Friday, May 9, 2014

Musicologist... by an unorthodox route

In 1967, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, made the mistake of giving me admission to the 2-year full-time MBA programme. There was no possibility of correcting that error. So, 45 years after I graduated, the institute decided to acknowledge similar mistakes by running a special feature on performing arts in the The IIMA Alumnus magazine. In the pages of this feature, I find myself in the distinguished company of people like Mallika Sarabhai. They asked me to recount my life in music. I am sharing here what I wrote.

By the time I joined IIM-A (age: 19), I had received about 12 years of training as a sitarist,  become a respectable performer, and also advanced substantially towards a respectable diploma in Hindustani music. I was at IIM because a performing career in music was an unacceptable risk, and an academic career in musicology looked unattractive.  But, music wasn’t going away anywhere.

After graduation, I continued to learn and practice the sitar, as I pursued careers in media research, business journalism, periodical publishing, and financial consultancy.  Between 1986 and 1992, I enjoyed a short stint as a performing musician, winning respect for my command over the instrument, and the soundness of my approach to music.

The performing life was heady, but not sustainable at my level of musicianship. The economics of it were absurd, and each concert demanded preparatory practice of at least six to eight hours a day for a whole month. Besides, I wasn’t anybody’s idea of a future Ravi Shankar or Vilayat Khan. So, it made sense to seek a less insecure place for myself in the music world. 

The opening came in the early 1990’s in the form of an invitation from the late Mr. N Pattabhiraman, Editor of SRUTI magazine, to contribute critical essays on Hindustani music. Thus was launched my career as a musicologist.  Around the same time, India Archive Music Ltd. (IAM), a New York based specialist producer of Hindustani music, commissioned me to write musicological commentaries on CDs produced by them. Between 1995 and 2004, I wrote commentaries of 8000-10,000 words each for over a 100 of their CDs. The commentaries helped IAM emerge as the most successful and influential producer of Hindustani music outside India.

By 2004, SRUTI had published perhaps fifteen of my critical essays, and IAM had received over a million words of commentary written by me. The SRUTI Editors, and the owners of India Archive Music encouraged me to recast the knowledge-base I had created in the form of books. The manuscript of my first book “Hindustani Music – a tradition in transition” was accepted by DK Printworld, New Delhi and published in January 2005. Then came “Khayal Vocalism – Continuity within change” in 2009, and “Hindustani Music Today” in 2012.  My fourth book “The Raga-ness of Raga-s” is scheduled for release by June-July 2014. The fifth book, written partially under a Senior Research Fellowship of the Ministry of culture, Government of India, is likely to be published by end-2015.

Not having trained as a musicologist, I could never address the academic community in a language that it respected. My stance, as a writer on music, could only be that of a serious student of music – at best a connoisseur -- sharing his understanding of the tradition with other seekers of knowledge and insight.  Despite this, it appears that the content and style of my writings have come to appeal -- in varying degrees -- to both these segments. Access to connoisseurs is the more gratifying of the two because they engage actively with the performing tradition, and are a part of the quality control mechanism that regulates the art.

By any financial yardstick, music has been a loss-making department of life. This seems a small price to pay for the credit side, which is unquantifiable… and priceless.