Book: Voice of the Veena – S Balachander by Vikram Sampath

“Voice of the Veena – S. Balachander, A biography”, by Vikram Sampath, Rain Tree (Rupa Publications), 2012

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S. Balachander, best known to many of us as a veena maestro, was very different from the musicians one usually comes across. He was much more than just a great vainika. A man with strong convictions, he stood up for what he believed was the truth, even if this meant he was standing alone against the rest of the world. He was often at odds with others and consequently, his was a life mired in controversies.

It is surprising to note that despite his monumental contributions to multiple fields, many of which he was self-taught in, and despite of his work having inspired so many people, not much has been written about him yet. It is as though many conveniently choose to forget/ ignore him and his contributions. Vikram Sampath’s latest book, the biography of this multi-faceted maverick genius, is thus a very welcome one.

It is not an easy task to write the biography of someone like Balachander and Vikram seems to have done a commendable job. He has tried his best to look at things impartially without seeming to get too much emotionally entangled with the subject. Sufficient details have been provided about the different things Balachander tried his hands at (carnatic percussion, sitar, cinema, veena etc) and about his key contributions to these, especially to the art of veena playing. Balachander’s mercurial rise in a field which was, at that time, dominated by very talented vocalists, his contributions towards making carnatic music internationally popular, his open mindedness at absorbing goodness irrespective of where it came from, his contribution to veena playing (including the changes he brought in to both the instrument as well as the  to the style of playing), his tussle with the establishment and his involvement in controversies (including the Swati Tirunal one) are very well documented. The book also provides a beautiful summary of the changes that both Carnatic music and the environment in which it existed underwent over the years.

I would recommend this book as a must read for anyone involved with art music just for the collection of Balachander’s thoughts gleaned from his dairy/ album entries and his speeches, if not for anything else.

Padma Awards for Musicians

Padma Awards for 2012 have been announced and the following are the Indian Classical musicians who have been honored with the same:

Padma Bhushan:

  • Shri M.S. Gopalakrishnan (Carnatic – Violin)
  • Shri T.V. Gopalakrishnan (Carnatic – Vocal & Mrudangam)
  • Pt. Buddhadev Das Gupta (Hindustani – Sarod)

Padma Shri:

  • Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar (Hindustani – Vocal)
  • Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan (Hindustani – Sitar)
  • Gundecha Brothers (Hindustani – Vocal)
  • Shri Anup Jalota (Vocal)

 

The complete list of awardees is as follows (Source: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=79881 )

 

Padma Vibhushan

 

SlNo. Name Discipline State/ Domicile
1. Shri K GSubramanyan Art-Painting & Sculpture West Bengal
2. Late Shri Mario De Miranda Art-Cartoonist Goa*
3. Late (Dr.)BhupenHazarika Art- Vocal Music Assam*
4. Dr. KantilalHastimal Sancheti Medicine – Orthopedics Maharashtra
5. Shri T VRajeswar Civil Service Delhi

Padma Bhushan

 

SlNo.

