Friday, January 25, 2008

The Music Room - Namita Devidayal

History of Indian Music is very interesting and laden with stories, legends and myths. Little do we know about the hardship and the dedication of those who fight it out to come into the limelight. Be it the Hindustani style or the Carnatic style, the story is the same and often mis-represented. The eccentricities, the infights, the never ending egos , the selfish patrons , connoisseurs takes away the major part of their lives. These classical arts demand a life time of dedication and practice, often without any financial returns. A vast majority of once popular practitioners, end up living under poverty without anyone to look after them.

While a few fight it out in the commercial world, a large number of them does not get the recognition they deserve, who are as talented and as dedicated to the music. Mainly because of the lack of supporting systems such as patrons and weighty sponsors and many times because of their unwillingness to compromise on their believes.

Reading Namita Devidayals's absorbing book "The music Room", gives us the inside view of the life and times of the legends of Hindustani Music and their ways. As a ten year old girl, Namita was taken to one of the icons of the Jaipur Gharana , Dhondutai Kulkarni for her music lessons. Dhondutai , a living under sub par conditions, disciple of the famous and often controversial Kesarbai Kerkar, sees the glimpses of young Kesar in the young girl and accepts the girl under her tutelage. The long association of learning and admiration begins, which continues for almost three decades.

Namita Devidayal, takes the readers through the history of Jaipur Gharana and hindustani music in general over the period of 100 years with Dhondutai Kulkarni. The history covers the legendary Alladiya Khan and his musician family, Kesarbai Kerkar , the finest singers of the Jaipur Gharana and the life of Dhondutai Kulkarni.

The book looks at the life and times of the charismatic Alladiya Khan, the founder of the Jaipur Gharana, famous for their repertoire of rare ragas and krithis and their fast paced Taans. Though a Muslim, he and his family used to do sing every morning at the temples in Kolhapur and is still wear the thread across his chest like Brahmins.

Kesarbai Kerkar , considered as the most powerful hindustani singers of the 20th Century , learned from Alladiya , pioneered and preserved the Jaipur Gharana's tradition, and passed on to the young Dhondutai who joined her as a disciple and was with her until her death in 1977. There are enough examples and stories of the famous indian school of Guru-Shishya parampara and their often all submissive relationships. We also witness the steady deterioration of their financial wealth as well as their tradition as there are lesser and lesser listeners for this music and even lesser takers for learning. They lead a life so away from the mainstream and so detached from the worldly life spending most of the times in their small rooms with the gods and demi-gods in company.

Though this is biographical in nature, and not having most of the fictional qualities, Namita Devidayal uses the method of writing, which is a combination of both styles, retaining the admiration of the art and the gurus as you often observe in biographies, as well as the use of language as in fiction writings. At no point of time she is away form the events and the stories, always retains her ( and the readers) interest in the stories and anecdotes. A very well written book and great value to someone like me who has near zero knowledge of the Hindustani Music and its heroes.
Hindustan Times has set up a nice site on this book which can be accessed here
Here are the links to few reviews about this book.
Written By : Namita Devidayal
Random House Publications
316 Pages
Rs 395


Amitava said...

Though published in 2007, I just completed the reading yesterday night.
A thin mist of melancholy hovers over me like Calcutta haze of this mid winter.

I have tried to learn vocal music for several years but somehow coud not continue and bring the skills to the level of being a performer. However I can at least appreciate the art form. The sence of incompleteness has somehow struck cord with the underlying musical notes of the book and is resonating in the chilly emptyness of the nature outside.

This realisation of being incomplete in striving to achieve a different plane, to me, is the most important subtext of the reading.

Allahdiya Khan striving for a disjoint religious identity, Kesarbai battling it out with society for respect and acceptability as an artist, while Dhobdutai on her eternal journey of finding the due place for herself in the music galaxy are like great tragic characters of an magnificient epic. The sutradhar is the last piece of jigsaw puzzle to complete the full picture of the honey melancholy as expressed in the book.
Sometimes the reading transcends prose and enters the realms of poetry with the site changing from Shivaji Park to local trains or Mahalakshmi Mandir in the backdrop.

Thanks Namita. I'll wait for your next effort!

Brain Drain said...

Thanks Amitava, beautifully written.

Infact, behind all these characteristics of all these people ( artists in general), which people talk silly about, is a quest to fill some vacuum, often not understood by others. And that makes their lives all the more appealing.

Infact, what we refuse to understand, in our demand to see them perform to our satisfaction every time they are on stage, is these difficulties that they have endured.