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Musicians honor Gandhi

The Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum serves as a concert hall for Devashish Dey, on vocals, and Nandini Majumdar, on tampura, a guitar-like string instrument. Students at Claremont McKenna College held a reception and heard traditional Indian music in honor of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. This visit marks the first visit to the United States for the group which consist of Dey, Majumdar, and Hemant Ekbote who plays the tabla, a percussion instrument. / photo by Warren Bessant

Christina Collins Burton
Staff Writer

Even though his birthday is not normally celebrated in the United States, Claremont McKenna College hosted a special performance that honored Mohandas Gandhi’s 141st birthday Monday.

Devashish Dey, vocalist, was joined by Hemant Ekbote on a tabla, or drums, and Nandini Majumdar who sat strumming a tanpura.

Dey is a skilled vocalist from Varanasi, India; this is his first time visiting the United States and his third performance before an audience during his visit.

“I have performed at Smith College and New York was my second performance,” Dey said.

A small platform served as a stage for the musicians to sit on as they performed. In front of the stage was a long white cloth that visitors were encouraged to sit on while listening to the performance.

With nearly 100 people in attendance, the cloth allowed 20 guests a chance to get closer to the music.

As the three musicians took their seats on the platform at the front of the room, Dey introduced himself and explained that he was going to sing two pieces for the evening.

“I know the language so this was amazing,” said Vijay Sharmah an Upland resident and mother to a Claremont McKenna student. “We go to all the classical events nearby and his voice was just amazing to listen to.”

Dey began to softly hum into the microphone as he began his first piece. He raised his hands to the ceiling with his eyes closed as the song progressed and became more emotional.

The audience seemed to be in a trance as he sang and while a majority had their eyes locked on the stage, a small portion of the audience closed their eyes and moved their heads slowly to the song.

“I know about Indian music and I know there are two types of people that hear it,” said Nitta Kumar, professor of South Asian history at Claremont McKenna.

“For those who are hearing this for the first time it is mostly just the holistic experience they enjoy. It touches you, but it also speaks to you.”

From the way the audience listened, it did not matter that the song was being sung in a foreign language.

“He was able to transport people in his performance,” Kumar said. “He was able to build us up and went from religious [music] to songs about the rains and they all had feelings.”

This is the second time Bonnie Snortum, director of programming for Claremont’s Athenaeum, has hosted a concert in honor of Gandhi’s birthday.

Snortum said she found the concert to be a truly spiritual experience because of a recent loss of a very dear friend.

“The emotions [created by the music] sort of defy explanation,” Snortum said.

While she does not have a background with classical Indian music, her experience was an emotional one as she listened with her eyes closed and hand on her chest, focused on the performance.

As the performers finished their final piece they were met with an applause that erupted out of pure silence and seemed as though it would never end.

Christina Collins Burton can be reached at

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