Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Music Room.

No, I’m not thinking of Satyajit Ray’s superbly visual movie, Jalsaghar (1958). I am thinking of a book. The world of books is populated by two kinds of denizens. So far as the first kind is concerned, you want to part company with them as soon as possible. With the other kind, you never want the tête-à-tête to end. Namita Devidayal’s The Music Room (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2009) belongs to the latter sort. It is history told to perfection in the style of a fictional tale. You could perhaps best describe it as an enchanting, almost seductive, personal narrative encrusted with details recalled with care and love. In the process of telling the life story of her music teacher, the author skilfully weaves in the history of Hindustani classical music with panache and an eye for exactitude in the many sub-narratives she offers. I’m a bit puzzled, though, by an obvious slip in this regard when she describes a peace concert at Shivaji Park after the demolition of Babri Masjid (6 December 1992). She writes that she was “all of seventeen” then (page 113). If she was born in 1968 as the blurb on the back fold of the cover slip states, she must have been twenty four at the time of the Artist Against Communalism all-night vigil. Mistakes happen. This minor lapse does in no way devalue the worth of her irreplaceable contribution to the cause of Indian classical music. I recommend The Music Room to anyone who is even remotely interested in music. A stupendous read, believe you me.

Wish you a long life, friend.

“Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities.“
(TS Elliot, Gerontion)

We happen to know a doctor – a successful and proficient eye surgeon − who is petrified by the thought of growing old. She quizzed Ujwal and me closely about our attitude. Our casual shrugs seemed to puzzle her. Frankly though, immortality is a non-starter with me. Living forever would bore me to death which would refuse to oblige as is its wont. While reading Robert Ludlum’s posthumously published thriller, The Sigma Protocol (Orion, 2001), presumably based on the myths and mysteries surrounding the Bilderberg Group, I came across a mention of the Galápagos tortoises that reputedly lives for two hundred years. This triggered off my recall of the end of Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer. where a band of immortality seekers comes face to face in a dungeon beneath a British stately home with the man-ape whose lifespan has been artificially elongated. Good grief! For once, I disagree whole-heartedly with this Woody Allen utterance: “I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.”