Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review: The Raga-ness of Raga-s. The Statesman, Kolkata, April 16, 2016

  Beyond Grammar

Author presenting the book to Pt. Arvind Parikh
Deepak S Raja, disciple of Pandit Arvind Parikh (sitar-surbahar, Etawah gharana) and the late Dhondutai Kulkarni (khayal, Jaipur-Atrauli gharana), is a much-respected name in the world of musicology. He studied the subject under the guidance of eminent scholars, has won several prestigious awards and works as a repertoire analyst for India Archive Music Ltd, New York, apart from having authored three books including Khayal Vocalism, and Hindustani Music Today. He blogs extensively about his experiences at http://www.swaratala. Raja’s analytical but melodious writing draws its sap from a wide variety of disciplines like art, history, culture, economics, sciences, psychology, etc. His latest book is The Raga-ness of Ragas: Ragas beyond the Grammar (published by DK Printworld (P) Ltd in 2016; Rs 1,250).

The book begins with “Perspectives on Raga-ness” by explaining and analysing the concept called raga and its relation with rasas; and then moves on to explore and identify the essence of a raga in a) bandishes: that showcase the features of a raga from several angles; b) alap: which elaborates the raga at slow pace; c) taan: which follows raga movements at fast pace that “emphasise the sameness of all ragas”; and, above all, d) the raga-ness of the musician who performs and composes at once.

Raja admits that since “Hindustani music grants the musician the simultaneous roles of performer and composer”, this creative licence has helped in the evolution of ragas. According to him, the raga is “a melodic structure, tight enough to remain distinct and identifiable and yet loose enough to form the basis for considerable improvisational freedom”. Under the circumstances, “Ragas can, and do change even over time.”

The second part of the book, “The world of the Raga”, contains the analysis of 49 ragas replete with their ascending-descending orders, catch phrases, parental scale, sister ragas, etc, along with their historical evolution and opinions of several legendary musicians and musicologists. The book is further enriched by a foreword penned by eminent vocalist Vidushi Ashwini Bhide, an introduction by Lyle Wachovsky, a guest essay on the concept of “Rasa and Western System of Keys” by Alessandro Dozio and a glossary of terms — nicely explained. The most admirable qualities of the book are the author’s lucid pen, at times dipped in humour. Interesting anecdotes have spiced up the book that opens new vistas of melodic analysis.

Reviewer: Meena Banerjee