U.G.C. Conference — Delhi University — 6th, 7th March 2009
Educational institutions generally organize conferences and workshops during each academic session depending upon the grants available. Such meetings of academics and professionals helps in forwarding the process of education by sharing and documentation of recent innovation, experimentation and meditation in the discipline. Where theoretical observations outweigh novel revelation, the interest of participants and the audience in the proceedings is likely to wane. The conference organized by Music faculty of Delhi University was held in the compact but acoustically strong auditorium called Shankarlal Hall. Apart from the first few rows reserved for the speakers and guests, the hall was filled to capacity with students. It was refreshing to find so many bright-eyed youth interested in music – a heritage whose epithet ‘ancient’ is more likely to drive them away. A little later, it was apparent that the students attended the seminar not due to any pressure but because the proceedings held real meaning for them. This indeed is the victory of Dean Anjali Mittal and organizing secretary Suneera Kasliwal who not only chose an interesting topic but could also motivate participants whose presence together spelled plurality of Indian music.
After the traditional Vandana (enjoyable both in composition and presentation as it was presented by students of music) and welcome address by Dr. Anjali Mittal, Shri Lalit Mansingh inaugurated the two-day seminar. He drew attention to basic ideas beneath the ubiquitous term ‘globalization’ that were of value to scholars and performers alike. Art never changes externally; when it is forced as such, it might give birth to a new genre, but the main body stays the same. It is only when the artiste changes in accordance with fundamental values that his art portrays a new look. This fact was stated in different terms throughout the seminar by speakers, artistes and observers. Among the audience were such names as Dr. Saubhagyavardhan Brahaspati, Dr. Mukesh Garg, Prof. Ravi Sharma who is looking after music courses in IGNOU, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, classical vocalist and doyen of Delhi school. The seminar was attended by a large number of ex-students of the Music faculty.
It was still a step forward when Vidushi Shanno Khurana was going down memory lane to recall the days when she first started using classical compositions in opera. As she sang out different parts, one could picture the the story unfolding on the stage. Yes, the audience shared her wonder; what was wrong with this to cause uproar and statements like ‘Shanno Khurana has abandoned serious music’. She described how gradually people began to see creativity instead of degeneration in this venture. The few lines she recited from her first Urdu opera were a treat — a rare blend of poetry, diction, drama and music.
When Prof. Vidya Dhar Vyas was invited as the next speaker, there was a momentary fear that after such a presentation would the young audience grant due attention to the scholar-performer. Some of the students had attended his lectures and looked forward to his presentation here. Dr. Vyas briefly described how technology has aided promotion and practice of Indian Classical music. He pointed out that when students from West or Far East come to learn Indian music, it is not only a body of knowledge they seek but an understanding of an alien culture as well. Most institutions and independent teachers formulate a starter module which acquaints these students with salient features of Indian culture important for understanding Indian music. He proceeded to relate how a keen student was groomed in this fashion and when everyone in the audience was curious about him, he put on a tape of his performance. No one can guess from the recording that the singer is not an Indian. Chairperson Dr. Krishna Bisht invited questions from the audience and helped the speakers in stressing an active role of musicians towards building a pluralistic global culture.
In the post-lunch session Hans Utter presented a perfect sequel to Dr. Vyas. Through his paper he emphasized the need for taking a cultural approach to understanding Indian music. He talked about the fundamental differences in western and Indian music. The very nature of western music calls for a definite progressive structure based on harmony that effects an impediment to appreciating Indian music. The Indian system is cyclic based on establishment of shadja laying stress on accuracy of microtonal units. This produces a kind of cultural deafness; unless trained for it west can not appreciate east and vice-versa. It is the degree of insight gained which marks whether the western rendering of Indian Raga approximates the original. He used compositions in Todi performed by three artistes on different instruments to substantiate this hypothesis.
Though western artistes like James Barralet and Nancy Lesh have used Cello to play Indian music, Saskia Rao de Haas has gone a step farther. She is wedded not only to Indian music but also to an Indian musician. An erstwhile student of Delhi university she completed her Ph.D. from Amsterdam and stalwarts like Pt. Hariprasad Chourasiya are all praise for her. She credits a Dutch musician for designing her Cello and Sanjay Sharma of Shivam Musicals for making her instrument. It has five playing strings with tonic in D and uses ten sympathetic strings. The deep tones of Cello suited the Bhimpalash composition in Jhaptal and teen tal. At times, the very strength also becomes its weakness as thirst for softer tones remains unquenched, but considering that this is pioneering work, Saskia comes out a winner.
The presence of a number of artistes, scholars, critics in the audience lend credence to the seminar. Dr. Krishna Bisht, who headed the music faculty till her recent retirement acted as bridge across generations and vocations. The organizers had thoughtfully arranged for the presence of major publishers of books and music. Latest releases by Sangeet Natak Akademi and Akashvani archives were on display. As they offered handsome discount, during breaks they were filled with students and visitors eager to update their libraries and collection.
Director of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Dr. Jayant Kastuar and chairperson Pt. Bhajan Sopori set the mood for second day of seminar by interpreting the paradoxical impact of globalization. Anyone who has moved out his town, city or country suddenly learns the value of native identity. Globalization has brought his realization to people without their moving out. In the plethora of activities, commotion and babble the anchor of things known and proximate is necessary for defining one’s individuality; else one’s sanity would be in question. Later Pt. Sopori expressed his complete agreement with Dr. Kastuar’s emphasis on defining policies for reinforcement of the local so that the steps to regional and national might give a stable movement to global. Despite several significant contributions to the discussion by eminent personalities, due perhaps to the essence of seminar being more artistic than philosophical, the misapprehension of globalization as an upward climb could not be successfully belied. Still, the speakers were clear about bolstering our immediate culture in order to contribute to the global one. Dr. Kastuar went as far as to state that citizens should work towards making Indian culture as the global culture. Quite patriotic! Yet, the statement was made more in spirit of encouragement than denial of pluralism. Pt. Sopori was more concerned about the heady spirit of experimentation. Egged on by an opening world market, many Indian artistes tend to experiment with fusion which is “possible only when marketing is successful”. It is no more than gymnastics or lampooning completely devoid of true music. The legendary santoor player is right to be angry because all that goes in the name of fusion rises out of material ambition and not aesthetic sensibility.
It shall take some time for Indian artistes to admit the yeoman service that Shri G. Rajnarayan has performed. If one takes the global view, wide in span and sensibility, then perhaps this engineer-musician inventor has made the largest contribution in granting expanse to practice of Indian classical music. In the words of Santoor artiste and composer Pt. Omprakash Chourasiya, “the sole invention in twentieth century which has revolutionized practice of Indian music is G. Rajnarayan