I was at the Taj Mahal Tea House for breakfast this time two years ago in Bombay. As a trained Hindustani classical musician, the faint snatches of Aarti Ankalikar's aalap reached my ears soon as I entered the eatery. I was floored already. From my vantage, I also spotted what was neatly labelled as Ustad Zakir Hussain's tabla.
Now anyone who knows Ustad saab's playing would know a pair would not even cut it. In a faintly populated 25-table restaurant with patrons ranging ages 25 to 50 years of age, I wondered how many people spotted this inadequacy, impeccably designed as the interiors are of the Bandra reclamation tea lounge.
One person on my table thought the restaurant wasn't even playing any music until well towards the end of his Spanish omelette. This sparked a series of questions in my head:
Does Indian classical music still wield a magical effect on the listener?
Is it still considered therapeutic?
Does it still inspire the individual to aspire for a higher plane of existence?
Or has it turned into something of an unwelcoming war-waging mechanism against masses, in that, assuming a rather in elitist reputation, almost bordering divisive?
Why does the millennial perceive classical music with either indifference or misplaced reverence rooted in the utter lack of evolution as in the case of my last Shanmukhananda Hall experience?
Is it so dryly cerebral that it lacks any visceral or emotional appeal?
Is it too lengthy for a 140-character Tweet or 25-second Vine generation?
Do the ancient lyrics rooted in historical regions hold little to no meaning for our Hinglish mores?
Is it so contrived that the mediocre struggle to copy the bourgeoisie in an attempt to conform?
What constitutes the modern experience of such a constantly evolving art form?
What would bring it back to the recreational space?
Is collaboration the answer?
Are educated listicles and infographics the solutions?
It is time for those who appreciate classical music (not just Hindustani or Carnatic, even Western) to humanise this otherwise unnatural entity called Hindustani classical music. To what end, you ask? To begin with, for anyone who would like a less uptight approach to raga, listener etiquette, appreciation and avenues, perhaps. In a time when we live by stories and content, classical music suddenly seems so prosaic in its approach.
Why isn't a bunch of 20-somethings sitting around a campfire exchanging notes on what their teacher taught them without any sense of superiority or inferiority? Music academicians would serve a greater purpose if they helped listeners appreciate Ananda Shankar, and then drew parallels and pointed out differences between the Sitar Rockstar hippie and his Rock & Roll brother. Hell, it could just be a podcast in which a popular but trained (whose ear is tuned) musician would play snatches of the age old signatures (s)he learned and then just rant about why something perceived to be so disciplined and cut and dried is really so fluid.
Many years ago, when I first began training in Hindustani Classical vocals with Sheela ma'am, to teach me sur and taal, she would often ask us to listen several times first and then try to reproduce. I remember singing several raaga bandish repeatedly to not only remember the song, but also graduate to the nuances while listening to the self.
As Sheela ma'am would say, "Taansen बनने से पहले कानसेन बनिये!"