Monday, December 21, 2009

Indian music and aesthetics

-Vedprakash Sharma


Generally speaking, fine arts and the aesthetics have intermingled together. The study of the fine arts is incomplete without the assistance of the aesthetics. Likewise, the concept of aesthetics is inconclusive without an analysis of the fine arts. Especially, when it comes to the study of the art of music, the significance of the aesthetics seems to be greater simply because of the two major general notions:

  1. It is a general perception that the aesthetics is the study of "beauty", which is supposed to be the characteristic of vision, whereas music is expressed through the medium of sound.
  2. The characteristic of music is pleasantness or "enjoyable to ears" and hence has nothing to do with the aesthetics which is said to deal with the beauty.

    This article studies music with a view to explain its relation to the study of aesthetics.

    The philosophy of "Satyam Shivam Sundaram" expresses the importance of purity and pleasure in all the fine arts. When we talk of music, nobody can claim to disagree from the fact that it has the capacity to give pleasure even in the adverse conditions like trouble and tensions. That is the reason why music-listening is now recommended to the patients of hypertension, sleeplessness, cardiac diseases etc. music has the potential to diverge the mind from the negative attitude to the positive one and thus to provide relaxation and relief, though only for a shorter period of time. It is this speciality of music which is very important. In other arts, we have to concentrate our minds first in order to appreciate them. On the contrary, as far as the art of music is concerned, as a musical sound is perceived through our ears, our mind is diverted towards the sound itself. We do not have to make an extra effort in order to appreciate the pleasure inculcated through the perception of amazing and pleasing tones. That is why, music is liked by almost all the men and women of different ages, classes, social backgrounds etc. why the human beings only! It is taken in good taste by animals also.

    Music is the expression of one's state of mind through the means of the permutations and the combinations of the interesting and pleasing sound-patterns representing the tones and overtones of musical notes. Thus, it is perceived through our ears. Though on the higher levels, when we listen to the great artists, we make an eye-contact too with the performer. However, this eye-contact hardly affects or influences the pleasure which we receive by listening to the good music. It hardly makes any difference – listen to the music through a radio set [where it is not possible to view the artist], or listen to it through some visual media like the television, video etc. the only condition is that the listener should have the capacity to appreciate music. We are aware that those who are not "Rasika" cannot appreciate any arts. That is why this condition is important. This condition does not mean that most of the persons cannot appreciate the music. This only means that one has to attain certain level of understanding of the art in order to appreciate it. In the field of music, especially, Indian classical music, if one does not know the concept of Ragas, he/she is not able to enjoy it. The same thing can be applied to other arts too.

    Therefore, it is very important for the audience of music that they should have the capacity to appreciate the same. This is the reason why the level of appreciation differs from person to person. Some people like a particular piece of music but at the same time some others dislike the same piece. This does not mean in any manner that the piece of music itself is defected but it shows the difference of opinion amongst the masses or the classes.

    Sometimes, the question is raised about the popularity of some specific musical compositions. The compositions which seem to be popular sometimes are not liked by even the great artists. This is the reason that the insight as well as the anticipation of the masses is very different from that of the perception and the expectations of the artists. An artist can understand the concept of raga and if the performer deviates from any of the rules of the raga lakshanas given in musicology, he/she would not like it. On the contrary, it is difficult for the general listener to find fault in the concept of the art as they are not aware of it. In the compositions related to the popular music, the situations are different. These compositions are meant for the masses. Therefore, anybody can appreciate and enjoy them. However, in the classical compositions, only those persons can appreciate the music that has a basic knowledge of the Branch. Not only in the field of music but in any of the fine arts, when it comes to the Classical compositions, the rules have to be different from that of the popular piece of work. For example, in Literature, the "road-side books" are meant for the masses and hence catch more attention than the literary and Classic ones. In music the situation is the same.

    Music has therefore many forms. It has many modes of expression. We can find whatever level or standard at our will. We have folk music, regional music, cine-music, popular music [Pop music], classical music, semi-classical music etc. It is for the performer and the listener to decide which form of it they wish to go to. Therefore, let us concentrate upon Indian classical music.

    Indian classical music has a very great and illustrious tradition. It has passed through many ups and downs. It has developed the capacity to survive under the most adverse circumstances. It has the power to submerge music of different regions, kinds and categories. We have seen that in the medieval period of our history, when there was a total cultural invasion, the tradition of Indian music adapted itself in a manner that the chaos could not damage the beautiful and pleasing treasure of the musical tradition laid down by our great ancestors. History tells that there have been several instances when our tradition of music was tried to be changed and transfigured to the taste of the invaders who have come from different parts of the Asian region and elsewhere. But the power of our music was such that it did not succumb to the pressures and prejudices. It took all the changes in a positive manner and modified itself accordingly. That is why, in the present era too, when there are different streams flowing through our music, we see that the basics are still the same.

    Before analyzing the beauty aspect of our music, let us consider the "individuality" aspect first. It is very important that we should ascertain the capacities of an individual musician to the field of music. generally, the art is patronized by institutions and hence at times, the individuality of a particular artist is hampered.

In South Asian cultures the arts traditionally have been associated with "religion," but in at least three general ways, and with varying degrees of explicitness. First of all, even when textual content is not present to make the association explicit, music and dance are implicitly "religious" by virtue of the Indian cultural idea that music and dance are paths to salvation, or at least valued vehicles of devotional expression. Secondly, they may be "religious" because the text of the performance is explicitly religious. Finally, they may be "religious" because they function in a specifically religious performance context.

These essays provide instances of each of these ways of being "religious." Bharata Natyam and Kathakali are "religious" in the first two ways. Dhrupad sung by the Dagar family is "religious" in the first and usually the first two ways. Qawwali (Muslim) is "religious" particularly in the last two ways (but to some, in all three ways), though when performed out of the context discussed here, is religious primarily textually.

In contrast with the Indian association of religious expression with music and dance, orthodox Muslim thought does not associate these two art forms with religious expression. (The Sufi tradition within the greater Islamic world view must be seen in its own terms.) Through the Qureshi article on qawwciliand the Owens article on the Dagars, (a family who were high caste Indians but who converted to Islam several generations ago), we observe the results of the adjustment of the two value systems. The process of adjustment, the results in human and musical terms, have scarcely been considered by historians of Indian music. Nor is the process at an end. Owing to shifting patterns of patronage, the hegemony of Muslim musicians in North India is presently giving way to an hegemony of Hindu musicians, with both groups functioning socially and artistically within a rapidly changing India.

Another major topic in the study of the performing arts within the broader South Asian cultural context is patron-client relationships. In an analysis of one performed song, the performance provides an extraordinarily clear example of the direct musical result of the patron-client relationship. One facet that the teachers of the Indian classical music elucidate is what the performer must learn about the audience's response (including and especially the patron's) in order to perform effectively. They also are unusually direct about the matter of financial renumeration and its effect on the music INTRODUCTION itself. Those concerns are explicit in the Sufi assembly context to a far greater extent than in the concert context, of course, but those same concerns are equally significant in other spheres of artistic life.

A dual topic addressed in several of the Westerners research is the grouping of artists and the cultivation of "schools" within an art. Owens considers a North Indian gharani, while Jones discusses sampradiyas (teacher-student descent groups) in the history of Kathakali. Similarly, Qureshi points out that qawwali musicians normally belong to a community of hereditary professional musicians who trace their musical identity through lineages parallel to, or even converging with, the gharanas of North Indian musicians in the classical music sphere. And Jon Higgins notes that in the world of Bharata Natyam, dance musicians maintain allegiance primarily to a single dancer or school of dance.

The grouping of artists and the cultivation of "schools" within an art are topics integral to the greater context of South Asian studies, for several reasons. Studies of social and/or occupational groupings are crucial to an understanding of South Asia. The relationships of artistic groupings to those of the larger society are obviously significant, involving as they do criteria of artistic achievement as well as birth. Such studies, across the arts as well as within a single art form, particularly those studies that compare Hindustani and Karnatak cultures, inevitably lead to discussion of such important matters as values, religious belief, status, communalism, and many others. The subject of groups is important for the history of all Indian arts, for teacher-student groupings have controlled transmission, continuity, and change-therefore the very nature of the arts themselves.

Groups are vital facets of Indian culture, but so, too, are individuals. Thus, in the study of any Indian art form, there must also be considerable emphasis on the particular artist, as in Owens's presentation of Ustad Nazir Aminuddin Dagar and Qureshi's discussion of Meraj Ahmad Nizami. In any discussion of a single artist we are presented with three complex matters for consideration:

1.    The musical tradition with which the artist is associated-a system of training, teaching, performance and repertoire, its history over the centuries, and its expression in several contexts;

2.    The family of which he or she is just one member-a group of musicians who have concentrated their lives on the tradition, who have held places in a relatively long musical history and who have maintained their tradition in various places, therefore various contexts;

3.    The individual musician within the group who has viewed and therefore maintained the tradition in certain ways, lived during one phase of the history, and in several contexts.

South Asian artists and scholars certainly emphasize individuality within tradition, as when they praise a singer for carrying on a tradition (for example by showing proof of good training), but then temper their praise with a statement such as "but he (or she) is not yet free of his (or her) teacher's style." Conversely, sons of great ustcids complain that when they first try to establish themselves professionally, critics compare them to their fathers (usually unfavorably). Each new generation wishes to have its own musical individuality recognized.

For North Indian musical culture the two facets of a musician's responsibility-his maintenance of tradition and his development of individuality-must always be kept in perspective by scholars, as they are in the minds of musicians whom they study. Mention Kirana gharana and the response is likely to be: Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Hirabai Barodekar, and other distinguished individuals. Mention Agra gharana and the response is likely to be: Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Ustad Nathan Khan, M.R Gautam, and the like. Mention any other Gharana and the response probably will be the same: naming of individual singers, only some of whom belong to the hereditary family. Furthermore, particular characteristics in the style of each individual singer will readily be mentioned, along with general characteristics associated with the Gharana style. (Note: it is also important to distinguish between the view of Gharana from members of the hereditary family (gharcinedcir) and the view of Gharana from non-gharcinedcir- two views which may or may not agree in all respects.)

The importance of the individual artist is also reflected in the attention given to biography (and hagiography) by South Asian writers on the arts. Journals devote a great deal of space to biographies of musicians, numerous book-length biographies are published and there are also many dictionaries of musicians. In this way our attention is drawn constantly to individual artists. Since the individual musician is so important to music, one should ask: who is "the individual" in South Asian and, particularly, Indian society and culture? In the collection of essays on The Status of the Individual in East and West (University of Hawaii Press, 1968), several perspectives on that question were offered. P.T. Raju in "Indian Epistemology and the World and the Individual," asserts: What we know in perception is not the abstract individual, but a particular individual, not a mere member of a class, but this or that member (p. 123)

The world does not consist primarily of individuals and relations, but of individuals and

their activities, involving relations of course (p. 136) . . . . One may express the central teaching of Indian epistemology about the individual and the world thus: [With regard to the empiri- cal world] The true and significant knowledge of the individual and this world is the knowledge of the individual in his field of action (p. 137).

