‘They lack logic’: Hindustani maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan explains why he doesn’t like new raags

'They lack logic': Hindustani maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan explains why he doesn't like new raags
Photo Credit: via YouTube
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Known for his unbelievable virtuosity, superb intonation, unpredictability, and above all, a unique tonal quality, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1901-1968), doyen of the Patiala gharana, took the world of Hindustani music by storm in the 1940s. Though inimitable, he left behind a stylistic legacy that has impacted several vocalists of successive generations.

In the series featuring conversations with maestros of Hindustani music, here are two interviews with Bade Ghulam Ali Khan included on a single track. Despite his indifferent health during the first interview, he responds in great detail to wide-ranging questions posed by noted vocalist Naina Devi. He describes his tutelage under his uncle Kale Khan and his father Ali Baksh, and enumerates the stylistic features of the Patiala gharana. Perfect intonation, respect for the structure and the grammar of the raag, proper elaboration of the composition, clarity in taans or swift melodic passages, and preventing the raag and the khayal composition from losing their original character and transforming into a thumri, are some of the characteristics that he mentions. He demonstrates his vocal and tonal range that he had developed as per the instruction he had received and the practice regimen that he had followed.

Responding to a question about styles of thumri, he states that the Purab style was the original one and was later adopted by singers in Punjab. He emphasises that the thumri form cannot be presented well by all artistes, as it requires a different sensibility that is not easy to come by. He elaborates on this by demonstrating the Purab and Punjab styles, constantly mimicking the defects that are noticeable in some thumri singers. In this context, he refers to the exaggerated vocal articulation, the excessive theatrical element and the forceful projection, that he believes hampers the presentation of some singers in both styles.

Dismissing novelty

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan is dismissive of the introduction of new raags in the Hindustani system. He believes this lacks logic and basis, and is often done only to create novelty. In this context, he refers to raags like Kirwani and Charukeshi that were adopted from the Carnatic system. Interestingly, these two raags have been made popular over the past few decades by extremely popular and well-respected performers who have regarded Bade Ghulam Ali Khan as a pathbreaker and an idol, thus proving that changes in repertoire and presentation are inevitable in spite of opposition from older musicians. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan also explains the structural requirements of raags in the Hindustani system. Contradicting popular perception that performers do not articulate their thoughts on the structure and grammar of raags, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan presents his views candidly.

Asked for his reaction to patronage for Hindustani music at the time that this interview was taken, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan states that the number of listeners has increased but not all in the audience are informed about musical subtleties. He compliments the state for its patronage, but he is not very hopeful about the outcome of institutionalised music education. In fact, he clearly states that those who train in music institutions can only be employed as music teachers in schools but cannot perform. He rates practice higher than theory, thus revealing the dichotomy and the tension that existed between practitioners and theoreticians. Clearly, his statements are a reflection of the dismissive position held by many hereditary musicians towards institutionalised music education and knowledge based on the written word.

The 52” interview ends with demonstrations of his compositions.

The second interview features Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s thoughts on the evolution of raags. He demonstrates various folk melodies found in various parts of India and neighbouring regions that he believes later evolved into forms that are now recognised as established raags.


In a city that teaches greed, the Tanzanian student attack doesn’t really shock

In a city that teaches greed, the Tanzanian student attack doesn’t really shock
Photo Credit: Manjunath Kiran/AFP
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The assault on a Tanzanian woman in Bangalore has been received with shock and outrage around the country, and has seemed to do some damage to the city’s reputation for cosmopolitan welcome. But for those who know Bangalore, there is nothing really surprising about this episode. Bangalore’s cosmopolitanism comes at a certain human cost.

Some years ago, I fell into conversation with one of the staff at the city’s now-defunct Premier Bookshop. His job was to stand around, help people find books, and ensure, via random circuits of the shelves, that nobody gave in to the urge to pilfer. At our previous meeting, he had rushed up to help after seeing me fall off the bike post a nasty skid on a road rendered muddy by flyover work. That’s when I found out that you too live in Banaswadi, he said. We fell into the obligatory three-sentence exchange in Kannada that compatriots from far-flung Bangalore localities will readily have when they discover a fellow sufferer.

