Whom Should We Blame?

In August 1995, I and one of my friends, still fairly new in Delhi, rented a two-room flat in South Delhi. Both of us had just started working. As we moved to the flat, I found a full sheet of newspaper—if I remember correctly, it was Times of India—pasted on the wall of what would be my room. The previous tenants—young bachelors like us—had most likely used it to protect the hanged clothes from the paint of the wall.

What caught our attention was a headline in bold font, of an interview of dancer Indrani Rahman: Oriyas are so parochial. My friend, whose parents hailed from Varanasi but who was born and brought up in Odisha, took a strong offence to this. He would—like many non-Odias who have stayed in Odisha for long do—always defend Odisha and Odia whenever anyone said anything against the state and its people.

“Calm down,” I said, “I fully agree with her observations.” By that time, I had read the entire piece.

“It is just that she has drawn a completely wrong conclusion from those observations,” I told him. Odias are often described as lazy, non-enterprising, and even conservative by some; but rarely are they labeled parochial or xenophobic.

It is important to understand what made Rahman make such a drastic conclusion. She had complained fairly bitterly that her contribution to popularization of Odissi dance and its recognition as a classical dance form had not been recognized enough by the people and government of Odisha.

It was not untrue at all. One can well understand the anguish.

Not only was Indrani Rahman the first well-known classical dancer to demonstrate the beauty of Odissi before a Delhi audience way back in 1958, she actively worked in the background to facilitate the meetings and demonstrations of the form which ultimately led to the recognition of the dance form as classical by Sangeet Natak Akademi.

The only point where she erred is that she assumed the lack of her recognition in Odisha was because of her not being an Odia. In other words, she assumed that those who belonged to the state must have been very well recognized and honored.

Alas! If only it was remotely true!

Rahman was surely one of the top 5-6 individuals whose efforts should be acknowledged and hailed for the recognition of Odissi. But what about honoring the person who played the single most important role in that? Unfortunately, there is hardly anything that the state has done to acknowledge his contribution to Odissi. And that man, unlike Rahman, was a full-blooded Odia.

The Apathy
We Odias never get tired of boasting about the ancientness of our culture, our language, our dance, our music and of course our architecture, often resorting to a direct comparison with those of Bengal, our neighbor.

Many of us like to believe that the better recognition of Bengali language, music and culture—as well as the reputation of Bengalis as a people of refined taste—is entirely due to consistent lobbying and distortion of facts. Our logic rests on the argument that even though Odia music and language are far older than Bengali music and language, if Bengali enjoys far better recognition today, it must be due to propaganda!

This is strange logic. As it is now being widely accepted, Odisha’s music indeed is far older than Bengal’s music. Odia’s recognition as a classical language puts to rest any doubt that anyone might have about Odia being an older language, than not just Bengali but most Indo-Aryan languages in existence today.

But what has that got to do with how it is perceived today?

A language or a culture is not a static thing. The current vibrancy of a language, a music or art is not dependent on how old it is but how the current generation and the past generations have preserved, enriched and patronized it. If Bengali music is far better recognized outside Bengal, it is because of the contribution of creators and patrons of that music over the years, not because of when the tradition started.

Of course, the deep resentment against Bengali in Odisha has its own reason. It comes largely because of the unsuccessful but vigorous attempt by a section of Bengalis serving in Odisha during the British period to push Odia into oblivion, by trying to establish that Odia was not a separate language.

But the image of Bengali as a rich and sophisticated language or Bengalis as a community with refined taste today is not because of such narrow-minded people; rather it is because of the sincerity and hard work done by a few great souls. It is also because of how the society in general contributed towards it and cooperated with these cultural leaders.

The most important of such personalities, of course, is Gurudev Ranbindranath Tagore—an extra ordinary individual who combined creativity and sensitivity with great vision. A genius, Tagore not just created great poetry and music, but built and nurtured an environment which encouraged people to indulge in creative pursuance, in an open environment. He also challenged the conservative tradition and encouraged Begalis to continuously interact with outside traditions in art and culture as well as with creative people outside. This not just helped enrich Bengali culture; it exposed outsiders to it. This experimentation arguably contributed most significantly to the rise in esteem of Bengali art and culture, in the eyes of the outsiders.

Bengalis never fail to acknowledge this great contribution by Tagore. In fact, Robi Thakur, as he is called in Bengal, is part of the collective psyche and culture, as much as Durga Puja and fish curry.

