment coming from her family. She decided to choose the present moment and live the life that she wants to live.
“When I left home I said this one particular sentence to my father: When I’m 30 I don’t want to come to you and tell you that you ruined my life. If something goes wrong in my life now, I can blame myself and learn from my own mistakes. It’s because of me and my own choices.“
Pujasree’s family finally understood her and accepted her eagerness for an unconventional life. The Indian society gives a hard time to those women who swim against the current and Pujasree struggles with that on a daily basis. Her open-mindedness and her self-expression leave her alienated at times but she always managed to channel her mesmerising, divine feminine energy through her art and music.
As we spoke of home and our futures, Puja expressed feelings of being pulled in between the drive to constantly produce and strive towards something and the drive to slow down and immerse herself into what comes, into the energies of Auroville.
“One day I just asked myself: What am I running after? Why is there is hurry that I need to do this and that by a specific time. I kept setting goals for each year of my existence and now is just a time where I am slowing down and appreciating all that I have and don’t have, because that which is not working yet is part of my growing process. It’s so difficult to stay in the moment. I am a complete nomad. I house-sit different houses in Auroville, it’s all temporary. I still cannot fully know what I consider home for example. It’s a feeling I am looking for and somehow, the fact that I don’t see any of these places in Auroville as home yet, gives me a sense of freedom. I am not attached to any place. It’s liberating.”
A nomadic lioness who keeps rising as she sings. Without compromising her integrity, she openly shares her vulnerability and her voice penetrates the inner core of those who dare to listen and to feel the magic frequencies.