Biography of a Music Critic

In the Preface to the book, the young author thanks “all the musicians, dancers, critics, Subbudu’s friends and enemies” for their time and inputs. During his long innings as a critic Subbudu attracted many “friends and enemies” who spiced up his unusual life. Most Delhi Tamils know that “Subbudu” and “controversy” are synonymous. His critical faculty and equally sharp tongue often caused resentment among those at the receiving end. His turn of phrase and biting sarcasm made him a critic much admired and feared. Asked how the dance “scene” was on his return from a city, his brief “obscene” left no room for further enquiry! Fidgeting through an amateurish dance recital mangling a kriti in the raga “Nagabharanam”, he fiercely muttered “What ornament is this?” A friend commented that the dancer was lucky not to be shredded to pieces in the auditorium itself.

A Contemporary Survey

Some years ago Mohan Nadkarni pub- lished The Great Masters: Profiles in Hindustani Classical Vocal Music (Harper Collins, 1999), a compendium of pen portraits of past masters that he had heard in the half century as a practising music critic in Bombay. Music to Thy Ears is a kind of companion volume which gives us a peep into the world of instrumental music. Although reams have been written about stars like Ravi Shankar and the late Vilayat Khan, a contemporary survey of instrumentalists is hard to find, and Nadkarni’s book goes a long way in filling this gap.

Setting the Norm for Research

This is a long awaited book. Finally we have a history of a musical tradition written by a historian with a cultivated ear. There have been accounts, often extremely interesting, by persons of deep musical involvement but no sense of historical method. Rangaramanuja Iyengar’s History of South Indian (Carnatic) Music comes immediately to mind. At the other extreme I can think of at least one book, C.S. Lakshmi’s The Singer and the Song which for all its attempts at bringing feminist rigour to its analysis of women singers and their situation displays a grievous ignorance of any aspect of music or musical performance.

Product of a Historical Moment

Superstars and cult figures are products of historical moments. Emerging at particu- lar socio-historical junctures, cult figures in cinema begin to embody much more than just the character they play. Film and Cultural studies have tried to understand the concept of stardom and iconicity as sustained by a dual engagement with the site of fictional performance and the fears and aspirations in the world outside. Helen, dancer par excellence and iconic vamp of Bombay cinema, is one such figure.

In Black and White

It is said that the Borivili National Park, cheek by jowl with Mumbai has more species of animals, birds, reptiles, and insects than the whole of Great Britain. In terms of species’ diversity India is a multi-millionaire country as compared to most of the countries of the so-called developed world. But alas, when it comes to that special breed of human being – the nature writer – we are alas hopelessly impoverished – and to mix metaphors, seem to be heading for extinction. Whereas every wild living creature in every square inch of British countryside has been photographed and written about ad nauseam we know next to nothing about the denizens that share our lives with us.

Social Art at its Best

Reading through the title and contents of the book, the scope of this recent publication on painting during the Mughal rule in the Indian subcontinent, covering a span of over 200 years indeed sounds quite sweeping. Aimed at more than a general introductory readership, this reference book gives focus to the shifting modes of the patrons’ taste and the artists’ struggle to cope with the situation. From this concern, the author has thematized eight topics serially as the chapter headings: the atelier, narrative art, portraiture, painting on natural history, margin-painting, ascriptions, identical versions and modern attributions, and the impact of renaissance art. The book has an introduction and an exhaustive bibliography, illustrations and glossary.

From the ‘Ante-natal’ Scenario to the Present

Until some years ago, there were hardly any books on the history of Hyderabad written in English by Indians, and historians and research scholars had to necessarily pour over Urdu and Persan manuscripts in the Archives Department and libraries. Then suddenly there was a spurt of them ranging from small pamphlet like booklets to lavish coffee-table publications. Narendra Luther’s first book was on Mohamed Quli, the poet-king of Golconda and the founder of Hyderabad city. This book, Hyderabad: A Biography was published first in 1998 by Orient Longman , and as the author says in his preface, was quickly sold out and there was a great demand for it. A new edition was published by Oxford University Press in 2004.

Architecture in the Evolution of a City

Lucy Peck’s guide to thousand years of concrete and mortar of Delhi provides a valuable insight into Delhi’s historical monuments. Based on secondary sources, it is not a mere mundane description of the monuments. The explanation of the buildings is accompanied by interesting anecdotes of Delhi’s past and aesthetically well shot pictures. This book is an outcome of the author’s association with Seven Cities of Delhi Group. Working with this group, Peck could explore Shahjahanabad and meet the local inhabitants. This made her conscious of the need to write differently a book on Delhi.

In the distant days when I was an under- graduate Gingi used to sound as remote and exotic as Constantinople. Since then, narratives of military encounters became increasingly unfashionable in history courses, and Gingi, like Trichinopoly and Seringa-patam, became even more distant, and appeared in a different set of incarnations, differently spelt (Senji, Thiruchirapalli and Srirangapattanam) and as tourist-destinations. There is a shelf-ful of expensively-illustrated books on Indian forts, but very few detailed studies of any one fort. The Archaeological Survey understands that these are to be listed and protected – and some, on some whim, ‘de-protected’. But historians and architects, who should back them enthusiastically, have hardly shown any interest in them.

Through the Colonial Lens

In several entertaining and insightful com- mentaries on the British Raj, Jan Morris likened much of its work to that of a development agency: building roads and railways, introducing the telegraph and later telephone as well as modern western medical practices and educational methods. Interestingly, though The Spectacle of Empire (London: Faber and Faber, 1982) is in some senses a photographic document of the various activities of the Raj, Morris does not really discuss in any great detail the role of the camera in governance. After the 1840s, while family photographs provided for a flourishing business, the ‘selling’ of India to the British population at home depended quite a bit on its visual marketability.

Nation in the Popular Imaginary

At one level this is a smartly produced coffee table book that features historic photographs of India’s birth to freedom from British rule. The pictures of India’s ‘first dynasty’ the Nehru-Gandhi family dominate the collection. As always, they are attractive to the eye and historic in the moments they capture. The reader ploughs along approvingly as they confirm to every stereotype that an average Indian has internalized about the makings of modern India. Foremost of these impressions are the iconic frames of Pandit Nehru and his family. And there is no dearth of these in the book: Nehru, his sister Vijaylakshmi Pandit, his daughter Indira with her sons Sanjay and Rajiv, rub shoulders here with his elite colleagues—Lord Mountbatten, Patel, Maulana Azad, and Jinnah. Mahatma Gandhi figures most prominently on the occasion of his death!

Translating the Granularity of Indian Society

One would have liked to use the term “Andhras” but it is not an accurate one to describe the Telugu speakers. The Andhras in the present-day social and cultural context are confined to Nellore, Prakasam, Krishna, Guntur districts. Even those who belong to East and West Godavari districts have a distinct identity of their own, while those of the northern districts of Visakha-patnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam belong to a charming cultural world of their own. Then we have those from the Rayalaseema districts of Chittoor, Anantapur, Cuddapah and Kurnool, with their open hearts and their ways of rustic violence. The people of Telengana in the districts of Hyderabad (excluding the city of Hyderabad), Medak, Nalgonda, Mahbubnagar, Karimnagar, Adilabad, Nizamabad, Warangal and Khammam are a different lot again.