Name

Discipline

State/ Domicile

Smt. Shabana Azmi Art – Cinema Maharashtra
Shri KhaledChoudhury Art – Theatre West Bengal
Shri Jatin Das Art – Painting Delhi
Pandit BuddhadevDas Gupta Art – Instrumental Music – Sarod West Bengal
Shri DharmendraSingh Deol aliasDharmendra Art – Cinema Maharashtra
Dr. TrippunithwraViswanathanGopalkrishnan Art – Classical vocal and instrumental music Tamil Nadu
Ms. Mira Nair Art – Cinema Delhi
Shri M.S.Gopalakrishnan Art – Instrumental Music-Violin Tamil Nadu
Shri Anish Kapoor Art – Sculpture UK*
Shri Satya NarayanGoenka Social Work Maharashtra
Dr. (Judge) PatibandlaChandrasekhar Rao Public Affairs Germany*
Shri George Yong-Boon Yeo Public Affairs Singapore*
Prof. ShashikumarChitre Science and Engineering Maharashtra
Dr. M S Raghunathan Science and Engineering Maharashtra
Shri SubbiahMurugappa Vellayan Trade and Industry Tamil Nadu
Shri BalasubramanianMuthuraman Trade and Industry Maharashtra
Dr. Suresh H. Advani Medicine – Oncology Maharashtra
Dr. Noshir H Wadia Medicine-Neurology Maharashtra
Dr. Devi PrasadShetty Medicine-Cardiology Karnataka
Prof. (Dr.) ShantaramBalwant Mujumdar Literature and Education Maharashtra
Prof. Vidya Dehejia Literature and Education USA*
Prof. ArvindPanagariya Literature and Education USA*
Dr. Jose Pereira Literature and Education USA*
Dr. Homi K. Bhabha Literature and Education UK *
Shri N Vittal Civil Service Kerala
Shri Mata Prasad Civil Service Uttar Pradesh
Shri Ronen Sen Civil Service West Bengal

Padma Shri

SlNo.

Name

Discipline

State/ Domicile

Shri Vanraj Bhatia Art – Music Maharashtra
Shri Zia FariduddinDagar Art – Music – vocal Maharashtra
Smt. NameirakpamIbemni Devi Art – Music-Khongjom Parba Manipur
Shri RamachandraSubraya Hegde Chittani Art - Yakshaganadance drama Karnataka
Shri Moti Lal Kemmu Art – Playwright Jammu and Kashmir
Shri Shahid ParvezKhan Art – Instrumental Music-Sitar Maharashtra
Shri Mohan LalKumhar Art – Terracotta Rajasthan
Shri Sakar KhanManganiar Art – Rajasthani Folk Music Rajasthan
Smt. Joy Michael Art – Theatre Delhi
Dr. Minati Mishra Art – Indian Classical Dance-Odissi. Orissa
Shri NatesanMuthuswamy Art – Theatre. Tamil Nadu
Smt. R.Nagarathnamma Art – Theatre Karnataka
Shri KalamandalmSivan Nambootiri Art – Indian Classical Dance-Kutiyattam Kerala
Smt. YamunabaiWaikar Art – Indian Folk Music-Lavani. Maharashtra
Shri Satish Alekar Art – Playwright Maharashtra
Pandit Gopal PrasadDubey Art – Chhau dance and choreography Jharkhand
Shri RamakantGundecha # Art – Indian Classical Music- Vocal Madhya Pradesh
Shri UmakantGundecha # Art – Indian Classical Music- Vocal Madhya Pradesh
Shri Anup Jalota Art-Indian Classical Music- Vocal Maharashtra
Shri Soman NairPriyadarsan Art – Cinema- Direction Kerala
Shri Sunil Janah Art-Photography Assam

 

Ms. Laila Tyebji Art-Handicrafts Delhi
Shri Vijay Sharma Art-Painting Himachal Pradesh
Smt. ShamshadBegum Social Work Chattisgarh
Smt. Reeta Devi Social Work Delhi
Dr. P.K. Gopal Social Work Tamil Nadu
Smt. Phoolbasan BaiYadav Social Work Chattisgarh
Dr. G. Muniratnam Social Work Andhra Pradesh
Shri NiranjanPranshankar Pandya Social Work Maharashtra
Dr. Uma Tuli Social Work Delhi
Shri Sat Paul Varma Social Work Jammu and Kashmir
Smt.Binny Yanga Social Work Arunachal Pradesh
Shri Yezdi HirjiMalegam Public Affairs Maharashtra

