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Music And The Metropolis

Partho Datta

By Aneesh Pradhan
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2014, pp. 348, Rs. 750.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

'Dharma Migu Chennai’, ‘Madras is replete with piety’—so the saintpoet Ramalingaswamy pronounced in the nineteenth century. In her excellent account of the social history of music in South India, the historian Lakshmi Subramanian (2006) probes this ‘curious testimonial’. Of all places why was parvenu Madras bestowed with such high status? The answer lay in the nature of the colonial city itself—replete with possibilities, it beckoned a range of people eager to seek fortune, fame, honour and a decent living. Musicians in Madras could look forward to the new patronage of the indigenous notables who as sampradayikas built temples, sponsored festivals and supported ritual. But there was more to the colonial city than economic opportunity: it was also a new kind of space in which social relations were in a flux, where danger and allure formed an attractive and heady mix. ‘Langot-bandh rehna’ ‘Keep your desires in check’ was the advice that Ustad Kallan Khan of Agra Gharana sternly gave his young disciple Khadim Hussain when he was getting ready to leave for Bombay from Jaipur in 1925 (Jayawant Rao, 1981). The relationship of musicians with the metropolis in India runs deep and its fascinating history has been explored by Aneesh Pradhan for nineteenth and twentieth century Bombay in great detail in this book. The range of his concerns are impressive. This is a rich history which covers patronage, institutions, associations, social organization, technology and performance. The puzzle is that despite western India’s deep investment in music, legendary musicians and an enthusiastic and discerning audience, it has taken this long for a comprehensive book on Bombay and Hindustani music to be written. There is only one such comparable survey for Calcutta, Atanu Chakrabarty’s pioneering Mehfil Bahar (2001, revised edition, 2012) written in Bengali. Pradhan’s book is doubly welcome because the author is a wellknown tabla maestro. He brings a special empathy and understanding of a musician to his material. Colonial Bombay was famous for its skyline of monumental Gothic and Victorian buildings but its unique character was made by the inhabitants. One powerful group were the indigenous bourgeoisie, the shetias or merchant princes from a range of communities: Oswal Jains, Parsis, Banias, Bhatias, Khojas, Memons, Bohras, Sonars etc. Kalbadevi Road was an area in the city where a large number of them resided. In 1846, in a prescient move one such shetia Jugannath Sunkersett donated land to set up the Grant Road ...

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