The Music Room

A Memoir

Namita Devidayal

Thomas Dunne Books

When Namita is ten years old, her mother takes her to Kennedy Bridge, a seamy neighborhood in Bombay, home to hookers and dance girls. There, in a cramped one-room apartment lives Dhondutai, the last living disciple of two of the finest Indian classical singers of the twentieth century: the legendary Alladiya Khan and the great songbird Kesarbai Kerkar. Namita begins to learn singing from Dhondutai, at first reluctantly and then, as the years pass, with growing passion. Dhondutai sees in her a second Kesarbai, but does Namita have the dedication to give herself up completely to the discipline like her teacher? Or will there always be too many late nights and cigarettes? And where do love and marriage fit into all of this?
A bestseller in India, where it was a literary sensation, The Music Room is a deeply moving meditation on how traditions and life lessons are passed along generations, on the sacrifices made by women through the ages, and on a largely unknown, but vital aspect of Indian life and culture that will utterly fascinate American readers.


Read an Excerpt


We sat inside the stuffy room, windows closed to keep out the torrential rain. I was trying to swat a fly which dashed in for shelter and was buzzing around psychotically. Dhondutai watched me and laughed softly. ‘Leave the poor thing. Come let’s make some tea and relax,’ she said. ‘What other choice do we have? You can leave when the rain slows down. Until then, why don’t we listen to some music recordings?’

‘Good idea, baiji.’

We went into her kitchen and I watched the ritual that had intrigued me for the past twenty



Praise for The Music Room

* Winner of the 2008 Vodafone Crossword Popular Book Award, India's most prestigious book prize, given in 2007 to Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss

* Shortlisted for the 2008 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize

* An Outlook Best Book of the Year

"This graceful memoir is a provocative illustration of music's unifying force in a religiously and socially stratified country." --Publishers Weekly

"Quietly passionate, edifying and inspiring." --Kirkus Reviews

"A must for every musician and music lover." --Ravi Shankar

"[The Music Room] gives us a unique insight into the guru-shishya tradition, and what eventually goes into the making of great artists." --Sonia Gandhi

"An intimate, tender portrait of classical Indian musicians and their art in a fast-changing world. In Namita Devidayal’s deft, evocative prose, the reader encounters the legendary women who sacrifice everything in their quest for perfection, the eccentric maestros, the heartbreaks and sublime triumphs of lives spent on the stage and in solitary, rigorous practise that also becomes a kind of ecstatic devotion. The Music Room is an invaluable book which serves as a personal history, a historical and social record, and a glimpse of the ineffable. Moving and unforgettable." --Vikram Chandra, author of Sacred Games and Love and Longing in Bombay

"A compelling narrative of three generations of maestros and students, The Music Room is essential reading for lovers of Indian music, movingly illuminating the transition of Indian classical music from its confident past to a fragile present." --Gita Mehta, author of A River Sutra and Karma Cola

"The Music Room is a revelatory memoir which opens up the hidden world of classical Indian music, and succeeds in expressing the almost inexpressible. At once tender, wise, moving and compassionate, almost every page of this extraordinary book contains some startling image or insight, and I have never read a book which describes music -- any music, in any culture -- more beautifully. With this stunning, soulful, loving debut, Namita Devidayal announces herself both as a soaring prose virtuoso and a major new Indian writer of nonfiction." --William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal

"Namita Devidayal seduces you into the magical world of Indian classical music. She makes an ancient tradition come alive for us through her lively storytelling and gives insights into what makes it so powerful." --Zakir Hussain

"A sparkling, one-of-a-kind book." --Mumbai Mirror

"Unquestionably one of the best books of the year." --Sunil Sethi, Just Books, NDTV

"The book is full of touching passages. . . . The story of the bewitching, volatile Kesarbai Kerkar speaks of so many things -- about women trying to find their voice in a society ridden with hypocrisy and ambivalence towards 'singing women.'" --The Hindu

"Lyrical, stunning prose." --The Times of India

"The descriptions of Bombay localities are finely etched." --Outlook

"Through its graceful, expressive prose . . . The Music Room speaks equally of human frailty and worldly successes." --Busines Standard

"There has been an aching void waiting to be filled with the story of Indian sound. Namita Devidayal has now done it." --India Today

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Namita Devidayal

  • NAMITA DEVIDAYAL was born in 1968 and graduated from Princeton University. A journalist with The Times of India, she lives in Mumbai.


Available Formats and Book Details

The Music Room

A Memoir

Namita Devidayal

  • e-Book



Thomas Dunne Books