Category Archives: Books

Incomparable SD Burman: The best biographical work on Hindi film music

Incomparable SD Burman is actually a 2011 book, though I read it only recently. Though that is not enough justification for doing a book review after four years, I decided to go ahead because it is a real gem. Moreover, few in India know about it.

The book, written by HQ Chowdhury, a Bangladesh-based professional and researcher, is published by Toitomboor, a publishing house in Dhaka. After looking for it for months (trying my luck with its only distributor in India, who insisted that someone needed to physically collect the book from their Kolkata office by paying cash), I finally got it from the author himself, who fulfilled his promise made to me on a Facebook conversation some months back  to send it to me when he would be in Kolkata next.

Incomp_SDB

Being a reader and collector of books on Hindi film music (written in English)—See the list I maintain on the same here—I  can say with some confidence that this is one of the best books to be published in the genre. But that is still not the best way to describe the book. There are multiple books in the area that stand out. Gregory Booth’s book on musicians is a first-rate work of ethnomusicology; Raju Bharatan’s books on Naushad and Lata are excellent account of the musical and not-so-musical equations between composers, singers, lyricists and film makers; Akshay Manwani’s book on Sahir is an excellent work of research and is immensely readable; Ashok Ranade’s book on Hindi film music is one of the few critic’s perspectives; Manek Premchand’s book on musical moments is an essential connoisseur’s collection.

What should be specifically mentioned about Incomparable SD Burman is that it rises above the genre. The book is what a good narrative non-fiction should be. In other words, it is for anyone who loves reading and has a general interest about the subject. Few pages into the book, you develop a bond with the protagonist—the incomparable S D Burman, in this case—and start living with him.

And mind you, there are three books on SD Burman in English and I have read all of them. While the book by Sathya Saran is nowhere near the other two, the book by Khagesh Dev Burman, originally written in Bengali, is clearly for the reader who is well-entrenched in Bengali music; so much so that, if you are not, you cannot appreciate a significant portion of the book.

Of course, a basic background of Kolkata’s music scene of those days is essential, if one wants to fully appreciate the genesis of S D Burman’s as a musician. It is not that a great researcher and narrator like Chowdhury is not sensitive to that need. In fact, that is where his book really stands out and as I earlier said, rises above the genre books. Instead of assuming that the reader knows about it, he has taken it on himself to give those lessons, in right doses. That is what makes it so valuable as a book. The reader, while learning about SD Burman’s evolution as a composer-singer, gets more than adequate knowledge about the music scene of Kolkata of the 30s and early 40s.

And what a place it was! Not only was Kolkata a musical experimentation hub with such personalities as Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Dilip Kumar Roy, Himangshu Dutt and musicologists like Dhurjoti Prasad Mukherji, it was also the predecessor of the Bombay film music with such greats as R C Boral, Pankaj Mullick, K L Saigal, K C Dey, Vismadev Chatterjee, and Dada Burman himself establishing the rules of modern cine music, which got imported to Bombay. Though it got enriched there, drawing from various regional streams, it must be mentioned that others responsible for that basic foundations such as Naushad, C Ramachandra and O P Nayyar acquired their musical personality in Bombay while the Bengal musicians were already popular in their homeland and established names, Dada included. That is why it is essential to understand Kolkata’s musical scene of 30s in order to appreciate the evolution of Bombay film music. Chowdhury makes you live through that period. I wish the book was available more widely. It is a recommended read for any serious student of musicology of modern Indian music.

Again, unlike Khagesh Dev Burman’s book, Bombay days is not a mechanical, linear description. Some of the best narratives in the book are about S D Burman’s days in Bombay. It does get into popular myths and folklore in adequate doses. For example, the author devotes significant space to dispel the myth that Pancham (junior Burman) mostly scored for Aradhana. It is an important debates in Hindi film musicology because it is not just about one movie; it has significant implications for the Rafi-Kishore debate. Those who think Pancham scored for Aradhana assume that it is he who brought in Kishore Kumar in place of Rafi, who was the earlier choice for Dada Burman. And all of us know what it did to Kishore Kumar’s career!

Chowdhury is clearly a huge fan of SD Burman, as he admits unequivocally. But his book does not suffer from the typical problems you have come to expect from such books in India—that is adulatory, meaningless lines filling up pages; both facts and narration becoming victim to the author’s own opinion and so on. Chowdhury’s book is a solid work of research, ably supported by good narration and story telling. Even when he brings in subjective analyses—you cannot avoid that in a book on any art form/artist—it is always in the featurish style of supporting with quotes, incidents and facts—in the true tradition of narrative non-fiction. Rarely will you find a high-nosed opinion which he thrusts weaving through jugglery of words. In fact sincere efforts like this are probably the best tribute to one’s idol.

Books like these make one hopeful about the future of non-fiction writing on subjects other than history and politics. But the next moment, the availability issues reminds you of the stark ground reality of distribution.

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Biographies of Maestros: What a simple list tells us about our attitude towards our heritage

I started this blog with a post on books on Hindi film music, written in English. The popularity of that post encouraged me to start a page with a list of such books, which I update regularly. The page and the post together account for the largest chunk of traffic on my blog, even today.

This is what made some friends suggest that I start a similar one on Hindustani classical music—another subject on which I buy and read quite a few books.

On the face of it, these tasks look similar. The objectives of both are the same; it is to help people who may not be pursuing any formal study of music or musicology but whose interest in music is a little more than just listening to good music. In reality, though, the magnitude of challenges is manifold in case of classical music books.

One, the universe is of a different magnitude. There are hardly 50 books on Hindi film music published in English. The list of books on Hindustani classical music, on the other hand, is far longer, considering it is a subject taught and researched formally in many universities across India.

Two, many of those books have been brought out by publishers in places like Pune, Kolkata, Baroda, and Lucknow— all centers of prominence in the evolution of the musical form. Many of them are small and even closed down. Getting anything from their side is next to impossible.

