Hindi Belt Metroplus

Page turners

Kuldeep Kumar   | Photo Credit: 17dmckuldeep

The week started with news about two stalwarts of the world of Hindustani classical music. Padmavati Shaligram, an outstanding vocalist of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, breathed her last at the age of 96 in Mumbai, while Mohan Nadkarni, the pioneer of music criticism in English, passed away in New Zealand just two days before turning 92. I did not have the privilege of listening to Padmavati Shaligram in person but had met Mohan Nadkarni over 20 years ago in Bhopal. He was known for not mincing words and had crossed swords with the likes of Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan and Jasraj. He was obviously quite conscious of his stature but was not patronising in the least. I have a pleasant memory of that meeting.

The news of his death brought memories of the book he had written on Bhimsen Joshi in 1983, a year after the phenomenal vocalist had celebrated his 60th birthday. Titled simply “Bhimsen Joshi: A Biography”, it was later translated into Hindi and Kannada and offered a sympathetic account of Joshi’s life and art. In a field where idol worship is the order of the day and hagiography is often mistaken for biography, this book set a model that could be followed and improvised by later writers. Although he had countless interviews with Bhimsen Joshi and his family, he did not rely solely on them. Instead of sweeping it under the carpet, he discussed at length and at many different places the vocalist’s addiction to alcohol and the problems it created for him and his family. The book also placed him in a proper musical context and analysed his art in a matter-of-fact manner.

Contrast this with a biography of Amir Khan that was written originally in Hindi by Tejpal Singh, the senior of the two Singh Bandhu, and was later translated into English. As he was writing about his guru, it was full of devotion, praise and anecdotes but hardly any objective analysis. Gwalior gharana stalwart L.K. Pandit too wrote a book on his father, the great Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, but it also suffered from the same flaw. In any case, the art of writing biographies is yet to develop in India. There are a few notable exceptions that come to my mind. Amrit Rai had written a biography of his father Premchand which fetched him a Sahitya Akademi award. Sarvepalli Gopal too wrote a biography of his father Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, in which he did not shy away from discussing rumours about the biological father of Radhakrishnan. Both are examples of how a biographer can remain sympathetic to his subject and also maintain high standards of objectivity. However, in music, this is generally not the case.

Several books have been written on musicians that may not be strictly termed as ‘biographies’ but have a lot of biographical content. Most are based on conversations and the writers do not generally care to crosscheck or corroborate facts from other sources or to situate the subject of the book in his or her historical context, although it is common knowledge that memory often plays tricks. A recent and very readable book written by Deepa Ganesh about Gangubai Hangal (published by Three Essays Collective) is a case in point.

Hindi writer Sunita Buddhiraja, who has been compèring music and dance programmes for decades and has come to know many musicians rather well, has come out with a book entitled “Saat Suron ke Beech” (In the midst of Seven Notes) early this year. This aesthetically produced book has been published by Vani Prakashan that had also brought out a book on Girija Devi many years ago. Hindi poet and music aficionado Yatindra Mishra, a scion of the erstwhile ruling family of Ayodhya, had written it. His book on Girija Devi is a veritable long poem on the great artiste, oozing with flowery language and emotional hyperbole. Sunita Buddhiraja’s book too is heavy on high praise but also imparts valuable information about the life and art of seven artistes — Bismillah Khan, Kishan Maharaj, Jasraj, M. Balamurali Krishna, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Birju Maharaj and Hari Prasad Chaurasia. It’s a fascinating coincidence that the book on Girija Devi has been written by a man while seven male musicians have been dealt with by a woman!

The author is a literary critic

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 12:37:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/page-turners/article6249436.ece

Next Story