Hindi Belt Metroplus

Music down memory lane

Aneesh Pradhan, leading Tabla exponent. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Aneesh Pradhan, leading Tabla exponent. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

By the mid-19 Century, Bombay (now Mumbai) had emerged as an important metropolis and had started attracting Hindustani musicians from the Hindi heartland who were looking for alternative patronage after the annexation of Awadh and the demise of the Mughal court in Delhi. The rise of a wealthy mercantile class and educated middle class opened up the possibility of Hindustani classical music reaching the non-traditional elite and, consequently, institutions sprang up for its their promotion and propagation. Understandably, it brought about fundamental changes in its pedagogy as well as presentation.

These and other historical processes have been probed, analysed and explained in a wonderful book “Hindustani Music in Colonial Bombay”, written by Aneesh Pradhan and published by Three Essays Collective in November 2014. Most books on music and its history are written by musicians, music teachers or musicologists who do not have much acquaintance with history or historical method and even less familiarity with the historian’s craft. Unfortunately, historians do not take much interest in music and hardly ever write about its historical evolution. In the recent past, there have been a few welcome exceptions to this rule. In this context, one must mention historian Janaki Bakhle’s eminently readable book “Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition” , published by Permanent Black in India in 2005, that made a probing study of the nationalist project regarding Hindustani classical music in the last century. This nationalist project was represented by two stalwarts – musicologist Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande and musician Vishnu Digambar Paluskar – who shaped it up in their own contrasting ways. Though rich in historical material as well as analysis, Bakhle’s book could have been better if she was a little more familiar with music.

In contrast, Aneesh Pradhan is a well-known tabla player and a trained historian. Married to famous vocalist Shubha Mudgal, he is a practising musician, who is also well-versed in the craft of a historian. This rare combination has resulted in this remarkable book that tells us the story of the emergence of colonial Bombay as a major centre of Hindustani classical music where respected ustads like Agra gharana vocalist Natthan Khan had started living in the latter half of the 19th Century. Nissar Hussein Khan’s grandfather Haider Khan of Sehaswan-Badayun-Gwalior lineage had in fact come to Bombay a decade before that, followed by many more musicians of repute like Abdul Karim Khan, Faiyaz Khan and Alladiya Khan.

During the 1940s, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan too frequented the city quite often. This was due to the fact that a class of wealthy patrons had emerged in Bombay and the city had also become a big pedagogic centre for Hindustani classical music.

The book is in fact a modified version of Aneesh Pradhan’s doctoral thesis that studies trends in Hindustani music in the 19th and early 20th Century Bombay and the influence they had on practitioners of the art. As a practising musician, Pradhan’s own experience has helped him a great deal to acquire an insight that a mere historian would never have. This book tells us the fascinating story of the Parsi Gayan Uttejak Mandali among so many others. It also offers a veritable history of the way Hindustani music made its way in the social and cultural life of Bombay. Interviews with Sharad Mehta, Batuk Diwanji, Shalini Narvekar, Kaushalya Manjeshwar and Dinker Manjeshwar, Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan and Purushottam Walawalker are a kind of value multiplier and one gets to learn a lot from them.

However, oral history has its own limitations. For example, Alladiya Khan used to say that his family did not allow him to learn from Mubarak Ali Khan although he was keen to teach him. Batuk Diwanji says that it was Mubarak Ali Khan who refused to teach Alladiya Khan as he did not belong to his family.

For those who are interested to know about Hindustani music and musicians, this book will prove to be a treasure trove. One hopes that Pradhan will continue his research and others too will follow in his footsteps.

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2022 4:37:33 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/hindi-belt-music-down-memory-lane/article6771806.ece