Tuesday, 16 October 2018

"Nad - Understanding Raga Music" - Review by R. Ramachandra

Dear Sri Sandeep Bagchee,

Recently I have purchased a copy of your excellent book "Nad - Understanding Raga Music". I wish to thank you for the many hours of enjoyment which reading this book has given me. The printing and production of the book is also a pleasure to the eyes and hands.

However, emboldened by your request for feedback to make the book still better (Preface Page 13), I am listing out a few points which have drawn my attention.

1. In page 210, in the discussion on the construction of the sitar, it is stated "This arrangement  (of  24 frets) is called 'Achal That' while the other arrangement of 16 or 20 frets is referred to as the 'Chal That'. The former arrangement was preferred by sitar players such as Ustad Mushtaq Husain Khan of Senia Gharana and Pandit Debabrata Chaudhuri, his student". This statement gives rise to the impression that Pandit Debabrata Chaudhuri uses a sitar with 24 frets (Achal That), whereas in fact he uses a sitar with only 17 frets (Chal That) removing the frets for madhya sthayi komal gandhar and komal nishad.
None of the leading sitarists use a sitar with 24 frets. Only the late Pandit Balram Pathak used a sitar with frets for both madhyam sthayi komal and shuddha rishabh, but it did not have a fret for tara sthayi madhyam, making the total number of frets still 20. All the other leading sitarists use sitars with 19 or 20 frets, with only one fret each for madhya sthayi rishabh and dhaivat.

2. In page 211, para 3, it is stated that Ustad Vilayat Khan's style of tuning "keeps the overall register high" and in page 250, para 1, it is stated that stringing and tuning the sitar by Pandit Ravi Shankar "lead to a lower pitch for this instrument". However on a study of the recordings of these maestros, it is clear that both use a pitch of approximately C sharp.

3. In Page 211, last para, it is stated that "Male artists usually sit in a cross-legged fashion to play the sitar, while women sit with their legs to one side". However, it is observed that women also usually sit cross-legged ex. Smt. Jaya Biswas.

4. In Page 252, Para 2, a notable omission in the list of sarod players of Maihar Gharana is Smt. Sharan Rani.

Thanking you for your time and attention.

                              Yours sincerely,
                              R.Ramachandra.

Dear Sri. Ramachandra,

Thank you for your letter. I am grateful to you for the encouragement and appreciation that you have conveyed in your letter as well as for the feedback that you have given.

As regards the number of frets on the sitar, the tuning of the sitar and the sitting positions, I have taken note of the points and would make the necessary corrections. Thank you, once again, for your suggestions, and words of appreciation which are very encouraging.

                         With regards,
                         Yours sincerely, 
                         Sandeep Bagchee.

Three "Literary" Films

To start with the least impressive, "Pride & Prejudice", starring Keira Knightley, violates the spirit of the book with impunity. It is a pity that the script writer produced a version moderately faithful initially, but was encouraged by the director to write a script for a younger, more mainstream viewership (read a philistine audience who would not have read the book, & would not have understood it even if they did). The resulting caricature of the characters would have turned the fastidious soul of Jane Austen in her grave.

"To walk Invisible", a film on the Brontes, is like the curate's egg, good in parts. The gimmicky opening & the over emphasis on Branwell's role ruin the balance of the film. The brilliant realisation of the individuality of the sisters is the high point, with their visit to the publisher as the purple patch of the film. The metaphoric comparison of the three sisters to three suns, though a trifle hyperbolic, is heartwarming as their achievement is against all odds.

"Sense & Sensibility" by Ang Lee recalls "the perfection in a little bit of ivory" of Austen's own words. Aided by a faithful script & abetted by a stellar cast of Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet & Alan Rickman, Lee produces what can only be called "an inspired film". It is curious to note that two actors, who played negative roles of Prof. Snape & Prof. Umbridge in the Potter films, have here essayed the Dobbinesque role of Col. Brandon & the doting mother of a baby role of Mrs. Palmer respectively!

Notes: 'Curate's egg' refers to a celebrated Punch cartoon, where a poor curate dependant on the goodwill of the vicar, says that a rotten egg served to him 'is good in parts'!

'Dobbinesque' refers to an iconic character William Dobbin in Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" whose disinterested love for Amelia Sedley has become a byword for unselfish love devoted only towards ensuring the happiness of the beloved without any expectation of reward.

Comparison of Classification of Hindustani Ragas in the Ragamala Paintings & in the "That" system.

The ragamala paintings are "Miniatures of Musical Inspiration" as elegantly put by Waldschmidt. Their classification is anthropomorphic & polygamous. There are only six Ragas, namely Bhairav, Malkouns, Hindol, Dipak, Megh & Sri. The rest are Raginis attached to any one of the six. There are Ragaputras (& Ragaputris) also. They may be a little over a hundred at the most.

The "That" system is more logical in that the ragas are classified into Ten "Thats" depending on the types of notes used. Because of permutation & combinations & other variables, there may be thousands of different ragas.

Only Bhairav is a Raga in the Ragamala system as well as a "That" in the Raga system.

Malkouns, which is a Raga in the Ragamala system, is only a 'janya' (derivative) raga in the "Bhairavi" That.

Similarly Hindol, which is a raga in the Ragamala system, is only a 'janya' in the " Kalyan" That.

The case of Raga Dipak is a curious one, though it is a Raga in the Ragamala system. There are no less than four versions available in Bilaval, Kalyan, Khamach & Purvi Thats! However it is rarely performed, the most popular version being the composition "Diya Jalao" in the film "Tansen" sung by the immortal K.L.Saigal.

The Raga "Megh" in the Ragamala system is a 'janya' raga in the "Kafi That".

The Raga "Sri" in the Ragamala system is a 'janya' raga in the "Poorvi That".

This concludes a very brief comparison of the ragas in the Ragamala Painting & the "That" system.

References:
1. Daljeet, Dr. "Ragachitra"
2. Ebeling, Klaus "Ragamala Painting"
3. Purandare, Prof.A.M "Raga Darshan"
4. Subba Rao, B. "Raga Nidhi"
5. Waldschmidt, "Miniatures of Musical Inspiration"