Posts Tagged ‘The music room’

The music Room of Namita Devidayal

June 9, 2008

This is easily the best book that I have read so far, 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 more.

Though the book is said to be

the story of three great musicians,

it is mostly the story of Dhondutai Kulkarni, her musical journey, and Devidayal’s own musical journey with the guidance of Dhondutai. If her gurus, Kesarbai and Alladiya make an appearance, they do so in relation to what they did or did not do for Dhondutai; and, in any case, the biographical information about Khan Saheb and Surashri that the book contains are more gossipy in nature. Even in the case of Dhondutai, there is an element of gossipiness – however, since Devidayal seems to have heard most of these stories from Dhondutai herself (and with a bit of reconstruction to make the narrative interesting), it has the flavour of a strory of oral tradition, which, of course, adds to the charm of the book.

Devidayal’s strength lies in the nice manner in which she reconstructs the events of the past; the book managed to bring tears to my eyes more than a few times. The narration is very tight and reads more like a well written novel. In fact, I finished the book in a couple of sittings in a single day.

All this is not to say that I agree with Devidayal in everything she has to say in her book; I certainly do not agree with the following sentiment of hers for example:

It was a good thing that Alladiya Khan was never recorded, even if posterity may never get to glimpse his genius. When the technology came to India, he was close to seventy-five and on the decline. If he had been recorded then, his signature would have faltered. It would not have been the real him. In such cases, things are better left to imagination.

The passage not only was jarring to me, but also, in my opinion, shows a callous attitude towards history and scholarship. But, fortunately, passages like this are few and far in between in the book.

Bottomline: a great book about one of the exponents of a great gharana, and is a must read for every music lover!

A couple of music books!

June 2, 2008

I have written a few times about Namita Devidayal’s The music room and Kumar Prasad Mukherji’s The lost world of Hindustani music. Now, thanks to my sister (and a few trips she made to book shops in T Nagar and Vadapalani), I have a copy of both. So, you can expect more on these two books in these pages.

I have started with Mukherji’s book. Here is an amusing incident that he describes within the first few pages that I enjoyed a lot:

Those days, there being no good hotels in Allahabad, the artistes were lodged in tents erected specially for the occasion in the university campus. One morning, Bhishma Deb was practising inside his tent when Habibuddin, the famous tabla-player whose abrasive nature was a byword, was out on his morning walk. He enquired from Bhishma Deb’s elder brother, Taradas, who was standing outside the tent, who the singer was. Upon being informed that the virtuoso was no less than Bhishma Deb, the ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’, Habibuddin told Tarababu, ‘Excellent! Tell him the rifle from the Meerut gun factory has arrived and will meet him tomorrow in the mehfil.’

Now, with stories like this, do you think it is possible for me to put the book down?

By the way, though the story about erecting tents sounds outlandish and exotic, I think it was a common practice in those days. Even in Delhi — Dom Moraes informs us in his autobiography — when the hotels were full, tents were erected on the lawns for the guests; and, on one such occasion is when Dom (who was staying with his father Frank Moraes) met Raja Rao who was also staying in one of the tents.

Review of Devidayal’s Music Room

January 25, 2008

Jayan reads Devidayal’s The Music room, and recommends it strongly:

Though this is biographical in nature, and not having most of the fictional qualities, Namita Devidayal uses the method of writing, which is a combination of both styles, retaining the admiration of the art and the gurus as you often observe in biographies, as well as the use of language as in fiction writings. At no point of time she is away form the events and the stories, always retains her ( and the readers) interest in the stories and anecdotes. A very well written book and great value to someone like me who has near zero knowledge of the Hindustani Music and its heroes.

He also collects several relevant links towards the end of his post; take a look!

Trailer for a book!

December 31, 2007

I think, in Bengali the same word is used for both books and movies (Boi?). In any case, we 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 the idea. It is a nice trailer too (I think you should have flash enabled to see it). Take a look!

Deeply layered and appreciative

December 10, 2007

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!