Three, many of these were published long back. Unlike Hindi film music, where there was little before 1980s/90s, some of the books on Hindustani music in English dates backs to 30s and 40s. Many of these books are out of print.

Finally, my reading is confined to two areas: history/evolution of the genres/sub-genres/different gharanas/instruments or biographies (they often overlap), whereas the area itself is vast.

I decided to create a list of biographies, to start with. Of course, that includes autobiographies as well.

After working for a few months on the list—getting essential bibliographic information about each book, such as title, ISBN, author, publisher, year of publishing—I now have a list of 66 such books. But the exercise gave me much more than a list. I observed clear trends; trends that say a lot about our collective taste, how we look at our musical heritage and simply what sells.

This post is actually about those observations and a little analysis of that. I will post the actual list in a separate page.

Here are the essentials. The books can broadly be categorized into three types: autobiographies (eight), biographies of single individuals (49), compilation of biographies of multiple personalities (nine). I have actually read a little less than half of them.

Whose biographies?
The composition of the list itself reveals a lot about what, according to the publishers, interests Indian readers.

Let’s start with numbers. Among biographies/autobiographies of single individuals, Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar is on top with six biographies on him—two of them autobiographies. He is closely followed by the another Bharat Ratna from the area of Hindustani music , Ustad Bismillah Khan—with five biographies of the Shehnai maestro in the list. All but one (that is an autobiography of Pandit Ravi Shankar) are published in late 90s or 2000s—after Hindustani classical music had attained an exalted status and these stalwarts had turned celebrities (read saleable). Most of these books are neither scholarly nor great narratives; they are either coffee table books or basic life sketches written for the completely uninitiated/children.

Baba Allauddin Khan, with five of his biographies in the list, seems to be the surprise in the list. The great maestro (and the guru of Pandit Ravi Shankar) has biographies written by his disciples and grand disciples such as Pandit Jatin Bhattacharya, Ustad Mobarak Hussain Khan and Anjana Roy. Begum Akhtar, with four biographies, is next in the list. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, credited with popularizing classical music among the masses, is the fifth in the list, with three books on him.

Most—if not all—of these biographies are basic treatments/coffee table books.

Another thing to be noted here is that except for Ustad Bade Ghualm Ali Khan, none of the above exponents—who are popular among biographers—are really what most call classical vocalists (exponents of dhrupad or khyal). While Begum Akhtar is primarily the queen of ghazals and somewhat known for her thumris, the rest are all instrumentalists. Labeling Baba Allauddin Khan as an instrumentalist may actually be a narrow view of this great master; nevertheless, the fact remains that most of his disciples are exponents of instruments—sitar, sarod, surbahar, even flute and violin.

But more than those who are on the list, notable by their absence from the list are a number of luminaries—Ustad Inayat Husain Khan, the founder of Rampur-Sahaswan Gharana; Sawai Gandharva, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Mogubai Kurdikar, Hirabai Barodekar , Pt D V Paluskar, and even among the later generations, Kishori Amonkar and Pandit Rajan/Sajan Mishra; not to talk of thumri exponents like Rasoolan Bai and Badi Moti Bai.

Yes, I have still not come across any biography (in English) on each of these great masters. I will be happy to be pointed out if any exists.

There’s just one biography of Khansaheb Abdul Karim Khan, the founder of Kirana Gharana, written by ace discographer Micheal Kinnear. The book is out of print.

There’s one book on Ustad Faiyaz Khan, the most prominent voice from Agra Gharana in the 20th century, by his disciple Dipali Nag, published by Sangeet Natak Akademi. It’s not available in any book store or online shopping site.

There’s one biography (actually a kind of autobiography, as told to his great grandson) of Ustad Alladiya Khan, the founder of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, published by Thema, a Kolkata-based publisher, which is now reprinted and is available from publisher through direct order but is not available in any major bookstore or online shopping site.

There’s one small life sketch of Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, the father of modern Hindustani music education and founder of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, published by National Book Trust.

Precisely one books each on each of these masters—and none of them available widely—that’s the state of biographic literature in Hindustani music.

Isn’t this a comment on our collective apathy towards our own heritage? Or is it worse? In the last few years, the country has conferred Bharat Ratna—our highest civilian award for individuals—on three later day exponents of Hindustani music. Is it hypocrisy, then? Is it that we want to show to the world that we are proud of our heritage whereas in reality, we care very little?

Authors and treatment
One question that follows is why is the market for such books so limited? Is it really that the average Indian reader is not interested in reading books on music? Ostensibly, that seems to be the answer.

It’s not entirely incorrect. But it is only half the story. A look at the author and treatment of these books tells us why it could be so.

Most of the books fall into one of the three categories—narrative biographies, basic sketches and well-produced coffee table books. The last two categories serve specific purposes. Coffee table books sell on the value of quality of production—and are used to showcase one’s love for Indian culture and heritage—while basic sketches are mostly for reference.

The large biographies with narratives are what should ideally reach out to the readers of non-fiction—a community that is steadily growing in India. The books will become mainstream and commercially viable only when it appeals to this tribe.

Today, that is hardly the case. Most of the narrative biographies—both compilations as well as individual biographies—are written by one of the two sets of people: critics and the disciples of the subjects.

Those written by acclaimed music critics and musicologists such as R C Mehta (himself an exponent), Mohan Nadkarni, Ashok D Ranade and Raghava R Menon—whether biographies or history—are for serious readers. The treatment goes more into the finer nuances of music and their analysis and hardly interests the common reader.

Those by the disciples and descendants of masters—such as Pandit Debu Choudhury (disciple and biographers of Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan), Ustad Mobarak Husain Khan and Pandit Jatin Bhattacharya (disciples and biographers of Baba Alllauddin Khan), Dipali Nag (disciple and biographer of Ustad Faiyaz Khan), Sumati Mutakar (student and biographer of Pandit S N Ratanjakar) and Shanti Hiranand (disciple and biographer of Begum Akhtar)— while providing great insight and anecdotes about their masters, are too laudatory and often lack basic objectivity needed in a good biography. Also, often the narrative is too linear and straight, which does not amuse and hence does not appeal to common readers.