Shri Pravin H. Parekh Pubic Affairs Delhi
Dr. V. Adimurthy Science and Engineering Kerala
Dr. Krishna LalChadha Science and Engineering – Agriculture Delhi
Prof. Virander SinghChauhan Science and Engineering Delhi
Prof. RameshwarNath Koul Bamezai Science and Engineering Jammu and Kashmir
Dr. Vijaypal Singh Science and Engineering – Agricultural Research Uttar Pradesh
Dr. Lokesh KumarSinghal Science and Engineering Punjab
Dr. YagnaswamiSundara Rajan Science and Engineering Karnataka
Prof. Jagadish Shukla Science and Engineering USA*
Ms. Priya Paul Trade and Industry Delhi
Shri Shoji Shiba Trade and Industry Japan*
Shri Gopinath Pillai Trade and Industry Singapore*
Shri Arun HastimalFirodia Trade and Industry Maharashtra
Dr. Swati A. Piramal Trade and Industry Maharashtra
Prof. Mahdi Hasan Medicine-Anatomy Uttar Pradesh
Dr. ViswanathanMohan Medicine – Diabetology Tamil Nadu
Dr. J. HareendranNair Medicine – Ayurveda Kerala
Dr. VallalarpuramSennimalai Natarajan Medicine – Geriatrics Tamil Nadu
Dr. Jitendra Kumar Singh Medicine – Oncology Bihar
Dr. Shrinivas S.Vaishya Medicine-Healthcare Daman and Diu
Dr. Nitya Anand Medicine – Drugs Research Uttar Pradesh
Late Dr. JugalKishore Medicine – Homoeopathy Delhi *
Dr. Mukesh Batra Medicine-Homeopathy Maharashtra
Dr. Eberhard Fischer Literature and Education Switzerland*
Shri Kedar Gurung Literature and Education Sikkim
Shri Surjit Singh Patar Literature and Education – Poetry Punjab
Shri Vijay DuttShridhar Literature and Education – Journalism Madhya Pradesh
Shri Irwin Allan Sealy Literature and Education Uttarakhand
Ms. GeetaDharmarajan Literature and Education Delhi
Prof. SachchidanandSahai Literature and Education Haryana
Smt. Pepita Seth Literature and Education Kerala
Dr. Ralte L.Thanmawia Literature and Education Mizoram
Shri Ajeet Bajaj Sports – Skiing Delhi
Smt. Jhulan Goswami Sports – Women’s Cricket West Bengal
Shri Zafar Iqbal Sports-Hockey Uttar Pradesh
Shri Devendra Jhajrija Sports – Athletics- Paralympics Rajasthan
Shri Limba Ram Sports – Archery Rajasthan
Shri Syed MohammedArif Sports – Badminton Andhra Pradesh
Prof. Ravi Chaturvedi Sports- Commentary Delhi
Shri PrabhakarVaidya Sports-Physical Education Maharashtra
Shri T. VenkatapathiReddiar Others-Horticulture Puducherry
Dr. K. (Kota) UllasKaranth Others-Wildlife Conservation and Environment Protection Karnataka
Shri K Paddayya Others-Archaeology Maharashtra
Shri Swapan Guha Others-Ceramics Rajasthan
Dr. Kartikeya V. Sarabhai Others – Environmental Education Gujarat

 

Note* indicates awardees in the category of Foreigners / NRIs/ PIOs/ Posthumous.

# indicates duo case.

Book: Hindustani Music – A Tradition in Transition

“Hindustani Music – A Tradition in Transition” (D.K.Printworld, 2005) is a collection of Deepak Raja’s writings on Hindustani Music.

The book is divided into 5 parts. Part 1 titled “Culture, Technology and Economics” discusses the changes that have happened in Hindustani Music and to its patronage over the years, the economics of Hindustani Music as a profession, the Hindustani Music market and how to make it more efficient, how musical achievement means different things to different performers/ listeners and the archival of music and its effects on the performers/ rasikas. Deepak discusses the problems he feels have led to the dilution of Hindustani Classical Music post its Golden Age.

