I admired Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s The Gabriel Club. Partly because, like him, I too am a steel town boy who loved Central Europe and the way Joydeep brought the Danube in Budapest to life. Of course, I am nowhere close to his reading of philosophy. His next book on Morocco is different. Here is the review of The Storyteller of Marrakesh.
Archive for February, 2012
Vidya Rao has many personas: Thumri-Dadra singer, theatre person, scholar, editor and above all an extremely sensitive human being. It is in her tribute to her Guru that she brings all these qualities together. Heart to Heart: Remembering Nainaji captures the texture of Vidya’s relationship with the legendry singer Naina Devi who was born Nilina Sen in a Bengali Brahmo Samaj reformist family and then married the heir to the throne of Kapurthala Rajkumar Ripjit Singh. Through her seventeen year married life Naina Devi gave up singing. Upon the untimely demise of her husband, facing extreme economic hardship, Naina Devi returned back to music on All India Radio and later as administrator and teacher.
At the book launch Vidya said that she had structured the book as a Thumri. The beginning and ending is not as important as the disciple’s memory of instances and the thoughts on the events from their shared life. For instance, how Vidya portrays a whole gamut of musical threads and inspirations in the fact that Nainaji does not tie the ganda, the sacred thread of a musical inheritance and legitimacy, on Vidya’s wrist or how Vidya depicts Naina Devi’s spiritual leaning and the devotion to the Pir in Bareilly. It is through many such instances that Vidya constructs the gender argument of music.
One of the revelations of the book is how Vidya traces the history of what is considered a lighter form of music – the Thumri. She traces the history through generations and historical events. Here is an instance I found particularly striking:
…while all artists confront the paradox of the aesthetic and the erotic, perhaps for women this is experienced in a particularly poignant way. For the woman singer, for the thumri singer, there is always the memory of the tawaif. The tawaif performs for an audience, revels in their admiration and applause, is thrilled by a responsive audience, speaks to each person, directly, completely without barriers, seduces each one, insists that each person, for the brief lifetime of the performance, falls irrevocably in love with her who is a nayika. Yet she sings for no one…
The beauty of the book lies in the fact that Vidya has talked about music, the history of music, the role of an important singer and of how she learnt music from the singer in a way that makes sense to a layman like me. It is how she seamlessly weaves history with genres with personalities and with lyrics that the book comes alive. Through it all what really shines forth is how she depicts the value and importance of that ancient system of education: the Guru-Shishya tradition. Not only in her relationship with Naina Devi but also in Naina Devi’s relationship with Rasoolan Bai and with so many other pearls that adorn Naina Devi’s crown. My only regret is that such an important book is too short. I wish Vidya writes more and brings more music appreciation to us.
Price: Rs 199