Easy Lis­ten­ing

Shubha Mud­gal’s stories make trans­par­ent the of­ten dif­fi­cult world of Hin­dus­tani clas­si­cal mu­sic

India Today - - LEISURE - —Man­jula Pad­man­ab­han

Shubha Mud­gal’s lovely sing­ing voice takes a back­stage in these seven tales from the world of In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic. In tangy, tasty street-food lan­guage, she tells us of the may­hem tak­ing place be­hind the cur­tains of a mod­ern mu­si­cian’s life. Each story cov­ers some as­pect of In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic in our era. There’s a con­cert fea­tur­ing two pop­u­lar singers, one In­dian, one Pak­istani. An ac­claimed Hin­dus­tani clas­si­cal vo­cal­ist goes on her first ‘for­eign tour’. An ambitious clas­si­cal mu­sic com­pe­ti­tion is at­tempted in Pun­jab. A bril­liant young singer in Bengal strug­gles with con­flict­ing loy­al­ties. The tale of a man with a sling-bag full of orig­i­nal songs pre­cedes the story of a singer who con­fronts a mu­si­cal pimp.

In the final piece, a sim­ple­hearted de­vo­tional singer dips his toe in the shark’s pool of com­mer­cial cinema. De­spite the light tone and the claim on the front cover that the stories are ‘wickedly funny’, these are des­per­ately sad tales. It’s not clear whether the au­thor’s aim was to en­ter­tain read­ers who know noth­ing about mu­sic in today’s In­dia, or to warn tal­ented young artistes of the ugly choices await­ing them at ev­ery turn in their ca­reers. The re­cur­ring theme is one of gifted but in­no­cent artistes brush­ing up against the brig­ands who pa­trol the cre­ative air­waves, de­cid­ing whom to

sup­press, whom to pro­mote.

The many set-pieces are like TV com­mer­cials pro­mot­ing uniquely In­dian forms of taste­less­ness. In ‘A Farewell to Mu­sic’, for in­stance, a video is played to the ex­ec­u­tives of a ma­jor mu­sic la­bel in Kolkata of a girl-band called The Badass Ban­dariyas. ‘The dense black dis­solved into light to the sound of heavy breath­ing, to re­veal a young woman in ush­trasana, the camel pose, with an enor­mous eye painted in the mid­dle of her fore­head.’ In ‘For­eign Re­turned’, there’s that mo­ment when the clas­si­cal diva is made to listen to her host’s young daugh­ter in their home in Philadel­phia, ‘ac­com­pa­nied by a tan­pura and tabla gen­er­ated from an app on her Mum’s phone.’

Mud­gal’s keen ear for lin­guis­tic quirks re­sults in spicy pas­sages of In­dian slang. They’re charm­ing in their va­ri­ety but the brack­eted trans­la­tions into English break the flow. As for Miss Sargam? She flits about in the wings, a per­fumed phan­tom pres­ence, re­mind­ing us of the val­ues and grace of a now­van­ished era. ■

LOOK­ING FOR MISS SARGAM Stories of Mu­sic and Misad­ven­ture by Shubha Mud­gal SPEAK­ING TIGER `499; 205 pages

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