Part 2 titled “Form, Idiom and Format” details the format of different forms of Hindustani Music, the way these forms have been handled by different performers, the increase in popularity of instrumental music, the ‘innovations’ made to make certain instruments suit Hindustani Music and presents a critical view on jugalbandis and tihayis. Part 3 titled “The World of Ragas” deals with the concept of ragas, their grammar, their transformations, their evolution and the time theory. It also has a chapter on how melody, poetry and rhythm have manifested themselves in the different forms of Hindustani Music and through the instruments – sitar, sarod, flute and santoor. Part 4 titled “The Major Genres” introduces the genres – Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumri and Tappa. Part 5 titled “The Major Instruments” discusses 8 instruments (Rudra Vina, Sitar, Surbahar, Sarod, Santoor, Shehnai, Sarangi and Indian Classical Guitar) – their construction, contribution to Hindustani music, musicians whose names are associated with them etc. The book ends with a bulky glossary that covers many terms one might come across while studying/ discussing Hindustani Music.

Deepak seems to have the ability to structure his thoughts very well and coin his own terms that aid in presenting the same to the reader. This along with his musical training and stints in journalism enables him to do justice to his analysis of topics related to music and mostly argue his points of view well.

A thought provoking book that I would highly recommend to performers, rasikas, music lovers and students of Indian Classical Music.

Book: The Lost World of Hindustani Music – by Kumar Prasad Mukherji

Anybody who comes in contact with Indian Classical musicians and/or moves around for quite some time in the ‘music circle’ will hear a lot of stories and anecdotes, not just about the current crop of musicians, but also about past practitioners. Many of these usually cannot be verified but do serve as the primary source of insights into the life and times of the masters, especially due to the dearth of written material on Indian Classical Music in general and on such topics in particular.

There have been attempts in the written form in the recent past at tracing the evolution of Hindustani Music and its Gharanas, at trying to make Hindustani Music easier to understand to the lay reader/listener and at chronicling the life of  the great masters.  If there is one book that tries to do all of this together, it is Kumar Prasad Mukherji’s “The Lost World of Hindustani Music” (Penguin Books, 2006). The following are some reasons that, in my opinion, combine to make this one of the most interesting reads on Hindustani music:

  • Kumar da, the author, was an accomplished musician himself, apart from being a rasika, a music critic and an organizer of music festivals
  • He did a lot of (formal) research into the music of the masters of different gharanas. This adds richness and a certain authenticity to the observations he makes vis-a-vis those made by other writers who, though endowed with good language skills, may not have been musically that adept
  • He had many  opportunities to interact/move around with other musicians from which he managed to collect a lot of stories/anecdotes
  • He seems to have read a lot of other books on the subject and has drawn references from them extensively
  • He wrote this book towards the very fag end of his life which enabled him to pen down most of his musical experiences with a maturity that usually only comes with many quality years of serious/passionate pursuit of music

