Descendants, Disciples and Discrimination : Is Indian Classical Music Ecosystem a Fair Ground? 

He was sitting on the floor, in middle of a couple of craftsmen. The entire place was a bit overloaded with the hues of blue; some soothing and some provoking. With the clear blue sky on the top, one could start doubting the very existence of other colors. That being said, there were notable hues of greens and yellows here and there, just to break the monotony. He was guiding the craftsmen on completing a newly received order for their ‘blue pottery’. Right behind him, on an elevated platform in a corner, sat a man in his fifties with a pen like tool in his hand. He was drawing the most intricate patterns that the lady next to him was meticulously painting. The colors looked drastically different from what they will become once the pots are kept in the furnace.

After finishing the task at hand, he came forward to attend to us. 

“What do you do?” He asked. 

“We are musicians. We sing”, we tried building a connection on the art level. 

“Before I started this pottery, I used to play a form of Veena”, he told us. 

This came to us as a surprise. 

“Just as a hobby?” We asked him. 

“Not really, I am actually a graded All India Radio artist” he said with a tinge of pride in his eyes. 

“Do you perform even now?” We asked him. 

“No. Somewhere in early nineties, I decided that I would stop doing music professionally and started pottery”. 

That was something unusual for us. It takes years of training and practice to become a graded artist. What would prompt someone to drop it and start with something altogether different? I asked him why he made the switch. 

My question acted like a pebble hitting the still water. We could sense a movement happening in his consciousness and memories stored for a long time of three decades rushed to the present moment. 

Apparently, his Guru had multiple disciples at that point of time and this gentleman was one of them. The Guru’s son also learnt from the Guru and he also practiced under the supervision of these senior students. Once, Pt. Ravishankar came to their city to give some performances. The Guru requested Ravi Ji to visit their music school and the maestro obliged. 

“Who are some of your promising disciples?” Ravi Ji asked the Guru. 

“Look at him. He is my son. He is the promising one among the lot”, the Guru answered the question as if he was waiting for just this question to be asked. 

This answer of course disappointed the senior students who were learning from the Guru even before the son was born. 

“You know, that day I realized that if I choose a career in music, I will have to create my own path, without the blessings of my Guru, which were reserved for his son. I decided to start a pottery studio of my own and look, I have done a descent job!” 

Shelves full of traditional as well as new designs and the piles of boxes at the other end of the studio meant he was successful creatively as well as commercially. He made a choice which had worked out very well. What would have happened had he continued his journey as a full time musician? This question is actually very eluding with a wide range of answers – a highly sought after musician with even more significant accolades to a humble musician, settled in the unknown corner of the city, no one from his neighborhood knowing what he does, somehow managing to sustain himself and blaming the ecosystem.  

If we look at the ecosystem of Indian music, the Guru is not only the one who provides you with knowledge and technique, he or she also puts your career on track. The single largest source of performance opportunities is the recommendation from the Guru. Every professional successful musician reaches a point in his or her career where they get more performance opportunities than they can accept. Many musicians eventually shift to the orbit of higher paying concerts and pass on the so to say ‘humble’ opportunities to their friends or disciples. Many musicians, especially vocalists take their students to big concerts for vocal support and often introduce them to organizers as well as the audience. All these small-big gestures from the Guru play a big role in shaping up the careers of their disciples. 

If we glance over the musical world, there are some very interesting cases to look at. Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia makes probably the most interesting one. He taught many disciples, including his own nephew. Not only that, he helped all of them to get established. He played a big role in laying foundation for the musical careers of more than a dozen of his students at least, all of whom are doing pretty well today. On the other hand, we have the Guru mentioned in the story above and many more like him, still utilizing their full capital of every sort to promote their sons and daughters. 

If we keep aside the personal losses and gains, this kind of favoring affects music and the musical ecosystem in a very bad way. Performances by these ‘promoted’ musicians happening on nationally and internationally famous platforms shape the aesthetic sense of thousands of new listeners more or less permanently. 

Talent is not a constraint; but today’s talent certainly lacks a fair ground to stand on, which we all must provide to them! 





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