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Enduring Melodies

Abhik Majumdar

By Sheila Dhar
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 311, Rs. 395.00

By T.V. Sairam
Nada Centre for Music Therapy, Chennai, 2004, pp. 78 & 24, price not stated.


Shiela Dhar’s contribution to writing on Indian classical music is perhaps unique. To her must go the credit for transforming this genre into something not only accessible to the lay public, but also actually fun to read. The present book comprises her two earlier works, Here’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet, a hilarious volume of reminiscences, and The Cooking of Music, a posthumously published collection of essays on a variety of subjects. For some obscure reason, Here’s Someone has been out of print for a while now in spite of its enduring popularity. Permanent Black must be commended for making it available once again.   The first part of the book, which contains the text of Here’s Someone, is easily the most entertaining. It is divided into 24 chapters grouped under three broad headings, ‘Home’, ‘Musicians’ and ‘Other People’. ‘Home’ is all about Dhar’s childhood and family. Written with understated poignancy and sensitivity, it offers us unparalleled insights into the inner life of a large anglicized Mathur Kayastha joint-family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, a stern patriarch of a father, a mother neglected but still indomitable in her cheerfulness, all spring to life in vivid colour and depth. Unfortunately, the review copy sent to me has pages 27 to 42 missing (and pages 43 to 58 printed twice over in perhaps a fit of misplaced generosity), which means that a fair chunk of this section gets chopped off.   The chapters on music and musicians are uproariously, side-splittingly funny, no other word for it. Gems include Bade Ghulam Ali Khansahib’s consternation at being trapped into a vegetarian dinner, and his reluctance to record for the radio. (‘They tell me that “Radio” records on some kind of electric wire. The wire pulls out all the life and virtue from the voice leaving nothing but husk.’) The chapter on the sarangi maestro Bundu Khan, a man near-absolute in his innocence, is a masterpiece in its own right. Once Khansahib unaccountably disappeared from view. A prolonged search finally located him and his sarangi deep inside the garden; apparently he had been playing for the flowers. On another occasion, an organization offered to pay him a thousand rupees for a recital. He nearly rejected this because he wanted five hundred rupees for himself and two hundred for his son. It took a good deal of effort to set his mathematics in order!   Subsequent chapters tackle ...

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