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A Contemporary Survey

Partho Datta

By Mohan Nadkarni
Somaiya Publications, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 216, Rs. 400.00


Some years ago Mohan Nadkarni pub- lished The Great Masters: Profiles in Hindustani Classical Vocal Music (Harper Collins, 1999), a compendium of pen portraits of past masters that he had heard in the half century as a practising music critic in Bombay. Music to Thy Ears is a kind of companion volume which gives us a peep into the world of instrumental music. Although reams have been written about stars like Ravi Shankar and the late Vilayat Khan, a contemporary survey of instrumentalists is hard to find, and Nadkarni’s book goes a long way in filling this gap.   There have been critics before Nadkarni who published fine pioneering accounts of instrumentalists, but that was decades ago. S.K.Chaubey’s Musicians I have Met (Information Department, Uttar Pradesh, 1958) has interesting profiles of forgotten musicians like Ajodhya Prasad (Pakhawaj), Sakhawat Khan (sarod), Yusuf Ali Khan (sitar) and Sadiq Ali Khan (rudra veena). Chetan Karnani’s informed criticism in Listening to Hindustani Music (Sangam Books, 1976) of Nikhil Bannerjee, Ram Narayan and Pannalal Ghosh is still unsurpassed.   Nadkarni’s accounts of lesser known instrumentalists in this volume complements his fine chapter ‘They remained in the shadows’ in his earlier book. Of particular interest is the career of Vishnudas Shirali, whose name often crops up in relation to the Uday Shankar Dance Troupe. Shirali was a pioneer of orchestration and spent a good part of his working life as music director in Films Division, Bombay. His chequered innings included long stints of learning from luminaries Vishnu Digamber Paluskar and Allaudin Khan. Paluskar appointed him Principal to the music school that he established in Lahore. But within a year he had migrated to London in the hope of setting up a school of Indian music there. This was the 1920s and he encountered Uday Shankar and was persuaded to join his troupe. Another interesting personality was Amembal Dinaker Rao who had stylishly shortened his name to D. Ame’l. Long associated with Indian broadcasting and All India Radio in Bombay he too pioneered Indian orchestration. Influenced by vocal maestro Master Krishnarao, at some point he switched to playing the harmonium. His career here was cut short when AIR banned the instrument in a fit of misplaced nationalism. He then took to playing the flute without a grudge! Nadkarni tells us that Rao composed hundreds of pieces for the Bombay AIR orchestra in the traditional ragas. ...

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