Odisha’s is a case study in contrast. Take Odissi itself. All of us are so proud of it. Yet, few know the contribution of people who shaped it in the early days and established it in the world stage.

Well, the lobbying with Sangeet Natak Akademi was spearheaded by many Odias and non-Odias (like Rahman) in Delhi but most of the core research for this was led by one individual, whose powerful lecture accompanied by a demonstration convinced the learned audience about its classicism.

That person was Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik.

Kavichandra who? I was actually asked by someone of my generation (born in the 70s). And you can well imagine about today’s generation. While many have heard his name, they are not sure what he has done (“kavichandra, must be a poet”).

Kavichandra may or may not be as creative as Tagore. But arguably, he has contributed to more aspects of Odia culture than probably even Tagore has done in Bengal. The idea is not to compare the two individuals but to show the way they have been treated by their respective communities.

I do not mind saying, without the fear of any exaggeration watsoever that no one in modern Odisha has contributed to so many facets of Odia culture—Odissi dance and music, Odia literature, Odia theater, Odia modern music and Odia cinema—as Kavichandra has done. And his involvement with all these areas have been in various roles—a creative composer/creator, a performer, a professional entrepreneur, a researcher and above all as a teacher/trainer.

Without getting into too much of details, here is a brief overview of his contribution.

  • He worked with various groups to create the standard postures and rules of modern Odissi dance
  • He visited different conferences to establish that Odissi, as a music, is not just classical but is very different from both Hindustani and Carnatic music.
  • He named Odissi. David Denen, an American scholar, who has done extensive research on naming of Odissi, has concluded, after referring to half a dozen scholars, that it was Kalibabu who named Odissi. And the name itself was a master stroke. Not only did it secure its Odia connection forever, but it also created a classical aura for it, which would not have been in a generic adjective like Odia.
  • It is his powerful lecture, accompanied by demo, that convinced everyone including famous Indologist and dance critic, Dr Charles Fabri that Odissi is a classical dance form. Indrani Rahman worked closely with him and was trained by his disciple Guru Deba Prasad Das.
  • He established the modern theater culture in Odisha. His Odisha Theaters was the first professional theater group in Odisha.
  • He was the first to experiment with modern themes in theater and music. A playwright and lyricist par excellence, he wrote on traditional themes as well as contemporary social themes and popularized them.
  • He was a pioneer in modern recorded music from Odisha. He himself and his protégé Sumati Devi recorded a number of songs for HMV
  • His association with early Odia films is a subject by itself. He not just wrote lyrics for many early movies such as Lalita, Rolls-28, Kedar Gouri and Dasyu Ratnakar, he scored music too in one movie, Naari. His association with Odia cinema continued well into the 60s, when he wrote for movies such as Manika Jodi, Ghara Bahuda and Kie Kahara, the second movie for Akshaya Mohanty as a composer. He wrote  the story for Rolls-28, script for Jayadeba and co-directed and acted in Nari
  • Some of the songs written by him such as Asa jibana dhana mora pakhala kansaa (sung by both Balakrushna Dash and Shyamamani Devi) are milestones in popularity of Odia palligeeti. Here are some of the recorded songs written by him that are available online.
  • He even dabbled with recording in Odisha by establishing a recording company in Cuttack.
  • He tried his hand at publishing a full-fledged music journal, probably the only such journal to be published in Odia ever.
  • His direct disciples and proteges—Sumati Devi and Angurbala in music, Deba Prasad Das and Indrani Rahman in dance and actors like Samuel Sahu (Babi), Priyanath Mishra (Pira) and Gloria Mohanty who excelled in theater and cinema—too contributed immensely to their respective fields.

In short, whatever could be imagined in all these areas, Kavichandra has done that. While there have been great poets or dramatists, singers or composer, researchers or gurus, there is no one in modern Odisha who has contributed so much to such a diverse set of areas in Odia culture.

Yet, his contribution has gone largely unrecognized. Believe it or not, the following statements are true. I will be more than happy to be proven wrong.

