Sunday, March 7, 2010

Be a Good Listener

One of our regular nightmares used to be the decline of indian classical music. I used to be fond once of writing 'Unlikely Obituaries'. I had written a series of them and sent the collection for the so called 'Middle' column of our great daily. Of course it went unpublished and didn't even bounce back with the courteous chit 'Boss, the editor of the editorial page of the XXX is unable to make use of your article...etc. etc.' So one of the black obituaries was about our music, another about our bank and another one, the most perceptive of them all, about our top politician, who was talked about more in condescension than in seriousness a decade back. Mind you, all unfit-for-publishing material, meant by the author to be published, now finds it's way into a blog.
 
The fear expressed by us about our music was that it was highly structured, and amenable to 'computerikaran'. But it is seemingly evolving, or at least changing, for better or worse. My wife's father was an eminent musicologist, an associate of Pt. Ratanjankar (Ratanjankar used to interview leading artistes as part of his mission, documentation of Indian Classical, and sportingly courted the wrath of some of the unpredictable geniuses. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan roundly castigated Panditji and told him 'tu bara swaranche khoke wajawnara, tu mala kaay wicharto tumhi gujri todi kashi gaata', or something like that. That's the level of resistance to documentation of any kind in our society.) So father-in-law was a purist and my loyalty to him deprived me of listening to the art of Kumar Gandharva for a decade. We did differ about the change. What the purists said about the tabla was interesting. It was basically meant for accompaniment. But it is the most saleable of them all, and symbolises the development of our music. The Tabalchi Ustads and Pandits of the past were unobtrusive and that contributed to the excellence of the main score, so said the purists. There were no twisted tukdas, tihais and other contortions. A regular, persistent, eternal, teen taal would put the vocalist or instrumentalist, and the audience, to a trance. Now the tablachi usually tries to come to the fore, claptrap as Kolyan said, and the audience is loving it! One, the tabla is easier for the lay to appreciate than the main raaga. Second, the virtuosos of the day are adept at creating their own trance. Remember the 'train sequence' in the Hamsadhwani by Pt. Shiv Kumar and Pt. Zakir? Of course these two great people are beyond comparison, but in many cases, a lesser artiste will be safer piggy-banking a more eminent tabalchi.

So, cognoscenti initially did not approve of mishrit raagas. We remember the time when Kumar Gandharva invented (not 'discovered') 'Gandhi Malhaar', and dedicated it to the nation on the Gandhi Centenary day in 1969, in Delhi. As we wrote in one of our previous blogs, Kumarji was a soul friend of dad's Mama Rahul Barpute, and the whole team would stay with us in our Karol Bagh residence, when in Delhi. On the 1st October, I and dad tried to eavesdrop on Kumarji, expecting him to do some riyaaz, but no luck. All we heard was some Malhaar being hummed, now and then. (incidentally, Mrs. Kumarji that is Sau. Vasundharatai, when asked about Kumarji's riyaaz habits, had reportedly told an interviewer once that 'Kumarji was now past riyaaz', predictably drawing a howl of protests from connoisseurs.) Where is the 'Gandhi' in the malhaar, we had queried of one of the team members, our beloved "Guruji"Vishnu Chinchalkar, and he said he doesn't know, but he is reminded of Gandhiji when he listens to the composition. The next day post the launch of Gandhi Malhaar, everybody frantically dug into various papers to find out about reactions of critics, which were far from rave. If we remember aright, ever Raghava R. Menon, old flame, was not enthused. And lot of them loudly said, if one is to use the marathi phrase, "this is maatra tu much han".

So now we find that sammishran has taken a back seat. But a new army of artistes and listeners has joined the fray. "Mujhse behatar kehne waale, tumse behatar sunne wale", as Sahir put it. Interchange Mujhse with Tumse for us. The entire experience is novel for the new audience, and numerically, it is a great army. Demographic dividend, if you please. I remember this kid, who, armed with latest gadgets, was recording, in Mathur Auditorium, the entire vocal recital of Smt. Aar... no.. cannot be disclosed for reasons of copyright violation. We were using a crude cell for the same.That was a heartening sight.
 
Good, the obituary was not published. What about the decline of the Guru Shishya parampara? That, another day, another sub-continent.

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