Archive for June 8th, 2008

When Gandhiji spoilt the mizaj of Abdul Karim, and when Bhimsen sounded like a buffalo calf with cold!

June 8, 2008

I completed Kumar Mukherji’s The lost world of Hindustani Music.

Here is Mukherji, quoting his father:

I heard Abdul Karim when he was at the peak of his powers. It was a few days after the death of Deshbandhu C. R. Das. What an extraordinary gathering that was–Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Atul Prasad Sen and Sharat Chandra Chatterjee, the novelist, all were there in Dilip Kumar Roy’s house … In between one raga and another, Gandhiji got up to collect subscriptions for the Congress party. Abdul Karim sang Anand Bhairavi and a few other ragas suitably edited for a mixed audience, but thanks to Gandhiji, his “mizaj“, mood was lost. I do not think Gandhiji cared for classical music–or for that matter any music other than bhajans, his favourite simple devotional songs. Once he attended the famous beenkar Murad Ali’s recital in Ambalal Sarabhai’s house in Ahmedabad. “How do you like it?” asked the host. “Amazing,” replied Gandhiji, “but not as sweet as the music of my spinning wheel”. Tagore’s appreciation was “saccha“, true. He would close his eyes and be lost to the world. Atul Prasad got so carried away on occasions that he had to be controlled. And Sharat Chandra? When Dilip had gone to invite him to listen to Abdul Karim Khan, he merely asked, “Does he know when to stop?”‘.

And, this story about Bhimsen in Mukherji’s book, I found moving:

On this occasion, after Bhimsen Joshi finished his recital, Pahadi Sanyal asked for the name of the last raga sung by him. Bhimsen came over and touched Pahadi Sanyal’s feet and said, ‘Isko Chayya kahke seekha hamney (I learnt it as Chayya).’ The confusion in our minds was due to Bhimsen dwelling on the nishad in the ascending scale, which neither Pahadikaka nor myself had ever heard in Chhaya or Chhayanat. Fifty years ago, Bhimsen was a young musician who had already made a mark in Calcutta while Pahadi Sanyal was a well known aging film star. That Bhimsen touched Pahadi Sanyal’s feet was not particularly unexpected but noticing the embarrassment on Pahadi Sanyal’s face he said, ” I don’t think you have spotted me, Sahab, I am the same Bhimsen who came to you for training when you lived in Raja Basant Roy Road.’

‘Good lord!’ said Pahadikaka after the usual pleasantries were over and Bhimsen left us. ‘I can’t believe it is the same boy. He came to me all the way from Poona to learn music. He had a voice like a buffalo calf with cold. I told him he had no future as a singer but I might be able to find him a petty job in the New Theatres Studio. He lived in my house for a while. I would pay him a tenner or two for running errands and then he suddenly disappeared one day. Good heavens! Astafullah! How can this man be the same Bhimsen?’

These two stories give a flavour for Mukherji’s book and his writing in addition to my previous quotes.

Long back, when I wrote about the book first in this blog, I was wondering how this book might compare with Raga-n-Josh and Great Masters of Carnatic Music. Content wise, this book is as heavy (if not heavier) as Raga-n-Josh. However, the presentation, which lacks Dhar’s finesse and polish, makes me think of it more as a Hindustani companion to Great Masters.

I also found the lack of index in the book a serious shortcoming!

In short, here is a book (which, though I wish were better) that I strongly recommend to music aficionados!

PS: I revisited Ram Guha’s review of the book, which led me to Mukherji in the first place. Guha also complains about the lack of index to the book in his review, but calls it the best book of the year. There is also one misrepresentation:

Sometimes they bring out all these reactions at once, as in the encounter between the tabla virtuoso Ahmad Jan Thirakwa and an officer at All India Radio who insisted on a signed receipt instead of the thumb impression he was being offered.

As my quote in one of the earlier posts clearly shows there was no insistence on signed receipt:

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.