  1. There is no Odissi institution named after him.
  2. There is no major award in Odissi music or dance which is presented in his honor.
  3. There is no major institution or award in his name in the entire gamut of creative fields he was active in, some of which I have discussed above.
  4. If this write-up is to be believed, then there is conscious effort to erase his name from the history of Odissi music.
Kavichandra Memorial at Cuttack. This is where he lived for a good part of his life. (I am indebted to media person and community radio pioneer in Odisha, Viraj Shukla for the visit)

Kavichandra Kalicharan memorial at Cuttack. This is where he lived a good part of his life

DSC04975

The entrance to the house.

I have deliberately not talked of his financial condition etc. In many places across the world, great artists and creative people often die in penury but after their death, they are recognized and honored. That is not the case with Kalibabu.

Compare what Tagore has done for Bengal and Kavichandra has done for Odisha. And then, see what Bengalis have done to Tagore and what Odias have done to Kavichandra. And you will probably never again complain about Odia not getting enough recognition outside.

If we do not honor our own tradition and people, how can we expect others to do that for us?

What Indrani Rahman inferred about Odias may not be correct per se but the reality is not far more encouraging than that.

As for myself, while I never really blamed Rahman for her conclusion, the Odia in me was too sensitive to allow that paper to remain there after my leaving. Though it remained there for all the four years that I stayed there—just to keep reminding me of the bitter truth—I could not resist tearing it off when I moved out.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Dance, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Odissi Dance

Odia Film Music – A Very Short Introduction

Review of Jhuramana Jharageeti by Surya Deo The first Odia movie, Sita Bibaha, was made just five years after the first Indian talkie, Alam Ara was released, though the real journey of Odia cinema began a decade and a half later when the second Odia film Lalita was released in 1949, followed by more movies in 1950, 1951 and so on. In all these years, songs have been an integral part of Odia cinema, as they have been in Hindi and other regional cinemas. From the ras leela songs of Sita Bibaha to the traditional bhajans in Sri Jagannatha:  from the khorata-type song in Nuabou to the experimentations of Akshaya Mohanty in Malajanha; from the Rafi-Lata songs in Arundhati to the experimentations of Prafulla Kar in turning traditional Odissi tunes to modern beats, the journey of Odia film song has been an interesting and eventful one.

But there has been almost no account of that interesting journey.

The first book on the journey of Odia cine song informs, educates and entertains

Jhuramana Jharageeti, written by noted film journalist and writer Surya Deo, is that monumental work which attempts to chronicle this great journey.

It is monumental, not in the sense that it is voluminous or gigantic—in fact, it is less than 100 pages, just about 6 x 6” in size. It is not monumental only because it is the first attempt in the area. It is monumental because it is complete. In less than 100 pages, which also include so many rare pictures, it tells us the complete story of Odia film song till 1990, in just the right detail.

You get to know when each of important personalities associated with Odia film songs—singers, composers and lyricists—made their debut. You get to know what kind of experimentation was attempted by which the composer in what movie. You get to know—if you are not already aware—which songs achieved what kind of popularity. And you get all this, even as there is no break in the linearity of description—the book’s narration is completely chronological. You do not miss a movie, especially of the early days.

The author resorts to a clever presentation format to ensure that while enough interesting anecdotes are served to the reader, the main narrative does not become too large and too distracting. He achieves this by keeping all the anecdotal information to separate sidebars, mostly presented in the voice of the individuals associated with particular songs and movies. So, you get to know how Pranab Patnaik resorted to Saigal Saab’s style in bedana sagara tire or how the song baridare tu jana was rerecorded in the voice of Sikander Alam, as some thought the accent of Tarun Banerjee didn’t sound Odia enough or how Rafi Saab generously sang two songs for the fees of one, “cheating” his own secretary.

The only jarring note in the entire book is its subtitle: Ardha Shatabdira Odia Cine Geetira Tarjama or Analysis of the Odia cine songs of the (last) half century.

Tarjama? Analysis? Does the book even get into what, in musicological terms, would be called an analysis of a genre or even specific songs?

An analysis of a musical genre (Odia cine song in this case) would typically do one or more of the following: find and/or examine trends; raise questions and possibly answer them. For example: Where and why did Odissi and other traditional music disconnect from Odia cinema? Why is it that some songs (like this one from Arundhati) are never listed anywhere? Or what explains the dominance of non-Odia female singers in the 60s even though most of the male voices belonged to Odias—and this despite hits such as jaa re manadoli udi jaa? What was the relationship between Odia light music and film music and how they evolved together? Or who were the musicians/men behind orchestration and what was their background (In Bollywood, this is probably the most researched aspect, especially by foreign researchers)? What was the impact of regional music of different parts of Odisha on Odia cine song?

