Someone, actually that religious fanatic Shakespeare, used an expression “Music of the Spheres”, and that maverick endlessly-smoking author, who died 2007, Kurt Vonnegut, riling at the US invasion of Iraq in public lectures, rather expressed the same thing:
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.
Now why would I get into that ? Plenty of professional writers began their profession as music critics to start with, including such eminent, and more relevant today than during their own lifetime, personages as Bernard Shaw. But the majority of bloggers, a latter-day euphemism for pretenders like yours truly, are like morning walkers, just about trying to keep their mental and physical faculties reasonably alert, by expressing themselves to the wide yonder.
This babble is induced by a fatwa – interpreted today by a cleric, Grand Mufti, no less, as Advise – on three girls from Kashmir who “went underground”. – aw hell, they could perhaps be permitted to sing, but to jive in public…..let everyone shriek an emphatic No.
Unfortunately, neither do I know of the girls, not even their names, and worse, nor heard of their music, except one small snippet which I was surprised to hear was written by Baba Bulleh Shah – I am ashamed to say that I did not even know of this august personage, till a few years ago, but now seems to me that this person’s fame acquires not just greater renown in the Sufi tradition of Pakistan and India, but more so in Kashmir.
Now, my own original Kashmiri will always be Chacha Jawaharlal, who was not particularly known to be an aficionado of music, and my father would always chortle to me , “you know, Nehru regularly called the harmonium ” that awful instrument” ” .
That instrument, of course, is something that is endemic in, and particular to, the sub-continent, like plenty of diseases and fragrances, and it is still used by the most prominent of musicians to string the “sapta-swaras”, or the seven notes, that a prancing Julie Andrews made famous in an original Second-World-War based movie called “Sound of Music“. Now, coming to that particular war, the opposing, meaning Failed, side of Hitler, drew its inspiration from Wagner, and if you, dear reader, wish to pass judgement, I would most certainly encourage you to listen on. Latterly, Zubin Mehta, the conductor, then of the NY Philharmonic, met opposition to its rendering in the then Promised Land of the Jews, before being selected as Director for Life, of their Philharmonic. If someone did actually say that Music is food for the Soul, I really have to wonder whose Soul he or she is talking about ?
Coming to the three girls who had to quit the stage, and while the media may have its uses, it certainly seemed to make the small fire churn out more smoke than it deserved, the particular song that they vocalised before being ushered off, for being a threat to faith and society, had a beat that not only is easy to shake a leg to, as the girls did, but one that I particularly enjoyed in the Pakistani movie ” Khuda ke liye “, a title which I would like to render loosely as ” For God’s Sake, you nitwit “: The picturisation is not that of the original movie, but I think it is more appropriate for the land from where these three kids who got tapes fixed on their mouths, and their legs bound, hail from:
Coming to the movie itself, it had the protagonist who is himself into the music scene, gets to Chicago in a music class, woos a young American lady, presenting her with a cd of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and following the fall of the Twin Towers, in the closing scene ends up in the arms of his mother in Lahore as a living vegetable, even his eyes blank, and only his thumb twitching.
Those who have followed the life of the late Pandit Ravi Shankar ( not Kashmiri Pandit, I will get to such a personage at the end of this write-up) may recall that when during his first stint across the shores of India, even shared the stage with the inimitable Jimi Hendrix, whose virtuoso performances with the guitar, as recordings, can stun those who listen to it even today, and Jimi died when he was just 26, when the venerable Pandit was a young maestro, with an influence on the Beatles generally, and George in particular. The Pandit is on record stating that he quit the scene in the west, after incidents like Jimi smashing and burning his guitar on stage – Woodstock comes to mind, though this smashing and burning of the guitar, a peculiar equivalent of the harmonium, occurred at the Monterey Pop Festival. The Pandit Ravi, after all, is in the tradition of gharanas, court-musicians, in the style of a Samrat Tansen, whose Malhar could usher in rains, and Deepak could light up lamps in storms ( Talk of Candles in the Wind, holding the record for the largest selling single in the history of recorded music) !
There is another element to music though, that steps from the mundane to the divine, that the cacophony of sound can never capture, but can be caught by teasing the silence that occurs in between. The Maestro Ilayaraaja does this, as no doubt, others do, too. Abida Parveen does it, for one, with her vocals. This can be heard in quiet corners of Kashmir, no doubt.
But we do not need to exercise our grey cells that much. Several years ago, when the veteran journalist MJ Akbar, interviewed the then opposition leader, and now late, ex-PM of Pakistan, Benazir, she asked him, are you a Kashmiri, and he candidly answered “Yes”, and in another interview of his ( talk of the hunter becoming the hunted ), when asked about his leitmotif in life, actually came up with a Mohammed Rafi song that sustains him. As a young kid, this particular song always did actually get me puffed up in anger, after all, how could anyone just take anything lying down, through one’s existence on the planet? ; and those who understand Urdu will sympathise with the sentiment, but with age making the bones brittle, I would like to go with MJ Akbar and his song of life:
But before the song wafts away along with the fatwa of the Grand Mufti, on the three girls, who will no doubt be both heard of, and heard, sooner rather than later, I would encourage the dear reader who has been persistent enough to read this far, to actually read the novel of that other most-famous writer of Kashmiri origin, Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown, which book, if in the right hands that are inclined to cinema, can be picturised far better than what is supposed to be his masterpiece, Midnight’s Children, a bit of a damp squib as a rendering on celluloid. Shalimar has his original home-state Kashmir as background, and grips like a suspense novel, though it has towards the end, that repugnant feel of the oxymoron “magic realism” that is attached to his other famous work. Rushdie, unlike the three teeny-weeny girls, is no stranger to the fatwa-phenomenon that today’s electronic media finds most newsworthy, and drums up for all it is worth.
But music, song, dance, religion, and the Kashmiri Pundit…..I have to sign off with this, this guy has got the mix. I rather envy him. You will hear more of him too. I hope he gets to sing with the three girls out there, and again, sooner rather than later.