Surama Dasgupta, in "The Individual in Indian Ethics," asserts: The theory of karma attributes full responsibility for one's actions to the individual himself. . . . Society has tried to help the average man by mapping out for him a scheme of life and duties, but it is on the individual himself that his karma depends, and results will accrue to him accordingly. So, from every point of view, the social good or the personal, the final responsibility for actions rests on the individual alone (pp. 288- 89).

S.K. Saxena, in "The Individual in Social Thought and Practice in

India," asserts: Indian tradition has always been tied in intellectual and emotional admiration only to individuals who created and molded the society. The heroes in the Indian social mind are all individuals-sages and saints-and not schools or "isms" or ideologies. . . . What is adored in social Indianism or in any social period is not a historical process as such, but a particular individual who has brought about social betterment. Not the adoring of the age of Gandhi, but Gandhi himself (p. 348).

Perhaps the most eloquent statement in these essays about individuality in India is the following: "In fact, there is no one Indian view of the status of the individual. There are many views, each upheld by substantial Indian thinkers and by a large section of the Indian people" (Kalidas Bhattacharyya, in "The Status of the Individual in Indian Metaphysics, p. 48). In these essays we perceive that we should view theindividual (not the idea of him), and know him by his particular set of actions (then his relations), for in the end he alone is responsible for his own actions which determine his karma.

Related to the topic of individuality is the concept of authority in the Indian context. When an Indian musician tells one (or writes- the two modes of communication being more similar to each other in Indian than in Western scholarship) "the origin of sargam is . . . ," or "Raga Todi is sung like this . . . ,"one is supposed to understand that "this is the gospel according to . . . ." Authority resides in the individual and an Indian student will decide whose authority he endorses and abide by that. But there are many other views, each equally authoritative, and this is tolerated and understood. Just as "there is no one Indian view of the status of the individual," so is there no one Indian (or South Asian) view about very many things, including details of musical tradition. Thus, it is critical for Western scholars of Hindustani or Karnatak music to inform their work with this value perception and to avoid the pitfalls of unbending generalizations about a body of knowledge based on the "authority" of one performer, one perspective, or one scholar. Thus, when analyzing the Indian musical tradition, the problem of identifying the "Individual" potentials of a musician is very challenging.

Now, after discussing about the "individuality" aspect of Indian music, let us see the beauty aspect of our great tradition. We have mentioned earlier that the medium of expression in the music is the tones which are called Nada. From Nada, musical notes are formed. Nada itself has been compared by the God. The concept of Nadabrahma is present in almost all the great Works of Indian music. This shows that our music was not meant just for fun or the worldly entertainment. But it had some higher levels than that. In the great Work of Pt. Ahobal, "Sangeet Parijat", two eminent objectives of music have been mentioned.

  1. Music should be entertaining. It should have the capacity of pleasing the masses through various tools and forms attached to it.
  2. At the higher level, it should also have the capacity which can liberate the artist/listener from the worldly problems. It should have the power of "self-liberation". In Indian philosophy, this "self-liberation" has been called as "moksha". "Moksha" or "bhav-Bhanjan" is said to be very important in the four "Purusharthas". These four "purusharthas are as under:
    1. Dharma, 2. Artha, 3. Kaam and 4. Moksha.

      One has to attain first three of them in order to get the forth one – "moksha".

      Through the practice of the tradition of Indian classical music one can attain these Purusharthas very easily. That is why, in Indian philosophy, music has been praised at many instances. I do not wish to go deep into it as it does not come under the present topic. The main purpose of my describing the aforesaid facts is that music in Indian tradition has been considered very pure form of the fine arts.

      It is the very famous saying, "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder". This applies to the beautiful musical tones too.

      As the literal meaning of beauty relates to the sense of vision, one may raise the doubts over the beauty of musical tones. But when it comes to the expressive meaning of the word "beauty", its scope seems to have no borders. Whatever gives you the pleasure, satisfaction, relaxation of mind, enjoyment etc is said to be beautiful. The things, situations, tastes, events, occurrences etc which one likes to experience again and again and feels happiness experiencing the same, can also be called as beautiful. Thus, everything that delights us is beautiful.

      However, the term "beautiful" in different Branches of knowledge like philosophy, literature, moral sciences, cookery etc has different meanings associated to it. Likewise, in the art of music this term has a specific meaning.

      As the broadest platform of convergence amongst the musicians, it can be underlined that the musical compositions which are based upon the set norms follow the rules and patterns set by the musicologists, are original and authentic, have the capacity to entertain the connoisseur are said to be beautiful. Many more parameters can be attached to it as and when suitable. But the basic rules remain the same. We are aware of the fact that the term "beauty" differs from place to place and from one cultural background to another. Hence, the beauty with reference to music also takes different shapes in different sociocultural setups.

      Here in India, we generally think in terms of our own musical traditions. In fact, the three basic dimensions of the arts in general and the fine arts in specific are: 1. the place, 2. the time and 3. The circumstances. These three aspects change the terminology of any concept let alone the beauty aspects of music. Therefore, while studying the aesthetical values of any musical composition, let us keep in mind these basic aspects which really make a vital difference. That is the reason why, the music of comparatively the olden times is not appreciated by the new generation. The exceptions may lie here and there but broadly, it is found to be true that generation gaps can be seen in the fine arts too like every other sphere of our social and cultural life. It is this generation gap which generates new trends and the fashion in the cultural scenario of the era. It is due to this fact that newer concepts, trends, systems, practices, habits, fashion etc keep on emerging from time to time. The famous poet Bhaas has once said, "The beautiful is that which is ever new".

      This newness of the compositions makes them appealing and beautiful. There are some classics which are liked in the present era too. It is because these classics are beyond the three basic aspects of arts. Namely, the time, the place and the circumstances.

      Playwrights like Kalidas, Shakespeare etc were beyond the limitations of place, time and the circumstances. They chose the topics which the masses can still identify themselves with. That is why, their plays still satisfy the readers and viewers aspirations and expectations.

      Likewise, the Western composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Handel as well as the Indian composers like Tyagraja, Muthuswami Dixitar, Shama Shastri etc from the South and Vishnu Digambur Pulaskar, Onkarnath Thakur, Pt. Ratanjankar etc from the North were ahead of their times. They composed very beautiful traditional Bandishes which are still being followed by the learners as well as the teachers of the Indian classical music.

      In the field of Popular Music too, there have been some great composers who revolutionized the style of composing music. Great music composers for movie melodies like S. D. Barman, Madan Mohan, Anil Biswas, O. P. Naiyar, and many other artists have contributed their skills in this field. Their music is still listened with pleasure and satisfaction. Many singing stars – the classical singers or the playback ones – have shown us the new hopes and horizons following which we can contribute to the aesthetic value of our music.

Through the above analysis, we can conclude that there is a fundamental relation between the arts and the aesthetics in general and between music and aesthetics specifically. That is the reason Naada is considered to be close to the Almighty God. In our tradition of music, music has been associated in all the religious rites. Not only that, music has been an integral part of our cultural heritage. Thus, music cannot be studied without the study of the aesthetics.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Origin of Banaras Gharana of Tabla

Banaras, known also as Varanasi or by its ancient name, Kashi, is the holiest city of Hinduism. Located on a northward curve of the Ganges as it cuts through the plains of Uttar Pradesh, Banaras has for centuries been a pilgrimage center and the bastion of Hindu orthodoxy. Maintaining tradition is the life blood of Banaras, and this holds true not only for religious practices, but also for the various arts and crafts that remain thriving family traditions. The elegance and fine workmanship in the Banaras silk sari industry is both legendary and contemporary. Banaras is an opera: the rhythm of leatherworkers pounding out hide for sandals; the clang of blacksmiths along the Thatheri alley; the ring of cycle-riksha bells; train whistles on the edge of the city; balloon bulb bus horns; cawing crows and whining peacocks; mendicants chanting, "Jai Sita Ram, Jai Jai Sita Ram;" a group of shen5r players leading a bridal party down the street; the normal din of six hundred thousand people living in an area little bigger than New York's Central Park.

Musical traditions run deeply in Banaras and the most famous tradition in the classical form is the Banaras Gharana or "style" of Tablaa playing. Drumming is at the heart of Banaras music and some of the best known tabla players in India came originally from this city. The style itself is hard to define in words and is flexible according to each Tabla player's taste. here is a Banaras "sound" in Hindustani music, just as there is a "Motown," or a "Chicago" sound in Afro-American music, but the exact definition of that "sound" is a matter of personal appreciation. The variety of individual styles within the total conglomeration of Tabla playing known as the Banaras Gharana is so great that any generalization about the Gharana as a whole may prove invalid from musician to musician. The mythology, the genealogies , the typical compositions and the favorite forms of improvisation are all uniquely Banaras.

late Kanthe Maharaj, one of the best known Tabla players of this century, recounted the good old days amongst his well-wishers and the disciples the as well as the musical history of the Banaras Gharana as he remembered it. His story, spiced with the numerous legends of the past that are an integral part of Indian tradition, was elaborated upon further by Sharda Sahay, the great-great grandson of the founder of the Banaras Gharana of Tabla , Ram Sahay .

Ram Sahay was born in 1798 in Banaras. His family had originally come from Gopalpur, a village in Jaunpur district bordering Banaras, but had moved due to a smallpox epidemic. One brother went to Lucknow and two others went to Banaras.

Ram Sahay's father was the elder of the two brothers in Banaras. The family astrologer predicted an auspicious musical future for the boy and when just two years old, Ram Sahay began learning Tabla, the basic sixteen-beat Trital of Hindustanimusic. Ram Sahay became the disciple of his uncle, a well-known Tablah player of the day. His uncle introduced him at various music programs and encouraged him to play solos. Under the pressure of constant public exposure, he began to arduously practice the tabla and the t'alas of Hindustani music.

When he was seven years old, Ram Sahay travelled to Lucknow with his father and uncle to attend a musical gathering at the court of the Nawab of Oudh, Shujatuddhaula. Many of the finest Tabla players of India were present and Ram Sahay sat entranced at the feet of the great musicians of the day. One old Muslim gentleman in the audience noted the boy's interest. Several days after the programs at the court, Sharda Sahay (the Sahay brother who had originally come to Lucknow to live) held a music party at his home. Modhu Khan, the old Muslim gentleman, as well as the other Tabla players attended the program and heard Ram Sahay perform a solo. While he was playing Modhu Khan began to pace about the room, acting like a man of a peculiar nature. The other musicians began to mock the eccentric old man under their breath.

After his performance, Ram Sahay asked his uncle why everyone had mocked the old man. Modhu Khan, overhearing the boy's question, answered sadly, "If I had a son, I would have stopped this disgraceful laughter.

" Ram Sahay's uncle took the boy aside and explained that Modhu Khan was a learned Tabla player but that he had given up his practice and now couldn't produce clear strokes. In fact, he was being ridiculed as a person who was no longer capable of doing anything like a "wingless pigeon, " because his fingers moved like a waddling pigeon with clipped wings. Modhu Khan had neither a son nor disciples. He had taken a vow never to initiate anyone from Lucknow into his musical tradition because of their inimicable attitude toward him. But after hearing Ram Sahay's playing and seeing his interest, Modhu Khan appealed to the boy's father to allow him to stay with him in Lucknow as his disciple. The father prayed the next morning and then agreed to the proposal.

