My journey with biographies seems to go on, and this time it actually happened un-knowingly. I got this book as gift and when I opened its poly wrapping, I had no clue on what this book is all about, though the title and the comment by Pandit Ravi Shankar on the cover obviously said that the book was about music and that too classical music. The back flap has a 3 line biography of the author and front flap introduction was written in a way that it was difficult to make out if the book was a fiction or non-fiction. Anyway I started reading it and it was a delight to read.

It is a book about the birth of a musical gharana, the journey of the people who founded it and people who became a part of its lineage. Gharana was called Jaipur gharana, though all the people behind it lived and nurtured it primarily in various parts of Maharashtra. It was founded by Alladiya Khan who traces back his lineage from Haridas, whose famous disciple was Tansen, one of the nine jewels of Akbar. He also had a history of having his origins in a Brahmin family that somewhere down the line got converted into a Muslim family, but still follows certain Brahmin rituals like wearing the sacred thread. To him and his family, religion was incidental, his main religion remained music, and it is to music that he dedicated all his life. He used to sing in the courts of kings of princely states of India before India got independent.

The author of the book is a student of Dhondutai, a leading vocalist of the ghrana and a student of Alladiya Khan and Kesarbai Kerkar, who was one of the most famous singers from the gharana. The book traces the journey of the two protagonists i.e. the author and her teacher Dhondutai, through their 25 year long musical association. It takes you back and forth in time and the stories are revealed through the dialogues between the teacher and the student. It traces the lives and times of famous musicians, their passion of music, their willingness to give up anything for music and their eccentricities. It also gives you a peep into the politics that rules the music world, how the musicians get promoted, how they try and keep their status and image that they build around themselves. The ones who are unable to play the game are left behind, though they may be the better than the better known performing ones. It talks about how the gharanas are formed around certain musical productions that are passed on only to worthy students of the gharana and that too under a vow that they would not share it with anyone except the ones chosen to take the gharana forward.

The book has many layers. One layer talks about the musical world, the ragas, the times of ragas, the nuances of ragas. The second layer talks about the student teacher relationship, how it happens and how it is nurtured, and how it becomes the most important relationship in the lives of both the student and the teacher. The third layer talks about the pain of women who have chosen music over everything else, their dichotomous status in the society, they are respected and revered at one end and are ridiculed at the other end and probably both at the same time and their constant struggle to deal with this dual status. It talks about strong women and the ways they adopted to survive the way they wanted to. The fourth layer talks about the world of music concerts which is filled with politics, where artists fight constantly to take themselves up in the hierarchy by giving their performances at the end of the concerts. There is fifth layer that talks about the dependence of artists and the music itself on the kings in the days of princely states and later on the businessmen, who funded artists and the musical events. It talks about the role these wealthy connoisseurs of art and music play in keeping the art forms alive. The sixth layer gives you the glimpses of India and especially Maharashtra as it existed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The book seems like a tribute by the author to her teacher who probably remained relatively unknown and probably deserved more than the share of fame that she received. As a reader, I got to know a lot about the musical legacies of India in general and Jaipur gharana in particular. I guess, I can recommend this book to anyone who appreciates Indian music. And if anyone knows of any other such interesting books, please do share the details with me.

Thanks Valli for gifting me this book.

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