The Universal Language of Rhythm

This is the second in a series of reflections by our Founder & Director, Ping Ho, MPH, on her transformational journey to India.

I am in the tranquil Lilapur village in Gujarat, India with an invited gathering of global social changemakers. It is late afternoon and the villagers, who speak no English, welcome us into their homes to watch them make roti and share a homemade vegetarian supper. There are only a few homes, most of which are simple, one-room concrete structures with no doors and almost no belongings. The school is an open, concrete space without walls or supplies. In the center of the village stands a cluster of large, docile cows. 

During supper, we all sit cross-legged in a circle under a covered, concrete area at the entrance of a home. With the aid of our interpreter, we listen intently as our hosts share the beauty of matched marriages, and we laugh with them as grandpa proudly takes credit for naming all of his children and grandchildren.

After the meal, one of our guides says: “We’d like your help tonight at the campfire with the villagers.” I had brought along my favorite handheld drum in case I could be of service.

There are about 60 of us around the campfire, under the light of the moon on this somewhat chilly night. Our group gathers on one side and the villagers on the other. 

In the background is a continual chorus of crickets and frogs and the sound of playful kids being kids.

I explain, through our interpreter, that we are going to experience a heartbeat rhythm. “We all have rhythm because we all have a heartbeat,“ I say. “You can join in on the beats or on the silent parts by tapping, clapping, or snapping. Don’t think about the rhythm, just feel it. There is no wrong way to do this.”

I walk around the campfire as I beat the drum. The experience is magical. Some folks link arms and sway to the sound of the rhythm. At the exact moment I begin to play louder, we hear the commanding call of a large bird as it takes flight—like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Sensing we are nearing time to rest, I quiet down the rhythm as we slowly fade out. 

Our guide tells me that everyone loved the experience—especially the kids. Rhythm is a universal language. 

At the end of my journey, I leave the drum with my hosts as a gift to sustain the magic of community woven by a single drum.


Click here to read the first reflection in this series. 

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