Ram Sahay learned wholeheartedly from his inspired teacher. After several years, Modhu Khan was called away to his father-in-law's home in the Punjab. Ram Sahay continued to go to his teacher's house with the same vigor as when his teacher had been there. Each day, he awaited the return of Modhu Khan until after a month he broke down and cried in the fear that his teacher would never return. After consoling the boy, Modhu Khan's wife agreed to teach him in her husband's absence. She had learned over five hundred compositions of Punjab-style Tabla playing from her own father, though she did not play publicly.'

After five months, Modhu Khan returned and was very pleased with Ram Sahay's progress. Modhu Khan taught his disciple for twelve years in Lucknow. The old nawab of Avadh died and was succeeded by his son, the illustrious Wajid Ali Shah. On his "coronation" day, a large musical gathering as held in Lucknow featuring musicians and dancers from all over north India. Wajid Ali Shah himself had studied kathak (Hindusta'ni classical) dancing with Ram Sahay's cousin, Thakur Pra sadji, and the new nawab was anxious to hear Ram Sahay play. Modhu Khan declared that his young twenty-year old disciple would play under one condition: that Ram Sahay be allowed to play as long as he liked with no one stopping him. The nawab agreed.

That night, Ram Sahay began playing at eight o'clock and played through the night until four in the morning. As remarkable a feat as this was in itself, what was even more remarkable as that he played only two types of elaboration -the uthaan and mohra.' Even the greatest of the Tabla players could only play a few of these elaborations and yet Ram Sahay played for eight hours without repeating a phrase'. Seven straight days of playing passed and Ram Sahay continued to dazzle the audience with spectacular varieties of elaboration. His Khazana,or compositions of intricate and pronounced stroke and tempo change, were extraordinary. The audience remained spellbound to the end and then broke into excited conversation and nervous laughter.

Modhu Khan rose and approached Wajid Ali Shah with a final request: he wished to ask the illustrious tabla and pakhzwaj players present if they had the courage to play now, after Ram Sahay. The musicians answered in a chorus of resounding, "no, thank you'. " It was Modhu Khan's moment of glory and he relished it to the limit. He smiled and said, "All right, you pompous blowhards. You have been calling me a 'wingless pigeon' for years. Now come and lay garlands on Ram Sahay's shoulders. If that is too much for you, come and challenge my disciple. " Modhu Khan's challenge caught those present by surprise: if they laid garlands on the young Tablaa player's shoulders, they would be destroying the own esteemed reputations. Khudo Singh, the disciple of a famous pakhzwaj family, was the first to step forward and he declared, "Of all the drummers I have heard in my lifetime, Ram Sahay is the best. " The other musicians followed suit and presented garlands to Ram Sahay. The young master, with the legendary humility of the great, refused to be garlanded and instead asked for help from those present. One Tabla player, Salar Khan, immediately offered Ram Sahay his entire traditional knowledge.

Others volunteered to teach the boy rare compositions that only they knew. Shortly after the music gathering concluded, Wajid Ali Shah called Modhu Khan and Ram Sahay to his palace. He presented Ram Sahay with two diamond and two emerald necklaces, four elephants, 400,000 rupees, bolts of the finest silk, and gold jewelry. The nawab then ordered Modhu Khan to allow Ram Sahay to return to Banaras to see his family whom he had left twelve years earlier.

In Banaras, Ram Sahay eagerly learned new compositions and practiced faithfully. From the pakhwaj player Khudo Singh he learned gaja paran, "elephant composition, " which could tame wild elephants if played properly. From another player he learned a chakradar paran by which a cocoanut could be blown to bits with the correct combination of strokes. Popular history has it that Ram Sahay learned compositions that could bring rain, that could extinguish the flame in a clay oil lamp, and that could invoke the gods.

By this time, Ram Sahay had become a well-known concert performer, and his fellow Tablaa players grew jealous of his success. They concocted a plan among themselves to stop Ram Sahay and thus promote their own chances. One night, Ram Sahay was playing a concert when a man who had been bribed by the dissident Tabla players stood up in the middle of the performance and said, 'When we hear you play, master, it seems as if God made the tabla only for you. " Another stood in the back row shouted out, "Listen friend, you've got to remember that he was lucky to have learned in Lucknow. No one from Banaras could play like this. " Ram Sahay was very proud of Banaras and was hurt by the man's statement. When a fist-fight broke out between Ram Sahay's loyal followers and the conspiring musicians and their associates Ram Sahay rose up from behind his drums: "What the second man said is true. The future will judge me as a musician born in Banaras but playing the Lucknow style. From today onward, I will not touch the Tabla because no matter how many innovations I may create, it will all be attributed to Lucknow. Though I love my teacher and will always be grateful for his teaching, I love my city and feel I can't esTablaish it as a unique musical city because of my history.

" Ram Sahay's admirers were upset. His Banaras relatives and the elders of the city prevailed on him to change his mind, calling him a fool for ruining his career because of a madman's words. Ram Sahay agreed that the words were those of a madman, but that musicians and musicologists of the future would say the same thing: that he played the Lucknow Gharana in Banaras. Ram Sahay's uncle, understanding his nephew's determination, suggested that if he was no longer going to play publicly, he should at least teach others what he had learned. Ram Sahay accepted this proposition and, after a respite of six months during which he wrote down his repertoire and theory of music, he began to teach his brothers Janaki, Gauri, and Ishwari, and six other disciples from outside his immediate family.

Ram Sahay completely altered the traditional placement of the fingers on the Tabla head. The use of the ring firger as a main stroking finger, unique to the Banaras style, was introduced at this time. People in Banaras were shocked at Ram Sahay's new methods. His uncle couldn't bear this departure from tradition and demanded an explanation.

Ram Sahay presented his uncle with the manuscript he had been working on for six months -"The Banaras Ba'j ." Ram had created, analyzed, and rationalized the style on paper. The new style was suitable for any type of music from heavy classical dhrupad singing, (usually accompanied by the pakhwaj drum), to the lighter forms of thumri and tappa, to all styles of instrumental music, and lastly, to Kathak dance, a specialty of Banaras and Lucknow. Ram Sahay's uncle was still displeased, since Pakhawaj strokes were introduced on the Tabla, a practice considered "impure. " Ram Sahay countered that his disciples would learn both sets of strokes so that they could accompany any kind of music.

Many years passed, and Ram Sahay, who had not married, decided to become a sadhu or wandering holy man, and made pilgrimages to the sacred places of Hinduism.

A nephew of Ram Sahay's named Bhairav Sahay became the last disciple of the Tabla master; he spent the last six years of his life training the boy. On his death bed Ram Sahay predicted a glorious musical future for Bhairav, whom he felt would spread the new Banaras style throughout India. Bhairav Sahay often went to pray at the shrine of Lord Bhairav in the Nici Bag area of Banaras where drummers before him had prayed for strength in their lifetime goal of constant music practice. By the age of eighteen, Bhairav Sahay was regarded as the finest Tabla player ever heard in Banaras . His ceaseless devotion to practice earned him the astonished respect of the old experts.

Once Bhairav Sahay was invited by the Maharajah of Nepal, Bahadur Sinha, to perform at a large musical gathering. Niyamatulla Khan, the most famous sarod player of the day, was also invited, and Bhairav Sahay was selected as his accompanist. Together, these two masters turned out new improvisations, tempo changes and technique variations that dazzled the listeners. During the larant or "fighting" style of improvisation when each artist tries to outdo the other by taking the other's material and complicating it slightly, the experts in the audience gasped in astonishment. Niyamatulla Khan laid down his instrument and proclaimed, "Bhairav Sahay is not a Tabla player, he is an angel from heaven. God has given eyes to each of his fingers so that whenever a singer or instrumentalist begins his improvisation, those fingers visualize it and reproduce it instantly. " The Maharajah was so pleased at Bhairav Sahay's playing that he presented him with a costly rifle and sword.

The disciples of Bhairav Sahay were his own son Baldev Sahay, and Ehagavan Mishra. The direct descendants of Ram Sahay and Bhairav Sahay were many and their musical virtuosity has become legend in Banaras and amongst Hindustani music concerts.

Baldev Sahay, the son of Bhairav Sahay and an excellent Tabla player in his own right, had many famous students. His own son, known as Durga Sahay or "Nannu" Sahay, was considered as one of the greats of his day. This blind musician, who died at the age of thirty-four, was supposed to have a smooth technique and a fierce concentration in his disciplined practice throughout his life. He is particularly known for his speed of execution. Kanthe Maharaj, a name familiar throughout the Indian music community, was also a disciple of Baldev Sahay, as well as being his cousin. Legend has it that Kanthe Maharaj's father was had no son and hence used to pray to god for it. Often he went to the Ganesha temple in Kabirchowra to pray for hours at a time, for a son. One day, a priest of the temple overheard the prayers and immediately brought the man some prasaad telling him that if his wife ate the prasad before the sun was at its peak, she would bear a son. That night, Kanthe Maharaj's mother had a dream that a chain of fire was entering into her heart. The priest from the temple was called and he predicted that the boy to be born would become a great musician.

Kanthe Maharaj , who was the drean of the Banaras Gharana , died in 1969. With him vanished a unique style and a unique approach to the aesthetics of tabla playing. He believed that for every raga there should be a specific Tabla sound produced and that of each raga had a corresponding tala rasa. For every raga, he believed there are slight changes made to suit the rasa of the piece. In order to produce this feeling on the drums, Kanthe Maharaj mastered the dynamics of the loosely tuned left-hand drum, the bayan. Through proper control of the pressure on the bayan head, he produced an amazing variety of tones and could even play a complete scale, with each note clearly heard, just by shifting the weight and position of the heel of his left hand. Kanthe Maharaj was not interested in mathematical drills, only in clarity of sound. It is said that the only exercise he practiced was a slow, "na dhin dhin na, " while he concentrated on the exactness of each stroke. Kanthe Maharaj's unique and prominent style and vision is still remembered and respected.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Problems relating to Hindustani music

In the present scenario, many traditional art-forms are passing through a phase where the artists concerned have to decide whether they should leave the arts to the mercy of the "market forces" or sacrifice their own interests in order to safeguard the traditional values thereof. Most of the artists relating to different arts have to go through the aforesaid dilemma at least for once as they pursue their career. This essay is an attempt to identify the concerns of the artists who are related to specifically, the Hindustani music, and are going through the dilemma of "to do or not to do", and for one reason or the other, are flowing with the strong current of the market forces.

Hindustani music has a very rich and traditional heritage. It has been admired and appreciated the world over. However, in the present era of the Globalization, many of the musical forms are on the verge of collapse. The beautiful and affluent tradition of Dhruvapada and Dhamar is getting weak day by day. The singing form which once had been the measuring scale of the purity of a Raga, is dying and those who should come forward to save this tradition, are busy either making their own "future" or performing "new experiments" so as to mesmerize the masses with the miraculous "unique" style of theirs. Likewise, the traditional musical instruments like different forms of the Veena are facing the danger of extinction and the artists who can do something to protect these musical instruments are busy in the innovation of new instruments. There are very few artists who are capable of playing Rudra Veena. They wish to pass the valuable knowledge to the descendants but nobody is prepared to devote his/her "precious" time to learn it. The question rises as to what is the remedy or solution to the problems which the world of Hindustani music is encountering. The answer is not very easy. It is said that the present makes the future and the past makes the present. Therefore, in order to find the answers to the problems being faced by the world of Hindustani music, we would have to search its past.

