Sunday, 25 May 2014

Secular Sangit and Silence


It is somewhat oppressive to sit down for a long evening of what is some people’s idea of ‘secular’ Indian music : a medley of usually indifferently sung Sufiyana Kalams  and Nirgun  Bhajans by mediocre singers , who will try to make up with histrionics what they lack in real Sur Sadhana . It is true that the poetry of love  they sing is timeless ,  moving and profound . But when all is said and done , it is not the literary text what a great musical experience  is all about . When forced to say wah wah to mediocre to bad music largely for its literary qualities , it makes an old fashioned music lover squirm . As any one who has heard the greats knows , the inner logic of musical notes and the pleasure it generates , are above words . They are not rooted in cognitive thought to convey messages to be utilized towards promoting socio political reforms , A musical experience exposes us to an awesome duality of Naad ( musical sound ) and Silence , no more , no less . Music , as Julian Barnes wisely wrote , begins where words cease . And while all arts aspire to be music , music will always aspire and lead towards silence .

Today’s performing world of music is a noisy one and has many tiers . At its peripheries stand  the over ambitious ones who wish to make it to the top within a year of learning to strum the Tanpura . They seem obsessed up with the correct dress code and display a pronounced affinity for ethnic chic . Men and women from the peripheries with perfectly matched clothes , made up faces and large kohl lined eyes , seem to have spent less time in studying music and medieval literary movements and BHasha literature  , and more on how to look like a perfect musical officiando . The better musicians usually remain carelessly imperfect in their attire ( remember Kumar Gandharva’s blue cashmilon half sleeve pullovers and Mallikarjun Mansoor’s mussed up Sherwani ? ) . But metro patrons of secular music , raised on the petty snobberies of the new patrons of Indian arts , seem to  love the musical foreplay that lesser musicians will indulge in : touching their ear lobes , making Mudras , bowing to the stage and fingering holy beads . Those on stage seem to have spent all their knowledge of Hindi – Urdu as they mouth instructions to the mike man the light man and the lissome flower girls and usher the artists on stage . Thereafter the  announcers  will  invariably use  a pidgin of Bhasha  and English  to introduce the artists , and the poetry , usually mispronouncing both the names of Ragas and the medieval saint poets . The still appreciative audience nods and  murmurs about our Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb and how the ‘discovery’ of the secular medieval poets has changed lives and understanding of our musical inheritance . The atmosphere is civilized and politically correct to the point of suffocation as the VIPs begin to arrive .

As they sit down and exchange pleasantries with the artists and friends miming “ Kaimon aachhen? Kaise haal hain ?” and the accompanyists begin to strum the instruments , the dispiriting disconnect between the audiences and the musicians is clearly visible :  not only physical but also social and linguistic . The musicians are short and too thin ot too fat , either under dressed or over dressed . They appear tense facing an audience of VVIPs and some of them will fold their hands in servility and bow to a particular political or bureaucratic patron again and again . Then the music begins and unseen cell phones begin to ring non stop , all over the hall . After much shhh and clearings of throats some semblance of order decends till a VIP has to , sorry just has to leave .

Later ,  if you get to sit close and strike a conversation with the musicians off stage , you find despite the tremendous subtlety of their musical rendering  , most singers do not have any clear sense of the complex history or  literature of the period . So far as real intellectual insights into the minds of the poets are concerned , most singers  remain curiously vague or try force feeding you on myths and non secular mumbo jumbo about the real religious identity of a Sufi or saint poet who had all along lashed out at organized religion and sectarianism .  

When your rage cools , sadness and anger still remain . How did this failed union of great poetry and classical music come about ? What dimwitted madness prompts the so called lovers of Indian music to promote a difficult and politically demanding task of healing deep sectarian wounds so crudely through music ? How can obviously bad singers be classed as superb presenters because they sing ‘secular’ poetry . Can music or poetry , the real ones , ever be partisan like political tracts ?

Perhaps the organizers and audiences have their own secret but firm agendas , prejudices and lust for worldly power , and have come to fear the reality of the lives that remind us of the wordless purity of music . These are the Sazindas , accompanyists , whose worlds rotate along the axis of nothing but Sur and Taal . If you hang around our auditoriums long after a concert , you will notice that the smart ones from the musical peripheries leave first in expensive cars with the artists . Then those who have paid for the tickets . The last to leave are a gaggle of accompanyists carrying large bags that contain their precious Tablas , Sarangis and Dholaks . They lie  waiting in a dim alley for cheap transport past midnight , spitting and swatting the gnats . They have no allies . No patron in a high seat represents their case either among the musical or political circles . Their demands for suitable hikes in remuneration are never met .

Perhaps because their very existence puts a question mark on expensive and well publicized musical gatherings for promoting  liberty , equality and fraternity and because the stunning purity of notes they play often throws the off key singing of some fat wife of a successful man , they put our real musical tastes in question . They are like the much hated and despised Roma gypsies of Europe whom a Europe hit by recession is so keen to expel . Few would recall that the German writer Heinrich Boll wanted  gypsy musicians near  his grave as his body was being lowered into the earth , playing what Gunter Grass describes as their “ deeply tragic , despairingly gay” music . This was Boll’s way of reminding the post Hitler Germany , that it must learn to love all those that it fears and despises .

That is what real music essentially is . It alone is an art form that transports us beyond caste and creed , beyond political doctrines or religious fundamentalism . Why must we , in the name of conflict resolution , promote the garbage that is being promoted in the name of our composite culture ?  






Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home