March 30, 2020
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Water Music

Wallowing in raga aesthetics

Water Music
Indian Music The Magic Of The Raga
By Raghava R Menon
Somaiya Publications Rs 250, Pages: 95
For readers looking for an easy guide to Indian music, this book offers no succour. For, the author (a respected critic and bhakta of music) bluntly admits in the preface that the book 'gives you as few facts about Indian music as it can possibly do without.' It claims instead to articulate the 'wonder and exhilaration' that overtakes both listener and practitioner while making music. And there's no doubting Menon's passionate love for Indian music, as you read his poetic and elegant semantic journey into the world of Indian music. A cursory glance at the chapters (Swara or Nothing) could mislead the hasty into dismissing the book as mere poetic mystification of an already mystified art form, but that's unwise. Packed into its sugar-coated lyricism are bullions of information on varied subjects ranging from cultural policy to the pioneering contributions of V.D. Paluskar and V.N. Bhatkhande, and an entire chapter on the extraordinary sound and function of the tanpura. Occasionally, statements so beautifully articulated occur that one is compelled to exclaim in admiration. Take these lines on the tanpura: 'It's the only means you have of forgetfulness, like the waters of Lethe, its sound forgives your past, erases your loneliness and restores you to your essence so that you may sing from the very core of your being.' Anyone who's learnt and loved Indian music will identify with this, though hardened nitpickers from Menon's own tribe of critics may remain unmoved or scoff at his seeming romanticism.

Perhaps the conventional inclusion of footnotes and a bibliography would've helped readers. Especially since the learned author's already created a dictionary of Indian music terms. But again, this exclusion might've been a conscious decision, made to complement the emotive, lyrical style of writing as opposed to a more factual, prosaic style. In which case, I'd say read on, because I'm certain that some of the lines will haunt you as you let yourself experience the magic of the raga in future performances of Indian music.

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