Indian music can be traced back as early to the Indus Valley Civilization. However, the written references about the music are available only in the Vedic Literature. Therefore, we can submit without any reasonable doubts that the Indian music was flourishing during the Vedic Period. The history of our music, we can suppose, begins with the history of Vedic Period. At that instance, we find a lot of references regarding the evolution of music. The references regarding the vocal as well as the instrumental music are available in that period. Hence, we can assume that in the Vedic Period, our music had been come to a stage where the vocal as well as the instrumental music was practiced fluently. After the Vedic Period, during the Period of Natyashastra, we find clearly two different streams of music. One, which was concerned with the religious rituals and ceremonies, and was expressed in the forms like Sam Ganas etc, and the other was related to the folk music and was expressed in the form of Deshi Sangeet.

Gradually, these two streams evolved as Margi Sangeet and Deshi sangeet. In the Work of Matanga called "Vrihaddeshi", these two forms of music are available. However, the original Work of Matanga is not available these days. That is why; it is not possible to trace back these terms in detail. But many scholars have referred the Work of Matanga in their books. It is from their Works that we get some knowledge about Margi and Deshi Sangeet.

The trend of Margi and Deshi continued with several changes in the style as well as the content. In his book, Sangeet Parijat, Pt. Ahobal has described the two famous targets of music – one, Janaranjan or the entertainment of people, and BhavaBhanjan, the Liberation of soul from the worldly illusions.

The first objective of music is related to the entertainment aspect of music and other is related to the spiritual evolution.

Let us first talk about the latter. A deep analysis will be provided about the entertainment aspect of music after discussing its spiritual aspects.

The spiritual aspects of music

The spiritual aspects of music are not necessarily related to the religious acts or rituals. Spiritualism does not denote any faith in particular. On the contrary, it deals with the basic human conscience. This is the reason that music is said to have the powers which can cure many physical as well as the mental illnesses. We are aware that presently, music is being used as an alternative medical therapy or the supportive medical treatment in many hospitals. Many clinical psychologists now have ample evidence to believe that listening to the refined kind of music can energize the human mind. It supports the level of concentration of mind and controls the negative attitude. Hence, the listener gradually is transformed into the positive state of mind. It is through the power of the spiritual aspect of music that the Indian musicians are able to contribute to the promotion of world peace and international brotherhood. Spiritual music together with the devotional and the religious music can have enchanting and miraculous effect on the masses. Those who are able to appreciate music would have experienced this effect at some point of time. This is the reason that the Sufi music, Bhajan singing, Gurumukhi style of music etc are very high on the popularity charts. Many a classical musicians too are adapting the religious music these days.

Music as an entertaining medium

In addition to the spiritual aspects of music, it has the entertainment value too. We have already mentioned that the ancient as well as the medieval scholars of music have recognized two objectives of music. The first, the spiritual one, has just been described in the aforesaid paragraphs. Now we will discuss other one, that is, the entertainment feature of our music.

The first and the foremost objective of any fine art are to entertain the masses. Nobody will come close to the arts without it. That is why; all the fine art forms have the aesthetical value around which they evolve. The basic element of all the arts is the beauty. The creation of the artists must be beautiful. It is the very first criterion which is used to ascertain the standards of the art forms. In the art forms other than the fine arts, the utility aspect is also used to standardize them but in case of the fine arts, the beauty facet is prominent. When we listen to a song, we like or dislike it on the basis of the fascinating effect of the melody. The rules of the composition and other such issues which may be related to the "grammar of music" come at a later stage. The first priority of the listener as well as the artist is the "mass appeal" of the melody.

It is on the considerations like these ones that the two streams of music, (as has just been mentioned), incessantly and parelelly keep on growing. The stream which satisfies the entertainment aspect becomes popular amongst the masses. On the other hand, the stream which deals with the spiritual values is practised by some specific classes of the society and hence gets the name "classical music".

This division of classical/popular music has been clearly and distinctly reflected in the society beyond the ages. The names of the categories may be different at different times. But the basic essence of the division has been the popularity/spirituality of the art. In the Vedic Period, these two streams were known as 1. Aranya Geya Gana and 2. Grama Geya Gana. In the later periods, these two streams were known as 1. Margi and 2. Deshi Sangeet. In the present era, these streams are known as 1. Popular music or the pop music and 2. Classical music or Ragdari Sangeet.

Classical music and popular music

Before coming to the central idea of this essay, (Problems relating to Hindustani music), let us have a closer look at these two streams of our music.

All the fine arts can be categorized in two groups: 1. Classical arts and 2. Folk arts or the arts of the masses. However, in the present context, we are more concerned with music. Therefore, we will discuss the art of music in its classical as well as the folk form.

Music is a fine art wherein, the medium of expression is the sound. However, not all sounds are used in music. Only musical sounds are permitted. In the terminology of music, the sounds that are considered musical are called 'tones' or 'naada'. These tones are expressed through musical notes. Names of these notes differ from place to place but in the present era, it is universally accepted that there are seven musical notes in one octave. These musical notes are the alphabet of music. We have just these notes to express ourselves musically. This is the reason, these notes are said to be so important. In the Indian subcontinent, the teachers as well as the scholars of music insist on the practice of these notes. This process of getting control over the musical notes is called 'Swara Saadhana'.

Before going deep into the technical issues, let me tell you that in the folk music, the art comes naturally and instinctively. The folk singers (excluding the professional ones) do not formally learn how to sing or how to take to 'swara saadhana'. In the countryside, people impulsively sing and dance to express their joy and other sentiments. This is the reason that we find folk songs for almost all the occasions. Be it marriage ceremony, occasion of birth of a baby, harvesting season, and what not; there are folk songs for every occasion? Festival songs, seasonal songs, songs associated with different rituals etc are passed on from one generation of folk singers to another one. Thus, the chain keeps on growing.

This is a fact that the origin of all other forms of music is our rich, vibrant and ever new folk tradition. The classical music, popular music, regional music, devotional music, theatrical music, movie songs, light music etc have been originated and evolved from the great ocean of the folk musical tradition. If we go through the first written references about Indian music (the Rigveda), we find that two streams of music have been mentioned there. 1. Aranyagaan and 2. Graamgeya Gaana. It is said that the first one represents the music that was sung by the tribes of the forest. These tribes were far from the urban life and therefore were not cultured enough to devise the rules of singing and dancing.

The second stream of music – 'the gramageya gaana' - was governed by a set of rules and hence it can be considered "nearer to the classical music".

Although the folk music is the basic edifice upon which all other its forms evolved, yet the music which is assumed or reflected as the folk music has not been given its due share. Till the time of Sangeet Ratnakar, we find the references of the folk music under the various types of Prabandhas. We are aware that Prabandhas like "Chachchari", "Kreeda", "vasanti" etc were related to and are compared with many folk melodies by the present day scholars. Dr. Prem Lata Sharma has tried to highlight the similarities of folk music with various Prabandhas in her commentary on Sangeet Ratnakar.

However, after Sangeet Ratnakar, no such effort is reflected in the medieval works on music. The history of Indian music in fact had been limited to the Durbars and the Nawabs and the folk traditions were highly ignored. Durbari Sangeet was established as the "ragdari Sangeet or the classical music at a later stage. Musical forms like "Dhruvapadas", "khayals", "Thumaris" etc looked upon the folk music disdainfully and the classical musicians viewed it as something untouchable.

Nevertheless, amongst the masses, the folk music was not only preserved through the oral traditions from generation to generation, but it also got enriched through the contributions of many renowned folk singers.

However, in the era of the globalization and the Electronic Media Boom, this rich tradition of the folk music was badly hit. On one hand, it was tampered with by the market forces whose sole objective has been to exploit the maximum value from everything, and on the other hand, it was disfigured by the popular music which moulded it to the popular taste. Thus, it got new expressions like "Disco Garba", "Punjabi Pop" etc. Indipop singers like Daler Mahndi, Ila Arun etc gave it a new shape. It was transformed into disco music to be suited to the disco theques.

Movie melodies also contributed to the alleviation of the folk tradition. Many lyricists and music composers exploited the folk music and earned millions. However, in the process of creating more money, the folk musical tradition was shattered.

At present, the situation is such that those who even do not know the Punjabi (for instance), claim to sing Punjabi folk. My opinion is that unless one is familiar with the cultural traditions of a particular region, he/she cannot sing the folk melodies of the region. Surely, there are artists who can perfectly copy the style of the folk singers. However, the photocopy of a document cannot be considered as the original document. Likewise, the imitation of a folk style cannot be considered as the real one. To sing a folk song, one has to be familiar with the culture of that region. Secondly, folk songs are not composed. They just are transferred from one generation to another. Of course, these songs keep on changing according to the changing societies as the lyrics are not generally in the printed form. Every singer of the folk melodies contributes to the little changes that take place from time to time. The singers who are used to the cultural heritage of the particular society generally keep on changing the tunes as well as the text as per the requirements of that society. But those who are not related to the cultural heritage of the region cannot compose a folk song as is being done in some cases.

The problem is that the electronic media and the cyber space have changed the very definition of Hindustani music. Singing for the viewers and singing for the microphone cannot be alike and hence do not create the same enthusiasm in the hearts of the performers. When the artists perform for the recording machine, they do not get the feedback from the audience. Therefore their performance is affected. Performing before an appreciative audience provides a challenge to the artist; the challenge to enchant them with his/her charming innovations, the challenge to share with the viewers the same aesthetic experience which has been mentioned in the Upanishads as "Parmananda". This challenge is missing while performing in the captivity of a recording studio. However, the professional artists have changed their mindset according to the demands of the era. The artists of great repute hardly bother for such circumstantial realities. They have just been used to these situations.

The other problem is that new forms of music like the movie melodies, the fusion of two different kinds of music etc have changed the scenario completely and sometimes adversely. Here I would like to make some comments upon the Movie Music.

It is true that the film music has contributed immensely to popularise the music amongst the masses. It is also beyond any disagreement that the movie melodies have provided a lighter alternative in comparison with the traditional but tough classical music. But gradually, this kind of music has been transfigured into "computer-programmed" mechanical kind of music which, instead of giving us pleasure, increases the blood circulation thereby contributing to the high blood pressure. The yearn to imitate the Western style of music has also made the matters worse. Then there are "copy cats" who have not even got the basic training in Hindustani music and have still become composers. All these circumstances have created a kind of confusion. This confusion is reflected in the learner of music. When one wishes to learn music, he/she generally is not sure as to what kind of music he/she wishes to learn; the classical traditional music or the popular music of the modern era.

The result is that the appreciators of classical music are decreasing in numbers. Subsequently, the great artists of the classical music are forced to change their strategy of their performances. They are adopting new forms of music like Bhajan singing, fusion of different kinds of music, performing in duets and trios to make the performance more appealing etc. Many classical music artists are trying their luck in the world of cinema. Some have succeeded some others were not so fortunate. But the main thing is that many traditional artists are getting away from the classical music because they do not see any future in this direction.

