Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition

By Janaki Bakhle | Go to book overview

250 square feet. Often, in a very small room five students sat on the floor in a close circle, each one propping up her tanpura, facing the instructor. When the lesson for the day ended, the space of musical instruction reverted back to a domestic apartment occupied by the instructor and his family. Yet for all its informality, music and dance were somewhat like finishing school, because a great many middle-class women in Bombay could still imagine the possibility of an arranged marriage, even if many contested it in practice. Music and dance were important markers of modern refinement that aided one’s chances in the marriage circuit. But it had not always been so, nor could either the performance or pedagogy of music be easily categorized as deriving from colonial influence or said to be strictly traditional, irrespective of what the term connotes.

Music, then and now, occupies a space—public, cultural, national, gendered—that is not easy to categorize in the singular. Even though music was taught in an instructor’s tiny apartment, the ambience was somewhat formal, and the instruction was certainly systematic. Schools might not have conformed to the conventional notion of an institution, but they nonetheless administered exams that were nationally recognized and conferred degrees, even if the exam itself took place in a space similar to that of the school. From these spaces and with this instruction, many talented students went on to further their training with famous musicians.

The native informant’s account presented here is the salutary one, but the genesis of this book, a book of history, comes from the underbelly of the learning and experience of North Indian classical music. In Bombay and Pune (and no doubt in other cities as well) it was fairly commonplace for people to voice their appreciation of Muslim ustads and simultaneously make nasty, often abusive and prejudicial comments about the Muslim population in general. Within the world of music, this form of prejudice was particularly peculiar since there was near unanimous agreement that the ustads were extraordinarily gifted but Islam and Muslim fanaticism were equally invariably invoked as the reason for the decline in music. My project began with trying to understand how and why it was, and indeed if it was the case, that in a region that had spawned organizations as virulent as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Shiv Sena, there was in the case (and performative space) of music a temporary suspension of prejudice. Furthermore, I wondered if this temporary suspension of prejudice could be attributed to some feature inherent to the music itself.

-viii-

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