Tainted notes

Like music, people can’t be divided on communal basis. The residents of Muzaffarnagar too will soon realise this truth.

Updated - November 17, 2021 12:21 pm IST

Published - January 09, 2014 05:33 pm IST

The communal riots in Muzaffarnagar have stirred the conscience of the nation as they shook the foundations of communal harmony in an area that had not witnessed violence even during the dark days of Partition. Reading about them, one was constantly reminded that this is the area where Kairana, the birthplace of the famed Kirana gharana of Hindustani classical music, is situated. The entire region underwent a long process of cultural assimilation that played a very important role in the way our music, dance and literature have shaped up in the past two centuries. Who can ever forget the pathos-filled pleading of the Kirana gharana founder Abdul Karim Khan in raga Sarparda (itself an import from Central Asia via Iran): “Gopala, Karuna Karo Ab”? Or, the soul-stirring qawwalis sung by the Shankar-Shambhu duo? Maihar gharana founder Allauddin Khan was a devout Muslim who offered namaz five times a day, but had no problem in going to the Sharada temple in Maihar every day. Bismillah Khan used to play the shehnai at the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Banaras. The famous Dagar family of Dhrupad singers continues to sing the same dhrupads and dhamars that invoke Hindu gods like Shiva, Durga, Krishna and others.

Our film industry offers a sterling example of an entire domain of artistic activity that has remained more or less unaffected by the communal virus. The catholic, all-inclusive, and non-sectarian spirit is best exemplified in the Malkauns-based bhajan “Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj” from “Baiju Bawra”. It was written by Shakeel Badayuni, composed by Naushad and sung by Mohammad Rafi.

Musicians usually compare music with worship and describe it as a means of getting closer to God. Ideally, one would not associate communal consciousness with music, but things have not always been so simple. From the first decade of the last century, the communal poison spread so fast that it did not spare even the well-educated people of otherwise refined tastes.

One was shocked to read an excerpt from Syed Zulfikar Ali Bukhari’s autobiography “Sarguzasht” (“Events”), recently published in Devnagari script in a Hindi literary journal, that deals with the events of the 1940s. Zulfikar Ali was the younger brother of Syed Ahmad Shah Bukhari who became famous as Pitras Bukhari. Before the Partition, both of them worked in All India Radio and had such clout that it used to be jokingly referred to as BBC (Bukhari Brothers Corporation).

Later, Zulfikar Ali rose to become the Director General of Radio Pakistan. In his autobiography, he claims that Hindustani music exclusively belongs to Muslims and makes highly disparaging remarks about Hindu musicians such as Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (whose school the two brothers attended in Lahore for some time), saying that they could hardly sing. Mind you, this is the same Paluskar who trained vocalists of the calibre of Omkarnath Thakur, Vinayakro Patwardhan, Narayanrao Vyas, B.R. Deodhar and D.V. Paluskar. Bukhari also says that before the advent of Muslims, Indians were familiar with only four notes. Similarly, in an interview with Voice of America’s Brian Silver, Khurshid Anwar, who was one of the top Pakistani music directors, made a similar claim, saying that all the major ragas, for example, Darbari Kanhda and other variants of Kanhda, were created by Muslims.

It was a reflection of the communalisation of the music world that one is told about Omkarnath Thakur purifying the stage by sprinkling Gangajal on it. Some Hindu musicians started calling Yaman simply Kalyan to push its foreign origin under the carpet, and Jaunpuri was turned into Jeevanpuri. Pakistan had already fiddled with this kind of experiment by changing the names of ragas like Durga, Bhairav and Ramkali, but Pakistani musicians were not very enthusiastic about it and they more or less adhered to the traditional nomenclature.

Muslims have made, and continue to make, great contribution to Indian music. However, in the realm of creativity, nobody holds exclusive property rights. When we use the scientific or technological tools, do we even for a moment care if they were invented by Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu scientists? No, because they have become universal. Like music, people can’t be divided on a communal basis. The residents of Muzaffarnagar too will soon realise this truth.

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