As a 22 year-old singing along to wedding songs with my friends in Kangra (reading from my own transcription-far left), I thought I would write about songs for my PhD thesis at the University of California, Berkeley. I wrote the thesis on stories in religious teaching instead, and that became my first book.
That book helped me get a job at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Soon after I moved to Madison, I spent another year in Kangra learning more about songs. Yet when I sat down to write, I decided to first finish a book that features all the Kangra folktales told by Urmila Devi Sood, along with our discussions about their meaning.
In the meantime, I wrote a novel, co-edited a book about creativity, made a recording of stories for children, composed an introduction for the reissued edition of the first collection of oral tales from India published in English, and wrote a family memoir about spiritual quests.
I also returned to Kangra and kept thinking about and working on a book about songs. How could I best write about women I had come to love, with whom I was growing older, and who helped me see the experiences in songs from changing perspectives? I directed my energies into a book about writing with Anton Chekhov as my Muse:
Eventually, I had to accept that this book I’d contemplated so long could never be perfect or complete. To honor my mentors, to bear witness to the enormous dislocations from a more agricultural way of life in Kangra, to share what I learned about the joys of everyday creativity and the magic of the songs, I had to just write the book and get it done. Here it is. Thank you for greeting its arrival!