Ustad Zia Fareeduddin Dagar spoke to Deepak Raja about the Dhrupad Kendra, Bhopal, on October 6, 1998
By 1980, I had virtually settled down in Austria. I was running Dhrupad classes in Austria and France. Once, during a visit to India, one of my disciples, the filmmaker, Mani Kaul came to me and pleaded with me to provide the background score for a film he was making on Madhya Pradesh. I was reluctant initially, but I could not refuse Mani Kaul. So, I got involved.
During the making of the film, we spent over two months in Madhya Pradesh, a lot of time in Bhopal In those days, Shri Arjun Singh was the Chief Minister of MP. Cultural development was one of his passions. It is because of him that the magnificent Bharat Bhavan cultural center developed in Bhopal. At that time, the Secretary to the Department of Culture in MP was Shri Ashok Vajpayee, who later went to Delhi as Jt. Secretary, Department of Culture in the Central Government. I spent a lot of time with Vajpayeeji during those days, and we developed a great deal of respect for each other. Thereafter, I returned to Paris to resume my teaching there.
A few months later, I got an offer from Shri Vajpayee to start a government-supported Dhrupad School in Bhopal. By that time, I had become sufficiently cynical about the value of government patronage to the kind of work a serious musician wishes to do. I brushed the proposal aside as just one more of those well-meaning ideas.
By co-incidence, I was visiting the Cannes Film Festival, and there I happened to meet up with Ashok Vajpayee and Mani Kaul, and some other leading figures in the field of art. During the days we spent together, Ashok Vajpayee prevailed upon me to accept the invitation to move back to India and set up the Dhrupad Kendra in Bhopal. Immediately upon his return to India, Vajpayee announced the formation of the Dhrupad Kendra.
We formed a committee to supervise the activities of the Kendra. It had Dr. Premlata Sharma, Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Mani Kaul, my elder brother (the Late Ustad Zia Moiuddin Dagar) and others.
We decided on a training period of four years. Some committee members were skeptical. They thought it was too short. I told them that it was my responsibility to produce first-class performing musicians, and I knew what I was doing. The results are there for everyone to see. In post-independence India, no other institution, with government or corporate funding, has been able to produce comparable results under a Gurukul type institution.
We had a heated debate over the stipend for the disciples. I argued that we are not giving fellowships to mature musicians. We are giving pocket money to students. I insisted that, during their training, we do not pay amounts which permit them to seek distractions. We got the first batch for a stipend of Rs. 350 per month in 1981. Recently, it has been enhanced to Rs. 700, which is reasonable considering the inflationary pressures. Higher stipends could have been obtained from the Academy’s budget; but we might have failed in our mission. I think our tight-fisted policy on stipends has made a major contribution to the success of the institution.
Our selection of students is also unorthodox. We do not limit our selection to people who have a good grounding in music. We have our share of such students, of course. But, we have also accepted students who could not tunefully deliver a film-song on the day of the interview. After a year of training, such students are not doing very much worse than those who came with degrees in music. We are looking for dedication more than anything else, and that spark of creativity. Shaping the raw material is my task, and I know how to do it.
There is also another angle to this. Students, who come to us after maturing in the training of other gharanas, find it difficult to re-orient themselves to our style. Therefore, we try to ensure that the background of our students does not interfere with the process of shaping them into competent Dhrupad musicians.
My students reside in their hostelry, and report for taleem at 4.30 in the morning every day of the year. They go back around 11.00 at night, and return the next morning, again at 4.30. We started the institution with five students in each batch of 4-years duration. Recently, the number of students has been increased to eight, four from families domiciled in Madhya Pradesh, and four from outside the state. We are now into the fifth batch.
We do not have any rigid rules about age at the time of admission. Most students come to us around the age of eighteen. We accept students even upto the age of twenty-eight or thirty, if we feel that they will be able to absorb the taleem.
In a significant departure from the past pattern, we have recently accepted Ph.D. graduates from Benares Hindu University. In this case, the consideration was that, at BHU, they have been trained by Prof. Ritwik Sanyal, one of my disciples. Therefore, the gharana orientation is not a major issue. These students are seeking further training because their earlier education has been governed by the academic prescriptions of the university environment. The performing art belongs to a different world altogether.
The majority of our students are boys. We also accept girls. We have produced some very fine singers amongst ladies. However, the Indian social environment does not normally permit ladies from cultured families to pursue a career in music after marriage. Therefore, considering our mission, this is one part of our success, which is mixed with regret.
My institution has a big name: Dhrupad Kendra, under the Ustad Allauddin Khan Music Academy. But, it is not an institution in the conventional sense. By way of staff, there is me, a sweeper, and a gardener. And, then there are students. That is all. The administrative work is handled by the Music Academy. Establishment expenses, and stipends for students are paid out directly from the Academy. I think we have achieved something because we are not run either like a university, or a government institution or a music academy.
I firmly believe that the university system has done damage to the artistic traditions – not only in music, but also in the other fine and performing arts. Take for instance, painting. Our universities have turned out a lot of very good painters in the oil paint medium. But, they are all functioning without roots in an artistic tradition, because India has no oil-painting tradition. Therefore, I say that, in the university system, you may promote technique, but not tradition. Tradition requires a firm grounding in the past. University education in the fine arts cannot fulfil this requirement.
I am not arguing that government funding for the arts is worthless. Nevertheless, I will argue that if it forces art education to divorce itself from the living tradition, it is achieving nothing worthwhile. In fact, on a national scale, the investment that is being made in art education is producing nothing by way of perpetuating the living traditions. In stark contrast to the university system, the Dhrupad Kendra has proved that it is possible to make government support productive, when it works within the traditional system of art education. I am sure even the Dhrupad Kendra model can be refined and improved. But, the basics must remain rooted in the living tradition.
If this Dhrupad Kendra idea had not taken shape, I and my elder brother, Ustad Zia Moiuddin Dagar, would have continued to train students anyway. So, our work as trainers was not made totally dependent on government funding. Because of government support, I started doing in Bhopal what I would have otherwise been doing in Bombay or Paris or Vienna. And, partly because of government scholarships, we attracted some very promising students. However, I am not sure that equally promising students might not have gravitated towards our training, even without the meager stipends government is paying them. .
In the ultimate analysis, what you need most is an Ustad wanting to teach, and disciples keen to learn. These are the factors which enable a performing art tradition to perpetuate itself.
In a government-supported system, there is a permanent danger of political and bureaucratic processes interfering with the momentum of the efforts. So far, the Dhrupad Kendra has been able to protect itself from this danger. I must, however, confess that I have had my share of frustrations, and have even come close to resigning. I have stayed because I could demand the freedom to do my work, and fulfil my obligations.
As long as the present equation between the Dhrupad Kendra and the government remains, the work we have started will continue. When I am no longer on the scene, I am sure that one of my own students will take over the Guru’s position. After all, that is the way the Parampara has always worked.
I know that Dhrupad musicians will, henceforth, find it more difficult to sacrifice full-time performing careers for a Guru’s position. There is also a non-commercial aspect to a Guru’s self-denial. All the hours that he spends in teaching, are denying to him the satisfaction of his own musical needs – of singing for his own pleasure, and working on his own development as a musician. For an accomplished musician, these are not small sacrifices. Yet, I nurture the fond hope that one of my better students will be willing to give at least half as much of himself to this Gurukul as I have done for over 16 years.
Reproduced, with the publisher’s consent, from “Perspectives on Dhrupad”, edited by Deepak Raja, and Suvarnalata Rao, published by the Indian Musicological Society, Baroda/ Bombay. 1999