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Partho Datta

FORM IN INDIAN MUSIC: A STUDY IN GHARANAS
By Chetan Karnani
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2005, pp. 248, Rs. 495.00

RASA YATRA: MY JOURNEY IN MUSIC
By Mallikarjun Mansur . Translated by Rajsekhar Mansur
Roli Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 144, Rs. 295.00

INVENTING THE SAROD: A CULTURAL HISTORY
By Adrian McNeil
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2004, pp. 277, Rs. 575.00

VISHWA MOHAN BHATT: THE MUSICAL MESSIAH
By Kanchan Mathur
D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 132, price not stated

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 3 March 2006

Chetan Karnani is India’s foremost critic of Hindustani classical music. In 1976 Sangam Books (Orient Longman) published Listening to Hindustani Music, a collection of wide-ranging essays on musicians, musical genres and music theory. Over the years this little book has become a classic. One person who took great pride in this achievement was the late Sujit Mukherjee of Orient Longman who was the first to grasp the potential of compiling Karnani’s scattered essays into a book. (He also suggested the same to Satyajit Ray and that was how Our Films Their Films was born). I bought my copy many years ago at Anil Arora’s Bookworm in Connaught Place and dip into it frequently for inspiration and entertainment, constantly marvelling how Karnani’s perspicacity refuses to age.   Karnani’s book remains distinctive for many reasons. First is his avowed scepticism. This is not a value easily associated with Indian artists and critics, most of whom are closet conservatives and hagiographers. In his book Karnani delights in puncturing the humbug that masquerades as avuncular advice and which seems a speciality of pretentious music critics. Even more hard-hitting are his wicked observations on the musical delusions of famous maestros like Omkarnath and Kumar Gandharva. In the early 1970s Karnani was championing through his essays vocalists like Mallikarjun Mansur and Basavraj Rajguru who were not very popular in North India. His essays on Amir Khan and Nikhil Bannerjee are enlightened and sophisticated. The essay ‘Ravi Shankar and the West’ is a model of its kind which tackles sensibly a rather tricky subject. Karnani is also rare among music critics since he does not resort to opaque musical grammar to establish aesthetic points. All critical assessments are made sensibly with reference to published recordings available in the public domain. The curious can cross-check Karnani’s pronouncements and form their own opinion. This is refreshing since music critics are notorious for boasting about unique music occasions, to most of which the less privileged janata have no access. Finally, reading Karnani is always a reassuring experience because he seems to put into words what one has felt intuitively.   Unfortunately this book remained out of print for more than twenty years. Except occasionally at old booksellers or the Sunday book bazaar, copies were hard to come by. Meanwhile the era of the great maestros seemed to be drawing to a close and musical cultures too changed ...


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