The book does not get into all these questions, I believe, because it never intended to do that. It does beautifully what it aims to do—to inform, educate and entertain the general reader about Odia film music.

When I read it, without noticing the subtitle, I did not find that the book fails anywhere in what it attempts to do. The size, the style of narration, the language, the amount of detailing, and the anecdotes in the language of the individuals associated with Odia film music—all contribute to making of a great narrative. Though the author’s deep insights into the subject (and the research behind it) pop out sometimes, he ensures that it does not affect the readability; in fact, he plays those beautifully at places to make the narrative only richer and more engaging. The added incentive: the lyrical flow of language which, at no stage, allows you to get overwhelmed by the abundance of information—and proper nouns!

Except for  this small gap I mentioned above—in the subtitle which is somewhat misleading—the entire content is flawless. The book is a great addition to Odia non-fiction in general and film literature in particular and is a must read for anyone even remotely interested in Odia films or Odia music.

Before this, I have read four books on Odia cinema; three on the history of Odia cinema, and one a collection of essays on topics in Odia cinema—including its music—by Surya Deo himself. While one of the books—Odia Chalachitrara Agyanata Adhyaya—is full with lots of valuable information and is a great resource book for those studying the subject, only Deo’s book—Odia Cinema: Rupa Rupantara—would classify as a narrative non-fiction, a book that is engaging and would interest anyone who just loves to read.

The scope of Jhuramana… does not allow him to get deeper into any one single aspect, like in Rupa Rupantara, but what he manages to do is extraordinary. The book is unputdownable; I completed it in one and half hours of opening the parcel.  I had ordered it online through Odikart, an Odisha-based e-tailer, in July and have followed at least half a dozen of times before it arrived a couple of days back.

It was worth the wait.

9 Comments

Filed under Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Indian Classical Music, Music, Musicology

The Great Masters: A Timeline View of Top Hindustani Vocalists

Indian music in general and Hindustani classical music in particular is a seamless journey. The musical repertoire is often passed from generation to generation within the family as well as to chosen disciples, within the school of music, called Gharanas. Musicians often amalgamate their learning from the gurus, components from other gharanas, and their own creative inputs to develop what becomes their own distinct individual style, while following not just the rules of ragas but also the traditions of their gharanas.

Time, hence, is an important component of the musical evolution. A broad idea about the times of great masters—when they lived, learned, performed and trained—surely helps appreciate the finance nuances of Hindustani music. This helps the discerning listener to spot trends—how the styles have evolved over years—as well as have a perspective on how different musicians have influenced each other.

Presented here is a simple chart that shows when exactly did the great masters of modern times—the later part of 19th century to today—lived, in comparison to each other. The visual will help understand who was a contemporary of whom, while the colors denote the gharanas to which they belong.

Will appreciate if you point out any major name that I have missed. Please note that, to keep it manageable, I have done this for only the vocalists. I have also included top Thumri singers.

The Life and Times of Top Hindustani Vocalists

The Life and Times of Top Hindustani Vocalists

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Indian Classical Music, Music, Musicology

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.

8 Comments

Filed under Books, Litearture, Odisha & Odia

The Millennium Thumris of Hindi Cinema

(Updated on 14 January 2015 with addition of a few new songs)

I was sifting through a lot of new Hindi film songs to create a small dance playlist for my seven year old, based completely on his farmaaish, as my own knowledge in the area is next to nothing. I stopped suddenly—hamari atariya pe aaja re sanwariya dekha dekhi tanik hui jaaye. Is it a film song? From 2013/14?

Yes, it is; from the 2014 movie, Dedh Ishqiya. And thankfully, the voice is familiar. Or let me put it this way—the only voice in today’s Hindi films, that is familiar to me: Rekha Bhardwaj, a sort of enfant terrible of experimentative Hindi film music of today. The composer is Rekha’s husband, Vishal Bhardwaj, a hugely talented composer, who after so many successful film scores, is still, in my mind, best identified as the composer of jungle jungle baat chali hai, patta cala hai; arrey chaddi pehne ke phool khila hai phool khila hai, from Hindi Jungle Book aired on Doordarshan in my childhood (mid-80s).