There are a few notable exceptions—like Annapurna Devi’s biography by Swapan Kumar Bandopadhyay and Begum Akhtar’s biography by Rita Ganguly even though the latter is a direct disciple of the former—which are very interesting narratives.

The success of other books such as The Music Room by Namita Devidayal and The Lost World of Hindustani Music by Kumar Prasad Mukerji shows that people would like to read good narratives on Hindustani music (actually, on any subject). While the former is a very engaging account of the evolution of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana and gives nice glimpses into the lives of Dhondutai Kulkarni, Kesarbai Kerkar and some insights into the persona of Ustad Alladiya Khan, the latter is arguably the most interesting narrative about the evolution of Hindustani classical music in late 18th and 19th century.

The answer, then, lies in actually getting good writers of narrative non-fiction interested in the subject. Who will do that is anyone’s guess. Good publishers can certainly play a role, but are they themselves interested in the subject?

Who are the publishers?
After going through the above, the list of top publishers should not be too much of a surprise. Roli Books, which started as a coffee table book publisher on art and has since then has published some good books on Indian heritage as well—like music, travel, food and festivals—sits right there on top, with nine titles to its credit.

Hindustani classical music is now enjoying a kind of exalted status; with the exponents being projected with a larger-than-life image. This has created a market for well-produced books on these personalities with high quality photographs—which has worked very well for Roli. To its credit, it has steadily focused on getting better writers and has even brought in small innovations like collaborating with music publishers like Saregama to bundle music CDs with books. This has created a niche market for such books, which are highly priced and are the more respectable versions of yesteryears’ somewhat dumber coffee table books.

Rupa has always published some of the most unique non-fiction in India and it extends to this area as well. But it must be pointed out that the number that it has comes from the fact that it has published some small life sketches of famous exponents—such as Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Begum Akhtar—as well. Popular Prakashan, another Indian publishing house, with a track record of music books, with four titles, is the only other publisher which has a significant presence in the list.

General publishers such as Penguin/Viking, Harper Collins, UBS and Orient have token presence, while academic publishers such as Oxford University Press, Permanent Black, Three Essays Collective etc have token presence.

The rest are either smaller niche publications, local publishers or the government publishing units such as Sangeet Natak Akademi, Publication Division and National Book Trust.

In fact, the subjects, the treatment and the publishers are completely in sync and tell a story that is loud and clear: that the commercial market for books on Hindustani music is restricted to coffee table books and basic life sketches. The individuals who have written because of their passion (such as many exponents themselves) without much commercial considerations have been published by smaller publishing houses. Government publishers too have not done enough; i.e, how can you reconcile to the fact that Sangeet Natak Akademi has not published monographs on say, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan or D V Paluskar?

So, what is the way out? It is well beyond the scope of my post here; but just some thinking aloud. In the short run, government initiative could help in researching the subject. Even if a fraction of the research fund that music research is getting is diverted to research on musicology, we will see tremendous result. For the commercial publishers—while they will be cautious about the acceptability—it makes some sense to try roping in good writers to create a commercially viable market for such books.

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Odia Travel Literature: A Few Basic Facts

From my childhood, I have always been fascinated by travel literature. So, when a few of us decided to create a list of must-read Odia books across genres, I insisted and ensured that we include travel literature as a separate genre.  That was the easier part. When we actually started, I did not have any name beyond Dura Durantara by Manoj Das, and Deshe Deshe by Barrister Gobind Das to add—to the list of the must-read books. Many wondered if there would be even be 50 travel books in Odia!

That is how the idea of compiling a list of such books started. Having read a couple of dozens of such books myself, I was more than sure that the list would be much longer. I approached noted writer, educationist and scholar Dr Subhendu Mund, with whom I had some interaction on email earlier, to seek his advice and guidance. He confirmed that there are indeed hundreds of such books and encouraged me to go ahead in creating the list.

Once I started, I realized that to make it really usable in future and providing some value to researchers, I need to add a few more basic information, such as name of the publishers and the year of first publication. To make it a little more fun, the journalist in me added one more parameter: the geography (travel destination) covered in a particular book.  Thus continued my journey of creating what a friend in academics termed as  “a bibliographic index of travel writing in Odia.” Sounds heavy? To me, it does, for sure. But let’s not bother about the nomenclature too much.

Today, after about a year, in which I have devoted my free time to search for such books, I have more than 150 names (158 to be precise). The sources of information have been

  • Secondary research on Internet including library searches
  • Articles/research papers/proceedings of some seminars
  • Search in various libraries in Odisha (limited, because of physical limitations of being outside)
  • Catalogues of major publishers
  • Friends and acquaintances on social media

This has become, for me, a continuing exercises. I have, in the course of this one year, learnt a lot about such books; bought and read a few such books. Yet, I must clarify in no uncertain terms that it still does not make me eligible to comment on this genre or its evolution. As I continue with the journey, I, however, thought of sharing some facts with my readers. These are no analysis or insight, but plain “facts”.

