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Record of A Dhrupad Family

Partho Datta

By Peter Pannke . Translated from the German by Samuel P. Willcocks 
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2013, pp. 222, Rs. 695.00


Peter Pannke, the author, a German from Cologne, stumbled across an L.P. re cording of dhrupad maestros Nasiruddin and Aminuddin Dagar made by the legendary Alain Danielou in the 1960s for UNESCO. Something about the music struck a chord, he was reminded of free-flowing blues and jazz vocalists. Following his instincts he decided to take the plunge and come to India. This book is a record of the years spent in India and his immersion in the most venerable of genres—dhrupad. Pannke attached himself to two remarkable vocalists—Vidur and Ram Chatur Mallik, learning from them over many years. The Mallik family had its roots in the village Amta, near Darbhanga, Bihar and the family since the late 18th century were renowned as the principal repository of this important genre in Eastern India. Pannke drifted through Benaras, Darbhanga, Amta, Vrindavan imbibing the music, taking notes, learning languages, making recordings and eventually helping the Malliks to find an audience in Germany. He produced many of their CDs and helped them to travel to Germany, UK, USA to perform in important music festivals. It is possible that because of his efforts the Malliks became better known, their art more fully appreciated not only abroad but also in India. What drives this narrative is a quest, selfsustaining and fulfilling in its own way. A good case can be made for the liberation of the mind from the body with Pannke as an exemplar. For nothing except idealism can explain why he suffered with dead-pan resignation the brutality of everyday rural life in (pre-Nitish Kumar) Bihar—the packed trains, the crumbling roads, the primitive living conditions, relentless monsoons and mosquito bites. Despite these travails, Pannke remained a careful and sensitive ethnographer. Even more remarkable is his learning which he wears lightly in this book. His descriptions of music material from medieval Sanskrit texts and renditions of Braj and Hindi oral traditions is precise. Interspersed with the narrative they inform and illuminate. As a record of the Mallik family this book will be indispensable. Amta, their ancestral village has produced musicians for generations. Pannke tells us that within the Mallik tradition there were two streams—the courtly and the other-worldly. The doyen Ram Chatur Mallik belonged to the courtly stream and his vast repertoire also included many delectable thumris. There is a delightful story recounted in the book of Siddheshwari Devi pursuing the ...

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