Here let me tell you that the Electronic Media (Especially, Radio and TV), which is supposed to be the guardian of our heritage of music, is cashing upon the popular music only. Gradually, the space for the classical music is shrinking on these traditional avenues. On electronic media, now-a-days, the content of the broadcast is decided on the basis of the TRP rankings. The features which go high on the popularity charts, survive whereas, the programmes which have low ranking on the popularity charts but happen to be excellent in their content, vanish. On the state-owned TV channels too, the space for the classical music is shrinking day by day. Secondly, the time slot for such programmes falls at an odd time so that very few persons ever watch these wonderful programmes.

The world of glamour is slowly swallowing the world of our illustrious traditional arts and music. Disco Bhangda, DiscoGarba, DiscoDandia etc are the trends of today. In the strong and exciting beats of these new trends, many of us misunderstand these popular forms with the folk music of the oral tradition. Pop singers sing the folk melodies and some of us think that this is the real one. Recently, the song "Saas Gaari Deve" by Rekha Bharadwaj is actually based upon the traditional Chhattisgarhi folk melody. The difference is that the movie melody does not represent the real tradition of the folk culture. However, the new generation of today think that this is the real one.

On the internet, too much of classical music is available but there is nobody to decide what is right and what is wrong. In this era of IT Boon, everybody can upload the stuff of one's choice. There are sites like "YouTube" which host such video content. But there is no control on the quality side. Therefore, those who are not aware of the classical music cannot decide the authenticity of such music.

The only hope is from the traditional musicians. They can devise their strategies in such a way that the classical music gets more popular. They can create an appreciative audience by teaching the basics of the classical music. Not a single individual can do this. Therefore, the classical musicians should come together for the cause of our music. We have to save our heritage of wonderful music. Through small concerts, lecture/demonstrations, seminars, workshops etc the awareness for the classical music can be increased.

We have to counter the challenges posed by the Media Boon, the IT Boon etc. It is the human tendency that they like the spicy food and avoid the healthy one. Likewise, the exciting spicy music is liked more than the positive traditional music. Let us admit this fact. But it is our duty to present the facts in the right perspective. As the parents explain to their young ones about the benefits of the healthy food in comparison to the junk food, so we shall have to explain the students and the audience of music about the benefits of positive classical music over the modern pop music.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vande Mataram: In rewind mode


The present controversy over the song Vande Mataram is a rerun of fragments of the political discourse of the 1930s.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. The first two stanzas of Vande Mataram and the later stanzas belong to two different strata of his literary life.
THE present controversy over the song "Vande Mataram" may be seen as a re-enactment of what happened decades earlier. At the same time, it may be worthwhile to ponder whether there is a new meaning in the battle of words that has been started against the "compulsion" to sing the song. It is a rerun of fragments of the political discourse of the 1930s, which has played over and again many times since then. But whether that carries a new message, in that it speaks of a fragility of confidence in the integrity of a historically evolved community identity, is an issue that should be a common concern.
To set the record straight, the issue of compulsion was settled about 70 years ago, during 1937-39. Mohammed Ali Jinnah purportedly gave vent to the anxiety of the Muslim community, that its members would be compelled to sing Vande Mataram. At a time when the nationalist leadership or the Indian National Congress did not have much power to compel, how genuine this anxiety was is a matter of debate. However, Jinnah put this point at the top of his agenda in his talks with Jawaharlal Nehru; among the Quaid-e-Azam papers, now in Pakistan, his discussion notes of February 1, 1938, bear this out: "Vande Mataram must go."
On March 1, 1938, in an article in The New Times of Lahore, Jinnah stated: "Muslims all over [India] have refused to accept Vande Mataram or any expurgated edition of the anti-Muslim song as a binding national anthem." On April 16, 1938, in his presidential address at the special session of the All India Muslim League in Calcutta, he focussed attention on the charge that the Indian National Congress "endeavoured to impose the Vande Mataram song in the legislatures".
In his presidential address at the Sind Provincial Muslim League Conference, Jinnah reiterated the charge as indeed he did on many other occasions.
While one must acknowledge the build-up of considerable opposition to a song thus targeted by Jinnah, one must not forget the other side of the story. Although Vande Mataram, as a song and as a slogan, had been a part of the freedom struggle since the Swadeshi movement of 1905, there were doubts in Congress circles about its acceptability as a whole. The "expurgated edition" of the song, which Jinnah refers to in his article, was the outcome of these doubts.
A part of the song was indeed dropped by the Congress from the "officially" accepted version, by a resolution of the Congress Working Committee in October 1937.
Gandhi's words
This was the part against which Muslim sentiment was strong. Further, the Congress addressed the issue of "compulsion" with a series of steps leading to the resolution drafted by Mahatma Gandhi himself in January 1939. The resolution was of vital importance in guiding the party as well as, in the long run, the Constituent Assembly in its decision to designate Vande Mataram as the national song, while "Jana-gana-mana" was given the status of the national anthem.
It is evident from the draft resolution that Gandhi wrote with great caution and circumspection, and he wrote on top: "Strictly Confidential: Not for Publication."
The resolution said: "As to the singing of the long established national song, Vande Mataram, the Congress, anticipating objections, has retained as national song only those stanzas to which no objection could be taken on religious and other grounds. But except at purely Congress gatherings it should be left open to individuals whether they will stand up when the stanzas are sung. In the present state of things, in Local Board and Assembly meetings, which their members are obliged to attend, the singing of Vande Mataram should be discontinued."
Dissenting voices
There were some dissenting voices in the Congress. C. Rajagopalachari thought that such a "concession will not save the situation" (Rajagopalachari to Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, January 7, 1939), and even G.B. Pant was quite lukewarm about the idea (Pant to Nehru, January 8, 1939). Nevertheless, Gandhi and, by and large, the top leadership of the Congress regarded the measure as essential. The main idea was to decisively remove any apprehension of compulsion.
It was nevertheless a decision that went against the grain of Gandhi's cast of mind, and he wrote a sort of apologia in Harijan (July 1, 1939): ".now we have fallen on evil days.. I will not risk a single quarrel over singing Vande Mataram at a mixed gathering. It will never suffer from disuse. It is enthroned in the hearts of millions."
Differences among leaders
Mohammed Ali Jinnah (sixth from left) with Muslim leaders at a conference in Bombay. On April 16, 1938, Jinnah, while addressing a special session of the All India Muslim League in Calcutta, focussed attention on the charge that the Indian National Congress "endeavoured to impose the Vande Mataram song in the legislatures".
Of these two policy decisions, that of October 1937 on "expurgating" the song and that of January 1939 recognising freedom from any compulsory participation in events where the song was sung, the first one caused agonising moments to the national leaders for it was the first time that they faced the task of reappraisal of a song sanctified by its historical associations. Thereby hangs a tale, which has as its protagonists not only Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Subhas Chandra Bose and others in political decision-making but also Rabindranath Tagore.
Nehru was one of those Congress members who were not familiar with the song - in fact as late as October 20, 1937, he wrote, "I do not understand it without the help of a dictionary", but he had "managed to get an English translation". He read for the first time Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's novel in which the song features only six days before the Working Committee meeting to decide the fate of the song. There were others among his peers who had a strong attachment to it. Congress members noted that Vallabbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad concluded their address as Congress presidents, in 1931 and 1934, with the Vande Mataram slogan; Nehru did not in 1929 and 1936. Thus, there was a difference in attitude within the leadership.
Dropping any part of the song was not an easy task. (The same difference probably persisted until the Constituent Assembly passed its resolution making "Jana-gana-mana", not Vande Mataram, the national anthem. Since it was moved from the Chair by Rajendra Prasad, it was neither discussed nor put to vote and that conveniently put a stop to the controversy on the song's status.)
The problem due to differences within Congress was exacerbated by two factors. The Hindu Mahasabha organised a Vanda Mataram day in Pune and Bombay in October 1937, and elsewhere on other occasions, the party spokesmen began to urge the adoption of that song as the national anthem. Subhas Chandra Bose, in the meanwhile, was up in arms in favour of Vande Mataram. Nehru's response to him was that considering that there was an outcry against the song and "people who have been communistically inclined" were watching the Congress actions in this regard, the Congress must "meet real grievances where they exist", without pandering to communalism (Nehru to Bose, October 20, 1937).
Tagore's advice
Nehru sought a way out of the situation by appealing to Tagore, who delivered a judgment that ultimately decided the issue for the Congress. Tagore's reply was complex since he squarely faced the dilemma of reconciling loyalty to literary sensibility with political expediency.
The basic advice he offered was as follows: The first two stanzas of the song were unexceptionable. As regards the rest of the song, there could be objections from those with "monotheistic ideals", and these stanzas could be dissociated from the first two. His advice was that while the song taken as a whole "might wound Muslim susceptibilities", delinked from the rest of the lyric the first two stanzas might be accepted since they appeal to everyone on account of "the spirit of tenderness and devotion expressed".
In his letter to Nehru (October 26, 1937), Tagore also mentioned that he "was the first person to sing it at a session of the Indian National Congress", presumably the session in 1896 in Calcutta.
Different parts, different times
Recent research has established that Vande Mataram was indeed written in two distinctly different parts, and at different times. When Bankim Chandra wrote the first two stanzas sometime around 1872, it was just a beautiful hymn, the classical vandana in Sanskrit, to the motherland, richly watered, richly fruited, dark with the crops of the harvest, sweet of laughter, sweet of speech, the giver of bliss.
For several years, these first two stanzas remained unpublished. In 1881, this poem was included by Bankim Chandra in the novel Anandamath, and then it was expanded to endow the motherland with militant religious symbolism as the context of the narrative demanded. There now emerged a new icon of the motherland, "terrible with the clamour of seventy million throats", likened to "Durga holding ten weapons of war". The first two stanzas and the later stanzas belong to two different strata of Bankim Chandra's literary life. Thus, the two parts of the song can be justifiably separated. However, when the decision was made to drop the latter part of the song, these facts were not known to the decision-makers.
Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi at a reception given by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan. Tagore, at Jawaharlal Nehru's behest, delivered a judgment on the "Vande Mataram" situation that ultimately decided the issue for the Congress.
On the lines of Tagore's advice, the Congress Working Committee passed the resolution mentioned earlier. "The committee recognises the validity of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song." The committee accepted only the first two stanzas of Vande Mataram and not the other stanzas.
Most important was the degree of freedom conceded in the resolution: "The committee recommends that wherever Vande Mataram is sung at national gatherings only the first two stanzas should be sung, with perfect freedom to the organisers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character, in addition to, or in the place of, the Vande Mataram song."
The attempts to eliminate the element of compulsion are beyond question, but that did not satisfy the song's opponents. Jinnah continued with his tirades.
The political appropriation or conspicuous rejection of cultural symbols and artefacts was part of the identity assertion that a political agenda demanded.
There were a number of Muslim intellectuals and public spokespersons who accepted the song, specially the amended version that the Congress adopted. Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, for instance, considered the attitude of Jinnah as only a subterfuge. He pointed out that for years the song was sung at the beginning of Congress sessions and no objections were raised by Muslim members including Jinnah (Kidwai's press statement, The Pioneer, October 19, 1937).
Widely shared discomfort
Likewise, Dr Syed Mahmood of the Bihar Legislative Assembly or Professor Reza-ul Karim in Bengal were not persuaded by Jinnah's arguments about the song. At the same time, there was undoubtedly a widely shared discomfort with the song in Muslim political circles in these provinces as well as Sind, Madras and Bombay. Jinnah gave voice to it stridently, but it was not entirely his creation.
Today, when there are reassertions of old charges and re-enactments of old battles, it is encouraging to see how many Muslim intellectuals and public persons have reacted. Of the many enlightened reactions, perhaps, the most delightful for its directness is that of the poet Javed Akhtar. He reportedly said:
"What is this new resistance? The objection is redundant. You don't want to sing Vande Mataram, don't. Who is forcing you? I sing it. I don't see it as objectionable. If you do, don't sing it."
However, perhaps there is an inadequacy and a probably widespread intellectual tendency to say that at the root of it there is ignorance about the battles that are over. It is not enough to say that. What makes uninformed conceptions acceptable to a number of people? It is not enough to say that the misconception originated among a section of clerics; some of them may be plebeians among the intellectuals, but there are also intellectuals among the plebeians. They exercise great influence and merit attention.
And finally, if there is a generalised perception of a threat to cultural identity, even if it is based on wrong premises, it needs to be studied and addressed.
In these few pages an attempt has been made to put the record straight in terms of history, but one has to think of tasks beyond that.
Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, formerly Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan, is Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research. The views expressed in this essay are entirely personal.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

