How did Partition affect classical music? Scholars and musicians from across the subcontinent got together to discuss the issue.
North India’s art music, known as Hindustani classical music, had to suffer, along with other cultural forms, the impact of the 1947 Partition that was based on the two nation theory dividing Hindus and Muslims, since it represented one of the most vigorous examples of cultural plurality. To explore the impact of Partition on Hindustani music prevailing in the regions affected, the Asian Scholarship Foundation, Bangkok, and the Academy of Third World Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), Delhi, organised a two-day convention involving dialogues and music making with eminent musicians and scholars from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Inaugurated by Professor Mushirul Hassan, Vice Chancellor, JMI, the convention had four sessions, first titled Cultural Identity and the Making of Nations, where Lakshmi Subramanium and Vibodh Parthasarathy from JMI and Gregory Booth from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, were the panellists. The second session focused on Partition and Gharana Narratives, with music demonstrations by Vidya Rao from India, Nasiruddin Sami from Pakistan and Asit Kumar Dey from Bangladesh. The third session was based on Knowledge Transmission affected by the border, where Yousuf Saeed had a survey of music literature from Pakistan and Shubhendu Ghosh sang and talked about different kinds of music from Bengal. The forth session titled ‘Between Popular and Elite, Music Adapting to the Changing Audience’ had Aslam Khan, vocalist, Jon Barlow, musician, and instrument maker Raza Kazim from Lahore, Pakistan, sharing their views.
A lawyer by profession, Raza Kazim is a musicologist, archivist, audio engineer and inventor/maker of instruments like the sager veena and the shruti-bahaar. He said music is in the mind “saaz aur awaaz to chamcha hai, jo haandi mein hai wahi nikalega”. He believes that the non verbal mind is the base of music which is expressed combined with the pitch, timbre and volume. It lies in our common pool of sensitivity. Classical means the music of quality. Noor Zehra, his daughter and associate in experimenting for the last 40 years with the sagar veena, that was conceived and created by Raza to convey this kind of music, also performed in the concert held in the evening.
Filmmaker and researcher Yousuf Saeed, well known for his film “Khayal-Darpan” and the man behind this stimulating seminar, showed some rare recorded clips of immortal musicians like Roshanara Begum, Ahmad Jaan Thirakwa, Ustad Alla Rakha, Nazakat-Salamat Ali and Kumar Gandharva. Vibodh P. in his powerpoint presentation on recording companies also played snatches of rare voices like Gauhar Jan and Master Labbo. Ustad R.F. Dagar spoke on the spiritual dimension of music. Vidya Rao talked about shringar in thumri that exists along with the spiritual and not only as a metaphor of it. She also sang a couple of thumris to prove her point.
Asit Dey reflected upon the predicament of Bangladesh being so far away from classical music even after living so close to India, referring to the cultural/educational exchange where students who come to learn music in Indian universities go back with an Honour’s degree without any practical knowledge of music. Ustad Nasiruddin Sami from Karachi, who also performed at the evening concert, said “Mausiqui husne aawaaz hai” (music is the beauty of the voice) and amply proved it too.