World Music Day: Can a bird sing when her garden is burning?

A music devotee shares her anguish on the occasion of World Music Day

Representative image (DW Photo)
Representative image (DW Photo)

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

I started writing on music and related subjects in the early 90’s while still a collegiate, and it was because of the ample exposure to music from across the world through radios, television, music cassettes and plethora of print material on the subject; even though internet and social media had not touched our lives.

Very early in my journalism I had stopped covering subjects like politics and crime for the love of arts; visual and performing, literature, poetry and human interest stories in these realms, and of course music. And I had a plethora of opportunities to explore new tales to be shared with my readers.

By the time I joined a leading national daily in Delhi in the early 2000’s, our team in the supplement had so much to attend to, and write on, one music concert here, one there, one theatre performance there, one dance & music festival in one auditorium and an art show now and a little later a book launch or an ad-free radio launches like Worldspace there. To add to it was cinema and its whole culture of launching its music, bringing music directors and lyricists for interactions. Our days used to be loaded with shows and performances we had to (and loved to) attend and write about. And yet not a day would we feel tired, such was the power of the soft arts. This continues till date, with one huge difference; the lack of the celebration of diversity in our country of which, I feel, music is the greatest loser.

There are two ways any two type of people or cultures react when facing each other. One is that of collaborating, rejoicing and respecting which helps in increasing love, peace and bonhomie. The other is when you despise, disrespect and dishonour each other. This has time and again created chasm, chaos and ultimately annihilation.

My heart aches today because I am not seeing an urge by the ruling dispensation to initiate collaborations within and from outside India, on music as well as other cultural exchanges to promote a shared co-existence, celebrating our cultural diversity, like it used to be barely half-a-dozen summers back.

Bereft of celebrating a composite culture, we are left to discuss, even on World Music Day; who was lynched, how many trains were torched, whose house was bulldozed, how many remaining? Protests on the roads for employment, farm laws and citizenship, burning offices, pelting stones, Maulanas and Sants on the TV, activists in jails forced food, education, literature and culture including music out of our lives.

I believe, Indian music has all the reasons to be accepted and enjoyed by all. But it gained global recognition and acceptance thanks to Pt Ravi Shankar’s fan following amongst the Beatles – the music band that had the world merry go round on its tunes. Ustad Zakir Hussain lived and stayed more than half his life in USA and made tabla a house-hold musical instrument and Pt Jasraj, Ustad Bismillah Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali gained their audience and helped popularise Indian music globally.

Apart from the maestros above, it was Mehdi Hasan, Jagjit Singh and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who took the various Indian musical traditions to their zenith, and the Indian film music and its various music artists did make a mark but most went rather unsung till a genius called A R Rahman with a universal approach to his music compositions gave the world a Jai Ho (Slumdog Millionaire) and Vande Matram to chant along with him.

Collaborations in form of Rajasthani Kawas, Teejan Bais, Jahan-e-Khusrau were deeply rooted in Indian ethos and pure musical ragas but conceived with an intent to reach out to international platforms. All these either were a government initiative or private partnerships (in resonance with governmental acts) devoid of any religious, language or caste-based interests. The list of what music has done to India’s global reach is exhaustive.

As I look for covering similar stories today, I find less of an inclusive affair than the soft power which had helped India become one of the favoured international tourist destinations, thus booming its cultural diplomacy and swelling its foreign currency too.

While our country is burning with an apparent desire to dig its prehistoric past to discover and understand its cultural roots, is it wilfully ignoring its current and future generations – just to piece together its legacy? It is like praying for maghfirat (salvation) of your forefathers while forgetting to take care of your parents and children - your current and future generations!

Here it is imperative to look at France, Austria, Spain – they are the most visited international destinations. They promote their soft power – through their art galleries, food, theatre and music spaces. Even Italy, China and Japan are promoting their soft power through favourable cultural policies/ cultural diplomacy. My India was no far behind either. We had our ICCR (Indian Council of Cultural Relations), platforms like Routes to Roots, international mushairas like Jashn-e-Bahar and Shankar-Shaad where poets from across border were main attractions. While the current regime is still grappling with a steady and strong economic or foreign policy, it seems they have just lost their way on the cultural policy front, or maybe have forgotten about it?

We were witness to new experiments in music with the global partners, fusions of folk and international music bands, classical performances paired with international music vocalists, private and public collaborations and much more, irrespective of religion, caste, creed or colour. While today, collaborations of this nature are almost impossible. No international cultural collaboration is possible without music being an integral part of it.

My heart bleeds today because I can see, hear and feel that gaps have become wider with no healing remedies to look forward to. For instance, yesterday was also the World Yoga Day and the way it is being promoted, obviously by sidelining the importance of music, I feel, is abnormal. I received multiple messeges celebrating Word Yoga Day from people who are working for government projects directly or indirectly, forgetting music is a way to meditation too. It is like restricting/projecting Gandhiji and his spectacles - to just a cleanness drive or swacchta - while ignoring his efforts to bring cultural, political and religious together for healing. Remember Gandhi ji’s bhajan (devotional song) Vaishnav Vajan is all about “par dukhkhe upkar kare koi, mun abhimaan na jaane re” (the world as a family should heal each other without any ego). Now even Europeans are singing it and making videos, few have recently gone viral on the net. This beauty of music now has been plastered with a forceful remembrance of this day as just an International Yoga day.

True music, by the way, is nothing but meditation. If it were not so, the likes of Hazrat Ameer Khusrau, Kabeer and Rumi wouldn’t have been universal icons of brotherhood through music, philosophy and magical words of God’s praise and the call for humanity, spirituality and philanthropy above everything. Their sufi kalaams reign even today’s world music arena not because of one thought, one religion, one colour but a call for love, peace and togetherness. If we sing paeans only to lord Rama, who will listen to lord Krishna, or lord Shiva, Meera or Kabeer or Ras Khan, a Muslim poet who wrote exotically ornamental devotional chhands for lord Krishna and Radha. The moment we stop celebrating such a diversity, it would breed hatred, jealousies, comparisons, complexes and above all violence for the sake of one-up-manship (and for some vested interests).

That’s why a music devotee like me is finding ways to heal. I cannot only do yoga to heal myself. I need my music. But as I said, a bird cannot croon in its sweetest voice if her garden is on fire.

Jab bagh jal raha ho to koel gaa nahi sakti.

On the occasion of World Music Day, I wish and pray that the music that binds people across boundaries, religions, gender, caste, creed and colour sees a marvellous return beating hatred with love.

And I also hope it will happen; and happen soon. The bird will sing again as her garden would be lush green, laden with fruits to survive all weathers. And our children will witness and enjoy these times with us.


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