Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: by Neeru Dhall

Indian Horizons
The Journal of The Indian Council for
Cultural Relations, New Delhi
Vol. 51, Autumn issue

Hindustani Music – A tradition in Transition
Author: Deepak Raja
Publisher: DK Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
pp. 432. Rs. 490, US$ 24.95

Peter Drucker surely did not hint at Hindustani music when he said: “If peanuts is what you pay, monkeys is what you get”; but the fact is that the scales of economy have influenced Hindustani music over a period of time and as a result, Indian Classical Music that had its strong moorings in traditions, is in transition today.

Hindustani music has always been passed over to generations in its traditional Guru-Shishya Parampara (Teacher-disciple Tradition) in which a teacher gives his knowledge with full sincerity to his disciple. A disciple, in turn, is expected not only to master the knowledge but also to pass it on to another deserving candidate of the next generation. But no musician can be an identical Xerox copy of his teacher. Even the music of the same gharana (family) changes from generation to generation. Change is the permanent reality of this universe, and music is no different.

Various socio-economic and cultural changes have been changing the music over the centuries. Although some lament this, it is no surprise that today the great gharanas have merged into “cocktail gharanas” and we see the emergence of the Rotterdam gharana, the San Rafael-Seniya gharana. Their commitment to excellence may boost Hindustani music; but it may also result in globalization, and perhaps “de-culturation” of Hindustani music.

What should be done under such circumstances? Should not the efforts be made by cultivated listeners of Hindustani music – the connoisseurs or Rasikas -- to perhaps demand higher standards of music, act as watchdogs and help in retaining the inherent traditional values of Hindustani music? This is what Deepak Raja talks about in his book, “Hindustani Music – A tradition in Transition” by giving a very rational, logical, and analytical overview of Hindustani Music in the post-independence era. His description of this change has, both, depth and a matter-of-fact approach.

Hindustani music is an expression of India’s pluralistic, dynamic, multi-racial, multi-lingual vibrant society. The unity within diversity and continuity within changes, are two of its basic phenomena. While talking about various ragas, genres, lineages, musicians, and Hindustani music, Raja very beautifully describes as to where Hindustani music is heading.

Until the 20th century, Hindustani music was chamber music hosted by aristocracy. The classical music was performed in Jumme Ka Takiya (Friday evening gatherings) or on special occasions. Audiences were small, but very knowledgable. Those were cognoscenti who maintained a tough yardstick to maintain the music standards. The “innocenti” soon outnumbered these cognoscenti in the post-independence era, as that was the time of great upheaval in political, social, economic, and technical situations. Suddenly, the music was out of private chambers and was being dished out to the masses that were made of innocenti and did not understand it much.

Music became a commodity. It became price-sensitive and market-oriented. The yardstick of music changed. The large number of innocenti preferred popular music and classical music took a back seat, leaving the Rasikas in a minority. This was mainly due to the explosive growth of the electronic media. On the price index, the cost of music is becoming cheaper as a result and market continues to explode. Today’s market consists of 80% innocenti and 20% cognoscenti. Hindustani music is set on a path of irreversible globalization.

Raja explains this trend in Hindustani Music through six parts of his book:

Part I starts with social, cultural, economic and technological changes in Hindustani music by taking the reader through a journey of music starting from traditions to contemporary changes in gharana models. Part II deals with musical forms and structures.

Part III and IV can be defined as the heart of the book, in which Raja talks about the melodic framework on which Indian music is based. He starts with Ragas (melodic structure) interwoven with Rasas (emotional states), the significance of timings of each raga, the rights and wrongs in it and thus describes the complete flavour of Indian music. He explains the four major genres of Hindustani vocal music – Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumri and Tappa in their historical, aesthetic, and melodic forms.

Part V deals with the background and expressions unique to each of the major solo melodic instruments of Hindustani music, such as, Rudra Veena, Sitar, Shehnai, Sarod etc. and the entry of Slide Guitar of Hawaii into Indian music, soon after World War II. The book finishes with the list of glossary.

Only Raja, a musician, and MBA, a media person, and a writer, himself a multi-faceted person, could give such a multi-dimensional treatment to music in the most logical form. The quantitative leap of music is the need of the time; but it does not mean that we must not produce connoisseur quality music.

The old model of music that survived under royal patronage is extinct today. Keeping in mind the latest trends, Raja suggests a new model of music based on price and value, which allows a collective of musicians, rather than audiences to validate a musician’s status. He advocates the formation of a musicians’ guild to grade the music and musicians. His idea is to revitalize the connoisseurs of a bygone era, bring them to the forefront as music watchdogs, enhance their insights into the inner workings of modern and contemporary music by explaining them the alternative benchmarks and changing yardsticks.

Deepak Raja thus strives for higher standards of Hindustani music by advocating a balanced approach. Consumerism and commoditization of music can pose a threat to its quality; but as they say, “the grammar of today’s music is based on yesterday’s literature”. One only hopes that this beautiful piece of literature will help maintain tomorrow’s grammar on music with high standards, even in the changing scenario of market needs.

The book can be ordered online on the publisher's website, or by email.

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