I was born there, he said, and we worked on the vineyards till the 1980s, when the landlords sold them off. His last sentence, after he asked me if we rented or owned, wasAvvaaga baadige maneyalliddvi; eeglou baadige maneyalle iddeevi. (We used to live in a rented house then. We still live in a rented house.)

That conversation has stayed with me. I felt then a little twinge of something that I have tried to name without much success. Let me just call this layout-guilt for now, the feeling that some Bangaloreans have when they come across other Bangaloreans they have unwittingly helped uproot.

Premier Bookshop closed in 2009, and I have no idea what happened to my friend or where he went after that. The conversation has stayed with me because of the story it tells, of people who wake up to find that the city has been thrust upon them, without always including the option of citizenship. Bangalore’s shining stories of arrival rarely include local aspirations, and offer many no more than a place on the peripheries.

The many tragedies

When this disenfranchisement multiplies beyond reason, it cannot but result in a constant simmer of anger and resentment that will occasionally boil over. It has happened before, and will probably happen again, and we will never be able to predict who its target might be. Two young men, in a desperate bid to escape traffic cops after some minor offence, died in a crash at Krishnarajapuram a couple of years ago. The onlookers turned into a mob that stoned buses and nearly lynched every policeman in the vicinity. At the actor Raj Kumar’s funeral, a section of the crowd turned violent because they could not view his remains, and the targets, once again, were the police. These are the ways in which ordinary people signal the exhaustion of their patience, and stage a return to some form of primeval villager justice, and thus reclaim the city for a little while.

None of this can justify or indeed account fully for what happened to this student from a far country on the evening of January 31. Any existing rage, in this case, seems to have been compounded by ill-will that may well have had some racist element to it.

We must necessarily acknowledge the many tragedies that form the facets of this incident. There is what happened to the Tanzanian woman. There is also the Sudanese medical student whose moment of carelessness now means that he must deal with being a criminal offender in a strange land. And then there is the 35-year-old woman who died in the accident, had her name mangled by several newspapers, and now appears to be no more than a contextual detail in newspaper accounts.

We could also mention a Home Minister whose punctiliousness in debating the semantics of terms like “stripped” and “racism” revealed an emphasis on managing a public relations disaster rather than any genuine concern. Looking at how sections of the English language media have reported the incident, it is also necessary to ask if they have implicitly relied on the stock figure of the unreasonable local, and turned the Tanzanian student into grist while grinding on about how Bangalore will be perceived.

Talking of stock figures, it is perhaps worth remembering the British sociologist Stanley Cohen’s notion of folk devils – marginal figures who, by their marginality, provide the justification for mobilisations of opinion and action that he dubbed “moral panics”.

The student from elsewhere has a long history as folk devil in Bangalore, perhaps because it is the capital of the state which pioneered turning education into a commodity. When I was a child, I remember being fed on a steady diet of stories of Iranian students and how they rode their motorbikes without any concern for pedestrians, and how violent they could be. At various points, similar stories have done the rounds about every group of students that have arrived – the faces change, but the stories remain the same.

Education industry

Five years ago, a colleague reported a conversation with a church-going neighbour in the eastern suburb of Kammanahalli who was very cut up about “these Black fellers” and their noisy weekend habits. A report in the Kannada Prabha from the day before on the Ganapathinagar incident has among the comments a long diatribe by one Ravi about “these Nigerians and Somalians” who, in addition to “selling drugs, clubbing, and having joint parties”, want to marry girls from the North East so that they can stay on in India, get Aadhar cards and PAN cards. And while he doesn’t say what is so terrible about all this, I gather from his gravitas that he fears they might perhaps conquer the world soon after.

When Indian universities charge foreign students several times the fees they charge Indian students, it is worth asking what they do for these students apart from taking their money and giving them a certificate in rote learning. What indeed do the many Bangalore colleges that seem to market a form of educational tourism in African countries do, apart from delivering on the tacit promise of a trouble-free passage through university mills, while ridding students of their money? When a university system is geared to work for foreign students who can afford to pay rather than for those who might need the degree, there will be complications that university or college must anticipate and resolve.

