Friday, April 18, 2014

Prof. SK Saxena. pioneering aesthetician of Hindustani music

Prof. Susheel Kumar Saxena
Vageeshwari, the journal of the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts (2013-14), Delhi University, is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Susheel Kumar Saxena. I reproduce below my contribution to the commemorative volume. 

I was 16 when Prof. Saxena first walked into my class at Hindu College in 1964. Except for a brief period, I have not lived in Delhi since my graduation in 1967. I was 65 when his last letter reached me in January 2013. He stepped into the sunset soon thereafter.

On every facet of Dr. Saxena’s persona, there are people more competent than myself to pay him tribute.  I merely recall with gratitude my experience of having been touched so deeply by his presence over a period of almost 50 years.

I have attended possibly 70 of his classroom lectures over a year, and thereafter exchanged ten or fifteen letters, and met him and spoken to him over the phone as many times. The Superior Man, as portrayed in Taoist literature, does not require great frequency of interaction to influence lives. He does so merely by being what he is.

India was a different country when Saxena Sahab taught my class at Hindu College. Philosophy was not considered a “useless” subject pursued only by boys ineligible for admission to profession-oriented courses, and by girls merely to qualify for the matrimonial market.  The cold war was at its peak and ideology wasn’t dead yet. Marcuse, Sartre, Marx and Rand – all had fanatical followings amongst the youth.  In class, Dr. Saxena inspired inquiring minds to pursue philosophy as a cultivation of the human personality, independently of the professions they might choose to pursue. Like many of his students, I pursued a career in business, performing a variety of roles, before turning to musicology. With Saxena Sahab as my foundation philosopher, I have found myself as happy – and perhaps as effective – being a man of action in the world of thought as being a man of thought in the world of action.

My training in Hindustani music was my special bond with Dr. Saxena. He thought I should have pursued post-graduate studies in aesthetics under his supervision; but that was not to be. But, when I did finally take up work in musicology, he became my guiding angel. He regularly sent me personally inscribed copies of all his books and papers on musical aesthetics. Whenever my critical essays appeared in SRUTI (of which he was a Contributing Editor), he would phone or write to me with comments and encouragement.

In 2004, I sent him the manuscript of my first book on Hindustani music for his opinion. He promptly called up his publisher, Susheel Mittal, and recommended its publication. Susheel asked him if my work was significant and similar to his own. He replied that it was significant precisely because it had the diametrically opposite perspective. With that introduction, he bequeathed to me a relationship which is now into its fourth project, with a fifth on the anvil.  

When my second book on Hindustani music appeared, Dr. Saxena volunteered to review it for the Journal of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. The tenor of the review is immaterial.  But, his signature below it was an honor. In his book, Hindustani Music and Aesthetics Today, his acknowledgments refer to me as an “eminent musicologist”.  I could have died of embarrassment. But, I chose to regard it as a mentor’s parting challenge to a ward with unrealized potential.   

Amongst modern scholars, if Bhatkhande is credited with establishing the theoretical framework for music performance, Dr. Saxena can be credited with developing the conceptual framework for its aesthetic appreciation. But, the awareness-altering quality of his writings invites what he himself wrote about Ustad Ameer Khan. 

His music, at its best, was rarely a dazzle. It would be rather an influence, an atmosphere, which would just be with us till long after the recital".
(Hindustani Sangeet: Some perspectives. Some performers, 2010)

For several days after reading his monumental work – Hindustani Music and Aesthetics Today – I found myself moving around in a trance-like state under its intoxication. The supra-intellectual appeal of this book has no peer within my knowledge.

Inevitably, I interacted with Dr. Saxena at a personal level, too. It is impossible, therefore, to remember him selfishly, merely as a mentor and benefactor.  I had occasion to encounter in him a consummate Homeopath, an outstanding composer of Dhrupad bandish-es, and a man of very deep spirituality. 

In my memory, all of this dwarfs in comparison to the sense of indescribable peace one felt in his company. His was a presence that exuded love.  And, here I allude to Erich Fromm’s argument (The psychology of ethics) that love is not the quality of a relationship; it is the character of a person. 

Astrologers have said that I have an exalted Guru in my birth-chart. I doubt if anybody’s Guru can be more exalted than this.