While surfing on the Net, I came across this piece of info about the unforgettable play-back singer of yester-years. It again reminded me of the golden era of Indian cinema. The article follows:


Talat Mahmood is known as 'velvet-voice' singer, 'unique transparent voice' singer, 'silky voice' singer,' satin-voice singer,' golden-voice singer,' 'king of ghazals', 'king of sad and soulful songs' etc. He was born on February 24, 1924, in Lucknow, India, in a conservative, middle-class family with a musical background in the sense that his father and sisters were talented singers. However, he was essentially left with two options: either to keep a low profile and remain in the background, or to embark upon a movie career. He thought for a while and then decided to become a singer. It took Talat ten years to regain the confidence and respect from his near and dear ones, because by that time, the then Indian film industry had achieved considerable respect and recognition. Talat took music lessons for three years and then completed his music course at Morris college, Lucknow.

Soon he moved to Calcutta in 1945, at the age of 22, and began his career in broadcasting from 'All-India radio',Calcutta, where he achieved popularity as a singer, and his songs were regularly broadcast from the radio station. Anil Biswas, gave Talat his first major break-through in Bombay, at the end of 1948, for film 'Arzoo':' Aye dil mujhe aesi jagah lay chal'.

Apart from being a legend in the music world, Talat was an extremely friendly and a highly refined gentleman. His typical smile was his hallmark. He was at peace with himself all his life. Since he was born and bred in Lucknow, therefore, he was immaculate in urdu literature and poetry. His pronunciation was flawless. He spoke softly and he was a very softhearted person. He had too much respect for other singers and music directors. Those who met him once never forgot his hospitality and kind nature. His immediate family was comprised of a wife, a son, and a daughter, and they always enjoyed mutual trust and understanding. He never engaged in backbiting, nor spoke loudly; these things were not in his habit.

From day one, Talat knew his limitations. He was acquainted with the fact that his extra-soft voice was not conducive for loud songs, which required a high-pitched voice. Thus, Talat's songs, geeth and ghazals have a selected audience. His fans are proud of the fact that Talat, with his unique voice had ruled the Indian music for twenty years. Primarily due to his high moral character and superb family background, he always kept away from scandals and rumors.

In the endless list of super hits, there is one song, which is not only filled with utter pathos, but it conspicuously combines complain and pain. Who could have done justice to that tragic score other then Talat: 'Dekh lee teri khudai, bus mera dil bhar gaya'.

Talat played the lead role in a few movies, including:

Dil-e-nadan, [1953] Malik, Waris, Babul, Sonay ki chirya, Aik gaaon ki kahani etc.


Some of his popular songs are:

'Tujhko parda rukh-e-roshan say hatana hoga': Music: Khayyam, Lyrics: Kaifi Azmi) Film: Uran Khatola,'Bay-reham Aasmaan, meri manzil: Film: Bahana, Composer: Madan Mohan'

Ham say Aaya na gaya':Film: Dekh kabira roya, Composer: Madan Mohan
'Dau dinki mohabbat mein': Film: Chotay babu, Composer: Madan Mohan
'Jab chhayekabhi sawan ki ghata: Film: Reshmi roomal, Composer: Babul
'Ashkon mein jo paya hai': Film: Chandi ki deewar, Composer:N.Dutta.
'Ghazal kay saaz uthao, bariudaas hai raat'
'Jahan mein koye naheen apna'.
'Nigahon ko chura kar reh'
'Gham-e- zindagi ka ya rub'.
'Dil ki duniya basa gaya'
'Phir mujhay deedaitar yaad Aaya'
'Ishq mujh ko na sahi'
'Dil-e-nadan tujhay'
'Mera pyar mujhay lauta dau'
'Tum ko neend ayegi, tum tau'
'Ro,ro beeta, jeewan sara'
'Kiya itna bhi adhi kaar naheen'

Talat's velvet-voice was literally immortalized under the baton of Burman Dada (Sajan Dev Burman). Take, for instance, this inimitable ghazal: 'Jaltay hain jis kay liye': Film: 'Sujata', film director:Bimal Roy, Lyric: Majrooh Sultan Puri, music: S.D.Burman. Some other great songs with S D Burman.

'Bharam teri wafaon ka, bata detay tau kiya hota':Film:' Armaan', music: S.D.Burman
'Jaayein tau jaayein kahan':Film: Taxi driver, music: S.D.Burman, picturised on Dev Anand.
'Teray saath chal rahayhain: Film: 'Ungaray', music: S.D.Burman

Madan Mohan was convinced about the enormous potentials of Talat from the beginning, and Talat's silky voice gave new dimensions to the Indian music. Talat-Madan team created one masterpiece after another, like:

'Mein pagal, mera munwa pagal':Film: 'Aashiana, music: Madan Mohan
'Teri chamakti Aankhon kay Aagay': Film: 'Chotay babu' music: Madan Mohan

Music lovers will never forget that evergreen Talat-Rafi duet, highlighting the harsh reality of life:'Gham ki andheri raat mein': Film:'Sushila', Composer: C.Arjun. lyrics: Jan Nisar Akhtar. Similarly, tens of hundreds of movie -goers have found solace in the following lyrics, which brings a ray of hope for the heart-broken people:'Jab gham ka andhera ghir Aaye, sumjho kay sawera dooor nahi'

Talat teamed up with Anil Biswas and produced numerous hits like:'Seenay mein sulagtay hain armaan': Film: 'Tarana': Talat- Lata, music: Anil Biswas. 'Tera khayal dil say mitaya naheen abhi': Film: Doraha, music: Anil Biswas.

Talat always felt at ease with the music maestro, Naushad. The two had tremendous understanding and respect for each other. The first song which Talat recorded for Naushad was: 'Mera jiwan saathi bichar gaya': Film: Babul, picturised on Dilip Kumar. 'Husn waalon ko na dil dau': Film : Babul, picturised on Dilip Kumar.

Likewise, composer Ghulam Mohammed did full justice to the silky-voice Talat to record tragic numbers like:'Zindagi denaywalay': Film: 'Dil-e-nadan': 1953. Super performer Talat brought laurels for composer Roshan with scores like:

'Kisi soorat lagi dil ki': Film: 'Naubahar', music: Roshan.
'Mein dil hoon ik armaan bhara': Film: 'Unhoni', music: Roshan, picturised on Raj Kapoor.
'Dil-e- bay qaraar so ja': Film: Raagran, music: Roshan.

Shankar-Jaikishan produced marvelous compositions for the golden-voice Talat, which resulted in magnificent numbers like:

'Hain sub say mudhur wo geeth jinhein': Film:'Patita', music: Shankar-Jaikishan
'Hum dard kay maaron ka': Film:'Daagh':music: Shankar-Jaikishan, picturised on Dilip Kumar.

Further, composer Salil Chowdhury availed Talat's satin voice for hit numbers like:

'Aansoo samajh kay kyon mujhay: Film: 'Chhya, music:Salil Chowdhury.
'Dil diwana, dil mastana': Film: 'Aawaaz': music: Salil Chowdhury.

Furthermore, Talat's soulful songs brought fame and glory for many other musicians, for instance:

'Teri zulfon say pyar kaun karay': Film: 'Joru ka bhai', music: Jaider.
'Pyar per bus tau naheen': Film: 'Sonay ki chirya', music: O.P.Nayyar.
"Sub kuchh luta kay hosh mein aye': Film: Aik Saal, music:Ravi.
'Teiray dar pay Aaya hoon': Film: Laila mujnu, music:Sardar Malik
'Mohabbat main aye say zamanay': Film: 'Sagaai', music: C.Ramchandar
'Raaz seenay mein mohabbat ka': Film: 'Hum hain rahi pyar kay', music:Khayyam.

Moreover, melancholy strains like:'Aye gham-e-dil kiya karun': Talat-Asha Bhonsle, is yet another example of Talat's artistry. Although Talat was the king of tragic songs, however, he gave excellent performance for relatively faster scores like:

'Raat nay kya, kya, khwab dikhaye'
'Itna na mujh say tu pyar barha:Talat-Lata.

Aankhon mein masti sharab ki.

Andhay jahan kay andhay rastay.
Neela amber jhoomay, dharti ko choomay

Talat had been battling with parkinson's for a long time, which had virtually stopped him from singing. Slowly but surely, his health grew from bad to worse, so much so that people could not understand a word he spoke. Besides, he could not properly sit, stand or walk. He went into profound depression and was bed-ridden.

Amidst immense misery and acute affliction, Talat greeted all his visitors with his peculiar smile, though his adorers knew what Talat felt in the innermost recesses of his shattered heart. Talat did spend long, lonely evenings, looking at the four walls of his room and the door, as if to say: 'Sham-e-gham ki qasam, Aaj ghamgeen hain hum':Film: 'Footpath': 1953,music:khayyam, picturised on Dilip Kumar. And also: 'Sunnay walay meri Aawaz tau suni, dil bhi toota hai mera, uski bhi jhankar suni'.

Talat breathed his last due to a heart attack, on Saturday morning, May 9, 1998 at his 'Sunbeam' house at Bandra, which is located in northwest Bombay. He was 74: 'Teri rehmath chup rahi, mein rotay, rotay mar gaya'. Today, 11 years after his death, he is still very much here. His innumerable loyal fans who share enthusiasm and interest agree that Talat was one of the most decent artist, ever to grace the Indian film industry, with his charismatic personality.