  • Odia travel literature, without stretching its definition, started in the early days of modern Odia literature, with both Vyasakavi Fakir Mohan Senapati and Kavivara Radhanath Ray having tried their hand in this genre. Fakir Mohan wrote a book called Waltiar Darshan and while Radhanath wrote Bhramanakarira Patra.
  • It was Shashibhushan Ray, son of Radhanath, who actually started a definite genre, having written multiple books on his travel experience within and outside Odisha. Many say his Dakshinatya Bhramana  was a trendsetter.
  • Most Odia writers of repute have tried their hand in travel literature. The list includes Surendra Mohanty, Kunja Bihari Dash, Golak Bihari Dhal,  Mayadhar Mansingh,  Chittaranjan Das, Radhanath Rath, Manoj Das, Krushna Prasad Mishra, Bibhuti Patnaik, Sitakanta Mohapatra, Prativa Ray and Susmita Bagchi.
  • Many professionals in other fields who have traveled outside for professional work have also tried to add to the the genre by narrating their experience. Such luminaries include Gokulanand Mohapattra (scientist), Biju Patnaik (industrialist and chief minister), Akshaya Mohanty (composer and singer), Dinanath Pathy (Artist) and Baidyanath Mishra (economist)
  • Many of the works are not strictly travel experiences but the overall experience of the writer staying at a place for a fairly long period.

In addition, here are some of the numbers that are derived from the list.

Period of Publication: Except for the 70s, there has been a fairly uniform spread of new travel books. But that means their share as a percentage of total books published may have gone down.

 

There has been a steady rise since the 70s

There has been a steady rise since the 70’s

 

Top Areas: Most of the travel books are on the author’s experience in one or more foreign countries. Out of 148 books for which this information is available, 97 are about experiences in a foreign country, 43 are about experience in Indian locations outside Odisha and nine are about places within Odisha.

Top Destinations: The United States of America, not so surprisingly, tops the destination list. Here is how destinations stack up.

 

It's clearly westward

It’s clearly westward

 

*Europe does not include UK and USSR/Russia. (A book may contain description of multiple locations)

Top Publishers: And here is how the list of top publishers looks like.

 

Five publishers account for close to half of all travel books published whose information is available

Five publishers account for close to half of all travel books published whose information is available

The  idea here is not to reduce a genre of literature to a few quantitative charts. This exercise is aimed at highlighting this comparatively lesser celebrated branch of Odia literature before an audience that enjoys Odia books but may not have the wherewithal, time or energy to research into different aspects. In short, people belonging to my own tribe.

The work is still in progress. I welcome comments, suggestions and ideas.

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Buy Odia Books Online. And You Have Some Choice

A few months back, I wrote this piece, The Other E-commerce Guys for a portal. In the peak of skepticism about the sustainability of e-commerce business models in India, I argued that the basic value proposition of e-commerce—removing the constraint of time and space from shopping—still remains and that is good enough reason for people to try making it work—even if those ventures are off limelight and do not measure their progress by how much funding they attract.

This is what I wrote, trying to build up a case for these ventures.

But how many of us can say honestly that we don’t crave for something that we have grown up with and something that we do not get anywhere in the superstores? Remember the banana cake that the bakery next to your house in Kollam made so perfectly? Or the auromatic curry powder that the man in the street behind your housing colony in Berhampur sold from his home?

We know the superstores, despite their 20 plus brands in offering, can never match that. Yet, we cannot do anything about it. We are too busy in our everyday lives to do anything beyond craving.

Of course, all the examples in the above piece were about sites selling food items.

But how many of us can say honestly that we don’t crave for something that we have grown up with?—you will agree that the question goes well beyond food. 

This piece is about one such thing that I have grown up with; one such thing that I badly crave for; and do not get anywhere in my city: Odia books

This piece is a celebration of the fact that in recent months, I have seen multiple efforts to fill this gap. There are at least three serious websites selling Odia books. And there are a couple of more who are also trying their hands but have long way to go.

This piece is a short review of those sites. The reason I chose to do that is not because going forward, I want to do a big annual ranking of these sites. But because, as the tagline of my blog says, I love “celebrating the excellence in the less discussed.” They are new; lesser known; let alone being discussed. And I could surely help a bit in their efforts by highlighting the good work.

The two specific objectives of the piece are

  1. to help my peer groups (whether they are Bangalore or Baltimore or Balasore) who do not have access to a good/any book store that sells Odia books.
  2. to give some sort of feedback to these companies, who are just beginning their journey with a great objective that will help many like me

And when I do that, there are bound to be comparisons and some criticism (identification of gaps). I hope the entrepreneurs and others behind these ventures will take that sportingly.

These are the three sites I found to be serious about what they are trying to do. Not only are the sites professionally designed, the effort to build good catalaogs is visible, as I have followed all of them from the time they started.

  1. Odisha Estore (sells multiple products but books are the main offering)
  2. Odiabook Bazar (focused on books)
  3. Odikart (the youngest among the lot sells multiple products but books are the main offering; started last month)

There is another one, Fullorissa.com which also sells books but the collection does not have any of the usual books that one would expect such a store to have. So, I am not sure what the model is. I am not including it in the review here.

As a professional researcher and editor, I have done similar exercise quite a few times. For evaluation of any e-commerce site, we take a few things into account.

  1. product range in offering
  2. product quality
  3. pricing
  4. user experience of the site (such as search/navigation)
  5. actual fulfillment (delivery)
  6.  customer service

The last two are measured based actual usage (mystery shopping) or survey and hence, I am excluding them. I will restrict myself to the first four.

  • Range: Range, in an evolving business, is often a function of the duration for which the venture has been in business. So, it is no surprise that while both Odisha Estore and Odiabook Bazar have more than 3000 titles each, Odikart has less than 200.
  • Quality: While range is good, curation is becoming extremely important in e-commerce, as people have less time. Quality in a standardized product category like books can be measured without actual usage/buying. For measuring this, I created a standard list, based on my brief survey with people like myself, mostly non-resident Odias (so it may be a little skewed against books published in the last ten years or so). The list is a combination of classics and popular titles; old and new; and a mix of multiple genres: poetry, novels, biography, science-fiction and other non-fiction. This is the list I used
    • Abupurusha O Anyanya Kahani (Manoj Das)
    • Amabasyara Chandra (Barrister Gobind Das)
    • Atma Charita (Fakir Mohan Senapati)
    • Chandrara Mrutyu (Gokulananda Mohapatra)
    • Chhabila Madhu Barnabodha (Madhusudan Rao)
    • Chhamana Athaguntha (Fakir Mohan Senapati)
    • Chilika (Radhanath Ray)
    • Desha Kala Patra (Jagannath Prasad Das)
    • Ghara Baida (Raibahadur Laxman Mishra)
    • Ka (Kanhucharan Mohanty)
    • Kanakalata (Nandakishore Bal)
    • Kanamamu (Laxmikanta Mohapatra)
    • Karanjia Diary (Santanu Kumar Acharya)
    • Nakata Chitrakara (Faturananda)
    • Nilasaila (Surendra Mohanty)
    • Odisha O Odia (Chittaranjan Das)
    • Paraja (Gopinath Mohanty)
    • Bhratruhari Shrungara Shataka (Tr: Janaki Ballav Pattnaik)
    • Utkala Gaunli Gita (Chakradhar Mohapatra)
    • Yajnaseni (Pratibha Ray)

