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Recording a By-gone Era

Partho Datta

By Kumar Prasad Mukherji
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 354, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Kumar Mukherji died just as this book was published. The enthusiastic reception (Ram Guha in his column in The Hindu called it one of the most significant non-fiction books written in post-independent India) would have pleased him enormously. He was certainly keen to share his vast fund of stories and knowledge with a wider Indian audience. Originally serialized in the Bengali literary magazine Desh, it was published to wide acclaim in 1995 as Kudrat Rangbirangi, by Ananda Publishers and went on to win the prestigious Rabindra Puraskar. A Hindi translation by vocalist Dipali Nag was published in 2002. In a later account in Bengali he wrote about the burden of fame, continuously being invited to address or chair literary sabhas and para functions, the steady stream of which left him slightly out of breath. Not that Mukherji was new to the life of an engaged litterateur. His father was the legendary teacher D. P. Mukherji, the pioneer sociologist. In Bengal, Dhurjati Prasad is remembered among other things as a literary innovator and stream-of-consciousness novelist. He was a friend of Rabindranath Tagore and corresponded with him on Hindustani music which was later published as a book. Famous nationalists and cultural figures dropped in to see D.P. in his Lucknow home.   Jawaharlal Nehru made a stopover for a cup of tea on a hurried visit to the city in the 1950s. Not unlike the disciple-sons of famous music maestros, Kumar Mukherji was always overshadowed by the awesome reputation of his father that left him slightly resentful. It certainly took him a long time (he was well into his 60s) to find his voice as a music historian. Kudrat Rangbirangi his first book was dedicated to his mother who apparently complained frequently that it was most unlike D.P.s only child not to have authored a single book. Consequently one theme that runs powerfully through this book are the travails of devotion. The success of Kudrat Rangbirangi spurred Kumar Mukherji to write a series of other books on music in Bengali. Majlis was followed by Mehfil and Khyal. These were relatively minor efforts made from the left-over material collected for his first book. Repetitive and sometimes boastful they never matched the passion of his first book. And now a substantially revised and somewhat altered account of his first effort has appeared as The Lost World of Hindustani Music.   Although the rich anecdotal material ...

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