He was a friend of friends. Apparently, his admirers will keep his name alive by listening to his songs again and again. 'Daleel -e- qurb-e- qayamath tau wo na tha laykin, juda hua tau qayamath see dha gaya ik shaks' This is, indeed, the greatest reward, appreciation and tribute that we can offer to the singer with the wistful magic, whom we all know as Talat Mahmood.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rafi’s Contribution to Indian Film Music

Forgetting the phenomenal talent of Rafi?


A voice that was superb when musical scope was minimal

It is highly gratifying news that singing maestro Manna Dey has been awarded the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award for 2007. He richly deserves the honour.
The award has come his way rather a bit too late. But it is most welcome.

My greatest regret is that this Central government has ignored Mohammed Rafi, arguably India's best and most versatile, gifted male playback singer, who
rode unchallenged like a colossus on the musical firmament of Bollywood for four decades. Though fate snatched him away from us at the early age of 55,
his discography exceeds 20, 000 songs in 20 languages. Besides, he had a large volume of non-filmi renderings. Imagine and choose any occasion, and you
have Rafi's number absolutely suiting it. Be it bhangra, ghazal, qawwali, romantic songs, lullaby, classical, folk song, patriotic song, playful number,
bhajan and even the rare 'rukhsati'song, the magic of Rafi's voice holds the listener in ethereal thrall. The legendary K.L. Sehgal blessed him and prophesied
that he would one day outshine him. Kishore Kumar used to sing his own songs in his films. But even he, used playback by Rafi in three or four songs.

Rafi's phenomenal talent transcended eras, ages and styles. He had the ability to become the voice of every generation. His magical, velvety and manly voice
suited every actor. If any, his match can be found only in the inimitable Lata Mangeshkar. If she is the queen of melody, Rafi is undoubtedly the king.
Individually, they are masters but together in their duets, they are magical and divine.

Singing package

He was Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Mahendra Kapoor, Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, all rolled into one. He was the most complete singing package. What these worthy
contemporaries of Rafi could sing individually as their forte, he could acquit himself single-handedly with greater honour, perfection and felicity. He
sang any composition flawlessly, effortlessly and elegantly. He was one stop and single window shop for all music composers, film directors, producers,
lyricists and actors. Once Laxmikant Pyarelal remarked on his death that before Rafi, when we invented a tune, we used to search for singers, as who could
sing it, but when he came on the scene, he put a challenge before us that you dare compose such a tune which he could not sing. He was a perfectionist
to the core and lent his immortal voice to songs in every possible genre of music. His usual was so much better than the best around him.

We are indeed spoilt for choice when we look at his awe-inspiring repertoire. His voice lifted the ordinaries into memorable and divine and was superb when
the musical scope was minimal. His voice mirrored the whole gamut of human emotions, viz., sorrow, romance, love, its pain, separation, union, hatred,
revenge, elation, patriotism, chutzpah, etc. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called Rafi to be the magician of voice. Naushad, the doyen of Hindi classical music,
who had the knack of drawing the purity of a raga with an aesthete's Midas' touch, used only Rafi's voice for his composition throughout his distinguished
career. He combined classical and popular music and produced a new genre for which Rafi gave the soul through his mellifluous voice.

His silken voice made Rajendra Kumar a jubilee star and imparted to Shammi Kapoor, his sui generis style. He sang for Johnny Walker in his unique thin voice.
He crooned for thespian Dilip Kumar. He sang for Raj Kumar and mesmerised the nation by his golden voice in the song, Duniya KeRakhwaale(Baiju Bawra) for
Bharat Bhushan. The list is daunting and endless. He sang for Rishi Kapoor and hypnotised the youngistan of his times.

Whatever song his golden voice touched made it classic. He had rigorous training in classical music at the hands of very able gurus. He sang every raga
with consummate skill. He died in harness. He received his last Filmfare award for best playback singing only a year before his sudden demise.

The Central government ignored the prodigious contributions of Rafi to the world of music. The least it could do to redeem its laxity and mistake is to
confer both the Bharat Ratna and Dada Saheb Phalke awards on him posthumously. The nation owes him a stupendous debt of gratitude. If Lata Mangeshkar can
be a Bharat Ratna, why not Rafi? Even a belated gesture on the part of the government will warm the cockles of the hearts of millions and millions of Rafi's
fans and aficionados all over the world.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Confusing signals


In the light of the fact that a deal has been struck between the Maoists and the West Bengal Administration, I cannot stop myself from expressing my anguish and frustration.

On one hand, the Union government presents a view that it will initiate no dialogue with the Maoists unless they desist from the violence and on the other hand, the State Government of West Bengal not only open a channel of communication with the same violent Maoists, (through a nongovernmental arbitrator) but it also strikes a deal with them, of course to ensure the safe release of one of the policemen who was just abducted.

My question is from the West Bengal government, "Was the first policeman, who has been cruelly killed a few days back by the same Maoists, not worthy of a deal like this? If then such deal could not take place, (and an impression was made that we are tough on terror and can sacrifice the personal interests for a greater cause), why the so-called toughness on terror evaporated this time?"

From the Union Government I would like to ask, "Who is the supreme authority? If the Home Minister is talking tough on terror, and local leadership is giving the opposite impression, what is the meaning of the statements of P. Chidambaram?"

Let us have a proper policy on the blackmailing tactics of the terrorists. It is our soft stand on terror which sends the wrong signals to the terrorists not only locally but internationally. Why cannot we withstand the pressures of blackmailing? If we would not learn to combat terror in a befitting manner, there will be a day when some terrorists will kidnap some VIP's and ask for a piece of land in Kashmir or elsewhere in return.

Whenever we try to wage a war on terror, the human right groups begin to shed tears for nothing. A terrorist is a terrorist and should be treated like a prisoner of war and all his cases should be decided suitably. There is no need to make a mockery of our justice system as we did in the case of Ajmal Kasab.

If we keep on releasing the "soft" or "hard" terrorists for one or the other excuse, what is the need to fighting against them and arrest them? Why the security forces should waste their precious lives and resources to nab them if they are to be released in due course of time?

Most of the terrorists use the loop holes in our legal system and get released untouched. Later, the same scoundrels try (and sometimes succeed too), to enter the politics. This is ridiculous and needs serious consideration.


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Manna De receives Phalke Award

It's manna from God: Manna Dey

BANGALORE: For legendary singer Manna Dey, who has mesmerised audiences the world over with his lilting voice, his being chosen for the coveted Dada Saheb Phalke Award came as God's gift.
President Pratibha Patil will confer the country's highest honour in Indian cinema on him in New Delhi on October 21.
"It's very flattering, the government thinking it is right to confer the award on me. It came as a pleasant surprise. It's God's gift, I accept it with all humility," he told PTI. - PTI
Manna Dey, the 2007 Dada Saheb Phalke Award winner, has enthralled discerning listeners since the 1950s.


Manna Dey performing in Bangalore on May 10.

THE Dada Saheb Phalke Award for 2007 has gone to Manna Dey, one of the finest singers to have sung for Hindi and Bengali and other regional language films.The honour, in the opinion of many, has come to him rather late in the day. It cannot be truly exhilarating to be recognised for one’s contribution tothe art of playback singing at the age of 90, especially if the last memorable song one sung was well over 30 years ago.

Manna Dey shot into fame in the early 1950s with his rendering of “Chaley Radhey Rani”, a kirtan-based song for Bimal Roy’s moving cinematic rendering ofSarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Bengali novel Parinita. His sound training in Hindustani music was amply evident here as was his feeling for an emotive formlike the kirtan, which he inherited from his uncle, the legendary Krishna Chandra Dey.

After this song, Manna Dey was recognised as a singer with immense potential. Doors opened for him in the Hindi film industry of Bombay, as Mumbai was knownin those days. The legendary actor-director Raj Kapoor invited him to sing for Shree 420, the former’s take on socialism; and sing he did. Manna Dey, alongwith Lata Mangeshkar, sang “Pyaar hua iqrar hua”, written by the poet of the people, Shailendra, and tuned by the music composer duo Shankar-Jaikishan.Recorded 55 years ago, this romantic duet continues to be aired on the radio to this day. It is amongst the finest in the annals of Hindi film songs.

In his autobiography Memories Come Alive, Manna Dey remembers the composer duo thus: “The most interesting feature of Shankar and Jaikishan’s melodies wastheir sheer novelty and, in that respect, they remain unrivalled.” He felt particularly indebted to Shankar, who, he felt, brought out the best in him.He does not feel the same way though about another stalwart, Sachin Dev Burman, who, when he engaged Manna Dey to render “Upar gagan vishal” for NitinBose’s Mashaal, actually wanted him to resurrect K.C. Dey’s style. Of course, it is one of Manna Babu’s finest songs and is terribly difficult to sing.But S.D. Burman never asked him to sing regularly for him even after the singer proved his mettle a hundred times over with other noteworthy composers.

The Hindi film industry has always lacked imagination and has therefore toed the line of least resistance and closed the possibility for innovation. Justbecause Manna Babu was classically trained and could sing raga-based compositions really well, he was considered “unsuitable” for singing playback on aregular basis for the leading actors of his time, such as Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. This problem, however, did not affect Mohammed Rafi, alsoclassically trained, who was asked to sing very often for Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Guru Dutt, Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor, not to forgetDharmendra and Jeetendra. Why Manna Babu was not given similar opportunities remains inexplicable.

It is not that he did not sing for major composers. He did, but they thought he was at his mellifluous best only when he sang raga-based melodies or folkmelodies. Given half a chance, he always excelled. There are not many romantic duets to equal the four he sang with Lata Mangeshkar for Chori Chori, the1956 romantic comedy based on the 1934 Hollywood blockbuster It Happened One Night. “Panchi banu udti phiru”, “Ye raat bheegi bheegi”, “Jahan meye jateehoon”, and “Aja sanam madhur chandni meye hum” are among Shankar-Jaikishan’s loveliest and deceptively intricate melodies. These songs certainly neededthe technical expertise, or taiyyari, that Manna Dey and Lata Mangeshkar could offer. The plaintive quality of Manna Dey’s voice perfectly complementsthe sheer sweetness in Lata’s.

It was said of Manna Dey’s voice that it acquired a silvery sheen as it went higher. An apt example is “Aja sanam madhur chandni meye hum”. This skill washard won. After training under Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan of the Patiala gharana, Manna Dey turned to Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. Manna Babu told him thathe was more comfortable in the lower register than in the upper. Khan Saheb asked him to take a more flexible approach. “Normally, I preferred singingin D sharp. Ustadji asked me to change from the fifth key to the sixth before practising my notes. I did so for a couple of days and was delighted withthe results. I had actually done it! Travelling down the notes had become child’s play for me,” Manna Dey said.

Mohammad Rafi too had noticed this positive change in his colleague’s voice. Manna Babu believes that his ustad’s training extended the range of his voice,and for that alone he feels eternally grateful.

Madan Mohan, another great composer from Hindi cinema’s Golden Age, while still finding his feet in the film industry, did the music for the film Dekh KabiraRoya. It did only average business, but the songs are still remembered especially “Kaun aya mere man ke dwarey” sung by Manna Dey. Despite having composedexquisite melody after exquisite melody, Madan Mohan never quite had a hit film to his credit. In his pursuit of success, he opted for well-known playbacksingers with box-office hits in their kitty, such as Talat Mahmood and later, more consistently, Mohammad Rafi, both artists of exceptional calibre. MannaDey was every bit their equal and to boot as versatile as Mohammad Rafi, but he was sidelined.

