May 25, 2020
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Strung Along

A small-town boy's trajectory to celebrityhood.

Strung Along
Journey With A Hundred Strings—My Life In Music
By Shiv Kumar Sharma By Ina Puri
Viking Pages: 193; Rs 395
IN 1955, young Shiv Kumar Sharma was publicly humiliated at the Haridas Sammelan in Mumbai because no self-respecting tabla player wanted to accompany the lanky nobody-from-nowhere playing the santoor, a folk instrument musical pundits trashed as incapable of reproducing the nuance and range of Indian ragas. This book traces the small-town boy’s trajectory to celebrityhood. In the process it gives us an insight into the transformation of nachaniyas, gavayyas, saazindas into musical superstars.

The book has many vignettes about the greats Shivji befriended along the way. A drunken, jealous Mehdi Hasan daring Ghulam Ali to a musical bout in a midnight mehfil or the impish Hariprasad Chaurasia sneaking breakfast up to Zakir Hussain’s room in a Swiss hotel so the broke musical trio could stretch their dollar.

The man once disdained and sidelined has had the last laugh: a swank Pali Hill home, bestselling albums, national honours. Admirably, he uses his pre-eminence to plead for recognition of the accompanist as an artist in his own right. He also emphasises the inclusive, syncretic tradition of our music. Reminds us that the greatest minstrels of Hindu devotional music have been the likes of Ali Akbar Khan, Vilayat Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan: the last incidentally chose to quit Pakistan but not singing "kafir" bhajans.... Politicians who sing those discordant tunes would do well to remember that.

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