Book: “Raga’n Josh – Stories from a Musical Life” by Sheila Dhar

Sheila Dhar had the knack for penning down in an interesting manner, her experience interacting with different people she came across in her life. In her book “Raga’n Josh – Stories from a Musical Life” (Black Kite, 2005) that combines her two earlier books “Here’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet” and “The Cooking of Music and Other Essays”, she writes about her interactions with bureaucrats and musicians, about her experience listening to some of the great masters of Hindustani Classical music and about her own thoughts on Indian Classical Music and the changes it has gone through during her times. Neither does she make attempts to unduly glorify the people (especially the musicians) she writes about, nor does she make attempts to tarnish their characters. Their frailties, wherever indicated, just give us a better idea of their personalities as a whole.
Coming back to the book, chapters 4 to 9 contain many interesting anecdotes related to the musicians Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Bundu Khan, Pandit Pran Nath, Begum Akhtar, Ustad Fayyaz Ahmed and Niaz Ahmed, Siddheshwari Bai and Kesar Bai Kerkar. Sheila writes about Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s fondness for good non-vegetarian food, which was almost a prerequisite for him to sing well, and his initial aversion towards getting recorded on the radio based on his belief that the microphone would suck out all the life from his voice. She describes how Ustad Bundu Khan was always absorbed in his music, how he played his sarangi at every single opportunity that presented itself – sometimes even playing for the flowers that bloomed during spring time and about how much precious he considered the art of Indian Classical Music to be. She describes her tutelage under Pandit Pran Nath and his strong views about the superiority of the style of music he had learnt/imbibed. The chapters on Pran Nath and Begum Akhtar contain some beautiful one-liners that summarize what many musicians/rasikas usually only realize after many years of practice/listening. The chapter on Siddeshwari Bai makes an interesting observation on how circumstances make rivals out of contemporaries and how despite admiring each other, artists might still resort to making snide remarks against each other. This is something I can see happening in the music circle today also.
The best part of her book to me is “Part II: The Cooking of Music and Other Essays”. This is where she condenses years of her experience in Hindustani Classical music into a few really powerful essays. One has to read these to experience the richness in the content. Put together, these offer a concise tutorial on Hindustani music and offer a lot of food for thought. Some of her conclusions, especially those regarding the changes that have happened in the field, are debatable but nevertheless it is interesting to know her points of view on these matters.
To summarize, this is one of the most interesting books I have read in the recent past and one that I would highly recommend to all connoiseurs of good writing, in general, and Indian Classical Music, in particular.

Book: A Rasika’s Journey Through Hindustani Music by Rajeev Nair

Though there are many books on Hindustani Music, Rajeev Nair’s “A Rasika’s Journey Through Hindustani Music” is one of the few I would highly recommend to all rasikas of Hindustani Music – from the uninitiated to the seasoned ones. Rajeev’s mastery over the English language is no surprise I guess, given that he is a teacher of English Literature at St. Stephens College, Delhi. The author’s literary prowess aside, what is really special about the book is that instead of dwelling a lot on technical details, Rajeev has chosen to elaborate his own musical experience, drawing from other writers on the subject, wherever required. He uses a lot of metaphors, especially while talking about the music the masters produced (sometimes at the risk of overdoing it).

The book starts by describing the different musical forms of Hindustani Music, their origins, their evolution and their decline (wherever applicable). It then goes on to describe the major vocal gharanas in Dhrupad and Khayal, their origins, their development, their characteristic features and the singers who contributed to their development. The raaga system and association of ragas with time are also touched upon. All this is completed within the first 80 pages of the book itself. The rest 300+ pages are devoted to description of music of the great masters and their contributions. Both vocalists and instrumentalists are covered in sufficient detail. Apart from biographical and other important details pertaining to their gharanas/ lineage, significant space is devoted to discussing the music they produced in live concerts as well as in their recordings. Every time I read about a song rendered by an artist that the author described about, I just felt the need to procure it to relish the music and the author’s portrayal of the same.

50 Maestros, 50 Recordings

50 Maestros, 50 Recordings” (HarperCollins Publishers, Dec 2009) is a tribute to select masters of Indian Classical Music who influenced its authors Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan (sons of sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan) the most. It starts with a very brief introduction to Indian Music – Carnatic and Hindustani, with a short explanation of some of the most often used terms in both the systems. There is a short chapter on each of the great artists consisting of

  • a short ‘bio’-like introduction
  • memories of the authors’ interaction with the artist or of having heard their father or of other elderly musicians talk about the artist
  • a list of select recordings of the artist
  • photographs of the artists, many a times taken with the authors

The book also comes along with a CD that contains 27 tracks performed by some of the artists covered in the book.

The target audience seems to be people looking for an introduction to Indian music and its maestros. It could include people who are new to one or both systems of Indian Classical music (Carnatic and Hindustani) and need help in identifying whom to and what to listen to. The book is certainly not a collection of biographies or a detailed account of what constitutes Carnatic or Hindustani music and anybody reading the book with such expectations is bound to get disappointed.