This list is, of course, not perfect—like any other subjective list. But there is no other way to measure. When I ran the search in each of the three sites, I found comparable results; I could find 10 in Odisha Estore; 9 in Odiabook Bazar and 8 in Odikart. Purely from comparison point of view, I must point out that if a month old Odikart with just 157 books in its catalog, could almost match the others with significantly higher range, it illustrates that it is fairly well curated.

But the bigger point that I want to highlight is not who is better in what aspect. It is this. Despite all the considerations—they are all new; publishers are not yet excited; many books are out of print etc etc—I believe it is a low score in general, especially as I tried mostly popular books.

What explains absence of Barnabodha from the catalog? Lack of availability is surely not the reason. Similarly, Kanakalata was a milestone in Odia literature.  There was a time when there was hardly any middle class households that did not have its copy of Ghara Baida (Tutuka Chikitsa) by Laxman Kishra. Also, two of them did not have Yajnaseni. Need I say more?

If non-residents are a serious target segment, there is no way that they can ignore serious curation. I expect far better results next time.

  • Pricing: By and large, pricing is comparable.
  • Site user experience: Though most of them are better than many e-commerce sites, in terms of look and feel, I think all of them have to significantly improve navigation. Books are searched by name, author name, category, and publisher—usually in that order. None of them are complete in that respect. Odiabook Bazaar provides category-based, publisher-based as well as author-based browsing but its title search is really bad, with not even an error message showing that the book is not available. The rest two do not provide author-based browsing—a big gap.  Navigation is something that is usually thought through in the beginning; it is not a function of time, considering there are thousands of online bookstores in the world to look for a template. For example, one can well understand that a new site like Odikart has a lesser range of books, but that is no reason for not having an author filter (or any filter for that matter). This is one area I hope everyone will improve on.

Some of the areas of improvement notwithstanding, I see a great start to this wave. I have tried just one site and the delivery has been quite prompt. If others have similar quality when it comes to fulfillment, I think it is just a matter of time before the orders get flowing in, in large numbers.

Now, they just need some effective marketing.

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A Book on SD Burman: The Making of The Genius

“The book is nothing but an expression of the man. The book is nothing but the man trying to talk to you, trying to impart to you, some of his feelings,” said Arnold Bennett, in his classic work, Literary Taste, while urging the reader, especially the beginners, to “acquire some biographical information about the writer.” 

Benett’s advice should apply to all forms of creative art, not just literature. An understanding of the creator’s life — its evolution, phases, milestones, and most importantly, all things that have had an influences on the man — can makes us appreciate his work far better.

It becomes almost imperative in something like Hindi film music, which attracted — it still does —  musical talent from across the country, from Punjab to Tamil Nadu; from East Bengal to Goa. These creative people had diverse upbringings, diverse cultures and exposures to diverse forms of folk, popular and even classical music. While Hindi film music (or Hindustani Cine Sangeet as some prefer to call it) is now considered a genre in itself, it is important to understand how each of its early founding fathers contributed by adding their bits while absorbing from other musical genres/sources.

S D Burman: The World of His Music, a book by Khagesh Dev Burman written originally in Bengali and translated to English by S K Ray Chaudhury, serves this purpose beautifully. For not only does it provide a very deep and mature insight into the formative years of Sachin Karta —  as he was known in Tripura and East Bengal, from where he hailed —  but also how he acquired his musical soul.

It would not be exaggerating to conclude, based on information from the book, that Dada Burman was not just a creative genius, but was one of the first serious ethnomusicologists who actually recognized the potential of folk music and roamed around the length and breadth of East Bengal to systematically collect folk tunes and songs, even as he kept improvising and playing those on flute. This musical repertoire from East Bengal, the author claims, would in later years serve as a significant source of his musical inspiration, not just for his Bengali songs but also for the vast treasury of popular songs he created for Hindi films. 

This claim — that folk music formed a major inspiration for Dada Burman’s work —looks credible because even in Bengali, despite being so close to Rabindranath Tagore who was a good friend of his father and despite his close friendship with Kazi Nazrul Islam, the most prominent poet-musician from East Bengal, he never really got too much into Rabindrasangeet and Nazrul Geeti. In Calcutta, he also trained in  Hindustani classical music. Yet, folk music was always his first inspiration.

The fact that he had an erudite father from whom he not just got his musical taste but encouragement to pursue music,  and the fact that he had freedom to roam around collecting and listening to common people’s music even though he was from the royal family of Tripura and the fact that he had his formal grounding in classical music in Kolkata — all contributed to the making of the musical personality that was Sachin Dev Burman. The book does an excellent job of  giving us how this musical genius was made in his formative years.

However, the book’s real insights actually stop there. Though in terms of length, most number of pages are devoted to his Bombay years — providing a lot of information, that too strictly chronologically, which makes the book a lot more usable for those seriously interested in historical musicology of Hindi film music — it does not do full justice to his contribution to Hindi film music, for which he is best known globally. That part of his life is treated as more of a linear history, with no major insights per se, except probably, the relationship of S D Burman with his son R D Burman and how exactly was the junior Burman influenced by his father and where he broke away from the tradition. This insight about the making of R D Burman is not even found in the book on R D Burman, penned a couple of years back by Anirudh Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, which own the National Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2011.  