Since my pleasant discovery about a month back, hamari atariya… from Dedh Ishqiya has caught the imagination of general public. The media is full with stories on how this “Begum Akhtar thumri” has managed to “revive” an interest in thumris, whatever that means. Yes, for most of us, this is a Begum Akhtar thumri, even though many thumri singers, including thumri queen Shobha Gurtu have sung it. Yet, Rekha holds on to her own; as hers is an open-throated rendering, in contrast to Begum Akhtar’s silk smooth flow. Her mature but rustic voice makes it a different piece altogether. And don’t fail to notice the slight but impactful difference in mukhda. In Begum’s version, it is, hamari atariya pe aao sanwariya dekha dekhi balam hui jaaye; what Rekha and Shobha Gurtu sing is hamari atariya pe aaja re sanwariya dekha dekhi tanik hui jaaye. The more sophisticated aao goes well with the Ghazal style singing of the Begum.  

Though hamari atariya… has managed to catch the attention of the public, it is not the first time that a film thumri has become so popular; neither is it the first time that an already popular thumri has been used in films in the voice of a playback singer. [Throughout this piece the word thumri has been used as a generic name for thumris, dadra, kajri, hori, chaiti and all such sub genres.]

Thumris have been used in films right from the very early days of talkies. Rajkumari had sung a number of thumris in the 30s. K L Saigal had sung a popular thumri, piya bina nahi aawat, way back in 1935, in Devdas. And who can forget, Saigal’s baabul mora naihar, in 1938 movie Street Singer? Ask anyone about the song; though the Wajid Ali Shah thumri has been sung by maestros down the ages—from Malka Jan to Alisha Chenoy, and many in between including Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Girija Devi and Shobha Gurtu—it is Saigal’s version that most identify with. [Here is my earlier post on Babul Mora…]. Without taking away credit from Saigal Saab, films do make it reach the mass and help in popularizing. If today people know so much about this song and its history, it is a lot because of it being made popular by Hindi cinema.

There are many traditional thumris that have been sung by playback singers in movies. Bajuband khul khul jaye, one of the most widely sung thmris—by such greats as Ustad Faiyaaz Khan and Sureshbabu Mane—was sung by Lata Mangeshkar in a movie and the same was used in a 2006 movie. Kahe ko jhooti banao, another favorite of Ustad Faiyaz Khan sahib, was so beautifully sung by Manna Dey in Manzil, while Yesudas did a soulful rendition of one of the signature thumris of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saab, ka karoon sajani aaye na balam, in Swami. In addition to playback singers, classical singers, right from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to Shobha Gurtu and Begum Parveen Sultana have all lent their voice to thumris in films.

The idea behind this piece is not to list thumris in films and get onto a history of that. There is a good piece on that topic here, which contains a fairly comprehensive list of film thumris. However, I am yet to see a title from Saregama, called Thumris from Films, though there are many such compilations, on say Ghazals or simply Classical Songs or theme bases songs such as monsoon songs.

The objective of this piece is two-fold.

First, it is to point it out that the use of thumris has not gone out of favor with our music composers even today. Here, I list of thumris used in films post 2000, with information on films, singer and composer, with links to those on the web. I do not claim it to be a comprehensive list but is just enough to prove the point. The format is Song, Film, Singers, Music Director, Year. I have given links to the songs on the web.   

While the title of this post comes from the fact that all these thumris are from Hindi films in the new millennium, from there too is derived my second point, or rather a set of questions.

Should film thumris in the new millennium be restricted to use in traditional settings, as most of these are? After all, are thumris not the songs of love, separation, longing, and even desire? Aren’t they the perfect choice to be used as background scores in even urban set ups, urban themes, targeted at discerning audience?

My thought is not completely new. The song, aane do, from film, Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye as well as aiyo piyaji from Chakravyuh are examples of what I am talking about. Yet, both the singers, Soma Ghosh and Ustad Rashid Khan are accomplished classical singer. Does one need to have an ear for classical music to appreciate these songs?

I believe in the new experimentative cinema, with a balance of sensibility and entertainment, thumris— especially those in the slower Benaras style—can be a perfect fit to create that mood of melancholy to passion; restlessness to just sublime desire.

