Josh Plays the Sitar

Josh Ring


I was an advisor for a weekend retreat for my school. The retreat's goal is to promote the spirituality of Judaism through constant singing and dancing. We would sing or dance to Hebrew songs usually derived from Hebrew prayers.

The rabbi with the microphone said that the next song "should go straight to heaven. Let us all pray together." When I heard the song start and everyone begin to sing, my mouth began to move. I heard myself sing louder and louder. I did not look at the other people singing around me. The lights were dimmed. I could imagine hundreds of faces singing together. I knew they were there. I watched my foot spasmodically move as it began to tap the wooden dance floor. I do not have very flexible ankles.

The hair on my head slightly shook at each beat as the crowd clapped. The room felt warm. My armpits were wet. I did not realize I was sweating.

I had two advisees on the retreat. They did not sing as loud as I did. They would sit in the midst of the crowd, next to me, with their hands in their laps and their shoulders hunched over. They looked at the floor. They always seemed tired. I tried to rouse them by periodically putting my arm around their shoulders, slapping their thighs, or rocking their heads. Sometimes it worked. I would see their lips moving along with the beat of the song. I could not hear their voices most of the time.


One of my advisees brought his sitar with him on the retreat. He had been learning how to play for a couple of years. He played on Saturday night at the talent show. He played a Phish song with a guitarist. The guitarist sang the song.

The sitar was kept in a long, shiny, black case roughly the same shape as the sitar: a long, thick, straight neck and a large round base. It fastened closed by two metal locks.

I came into my advisees' room and found them lying down on their beds on top of the blankets. They were resting. I asked if I could play the sitar. It took some pleading before my advisee said I could. The other advisee propped himself up slightly by tucking another pillow under his head. I sat down on the floor next to the sitar case. I tried to cross my legs the way my advisee had during the talent show: with one leg straight in front of me and the other crossed underneath so that it stuck out to my right side. My advisee gave me a metal pick to slide on to my forefinger. I put it on the wrong hand. My advisee corrected me. He then took the sitar from the case and showed me how to hold it. The sitar was stained brown and had engravings in the wood.

I took the sitar and rested it on my foot like he showed me. I plucked a string with my finger. The sound was thick and exotic. It droned in my ear and cleared my head. I began to play up the neck of the sitar reaching higher and higher notes. My advisee told me which fingers to use where. I did not always listen to him. Whenever I used the wrong finger, he would grab my hand and show me what I did wrong. I wanted to keep on playing. I could feel the vibrations of the strings as it traveled through my foot and up my leg. I could not see the actual frets I was playing because my advisee told me not to look at the front of the sitar. I could know where the frets were by looking at the back of the neck. I closed my eyes for a second and smiled as I felt I was getting the hang of it.

Then the room door opened and my advisee quickly took the sitar from me. A freshman walked in. My advisee did not want him to see me playing the sitar. He did not want other people to ask if they could play, too.

He put the sitar back in the case and locked it. My other advisee took away the pillow that was propping him up and rested his head flat against the bed again. I went back to my room.

More by Josh Ring:

Josh Goes to Prague March, 2003

Josh Visits the Holocaust Museum February, 2003

The Subway January, 2003

Josh Gets his Book December, 2002

A Cold Front Was Supposed to be Moving In October, 2002

Dogs August, 2002

Josh Ring Supports Israel June, 2002

Josh Ring's Track Meet May, 2002

April 2003

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