The absence of major insights on his music making in Bombay and his relationship with singers, musicians, and film makers beyond Dev Anand, are probably because of the an excessive tendency on part of the author to relate all his creation, sometimes at the individual tunes and lyrics level, to Bengali sources, a lot of which are Dada Burman’s own work in Bengali. So much so that at places, it is almost unreadable if you do not know enough about Bengali music.

But then, the author cannot really be faulted for that. He had written it for a Bengali audience, and had probably presumed some basic knowledge about Bengali music. That is the problem in a translation. It is not just changing the text from one language to another. The original work was written for a different set of audience. 

The only complaint, then, is that the words “world of his music” as the subtitle of the book,  sounds a little too grand and exaggerated. It should have been something like S D Burman: The Making of the Musical Genius.

But if you ignore this one aspect — just a little too much of reference to Bengali music — this is one of the best books on Hindi film music on my list of books. While most other books fall into one of the three categories — adulatory passages with sprinkling of some flowery language;  journalistic works based on lots of information and anecdotes; and more scholarly, research based works with great new ideas and findings but difficult to read — this book is a very good balance. It is adulatory but  stops to analyze and even mildly criticize; it is full with facts and anecdotes; and it has some great new insights, especially regarding the making of S D Burman, and to a lesser extent the making of his son, R D Burman.  

(In last few months, a few books on Hindi film music/music personalities have been released. I am planning to move my post on books on Hindi film music to a list in a static page and keep updating that page)

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Who created the classic been music in Man Dole, Mera Tan Dole?

Man dole mera tan dole from the 1954 film Nagin remains one of the most popular songs in Hindi cinema. What adds to the charm of the song is the been music played in the song. This caught the imagination of people so much that there were so many myths that got created around this—the most popular being that snakes “were attracted” by it and entered the film theatres when the song was playing!

Myths apart, the popularity of the song is proven by the fact that it ranked at No 2 in annual Binaca Geetmala Hit Parade in 1954, the ultimate barometer of popularity of Hindi film songs at that time. In fact, when HMV (now Saregama) released a special album on the occasion of 25 years of the program, Ameen Sayani, who presented the program actually included this song as the top ranked song of 1954, albeit by mistake. But that shows how much Man dole was etched in memory that even someone like Sayani could get confused!

Much of the long-term popularity of the song was, of course, because of the beautiful sound of been. There has been a lot of discussion on who created that piece. The cover of the record released by HMV gives credit to Ravi and Kalyanji, who were part of Hemant Kumar’s team but later went on to became successful music composers themselves. Nagin, in fact, was one of the last films Ravi did as an assistant to Hemantda, for he started scoring music independently soon afterwards, tasting success early. A few tunes of his first film Vachan (O babu babu, jaanewale babu and Chanda mama door ke) went on to become all-ime hits. Kalyanji, of course, paired with his brother Anandji to emerge as a popular duo, and they were active right upto the 80s

There has been a lot of debate on who between Ravi and Kalyanji should get more credit for the piece? Kalyanji fans believe that he created the been sound on Clavioline, an electronic keyboard instrument, a predecessor to today’s synthesizers, which he introduced to the Indian audience in that film, though now, it is known that the sound was actually created on Harmonium by Ravi, while Kalyanji indeed supported on the Clavoline.

Nevertheless, I could not resist asking the question to the maestro himself when I met him in November 2011, just a few months before his death. (I actually did a post, Ravi: The Master of Situational Songs, based on some interesting perspective that I got from that interview). He, of course, vehemently denied any major contribution from Kalyanji and reiterated that the music was played on Harmonium by him, while acknowledging that Kalyanji did accompany on Clavoline.

But then he added something that caught my attention. “Actually, it was created by Lucila. But it sounded a little Western, so I changed it like this,” he said demonstrating it immediately on the Harmonium which accompanied him right through the entire interview, “to make it sound more Indian.”

Lucila? I had never heard that name. While I do not consider myself to be an authority on Hindi film music, I do follow it and can say with some pride that my knowledge is better than average. But this name was completely new to me. I did not even dare to ask him who she was, because of the way he was moving from one topic to another with a lot of zeal and I thought this would have been an interruption. I, however, ensured that I got the name right: Lucila. I was pretty sure that I would find it out on Google.

But that was a miscalculation—probably a little over-confidence—on my part. I started googling on my phone the moment I came out and followed it up with vigorous search on Google using all my techniques. Without success. I must have tried at least 20-30 times over a period of 3-4 months to find the elusive Lucila.

I could guess, though, that she could have been one of the Goan musicians. I knew that a lot of Goan musicians worked with composers but beyond Chic Chocolate and Anthony Gonsalves, I did not know anyone’s name.

And finally, I found this name, Lucila Pacheco, a Goa born Pianist, who played with different bands and worked for many composers in Hindi film industry at that time, in the book, Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age, a very informative and engaging book about the story of Bombay’s Jazz culture, written by Naresh Fernandes. In fact, I found quite a bit of info spread across the book, with 3-4 nice pictures, one in which she was seen playing Saxophone, though she was primarily a Pianist.

But the question was: was this the same Lucila that Ravi was referring to?

While the book carried quite some information about her, it was still not enough to ascertain whether she was the same person. What helped me finally is this post on her—A Woman in a Man’s World—in author Fernandes’ blog, also called Taj Mahal Foxtrot. From there, I gathered that she came to Bombay in 1948 and by 1955 she was quite popular. Nagin was released in 1954. And the music must have been composed by 1953-54. So, there was every possibility of her working with Hemant Kumar. Just to clarify, I had a quick conversation with Fernandes on Twitter, reconfirming that she was active during that time. That removed any doubt that I had.