Of the score or so colleges in Bangalore that receive foreign students, one or two may run an occasional cultural programme for foreign students. But none of them seems invested enough in providing a more substantial support system for academic matters, for legal and financial questions, and for orienting them to local sensitivities. These systems, when they exist, owe their origins more to student will rather than to college, university or government initiatives. An introductory course that equips every foreign student with about 500 Kannada words, might, for instance, be the simple solution that averts a shouting match where neither party understands each other, or worse. If a college launches a neighbourhood initiative for their foreign students, it might do much to simply start a bunch of conversations where there are none happening.

In a city as divided as ours, it may take nothing greater than imagination for everybody to turn over a new leaf. When greed is the language in which the book of our experience is written, it is doubtful if the urgent finger that comes to the page can do anything other than turn it at top speed – nobody is going to have the time to read from that book, or learn.


Meet the three Indian comic book artists on the global 100 list (and one who isn’t)

Meet the three Indian comic book artists on the global 100 list (and one who isn’t)
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The year 2015 was a watershed for women writers of graphic novels. They swept the IgnatzAwards but then, as the year came to a close they shook the foundations the prestigious Angoulême Comics Festival in France by protesting against all-male 2016 Grand Prix nominee list citing gender discrimination. This resulted in the scrapping of the nominee list.

Against this backdrop, the first-ever all-women comics and graphic narratives exhibition in the UK – Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics – has gathered added significance. This exhibition includes works by 100 women cartoonists from across the world. And three (only?) of them are from India: Manjula Padmanabhan, Kaveri Gopalakrishnan and Reshu Singh.

In an email interview, Paul Gravett, the curator of the show and a world-renowned authority on comics, offered details of the show.

Gravett and Olivia Ahmad, who is House of Illustration (HoI)’s Exhibitions Manager, are the co-curators of the exhibition that will be open on 5 February and run till 15 May 2016 at HoI. According to Gravett they took about a year to put together this London exhibition.

“Essentially a year’, says Gravett who also in 2014 co-curated Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library.

What is the theme of the Comix Creatrix?
There are several themes. The central theme is to correct the misapprehension that women have not made major contributions to the histories of comics and to their current vibrant creativity. We wanted to show that there is no limited definition of comics by women and that women are working in every genre – humour, horror, superheroes, autobiography, erotica, history, surrealism, reportage, science fiction, etc.

We also decided to include an opening section presenting a sampling of key pioneers, tracing right back to some of the very first women cartoonists working in London, Mary Darly in the 18th century and Marie Duval in the 19th century. After this, we added a section highlighting some of the innovators of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties from the underground and alternative movements who paved the way for the modern graphic novel’s flourishing. And we wanted to mix British artists with non-British to give a wider global perspective and to include both established mature practitioners and younger emerging talents.

Despite the effort and significance of the show, when the list of women whose works will be exhibited was made public, one missing name did raise a few questions in the minds of graphic narrative fans here in India and abroad. Missing from this list was India’s most well-known woman comics artist Amruta Patil. Why did this happen?
With any exhibition, especially one limited to only 100 when as you know there are thousands of women making comics, past and present, worldwide, there will always be people and works left out. In fact, whole countries have been left out, inevitably with only 50 or so, as the exhibition is close to half British and half international. India is at least represented in Comix Creatrix, and with three artists.

But what prompted the selection of, say, a beginner like Reshu Singh over Patil?
Many other Indian artists were considered and, as you know, I have helped promote Amruta Patil’s work here in the UK, organising an event for Adi Parva at Foyles with Comica Festival (of which Gravett is a director) and the South Asian Literature Festival and commissioning a new strip from her for the ArtReview magazine. In the end, Olivia and I were keen to show the autobiographical pages by Reshu Singh and Kaveri Gopalakrishnan from the significant anthology Drawing The Line: Indian Women Fight Back. (Published last year, the book is a result of a workshop organized in the wake of the Nirbhaya rape in Delhi. At the workshop women artists from India told personal stories in the form of graphic narratives).

