Saturday, November 24, 2007

Long Live the Conduit!

The Music Room and its author achieve some thing very important. In the context of the post liberalization India and the changes that are happening all around us, this achievement becomes even more significant.

The predominant feeling one gets in India these days is of mind-boggling change. The rate at which we are exposed to new influences and their adoption into our lives is nothing like we have ever seen before.

India is a country, which takes in outside influences on its own terms. We take a food habit from the west, say Pizza, and then we add Paneer, kebab and Keema as toppings and create some thing very unique and different. We take Chinese food and create the famous Manchurian. The character of the Chinese food has changed so much that it is now referred to, as “Chindian” and most Chinese people would not even recognize the food. In various areas this trend is visible and Indians love it - we almost take pride in it.

However, if you look carefully, this trend is visible more in popular areas of culture. It’s visible in the Indian film Industry, (the name Bollywood itself is an indication of the trend), its visible in food, fashion, pop music, pop dance and so on.

In the fine arts, which are less flexible to change and have centuries of history around them, this trend has no impact. Indian Classical Music is an example. Yes, we have some examples of alaaps and taans used in modern filmy compositions, but the understanding, appreciation and popularity of both Hindustani as well as Karnatic Classical Music is certainly on a rapid decline. The decline is so steep that they can be classified as dying art forms. Efforts like the SPIC MACAY have also lost steam I think.

In this context, Namita Devidayal through her book the Music Room makes a valiant attempt to bring alive the romance and appeal of Hindustani Classical Music. The peek into the Guru – Shishya Parampara (Teacher student relationship unique to Indian culture) brings out some aspects of our culture that most young people today are not even aware of. Namita has written a book on a relationship that even the young intelligentsia of today may not even know existed.

What helps is the author’s background. She comes from a fairly westernized background. She is as contemporary as contemporary can get. References to her American education, journalism, late night parties, smoking, the first kiss etc. are aplenty in the book giving her credibility in the eyes of the India of today. Some times, you get the feeling that these have been planted in the book, precisely for this reason. The response that is likely to come from young readers is, “hey this chick is pretty cool she, she seems a bit like me, so this Hindustani classical shit can’t be all that uncool”. I don’t know if Namita has done this consciously or it happened automatically in the process of telling the story, either ways I think it works.

About the book itself, it’s fairly competently written, there are a few inspired pieces as well and technically quite sound. But for me, the masterstroke is that I think we have found a conduit – a conduit that will help us hold onto what we are, hold on to our culture and our values – if we talk to the India of today in the language that Namita does, we have a great chance. People like Namita are our conduit and we need many more of them in different areas of our lives. Long live the conduit!


Anonymous said...


With all dye respect, plz allow me to play "Dev"il's advocate...

Whya re we so keen on absorbing all crappy thinsg only from the west...junk food, junk culture and so on.....

Two things that we ought to learn from the West -- punctuality and cleanliness (in public places, esp., and no, plz do not give me the poverty excuse..I am referring to educated and "cultured" folks).

Let us start from these basics and then talk of absorbing other things...we have a lot of good qualities too -- we are more "human" i.e. we empathize more and we are not as clinical as our western counterparts. There are pros and cons to both.

I mean, look at you.....I challenge you because we go back a long way...what do you sell pizzas.... I challenge you to sell some good stuff...herbal stuff...wholesome is easy to sell junk, dev. We need dynamic guys like you to sell some good stuff......I mean, look at television....we have adopted the "Entertainment tonight" tabloidy crap with our regular news. This is nonsense this good stuff? SMS kijiyge if some actress should have kissed some actor..let's have a poll on that....and I say, what?!!!

We are just appealing to the lowest common denominator and I cannot believe the Marwarisation of Indian media and culture. I am not a cultural snob by any means but we ought to have some class, man. I talk to a lot of desis in N America and whenever I get critical of our so-called judicial system of allowing a goonda like Salman Khan to get away scot free, our folks here get easily offended. I mean, should we be celebrating a thug like that man?!!!

You have, in your Dominos campaigns, I believe, included Arshad Warsi and Paresh Rawal as brand ambassadors, of sorts. That is typical Dev -- potent, pithy and definitely good vibes. We should be celebrating the +ve influences from world over and neglecting the cheap stuff. However, we are bent on doing the reverse. For instance, I was told by several folks that they saw a lot of Indian youth with hip hop garb. I have seen the same in a lot of ABCD youth, who are just bent on absorbing stuff from images that they see on Indian satellite TV and they just mimic all B'wood crap. That is their refernce point, when it comes to India and Indian culture. Is this necessarily a good thing? I don't know man.....

Dev said...

hey superb comment anonymous. there is a lot of merit in what u say man, and i will surely write back with my views on the pts u have raised. but why are u being anonymous - if u know me for a long time, hopefully u would also know that there is no need to be anonymous with me. i always value comments like this as they force me to reflect on things of importance - so please out with your name, friend :-)

Anonymous said...


That was me man...I forgot to include my name...sorry for the blooper.

Again, I did not mean to *criticize* you...I admire/love/respect you far too much to point fingers...but, the gist of my argument was (based on my observations from out of desh) that we can become a much better nation by absorbing a lot of +ve influences from outside and combine them with a lot of +ve qualities that are inherent in us. What I am very concerned about is that we seem to be intent on absorbing only the crappy is a little bit like cricket (cricketing analogies normally click with desis)...see, we have all the talent of the world..not many countries can match us in that department...but what we need to absorb from the Aussies and Springboks is mental toughness, physical strength, ability to bounce back from tough situations...we are capable (and we have shown in the recent past) of these things..the challenge is to make these qualities intrinsic to our character as a nation and as individuals....enough of intellectualizing, as your friend Abhi said...he he he


Dev said...

Of course you are right Sri, due to lack of exposure and education and a lot of new money in the system, there is an element of "culture/Indian ethos degradation". I dont see how u r playing the devil's advocate here, i agree with what ur saying fundamentally. The point in my post is about the author being the conduit to speak to the new India youth in a language that they know with some credibility. Its all about communuiaction - u cannot communicate effectively with some one if u do not speak their language, once they start listening to u - plant the message. There is nothing wrong in "making yur ungli tedha to take out the ghee". If her westernised persona and references to "cool" things can help break down communication barriers and if she is able to drive in the messages about the beautty of our music, our culture and the lives that our elders have lived - she has done a great service. Without these references the book would have been read by only those who are already interested in Indian CLassical music - but the conduit always lets u break new ground. Read the book and hopefully u will see the point