And there you are. It was Lucila Pacheco, the Pianist, who according to the assistant music director of the movie, Nagin, first created the been music piece—one of the all time hits in Hindi film music history.

The very fact that the assistant music director of the movie—and someone actually credited with creation of the piece—mentioned her name, without being prompted, after close to seven decades means her contribution was important enough.

Who was she? Here I reproduce from the above-mentioned post.

Lucilla Pacheco moved to Bombay in 1948, the year after she married George Pacheco, who hailed from the village of Piedade, on the other side of Divar island. He’d been sent to Colombo to apprentice at her father’s shop. In their early years, the couple lived in Sargent House in Colaba. She had passed the classical examinations conducted by both the Trinity College of London and the Royal College of Music and started her professional life in Bombay giving piano lessons. Soon, she was accompanying films at the Metro theatre and, between shows, worked as a music demonstrator at the Furtado’s music store opposite. In an era when many people bought sheet music to play at home, Pacheco would perform the scores they contemplated purchasing, to show them how good the tunes could sound.

It wasn’t long before she was invited to join Mickey Correa’s band, a legendary dance band that proved to be the nursery of the city’s best swing musicians over the next two decades. She then worked under the baton of such top-flight leaders as Ken Mac and Chic Chocolate.

Fernandes’ book may have been hailed by critics as the first well-researched book on Jazz scenario in Bombay of 40s and 50s. But in a way, this label also restricts its potential audience. For example, I myself am not a keen follower of Jazz. But I found the book extremely engaging. The book is equally informative for those seriously interested in Hindi film music as a genre, as it covers one of the most important and less discussed conponents of Hindi film music, as it has evolved. [I am contemplating adding it to the list of Hindi film music books in my post on the topic: Not Well Recorded, but Now Well Recognized]

The role played by Goan musicians is more than just bringing in yet another regional flavor to the melting pot called Hindustani Cine Sangeet. While the Hindi film music has been richer by the regional contributions brought in by many composers (an interesting topic by itself), the contribution of Goan musicians is much more than that. They gave the Indian film music harmony, which by and large, is not there in Indian music. As Fernandes’ book reveals there were many like Chic Chocolate and Frank Fernand, designated as assistant music directors, who helped music directors “arrange” musicians’ roles.

Ravi’s referrence to Lucila Pacheco just shows that many of them may have actually composed/heavily influenced creation of tunes, for which they never got the credit.

Returning to Man Dole Mera Tan Dole, the song, for the record, also included, among others, Laxmikant (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo) as part of the ensemble.

How many songs can claim the involvement of so many star composers? Hemant Kumar as music director, Ravi as assistant music director playing Harmonium, Kalyanji as the Clavoline player, Laxmikant as the Tabla player (though I am not too sure about his role) and Lucila Pacheco as the Pianist, who actually created the tune first. But while all others are household names, Hindi film music lovers would not even recognize Pacheco’s name today. That is a pity.

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Not So Well Recorded: But Now, Well Recognized!

(This is updated on 14th December 2012 with addition of the title on Mohd Rafi at No 16)

It is for 30 years now that the National Film Awards have a category called Best Book on Cinema. About half the books that have won the awards are in regional languages–mostly South Indian languages, Bengali and Marathi. In the first 28 years, there was no book on Hindi film music that had caught the attention of the awards committee. However, from 2009 to 2012 (no award in this category in 2011), two of the three awards have gone to books on Hindi film music; both happen to be in English.

I thought of updating this year-old post of mine, which is about a list of books on Hindi film music, Not So Well Recorded: The Journey of the Hindi Film Song (the first ever post on this blog and most popular too) when I heard that a book on Hindi film music R.D. Burman – The Man, The Music by Anirudha Bhattacharjee & Balaji Vittal, about which I reported here,  has won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema.

So, here is an updated list, with six additions, including R  D Burman…

As noted then, I still stand by my view that the work done to record this incredible journey of the Hindi film song, in a serious manner, is far from adequate. But I am hopeful that recognition in the form of awards like this or any other–my post is a humble attempt–would do some good.

What makes me a little hopeful is that quite a few good blogs exist on the subject. Most of them have wealth of information. But a good book should be a little more than that–it should be beyond a fan’s perspective. It should be either well-researched and analytical or a first hand account. Nothing like if it is both.

I must note that I have noticed/heard about some good work, mostly biographical, in Hindi and Marathi. When I and a friend met music composer Ravi for an interview about four months back, he told us that he was writing his autobiography in Hindi. I am not aware of the status of the book. So, good translation too is not a bad idea.

I present here the updated list. As noted in the earlier post, I would reiterate that I am not an expert on the subject and this is just a labor of love for fellow Hindi film music lovers who would also like to know the stories behind the songs, singers, composers and the lyricists. I have added brief comments for the ones that I have read and have also provided links to buying those online in India, whereever I could find.

So, here is the list in this format: Title, Author, Publisher

1. K L Saigal: Piligrim of the Swara, Raghava R Menon, Hind Pocket Book. One of the earliest books on a singer to be published in English, the virtuosity of author Raghava Menon is evident, as it captures the evolution of Saigal as a singer. But strictly speaking, this is more around Saigal, right from his childhood days, and not really so much about film music. Could find it now, only in Amazon for $173. I had bought it for Rs 30 in 1991/92!

2. Lata Mangeshkar: A Biography, Raju Bharatan, UBS Publishers & Distributor. Probably the best book on Hindi film music written so far, Raju Bharatan, arguably the most prolific writer on Hindi fim music presents a great history of the film music with Lata at the centre. All his pet topics–Kishore/Rafi choice of Dada Burman, Lata-Rafi rift and the likes–find place in it. Also gives a great portrait of Lata as a person. If you have to read just one book on Hindi fillm music, read this one. Unfortunately, could not find it in any site.