The artists covered in the book are:

  • Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan
  • Ustad Abdul Karim Khan
  • Ustad Ahmed Jaan Thirakhwa
  • Ustad Ali Akbar Khan
  • Ustad Amir Khan
  • Ustad Amjad Ali Khan
  • Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna
  • Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
  • Begum Akhtar
  • Pandit Bhimsen Joshi
  • Ustad Bismillah Khan
  • D.K. Pattammal
  • Pandit D.V. Paluskar
  • Ustad Enayat Khan
  • Ustad Faiyaz Khan
  • Dr. Gangubai Hangal
  • Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan
  • Girija Devi
  • Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan
  • Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia
  • Ustad Imdad Khan
  • Pandit Jasraj
  • Surashri Kesarbhai Kerkar
  • Pandit Kishan Maharaj
  • Kishori Amonkar
  • Pandit Kumar Gandharva
  • Dr. L. Subramaniam
  • Maharajapuram V. Santhanam
  • M.L. Vasanthakumari
  • Mogubai Kurdikar
  • M.S. Subbulakshmi
  • Pandit Nikhil Banerjee
  • Pandit Omkarnath Thakur
  • Begum Parveen Sultana
  • Ustad Rais Khan
  • Pandit Ravi Shankar
  • S. Balachander
  • Pandit Samta Prasad
  • Semmangudi R. Srinivasa Iyer
  • Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma
  • Shobha Gurtu
  • T.R. Mahalingam
  • Pandit V.G. Jog
  • Ustad Vilayat Khan

There are short chapters on duets between the following artists at the end:

  • Ustad Alla Rakha and Ustad Zakhir Hussain
  • Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna
  • Ustad Bismillah Khan and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan
  • Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar
  • Ustad Rais Khan and Ustad Sultan Khan
  • Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Bismillah Khan

The Music Room

I was glued to Namita Devidayal‘s book “The Music Room” (Publisher: Random House India) last Sunday. Though not exactly a biography, the book gives us details about the life of three great singers of the Jaipur Gharana – Alladiya Khan, Kesarbai Kerkar and Dhondutai Kulkarni and about Nandita’s journey into the world of Hindustani Music.

I really loved the way it has been written and structured. Interactions and incidents that happened between the author and her guru would be followed by similar ones that took place in the past between another guru shishya pair in her gharana and thus the entire flow would keep moving back and forth in time, drawing parallels between the lives of musicians representing different generations of the gharana. Many things have been accurately captured, be it for instance the dynamics of the relationship between a guru and his/her shishya or the struggle and pain that is an integral part of the lives of most people who try to take up Indian Classical Music as a full time profession. The book also has some beautiful one liners that have a lot of significance and meaning.

An absorbing book that retained my interest throughout and one that a musician, whatever stage of his/her evolution he/she might be, would be easily able to relate to.

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan – The Phenom

It’s 4AM and it’s been more than 3 hours now since I started to listen to Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (BGAK) today. Time has just flown past and I am forced to wind up only with thought of catching some sleep before I leave for office in another 2.5 hours. Such has been the impact of the music of the legend on me in the past few weeks. 

I first heard the Ustad in an old recording of his about 10 years back and was held spellbound by the Marwa he had sung! But I somehow didn’t get a chance to listen to his music much after that … and I am making up for all of that these days by listening to him as much as I can amidst a really crazy schedule at work. 

My recent BGAK mania was triggered off when the audio of A.R. Rahman’s “Delhi 6”  got released. One of the tracks in Delhi 6 is “Bhor bhayi“, sung by the Ustad and by Shreya Ghoshal in the raga Gujari Todi. ARR has just included a part of the rendition by the Ustad. The entire original rendition is just too good, especially the parts that ARR has not included in the album. 

The thing that struck me when I first heard the Ustad was his voice. What a range and what a weight in his singing! How much riyaz he must have done to sing so effortlessly and to traverse 3 octaves with such ease! And what clarity even while singing lightning fast bhrigas! I feel I can just go on and on and on.  Let me however stop right here and drench myself once more in his Megh Malhar before I hit the sack.