His destiny, it would seem, was to sing haunting melodies either for character actors or to have them used to comment on the onscreen action. His firstsong to become a nationwide hit was “Chaley Radhey Rani”, picturised on a wandering mendicant in Parinita. In retrospect, that one example decided thefate of Manna Dey’s career as a playback singer in Hindi films. Take for instance the powerfully emotive qawwali “Na toh karva ke talash heye” from theGolden Jubilee hit Barsaat Ki Raat. Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics and Roshan’s music are brought vividly to life by the singing of Manna Dey in particular.

His heart-rending solo “Aye mere pyare watan”, from Hemen Gupta’s Kabuliwalla, is picturised on an acquaintance of the protagonist. Salil Chaudhury’s compositionset to Prem Dhawan’s lyrics continues to work its magic on music lovers, especially on account of Manna Babu’s singing.

In mid-career he sang “Kasme vadey pyar wafa sab” for Pran, the riveting character actor, in Manoj Kumar’s Upkar. It was a difficult song, but Manna Deyrendered it effortlessly. Predictably, the Kalyanji-Anandji composition became a huge hit. Everybody praised the singing. Excellence had, after all, becomesecond nature to the singer.

Manna Babu’s career in Bengali films was a different story. The veteran Anil Bagchi, composing the music for the Uttam Kumar-Tanuja starrer Anthony Firangi,which was based on the life of an excellent Bengali poet of Portuguese origin, called for Manna Dey to do the playback for the most enduring hero of Bengalicinema. Manna Babu’s rendering of “Ami jey jalsha ghaurey” and “Ami jamini tumi shashi hey” sat perfectly on Uttam Kumar’s lips. Manna Dey’s position inBengal as a playback singer and as a singer of adhunik or non-film songs remains unchallenged. He did some of his most interesting work in the second phaseof his career in Calcutta, now Kolkata.

In the early 1960s, S.D. Burman summoned him to render “Poocho na kaise mainey raen bitaee” in the raga Ahir Bhairav for Meri Soorat Teri Ankhen, producedby actor Pradip Kumar. It was picturised on Ashok Kumar in “blackface”. The primitive, not to say distorted, conception of the scene notwithstanding –the protagonist was supposed to be ugly and therefore black-complexioned – the song sung by Manna Dey is haunting. The poignancy inherent in Shailendra’slyrics is brought out effortlessly. There is a story about the composing of the song. S.D. Burman had only given a cryptic brief that the song was to bein Ahir Bhairav and had asked his singer to do what he could with it. Manna Babu actually chiselled out the form given to the melody, and so he deservescredit as its composer.


Composing was a part of his training under K.C. Dey. When Manna Babu accompanied him to Bombay in 1942, he did not expect to be anything other than hisuncle’s assistant and an occasional singer in the films carrying his music. It was quite by chance that he sang for composer Shankar Rao Vyas for the filmRam Rajya directed by Vijay Bhatt. The film, made in Hindi and Marathi, had the famous actor Badri Prasad playing the role of the sage Valmiki.

The director was keen that K.C. Dey sing the songs for Valmiki. To Vijay Bhatt’s utter consternation, he refused, saying that he [K.C. Dey] sang only forhimself in the films he acted in. He suggested that they try his nephew, young Manna. The producers, at first doubtful, decided to give the greenhorn achance. Manna Dey came good as a singer and also assisted Shankar Rao Vyas with the composing. The year was 1943.

Manna Babu went on to assist Hariprasanna Das, who did the music for Kadambari, a film starring Shanta Apte and Pahari Sanyal. Ironically, his career asa music director did not take off despite his obvious talent. Singing, his “subsidiary” talent, suddenly became primary. He made steady progress as a singerand, within a short time, carved a niche for himself in the competitive world of playback singing in Bombay. His yen for composing did not go away. Overthe years, he composed songs in Hindi and Bengali, and many of them became popular.

He has boundless admiration for Anil Biswas, who composed for him a melody of surpassing beauty, “Ritu aye sakhi ree, man ke” in four ragas – Sarang, Malhar,Jogiya and Basant Bahar – to depict the change of seasons, in the film Hamdard. He also has great respect for Salil Choudhury, who made him sing immortalduets such as “Hariyala sawan dhol bajata aya” and “Dharti kahey pukar ke” with Lata Mangeshkar for Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen, and then 18 years later,in 1970, “Zindagi kaisey ye paheli haye”, picturised on the ebullient romantic hero Rajesh Khanna in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand.

Hot favourites for his fans include his songs from the film Basant Bahar under Shankar-Jaikishan’s music direction. Think of “Sur na saje”, “Bhay bhanjanavandana”, “Nain miley chaen kahan” (a delectable duet with Lata), and “Ketaki gulab” (a genuinely fine duet with the Hindustani classical vocalist BhimsenJoshi, who was then at the peak of his career). The two songs from Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish composed by Shankar-Jaikishan – “O raat gayee phir din aya”and “Lapak jhapak tu aa re badariya” – are also very popular. There are many more songs that touch the heart.

Manna Dey’s career has been rich and varied, despite the ups and downs. Indeed very few singers in popular genres like film music and light vocal musichave had such a long and distinguished career. He has given continuous pleasure to discerning listeners since the early 1950s. His contribution to filmmusic in its most fecund period is as great as that of any of his gifted male contemporaries.

His wife, Sulochana, who is a Keralite, sums up his art simply and accurately: “He sings from the heart.” That indeed is the secret of his enduring popularity.



‘I want to carry on singing’


Interview with Manna Dey.


An 80-year-old Manna Dey singing. At 90, he still loves to accept challenges and to experiment.

MOHAMMED RAFI, Manna Dey, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar formed a quintet of male playback singers who dominated Hindi film music of an era. Amongthem Manna Dey is the only one to receive the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke award, the highest national award for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema.

Prabodh Chandra Dey, or Manna Dey, began playback singing way back in 1943, in a duet with Suraiya for Tamanna. “Upar gagan vishal” in Mashaal gave hima solid footing as a playback singer and “Dharti kahe pukar ke” made him an icon in the true sense of the term.

Nephew of the legendary singer-composer K.C. Dey, Manna Dey is the only singer to have rendered a duet with the maestro Bhimsen Joshi and earned his appreciation.He has rendered hundreds of songs in Hindi, his mother tongue Bengali and also other regional languages. Excerpts from an exclusive interview the legendarysinger gave after his return from a tour of the United States:

Do you like being branded a classical singer?

I don’t. I am not a full-fledged classical singer like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bhimsen Joshi or Amir Khan. I did have my training in classical musicand still practise my riwaz daily for three hours. My uncle [K.C. Dey] wanted me to be involved fully in classical music. I was really not interested.Classical music appeals to only a class of audience and it is very difficult to reach out to the masses. Music based on pure ragas and bandishes has limitations.

The Dada Saheb Phalke Award must mean a lot to you.

Not exactly. I feel honoured but am in no mood to go overboard as I passed that period of my life long ago. Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh or Kishore Kumar neverreceived the Phalke Award. It does not lower their status as singers in any way. My real award is when I hear a man on the streets of Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbaior Bangalore humming “Laga chunri mein daag” or “Aye meri zohra zabin”. Nothing can beat that recognition. A singer should be identified on the basis ofhis songs, and a listener should be able to figure out the name of the crooner of a number even with his eyes closed.

You have rendered a wide variety of songs in your illustrious career spanning seven decades.


The music director duo Shanker (left) and Jaikishan. The team understood Manna Dey’s full depths as a singer.

If I was monochromatic as a singer, I would have been nowhere. Just as I was at ease with raga-oriented songs, I could equally sing pop, sentimental songsand numbers with rhythm. Right from the beginning, it was my nature to experiment with different melodies.

Take the number “Gori tore banke” from Adhe Din Adhe Raat. I rendered it in pure Bhairavi but composer Chitragupta conducted a pure Western musical backgroundto the song with the Spanish guitar, the bongo and snare drums. It was a unique experiment. He requested me to render the lines “Gore gore mukhde pe” witha rock-and-roll punch. The song was a super hit.

Who is the best music director you have worked with?

Shanker-Jaikishan, obviously. The duo, the most versatile in the nation, composed the maximum number of hits in the maximum number of films possible. Shanker-Jaikishanunderstood my full depth as a singer and used me brilliantly to sing for Raj Kapoor, Raaj Kumar and Shammi Kapoor. I rendered the majority of my memorablesongs for Raj Kapoor, whom I consider a genius. The other music directors I have worked very well with include S.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan,Roshan, Ravi [Ravi Shankar Sharma alias Bombay Ravi] and R.D. Burman.

You forgot to mention C. Ramchandra.

Thank you for reminding me. In his days, Annasaab was the greatest music director and I owe a lot of my success to him. A uncompromising music director,he had a perfect sense of melody. I still fondly remember the number “Dil ka gulzar jhuta” in Amardeep, which he tuned and which I sang jointly with Rafi,Lata [Mangeshkar] and Asha [Bhonsle]. It was a marvellous tune based on the beats of the dholak – something which only C. Ramchandra could compose. Hecould not adjust with the Hindi film world later.

What sort of rapport did you share with your colleagues?

We were healthy competitors and never rivals. Rafi was undoubtedly the greatest playback singer, Mukesh was nonpareil in his nasal tone, Hemant Kumar hada golden voice, and Kishore was a self-trained genius. I sang the maximum of my duet numbers with Rafi and we shared a deep silent regard for each other.The competition I had with Kishore whilst singing “Ek chatur naar” is something unknown to today’s singers. Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle are versatileand powerful. Sandhya Mukherjee has a tremendous range in classical music, and Geeta Dutt’s voice seeped with emotion.

What was the difference in singing for Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee in Bengali films?

Uttam was a trained musician and his sense of music was more than that of Soumitra. Though Uttam’s voice suited Hemanta Mukherjee the best, he adapted verywell to my singing and never had any problems. Uttam Kumar and Raj Kapoor were two actors who were lip masters. Soumitra Chatterjee is a method actor whoaccommodated himself well to each song situation and delivered what was required of him well.

Which are your most favourite Bengali numbers?

“Raat jaga duti chokh”, “Tumi aar deko na” and “Aami tar thikana rakhini”. I tuned a number of Bengali songs and sang them too. Music directors who workedvery successfully with me include Nachiketa Ghosh and Sudhin Das Gupta. Bengali lyrics in those days were at their peak by virtue of their words, feelingsand depth. Even a popular number like “Aami shri shri” had some lyrical essence.

How did you adjust to South Indian songs?

I did sing a number of them confidently. My wife [a Malayalee] and daughter helped me with the right pronunciation and I rehearsed thoroughly before therecording of each number. South Indian pronunciation requires a special sort of accent without stylisation, and needs to appeal at once.

What are your immediate plans?

Currently, I am recording [Rabindranath] Tagore songs, a non-filmy Hindi album and a Bengali album in the blues style. At 90, I still love to accept challenges,experiment and want to carry on singing as long as I am alive. •