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Kanav Gupta

BEYOND MUSIC: MAESTROS IN CONVERSATION
By Geeta Sahai  and Shrinkhla Sahai 
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 324, Rs. 595.00/$20.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 5 May 2016

Beyond Music: Maestros in Conversation is a collection of interviews with some known and established artists of the Hindustani music tradition, originally done—as the editors inform us in the Introduction—for a radio programme. The twenty-five interviews collected here are organized according to the age of the artists— from Gangubai Hangal to Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar. As such this collection manages a broad sweep of time, promising to locate within a larger history of India, the story of this formidable tradition’s evolution. It is interesting how the artists of various styles and instruments are brought together under one umbrella, without an attempt to separate them along common classifications. So the scheme of organization takes a while to figure out as the introduction mentions nothing about it. The title of this collection gestures towards some of its underlying assumptions: the interviews are premised on the understanding that a formidable classical art form like Hindustani music is engulfed by a certain aura, the best way to demystify which lies in bringing its known practitioners and torchbearers into a ‘zone of familiar contact’ with the common public. The ‘demystification’ is supposed to keep this classical art form relevant for the present generation of listeners: a perfectly bonafide intention articulated in the introduction. The impulse to go ‘beyond music’ seems to say: ‘let us not get into the music per se, after all it is too complex for a lexical representation, let us focus instead on what lies “beyond music” in the lives of these artists’ (the book insists on using the more archaic ‘artiste’— artists of performative forms—a sign of the burden that language bears in representing high art). This premise of personal life illuminating the musical life is not new: the memoirs of Sheila Dhar and Namita Devidayal are successful examples of the same premise. However, the memoir form differs in scope and span from an interview—and the subtitle of the book ‘Maestros in Conversation’ notwithstanding, these really are interviews—more formal than ‘conversations’, time-bound, structured, less deliberative and with little scope for cross-questions and probing. An excellent recent example of ‘conversation’ is Deepa Ganesh’s A Life in Three Octaves, an evocative account of Gangubai Hangal’s life presented through a series of conversations over a long period of time. Nevertheless, the ‘interview’can prove to be a potent and insightful form of truth-seeking, at the very least ...


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