3. Yesterday’s Melodies, Today’s Memories, Manek Premchand, Jharna Books. It is more of a compilation, without neither serious analysis nor any great new anecdotal info. It is nevertheless a good short encyclopedia of music personalities. Could not find it any e-stores. I had procured it from the author directly when it was published around 2003.

4. Hindi Film Song: Music Beyond Boundaries, Ashok Da Ranade, Promila & Company. A serious analysis of Hindi film music and its doyens, it is a great book for those who want to seriously learn the subject. Not really for light reading. Ranade is a well-known writer on music and has written extensively on Indian classical music, instruments and musical traditions. Buy: Landmark

5. Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song, Ganesh Anantharaman, Penguin Books India. Again devoid of any original research, but very smoothly written, a good read for the flight, if you want to learn about Hindi film music’s journey without getting heavily into lots of information. Published about three years back, it is widely available, thanks to its publishers, Penguin. Winner of 2009 National Award for Best Book on Cinema. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

6. The History of Indian Film Music: A Showcaseof the Very Best in Hindi Cinema, Rajiv VijaykarTimes Group Books. Yet another book on Hindi film music in a semi coffee table format, this is, again, widely available. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

7. A Journey Down Melody Lane, Raju Bharatan, Hay House. This is the latest (2010) from Raju Bharatan and is far lighter to read than his earlier book. If his biography of Lata was meant for more serious readers, this is for everyone. If you want to pick up a first book on Hindi film music that is smooth reading and still want to be delighted with great pieces of information, then this is it. Just beware of one thing: some of the anecdotes are a little overplayed. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

8. Notes Of Naushad, Shashikant Kinikar, English Edition Publishers And Distributors. A book for those who cannot stop humming those Rafi-Shakeel-Naushad tunes.  And you get to learn a lot about arguably the top composer of Hindi cinema. Buy: Flipkart

9. Memories Come Alive: An autobiography of Manna Dey, Sarbani Putatunda (translator), Penguin Books India. A great book for Manna Dey fans and those who want to learn how the music happened in 40s. The chapters on K C Dey, with whom the young Manna worked as an assistant are a rare treat. No other published source can give that information. This, I think, is the most underrated book in my list. Buy: Flipkart

10. Mohd. Rafi: The Great Immortal Singer, Mohd. Saleem-ul-Haq. Published by the author himself, this book is actually a list of all the Hindi film songs of Rafi Saab, with a small biography. Comes with a CD of some rare songs including Rafi’s English songs, Although we hail from different lands and the She I Love. It was never available in the market. I had gone to the author’s house in Hyderabad to get it, some six years back. Buy: Author’s Website

11. Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and DanceSangita Gopal & Sujata Moorti (Editors)Orient Blackswan. It is a collection of independent articles and is fairly academic. A good one for the collection but not exactly very readable. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

12. R.D. Burman – The Man, The MusicAnirudha Bhattacharjee & Balaji Vittal, Harper Collins India. The winner of the National Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2012, this book is a little more balanced in terms of serious analysis and anecdotes, and like many others in this list, is fans’ perspective. Nevertheless a good book if you want to learn about RD and the then music scene. Buy: Flipkart, Landmark

13. Mallika-e-Tarannum Noorjehan: The Melody QueenAijaj Gul, Vitasta Publishing.  Though the name somehow creates an expectation that the book is on her melodies, it is actually too much into her personal life,  esp early life and how she became what she became. I have included it here because it gives glimpses into the music. However, by the subcontinent standard, it is too bold a biography. A fairly good read if you are interested in Noor Jehan and what it meant those days to become a singer. Buy: Flipkart. Landmark

14. K L Saigal: Immortal Singer and SuperstarNevile PranNevile Books.  This is a book that I bought after I wrote my first post. It is a very smooth read with all the information and some lesser known aspects. For example, two whole chapters are dedicated to Saigal as a poet and Saigal and the Kotha culture. For fans of music of that era, a must buy for esp as Raghava Menon’s book is now not available. Buy: Landmark

15. Talking Songs: Javed Akhtar in Conversation with Nasreen Munni KabirNasreen Munni Kabir, Oxford Uinversity Press India. Of course, Javed Akhtar is Javed Akhtar. And when he starts to speak, the most disinterested person gets interested. So, you have words coming from his mouth. But the conversations could have been handled much better. Worth a flip-through. Buy: Flipkart. Landmark.

16. Mohammed Rafi My Abba – A Memoir, Yasmin Khalid Rafi, Tranquebar Press (An imprint of Westland) Written by Rafi Saab’s daughter-in-law, and translated from Hindi by Rupa Srikumar and A K Srikumar, this gives the private side of this great singer, essentially a very family person. Though there are chapters dedicated to his music, with an analytical tone, that is at best amateurish. Also, there are full chapters about the authors childhood and her life in London, with large number of pages with no reference to Rafi Saab. However, this is probably the only book in this list, which tells you so much and so well about the private side of a person, that too someone who was such a family person. 

 

 17. Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film StudiosGregory D. Booth, Oxford University Press  I haven’t read the book, though have flipped through it once. Fairly academic but with gems of information. As Anu Warrier, one of the most prolific bloggers on Hindi film and film music commented about this in my earlier post, it is “extremely well-researched…Very, very informative, and a lot of information about the musicians and arrangers who are not usually feted.” That makes it the only serious book on musicians. Buy: Flipkart

18. Hindi Film Songs And The Cinema, Anna Morcom, Ashgate. I haven’t read the book but here is a good review. Buy: Flipkart

19. Lata Mangeshkar In Her Own VoiceNasreen Munni KabirNiyogi Books. Buy: FlipkartLandmark

20. A R Rahman: The Musical Storm, Kamini Mathai, Penguin Books India. Buy: Flipkart

21. In Search Of Lata MangeshkarHarish Bhimani, South Asia Books. Buy: Flipkart 

I have not read the last five books.

Needless to say, will love to listen from anyone who can help me add to the list. Only books in English.



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