Deeply layered and appreciative

That is how Lakshmi Subramanian describes Namita Devidayal’s The Music Room:

The book is about many things even as it attempts a personal excursus into the world of Hindustani classical music seen through the prism of individual teachers and practitioners, who remain in spite of their age and absence connected in a living present mediated through the actual practice of music and of listening, as well as through a sensitised space of affect produced and reproduced by anecdotes that remain the backbone of any social history of music and its makers. Here, Namita Devidayal makes a major contribution and shows us how much one can do with anecdotes and write a book about the troubled and troubling history of music in modern India, of its individual practitioners without ever losing either that sense of deep appreciation and affection for the art form and its eccentric artists or that critical faculty which can distinguish between flattery and conviction, myth-mania and creative imagination. This is a welcome change, for the recent crop of anecdote-based anthologies have remained who’s who of musicians, with the same cycle of stories churned out endlessly and without context.

The Music Room on the other hand, is a very different kind of biography. While at a very obvious and simple level, it is the story of a specific musician cum teacher, Dhondutai Kulkarni and her very special relationship with the author who became her disciple at the tender age of 11, it reveals a more complex and compelling narrative of individual musicians and patrons, who constituted the changing world of Hindustani classical music in the 20th century. The circumstances in which the author herself came to learn music and how the experience intersected somewhat curiously with her social and socialising profile are very well drawn, and speak volumes for the changing social context of modern urban India. The cameo like impressions that we get of Dhondutai’s teacher, the legendary and mercurial Kesar Bai, are wonderful examples of the way a sensitive reading of anecdotes can help excavate what is ultimately a deeply layered and complex story of personal aspirations, disappointments and confusion enhanced by the enormous social changes that transformed the milieu of music performance in modern India. The simplicity with which she records her own teacher’s apparently ‘Hindu’ sensibilities that preferred to see her guru Alladiya Khan as a Brahmin in disguise and at the same time her utter and complete devotion to him and his family speak eloquently of the limiting nature of modern categories associated with identity politics that have erased the infinite richness and depth of old and enduring social and artistic interactions.

Take a look!

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6 Responses to “Deeply layered and appreciative”

  1. Mary Therese Kurkalang Says:

    hi, really liked what you had to say about the book, the music room’… we also have a beautifull trailer for the book and wondering if you can add it to your site?

    (Publicity Manager – Random House India)

  2. Guru Says:

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you very much for the pointer; I will post a note on the trailer.


  3. Trailer for a book! « Entertaining Research Says:

    […] usually see trailers to promote movies and excerpts to promote books. However, Random House India (their publicity manager tells me in a comment) has made a trailer for one of their publications: Namita Devidayal’s The Music Room. I like […]

  4. David Raphael Israel Says:

    I very much enjoyed reading Namita Devidayal’s The Music Room. A friend in Delhi happened to give me a copy of the book, as I was heading to Ahmedabad to attend the annual Saptak Music Festival — a suitable enough setting to delve into Namita’s indeed layered exploration of Hindustani music. The structure of the book is admirable and works nicely: the author begins with recollection of her (initially) clueless childhood self venturing for a first music lesson. The world and life of her teacher, Dhondutai, gradually gets outlined and then fleshed in; then we’re taken back a historical layer to the world and life of Dhondutai’s teacher, Aladiya Khan, along with other members of the Ustad’s family. Finally, we’re introduced to the mysterious and paradoxical Kesarbai. The author unfolds this very delicately and gradually through a sensitive, thoughtful prose, the voice quick to register a range of impressions, ideas, thoughts, meanings, connections, questions, problems, and appreciations. The writing is filled with details of description — a trait that begins plausibly enough with the author’s own memories, but surprisingly continues when describing things she cannot have personally witnessed — a level of detail of physical description that may variously suggest the volume to be the fruit of long, painstakingly detailed interviews / discussions with her teacher and others, as well as her personal pilgrimages (which are described, one by one) to various sites in which the history she explores inheres, as well as, perhaps, some hint of the historical novelist at work — i mean, the credibility of an almost omnisciently observant narrator seemed to me just very vaguely strained . . . though I could not point to any detail that properly struck me as implausible. It’s just: did so-and-so really THINK exactly this, SAY exactly this, etc. A dash of informed imagination is (I’d hazard) employed liberally. But the effect is agreeable for the reader. Overall, the prose feels to be painstakingly worked, pondered, — there’s an underlying sense of analogy with the level of attention and consciousness one enjoys in the subject music, and that one indeed wishes to see expressed in other media, prose narrative included.

    Lakshmi Subramaniyam’s thoughtful review was likewise a pleasure to read.

    (written from an internet cafe in Baroda)

  5. Guru Says:

    Dear David,

    Thanks for stopping by and the very nice review!


  6. The music Room of Namita Devidayal « Entertaining Research Says:

    […] this year. I have mentioned the book and the several appreciative reviews the book received here, here, here, here, and here; and, the book deserves all the praise it got and […]

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