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Of Music and Musicians

Partho Datta

Edited by Ina Puri
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 188, Rs. 1250.00

By S.K. Saksena
Sangeet Natak Akademi and D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 247, Rs. 600.00


The first book is an affectionate portrait of Shiv Kumar Sharma put together by his devoted friend Ina Puri. The text comprises a long interview by Puri, an appraisal of the maestro by Vijay Kichlu and an account of Sharma’s career in Hindi films by enthusiast Manek Premchand. The bulk of the book is however devoted to beautifully reproduced photographs of the maestro which range from early black and whites selected from the family album to glossy colour photos of the maestro’s public career. Shiv Kumar Sharma is seventy-five and the volume is a tribute to a fine musician well known for his outstanding musicianship as well as humble nature.  Someday music historians will critically unravel the phenomenon of the santoor. The soft furry sound of this instrument captured a new sensibility in Indian popular culture. Its ubiquitous use as elevator music and its association with romance and the hills has generated a complex subjectivity. In Hindi film music it replaced the more strident patter of the jaltarang although it suffered from the same handicap: the struck quality of its sound was unable to reproduce the meends and gamaks, a crucial component of Indian music. Reams have been written by critics and historians of instrumental music (Mohan Nadkarni, Suneera Kasliwal, Prakash Mahadik) about how the young and plucky Shiv Kumar Sharma in provincial Jammu of the early 1950s modified and transformed this traditional folk accompaniment from Kashmir into a distinguished instrument that could hold its own in the rarefied world of the sitar and the sarod.  Ina Puri’s interview is in the worshipful mode. Sharma’s responses are reflective and philosophical. At the pinnacle of his career, Sharma looks back on his career with calm detachment. For episodes from his music career, readers will have to turn to Ina Puri’s earlier project which was a Journey With a Hundred Strings (2002) the maestro’s autobiography. There are some marvellous stories in this earlier book. Among those who attended Sharma’s first concert in Bombay in the 1950s was tabla maestro Alla Rakha, who came backstage to congratulate Sharma and broke into his native Dogri, immediately establishing a life-long bond. There is an amusing portrait of senior Agra vocalist Dilip Chandra Vedi fretting and fuming over his pagri unable to get into a mood to sing. There is also a description of Husanlal’s mesmerizing rendering of the ...

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