My journey with biographies seems to go on. This time it actually happened unknowingly. I got this book The Music Room as a 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.

The Music Room 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 in 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 Gharana. 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 for music, their willingness to give up anything for music and their eccentricities.

The Music Room by Namita Devidayal

It also gives you a peep into the politics that rule 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 adapted 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 the 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 The Music Room 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 The Music Room book.

Buy this book – The Music Room by Namita Devidayal at Amazon India.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. May be you may like to read “What the ragas told me” by Vasudev Murthy. He is a dear friend of mine and his book will take you to a different plane altogether.

  2. I live in the US and I cannot get this book until Feb 2009. Why is that?? Can you tell me where i can purchase this book without waiting that long?
    Thank you.

  3. Hi, I enjoyed your comments and share your reactions to this book. May I suggest “Suite Francaise” by Irène Nemirovsky? it’s an unusual book (biographical and historic) which I hope you will like as much as I did.
    Tanya

  4. I stumbled upon your blog through your article on “Need Ka Nirmaan Phir”. The link to your review of “Kya Bhoolun Kya Yaad Karuun” is not working; please send it if the article is still available. On the subject of music-related books, I would strongly recommend Sheila Dhar’s “Raga ‘n’ Josh” for insightful, witty and well-written explorations into the lives of Hindustani classical musicians. It is very difficult to communicate in English the very native nuances of Hindustani music terminology, concepts, and lives without becoming either pedantic or obscure, and the late Ms. Dhar succeeds wonderfully in bringing a very contemporary voice to her experiences even though she is two generations removed from it.

    I agree with your opinion of the beauty of Bachchan’s Hindi prose, though I am witholding reading your full article on “Need Ka Nirmaan” until I complete reading it.

    Thanks,
    — Arunabha

  5. Not sure if the gmail redirects it to a mailbox, so posting a reply here in the comments section:

    Thanks for the link; I hope you will also review Basere Se Door and Dashdwar Se Sopaan Tak in time. I know what you mean about the unavailability of Hindi books. It’s very hard to find these books outside of Delhi (most of the publishers tend to be based in Daryaganj and not that many have a substantial web-presence). I’ll take the liberty of recommending two websites that I’ve come across for Hindi books: (In addition to the Bachchan autobio set and his poetry collections they’ve published complete works of many of the 20th century authors like Agyeya, Mohan Rakesh, Kamleshwar, Sahni, Amritlal Verma in attractive hard-bound editions. They also have short-story compilations of many other authors. Worth checking out. Hindi Granth Karyalaya, Mumbai: about I have mail-ordered my entire Hindi collection from them. Though you have to email them, and they aren’t set up for credit-card based ordering yet, dealing with them has been a good experience because the owner Manish Modi is a very passionate and informed book-lover. He actually insisted I order a less expensive edition of Premchand’s Mansarovar because the more expensive version had poor printing quality.They are well-reknowned publishers int he business for three generations, and apparently the present owner’s grandfather was the first to publish Premchand’s Godaan. English books are easier to find in Bangalore – I picked up Dhar’s “Raga n Josh: Stories from a Musical Life” at Strand Book Stall on Dickenson Road; I assume it’s still available. The publishers are Permanent Black. Another title that has recently come out is Kumarprasad Mukherjee’s “The Lost World of Hindustani Music”. I have the original in Bengali and have only skimmed through the English version at bookstores, but it’s an interesting book as well. One particular description that has remained with me is when he quotes a Hindi description of the precision and seamlessness with which Kesarbai Kerkar would at the finish of one of her taans merge with the mukhaDaa of the khayaal she was singing. Something on the lines of “aur itanii kushalataa se wo mukhaDe pe aa pahu.Nchatii maano khayaal kaa mukha.Daa bhii us pal sajii taiyaar dulhan-sii aa milii ho”
    It’s impossible to translate something like this, even close ! End of long ramble.– Arunabha

  6. Arunabha,

    Thanks a ton for all that information. Do you live in Bangalore too?

    You can write to me at anuradhagoyal at gmail.

    -Anu

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