More dust on backshelf music

Updated: Dec 31 2006, 05:30am hrs
The final word is out and the public has declared its preference for A R Rahmans Apni to paathshaala, masti ki paathshaala from the blockbuster Rang De Basanti as Song of the Year in an SMS poll hosted by a leading news channel. It has pipped four other equally or even more profound foot-tapping film songs like Bidi Jalai Le , Crazy kiya re and others to the post.

Frankly, I quite like Aamir Khans antics in the song picturisation, even though I refuse to believe that any hip, macho college student in an Indian city today would refer to his college as paathshaala. But thats okay, isnt it Realism isnt really Bollywoods forte, now is it No worries, we love you Bollywood, Rahman, Aamir Khan, Rakeysh Mehra, Prasoon Joshi and all others who so richly deserve this award you definitely are the best. But hang on please. For those of us who may have varied musical preferences, may I please point out that your song should rightly be declared only the best film song of the year Or are we all finally ready and willing to usher in a year where only film songs (all profound ones, naturally) will qualify as Indian music

In a sense, announcements like the Best Song of the Year are symptomatic of a growing insensitivity towards the diversity of Indian music and arts. Each year we push folk music, tribal music, experimental music, kirtan, abhang, hori, chaiti, kajri, classical music, ritual music and countless other genres of music closer to oblivion and extinction. This year is no different, and we cant blame anyone but ourselves for letting this happen.

And when I say we I mean all of the following and more: media barons who hosted conclaves and summits galore where they were happy to invite a simpering Ash as the nations only representative from the field of arts. Ash, we love you but we love you more when you Dola Dola Re to Devdass tune; TV journalists and presenters, (senior, not so junior and newbies) who walk the talk with Bollywood starlet after starlet, each of whom declares bravely Im an actor Did we have a doubt; political parties and netas who cannot spare a minute to think of the state of art and culture beyond offering tickets to TV stars and film stars for forthcoming elections.

Id say this has been quite a dismal year for Indian music, and I refer to all musical genres in the country, not just Bollywood music. With the passing away of shehnai legend Ustad Bismillah Khan, the country lost a treasure that cannot possibly be replaced. The media for once abandoned its obsessive reporting of important cultural events such as the Rakhi-Mika episode, and gave the maestro a richly-deserved farewell, only to be back with renewed vigor with specials on Himesh Reshamiya and his cap! And that was followed by the paparazzi lying in wait for news on the Aishwarya Rai-Abhishekh Bachchan romance. Ah well! Arts = Entertainment = Bollywood said Mr. Johar, and that sure is a guarantee!

But for those of us for whom the arts exist beyond the television screen or the neighbouring multiplex, the following events and happenings left a deep impact:

Indians calling themselves patriotic human beings offered crores of rupees to any individual, who would kill, maim and mutilate one of the countrys most celebrated and greatest living painters. I refer to M F Husain who, at the age of 91, is forced into self-imposed exile outside India as his own countrymen offer large amounts of prize money to the man or woman who commits inhuman acts such as chopping off Husain sahabs hands or gouging out his eyes.

The painter is accused of outraging the sentiments of the Hindu community by painting vulgar images of Hindu deities. Strangely, none of these keepers of morality and decency are outraged by the unabashed display of skin on any entertainment program across any channel.

Prasar Bharati made it possible for artistes to buy air time to broadcast their music! You have a few thousand rupees You can book time on an AIR station to play your CD, and your musicianship wont really matter! If you have more than a few thousand rupees, you could buy airtime on a National channel too. How cool is that, coming as it does from an institution that once provided mammoth support to Indian music of all kindsHindustani classical, Carnatic classical, thumri, ghazal, instrumental music, vaadya vrinda, you name it

Hope of better times came when dynamic Rajasthani percussionist Gazi Khan Barna along with friend actor-director Rahul Vohra rushed to the assistance of Manganiyar musicians struck by flash floods in the Barmer district. As officials hummed and hawed and suggested that the affected communities (Samaaj) fend for themselves, Gazi Khan made a worried phone call to Rahul Vohra in Mumbai and the two came up with a disaster-management plan that makes all of us proud.

Gazi bought basic provisions, tea, chanaa (gram), biscuits, food grain, tarpaulin, etc to provide basic shelter and food. All the supplies were bought on credit from a local trader in Jaisalmer with the promise that payments would be made as soon as contributions from Mumbai reached. And then without further ado, Gazi Khan arranged to have them delivered promptly to the affected musicians. With contributions from another visiting artiste Gilbert Punia from the Reunion Islands, Gazi Khan distributed dholaks and harmoniums among musicians who had lost even their instruments in the floods and with them their livelihood. Well, there it is.

We have seen Gazi and friends do it on their own, without sarkaari help, without press conferences, telethons and media hype! A few phone calls, the will to help and bring about change, thats all they had and harnessed.

Cant we make those few phone calls to like-minded people and see if we have the will to bring about a change in the way India treats its arts and artistes Yes we can! In 2007!

(The author is one of the most well-known singers of India)