Who, then, are the three women comics writers who’re featured?

Manjula Padmanabhan
A pioneer in English comics in India, Padmanabhan is the first woman to run a newspaper strip – in the Sunday Observer between 1982 and 1986. Her protagonist Suki retained her cult status among readers of graphic narratives long after she stopped. Padmabhan is, of course, also well-known for her plays, illustrations and other genre of writing. “Olivia and I were thrilled to include Manjula Padmanabhan’s examples of her pioneering ‘Double Talk’ newspaper strip starring Suki from the early Eighties,” says Gravett.

In the male-dominated and -dictated world of comics where testosterone-dripping superheroes and scantily-clad heroines ruled the roost, Suki and Double Talk debut earned some initial scorn. However, the Sunday Observer editor Vinod Mehta continued to back the strip despite the readers, as Padmanabhan wrote in an Outlook magazine article, “calling the strip a horrible eyesore, ‘Double Gawk’, ‘dragging and brazenly repetitive.’” Many years later Penguin Books India published the Suki stories and the gawky young lady and her frog became a byword.

The Double Talk strips brought up many issues that readers of syndicated comic strips were not familiar with. Gender politics, in particular, did not go down well with readers then. For a long time, Padmanabhan did not go back to the comic form after Double Talk stopped, although she has resumed the strip now. In fact, she was a bit surprised that Suki was published. “In a culture where the birth of a daughter is regarded as a calamity and young brides are routinely murdered, what place is there for an awkward, fuzzy-haired girl whose best friend is a frog and whose favourite activity is sleeping late?” she wrote.

Kaveri Gopalakrishnan
A freelance comics artist and illustrator from Bangalore, Gopalakrishnan studied animation film design from National Institute of Design, Ahmadabad. Her sequential graphic narrative Basic Space is a part of Drawing The Line: Indian Women Fight Back. In aninterview with kyoorius.com Kaveri said that her work was “inspired by artists with strong content-driven or humour-based work.” Her inspirations are Brazilian brothers Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, Candian Guy Delisle of Jerusalem fame, and Luke Pearson the creator of Hilda.

She said in the same interview, “I used to document the things people did or said, ever since I started drawing as a toddler. This probably makes me an obsessively curious person; curious about other people and their quirks, which I still am.”

Reshu Singh
Singh is an illustrator and artist from New Delhi. She is an alumnus of the College of Art, New Delhi. Reshu’s short graphic narrative The Photo is a part of Drawing The Line: Indian Women Fight Back.

And the one who didn’t make the cut (but why not?):

Amruta Patil
Patil is India’s most well-known woman comics artist. She is known for her path-breaking long-form comic Kari, after which she published the equally significant Adi Parva. She was an artist in residence at Angoulême and panels from her forthcoming work Sauptik are a part of an exhibition at the ongoing Angoulême Comics Festival in France.

Patil has a fearless attitude towards comics. She took conservatives on with Kari, the country’s first long-form graphic narrative with a lesbian theme. Some of the imagery in the comic reminds the reader of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, but Kari scores over Satrapi’s celebrated work on at least two counts: the sheer variety of themes packed into this little book, and the reinterpretation of celebrated paintings by artists like Andrew Wyeth or Frida Kahlo as though they were created as panels for use in Kari.

In fact, Patil uses the graphic novel form to pay tribute to her favourite painters. In aninterview with Helter Skelter, she says: “Adi Parva (the first of a trilogy on the Mahabharata) marks the beginning of my relationship with paint and painters. I’ve been feasting on all that is pigment-saturated. Odilon Redon. Paul Gauguin. Amrita Sher-Gil. Folk art from our subcontinent, but also from Mexico. The pages for collage are ripped out from fashion magazines, and the jewel box was an important motif.”

These images notwithstanding, Patil considers herself a storyteller. Her brush does speak a language rarely heard in the world of comics.