Some purists may not like the idea. But isn’t it the purists on the other side—some khayal singers—who are responsible for the second class treatment given out to thumris today with a “semi-classical” tag? Aren’t thumris rich in their expression of moods rather than just musical showmanship? Can that not be the perfect accompaniment for a visual medium like cinema?

I am not an expert to offer my conclusive judgment on this; but as a listener and lover of thumris, I would like the genre to reach and be appreciated by a wider audience. Cinema is a perfect medium to achieve that objective. With directors who are challenging all known boundaries in cinema, and talented musicians like Vishal and Rekha Bhardwaj, there has never been  a better time to try this out.

2 Comments

Filed under Hindi Film Music, Indian Classical Music, Music, Musicology, Uncategorized

A Tribute to Manna Dey

And with that, goes our last link with the golden era of playback singing in Hindi cinema. Manna Dey, who died yesterday, was the last among the six legends of that era—Talat, Mukesh, Rafi, Hemant, and Kishore being the other five—to depart.

Many critics and musicologists say Manna Dey was the most underrated among his peer group. I personally do not subscribe to that view. Any artiste should be considered underrated if his work would not gain the popularity or critical appreciation that it deserves. Neither was the case with Manna Dey. Music composers always turned to Manna Dey when they needed him. They knew his capability. While he came to be identified with classical/philosophical numbers, many of his songs were chartbusters too. Chunari sambhal gori, Pyaar hua ikrar hua, Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum, Yeh raat bhigi bhigiAe bhai zara dekh ke chalo, and of course, the all time favorite, Ae mere zohara jabi are but just a few examples. I am of course, not counting those that are popular but belong to the category of classical/philosophical numbers which went to become superhits, such as Ae mere pyare watan, Zindagi kaisi hai paheli, Laga chunari mein daag and many more.

The reason he was not elevated to that cult status is because he was never part of any composer’s camp or was identified as any particular actor’s voice. So, he got much less number of songs as compared to others. On the other hand, if you have to calculate the the quality songs sung by any singer as a percentage of all songs sung by that singer, it is a no-brainer that Manna Dey would clearly come on top. It is not that Manna Dey chose to sing only a few good songs. Composers came to him only when they needed him. He was not the default choice. So, he was not underrated; neither by the composers nor by the audience. He was under-used. That did not impact the popularity of his songs. But that did prevent him from being prolific and in the commercial world of Hindi music, that factor worked against him.

A lot of good playlists have been created by admirers and fans of Manna Dey, like this one. So, I am going to refrain from getting into that. What I am doing here is highlighting his contribution to the playback singing in films made in Odia, my mother tongue. 

How many would know that among all the greats of Hindi playback singing of that era—the above six as well as Lata, Asha and Geeta Dutt—Manna Dey sang the most number of songs for Odia movies? How many would know that he was the first among these greats to sing for Odia films?

Manna Dey was brought in by Santanu Mohapatra, the music director, who created a unique identity for himself, even as the other three great composers of that era—Balakrushna Dash, Bhubaneswar Mishra and Akshaya Mohanty—often worked with each other and used mostly the same set of singers. It is Mohapatra who brought in popular singers from Hindi cinema to sing for Odia movies. Manna Dey was introduced to Odia film audience in Mohapatra’s first movie as music composer—Suryamukhi.  Manna Dey, true to his image in Bombay, rendered a philosophical number, Bandhure…Duniya re samayara naee bahi jae re. Lata Mangeshkar too debuted in Odia playback singing in the same movie, with her popular sei chuna chuna tara.

But while Mohapatra kept experimenting with other Hindi playback singers—he brought in Rafi, Usha Mangeshkar and Lata again in his next movie as composer, Arundhati—other composers did turn to Manna Dey when they needed him. I have listed here seven songs he has sung for Odia movies. Interestingly, they are for seven different movies, composed by six different music directors. So, here too, he clearly did not belong to any camp.

And like in Hindi movies, here too, he was always brought in to sing that odd song with a classical/philosophical undertone. As you can notice, six of the seven songs listed here, clearly belong to these categories. The sole exception is Dharichi jebe chaadibi nahin in Samaya, incidentally composed by the classical duo Pt Bhubaneswar Mishra and Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia under the name, Bhuban-Hari.

Here is the list. The information in the bracket are the name of the film, year of the movie, and the composer’s name. 

My respectful homage to this great singer.

1 Comment

Filed under Hindi Film Music, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Uncategorized