Ila Paliwal is a woman of bold elegance and style, and her graceful demeanour leaves one spellbound. She is a trained Indian classical vocalist who has lived a peripatetic life thanks to her husband’s job, which has made her a truly global Indian. However global Ila’s life maybe, she is Indian by heart and truly cherishes her roots.
Tell us about your childhood.
I was born in Agra to two scholar parents: Dr Padma Singh Sharma Kamlesh, a nationally renowned poet, and Dr Sushila Sharma Kamlesh. Both my parents were university professors, and growing up my older brother and I were always surrounded by poets, scholars, musicians, and artists. Our parents instilled in us the value of hard work, integrity, humility and compassion for those less fortunate. After pursuing a Master’s degree, I had an arranged marriage and left India, about 30 years ago. My husband’s job took us to six countries on four continents; so our life became a constant adventure. We have been back in the US in New York and Connecticut for the last 16 years.
You were in India recently to perform at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai. How did it go and what was the most memorable part of the whole experience?
The show at NCPA was amazing, not only because the venue is so prestigious, but also because I had recorded most of my songs from the album in Mumbai. Many of the artists who had played on the album also performed along with me at the NCPA. Rehearsing with the whole orchestra for three long days, and then performing to an appreciative audience, was really exciting and a fulfilling experience.
How do you stay connected to your Indian roots and what’s your favourite part about living a transcontinental life?
Well, I am a prefect ambassador of the clichéd quote, “You can take an Indian out of India, but not India out of an Indian” (laughs). But in all seriousness, since we lived in so many different countries, if we did not have the Indian culture at home, the children would have no exposure to India and the culture. Therefore I always made a big deal out of Diwali, Holi and other Indian festivals at home, and spoke with my kids in Hindi. Also, we as a family travel back to India once a year, and besides visiting family we make sure that we also travel to a new place in India each time. I now travel back to India twice a year, so I am always connected to India.
Your latest album, Navaratna, is inspired by the Sanskrit phrase “Vasudeva Kutumbakam”, meaning “The whole world is one single family”. This is an interesting statement; can you elaborate on how this phrase inspires you?
The phrase Vasudev Kutukmbakam has inspired me from a very young age because there is so much wisdom in these two words. I feel that this ancient wisdom needs to be magnified and amplified more than ever today.
I grew up with friends from all walks of life and religions. And in my adult life, having lived in different countries and interacted with people from different cultures, I realise that despite our differences in colour, race, religion or social status, we all have the same emotions and needs. There is only one human species and we all cry and laugh for the same reasons. So essentially we all are one and the world is one family. We need to be kind to each other and celebrate each other’s differences. There is a beautiful quote by Rumi that goes, “Listen with the ears of tolerance, see through the eyes of compassion, and speak with the language of love.” I truly believe in this.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
A long walk on the beach or a hike in the wilderness are perfect ways for me to unwind. I am also a big foodie, and as a family we love to travel and explore new places every year.
– as told to Suneela