Bah! Humbug! Why tourists should steer clear of Goa’s overrated Carnival

Bah! Humbug! Why tourists should steer clear of Goa's overrated CarnivalPhoto Credit: YouTube
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Earlier this week, residents of Panaji, Goa’s capital, awoke to the sight of large pink masks and blue, red and green buntings being draped on the street along the Mandovi River, where a sprinkling of brown-headed gulls enjoyed the early February sun.

This weekend, Carnival ‒ the burst of celebration before Christians begin to observe the 40-day period of abstinence ‒ is being held across the state. The advance preparations for the four-day festival came as a surprise for residents, who are more used to seeing white-cloth barricades being hastily erected at one end of the street even as the parade is about to begin at the other.

From February 6-9, with the backing of the state government, the streets in Panaji, Margao, Vasco and Mapusa will be awash with colour, parades and floats. King Momo – the mythical king of the Carnival – and his entourage will take over the state and there will be music, rejoicing and much revelry.

Or that’s the story we tell to bring in the tourists.

How Goa does it

In times bygone, revellers dressed up in colourful home-made costumes would go around the main Carnival areas singing and dancing. Mock fights would take place between groups of boys, employing rotten eggs and tomatoes as the weapons. “Cocotes” or bombs made with paper and filled with clay, were used during these pretend battles.

These days, the boys on foot have been replaced by groups of entertainers on floats decorated with larger-than-life papier-mache depictions of flora, fauna, events of local interest and other newsworthy items. In recent years, floats have themes portraying the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, global warming, the disappearing tigers, and local crafts.

This year, the iconic coconut palm is likely to take centre stage after the state government last month controversially decided that it wasn’t a tree after all, and didn’t deserve the conservation protections afforded to other foliage.

The long line of floats is undoubtedly the star attraction of the parade. The vehicles will carry massive speakers that will echo live and recorded music for the entertainment of the thousands who gather to watch the spectacle. Those close to the action will need to keep earplugs handy.

This year, in a bid to improve the quality of the parade, the state government has providedfinancial assistance of Rs 1 lakh to “selected floats” as part of a collaborative project with organisations from the UK and South Africa.

The Goa government has also added a dress code to “curb obscenity” at the parade, but the exact restrictions remain unclear. Does this mean that King Momo (or Queen Momo, as in Margao) and his bevy of ladies will not show a shoulder or a hint of a leg? Or perhaps the dancers in their Kunbi saris will wear longer blouses to hide their bellies?

The government’s moral scruples are likely to be the cause for disappointment for the thousands of tourists from all over the country who throng the streets. For many, this is as close as they will get to the samba drums of Brazil, where the festival is celebrated on a much larger scale. But dress code or not, anyone expecting to see dancers in feathers and little else is living in a fantasy world: the Goa Carnival has always been far more demure.

Some visitors familiar with other Carnival parades around the world come dressed for the occasion with masks and hats, costumes and high heels. They stand out among the “I love Goa” T-shirts and young Indian women in tiny shorts with hands full of wedding henna and red, just-married bangles. Vendors will attempt to make a quick buck selling them masks and noisemakers.

Preparing for chaos

Long-time Carnival watchers know that despite the careful preparations of the authorities, the event will probably follow the traditional routine. For instance, even though white-cloth barricades have been constructed to regulate the flow of people, the enterprising audience can be expected to climb over the piles of uncleared garbage and squeeze through the gaps. They will find a tear in the cloth and make it larger. No matter how tightly the fabric is tied, it is no match for the strength of a thousand grasping hands.

For many local residents, the barricade and the crowds are an effective deterrent. It’s much more relaxing to watch the parade on live television, with close-ups of the action and tea and friends for company.

By early in the evening, chaos will reign. Motorcycles and cars will clog every surface available, including pavements and zones that have been cordoned off. Eventually, the police will give up and the traffic will sputter and freeze like a mythical beast with a life of its own.

By sundown, as the parade has ended and the tourists are wandering off, residents will heave a sigh of relief. The familiar mound of trash near Panjim’s new Patto Bridge will have doubled in size. There will be plastic bags and bottles on the river bank and in the water.

The gulls will not come back at night. And, if they’re wise, neither will the tourists.