Archive for June 5th, 2008

Bade Gulam Ali Khan and Ahmad Jan Thirakwa

June 5, 2008

I have finished one-third of Kumar Mukherji’s The lost world of Hindustani music. It had been a great read so far (with some reservations that I list below).

As compared to Sheila Dhar (whom Mukherji seems to have known personally), this book leans more towards history, scholarship and the musical traditions, and, for somebody like me, who had no training or proper introduction to Hindustani music, these become a bit tedious at times. However, for the same reason, I believe this is a good reference book to which one can return to often (though, I would have loved it more if the footnotes were numbered correctly and the proofs of the book corrected with a bit more of care).

Mukherji seems a bit old-fashioned to me at times: here are a couple of samples:

Krishna Rao Shankar Pandit’s nature was typically Brahmanical. He was a simple man proud of his lineage but not vain or arrogant. (p. 100)

Jagmohan Dalmia, secretary of the Cricket Control Board of India in 1996, is the son-in-law of the same Bhupen Ghosh’s brother. On the prestigious occasion of the inauguration of the World Cup at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, viewed by millions on television, he gave us Alisha Chinoy’s music, a hot favourite of paan-bidi-wallas. (p. 342)

In addition, there is also quite a bit of jumpiness to the narration in the book.

However, in spite of all of all the shortcomings I have listed above, the book is still worth a read at least for sections like this one about Bade Gulam Ali Khan:

Khansaheb was a God-fearing, kind-hearted, generous person. He was also a spendthrift and, according to Ustad Amir Khan, was capable of gambling away a month’s earnings in one Diwali night. For a man who looked like a Punjabi village butcher, of uncontrolled eating and drinking habits, he had a mind of perceptive poetic quality. Professor Deodhar recalls, ‘I believe the year was 1945. Khan Saheb and I were seated on the sands of Chaupatty beach of Bombay. The sun was about to set and its last rays fanned out and bathed the west in red. The picturesque scene above was reflected in the calm waters of the Arabian Sea. As he sat transfixed by the scene before us, Khan Saheb turned to me and said, “Deodhar Sahab, this is the precise hour to sing Marwa. I am amazed by the ingenuity of our ancestors! Consider their perceptive artistry in employing that particular re and dha. The hour of sunset is a fascinating time. Lovers, who have been separated, begin to wonder how they are going to spend the night in loneliness. The same things happens to those who do not have a roof over their heads. The day passes by itself — but the night? They are worried about finding a shelter. In all the notes of Hindustani music the most important resting place is shadja (sa). But in Marwa the very note sa virtually vanishes and whenever we use it briefly we feel a sense of relief. I feel that the chief aim of raga Marwa is to portray this anxiety and uncertainty.’

and this one about Ahmad Jan Thirakwa:

Ahmad Jan Thirakwa was unquestionably the most famous tabla player of his generation. Years ago, Dr M.R. Gautam, who started his career as a producer in AIR, witnessed a scene at the Delhi radio station. After a solo recital, Ahmad Jan was escorted by him to the duty officer to receive his cheque. ‘Where is the pad for the thumb impression?’ asked the great man. There was an expression of utter surprise on the face of the duty officer, followed by a smirk, which incensed Thirakwa. ‘Why are you smiling?’ he asked in a voice which kept raising. ‘Is it because I cannot sign my name? Is it because I am not as literate as you are? What is so funny about asking for the pad for the angutha chhaap (thumb impression)? How far have you studied, young man? Why don’t you answer instead of grinning like an idiot? Why don’t you answer me?’ The successive queries were each accompanied by the thump of a huge walking stick on the floor. The young duty officer, who was distinctly nervous by this time, mumbled a few words indicating that he was a graduate of the Delhi University. ‘Is that so? And how many graduated are there in this country?’ demanded Khansaheb, pointing his walking stick at the middle of the young officer’s chest. ‘What did you say? You don’t know? May be a hundred thousand, did you say? Well, remember, there is only one Ahmad Jan Thirakwa in the whole of Hindustan.’

Who wouldn’t want to listen to Khan Saheb’s Marwa or to Thirakwa after that description and story?

By the way, there is also a nice story of Khan Saheb’s practising to pounding waves on a rainy day in Bombay, which again, is a must-read.

I also like the flowery language of the Ustads which Mukherji translates into English: here is one sample of a real funny story:

Inayet Hussain, whose manners were above reproach, said with repeated salaams, “Khan Sahab, you are the greatest, and this naacheez, good-for-nothing toddler, in the world of music does not dare open his mouth in your august presence.’ Haddu Khan was modesty incarnate. He said ‘You are quite right, my boy, there is not a single offspring of a swine among the musicians who would dare sing before me, but I am giving you my ijazaat. Go ahead, I would like to hear you.’

… there is not a single offspring of a swine among the musicians who would dare sing before me — that killed me!


On suggested compositions of new compounds

June 5, 2008

Doug at Nanoscale views tells why the suggested compositions should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Along the way, Doug also pays tributes to materials growers, who do not usually get the credit that is their due:

arxiv:0805.4463 – Matsumoto et al., Superconductivity in undoped T‘ cuprates with Tc over 30 K
This paper is a perfect example of why materials growers are (unfortunately often unsung) heroes in this field. The authors have come up with a new method for growing cuprate compounds of the form T‘Re2CuO4, where T‘Re is a rare earth from the series (Pr, Nd, Sm, Eu, Gd). Historically these compounds were found to be antiferromagnetic insulators – no superconductivity. In this new work the authors argue that these old results were due to interstitial oxygen leading to pair-breaking. Instead, with the new growth + annealing technique, these compounds are found to exhibit superconductivity with transition temperatures as high as 30 K. These subtleties are why one should always be very careful when looking at suggested compositions in new compounds….

Take a look!