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Charting Two Paths

Urmila Bhirdikar

By Rajeev Nair
Indialog Publications, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 402, Rs. 350.00


The presence of the rasika in the context of music is perhaps the most heartening one, for, it is the rasika on whom the tasir (ability to move) of music can be gauged. In other words, while it is important that musicians imbibe and showcase their scholarship to other musicians, it is in fact not the ultimate goal of musical performance. Time and again, musicians have expressed the struggle to achieve the quality of performance that moves its audience. The rasika is that audience that gets moved.   Rajeev Nair’s book captures this performative matrix when he tells his readers how he was moved by Hindustani music when he ‘…first encountered the music of the rudra veena maestro, Ustad Zia Mohinuddin Dagar at the India International Centre, in the autumn of 1989’ (p. xiii). Nair’s impressionistic account of this concert contains a detailed description of the effect of that superb and masterful rendition that overpowered him and led him on in his pursuit of the appreciation of Hindustani music. The book under review shows his ability to capture his continued engagement with music in appreciative, often lyrical language and the shaping of the rasika in present times. Again and again he captures the musical effect through a prolific use of images, especially of colours and then through metaphors of creation and fruition. Ustad Rashid Khan touching the ‘… tar sa’ is said to give birth to … a splendorous star-studded night… in our hearts’ (p 242) while Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s Bahar brings before the mind’s eye the ‘many-hued flowers joyfully swaying in a gust of breeze and the happy abandon of spring-drunk koels…’ (p. 173).   This is not to say that the Rasika’s Journey is a series of impressionistic accounts. On the contrary, the 390 pages of the book show what a prolific and meticulous listener Nair is. The commentaries on individual musicians which take up the best part of the book are also detailed descriptions and analyses of the musicological details of specific instances of musical performances. These commentaries include the erstwhile musicians like Ustad Abdul Karim Khansahab and Pandita Kesarbai Kerkar, as well as many later and contemporary singers and instrumentalists and demonstrate the writer’s engagement with recorded music as well as live performances. Additionally, Nair draws upon insights from an assorted body of scholarship on music thus completing the overall development of the modern rasika in modern times.   ...

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