Raga'n Josh (Stories from a Musical Life)

Raga'n Josh (Stories from a Musical Life)

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Item Code: IDI500
Author: Sheila Dhar
Publisher: Permanent Black
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 8178242443
Pages: 311
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5

From The Jacket

Sheila Dhar (1929-2001) studied at Hindu College, Delhi, and obtained her MA in English (with the highest distinction: summa cum laude) from Boston University. Though she wrote essays and stores with a skill possessed only be the rarest of raconteurs, the passion of her life was Hindustani classical music, which she performed, studied, and wrote about with profound insight and an uncommon wit. She served on the board of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and was advisor for music to the Indian Council of Cultural Relations.

Marred to the economist P.N. Dhar (who was for many years Indira Gandhi's closest advisor), she also had occasion to observe the workings of India's bureaucracy and political elites. She turned her pen on them with equal facility, summing up the pomposity and stupidity of babudom through incomparable real-life stores that are unlike anything written in modern Indian English.

Sheila Dhar's books include Childern's History of India (1961); This India (1973); and Here's Someone I'd Like You to Meet (1995).


If a memoir needs a reason, mine is simply that wonderful things become even more wonderful for me if I can share them a dreadful things more bearable. The delightful and the biter both seem more valid if I can believe that I am not the sole experiencer. Driven by this infirmity, I have over the years compulsively told and retold some of the stories that appear here. They have lived and become old in the minds of my friends. At some point Lalita and Zainub who are closest tome began to ask why I did not write instead of talk.

That was a sobering thought because it implied a wider audience, which might not necessarily be as receptive. Clearly the writing venture called for a different kind of telling. For one thing, the vocal inflections and mimicry I used to rely on to draw character had to gave place to descriptions, of both the people in these tales and of the setting in which they appeared in my life. For another, I had to render each experience from the Indian dialect in which it originally happened into its rough English equivalent. This exercise demanded more concern-tration and effort than relating anecdotes, but the heady feeling that many more companions might now wander into my world was reward enough.

On the whole I felt that in urging me to write, my friends had done me a favour. They had forced me down to a deeper layer of myself. I am a singer and unrolling the pictures in my mind through the written word felt exactly like singing. At any rate it took me to the very place I occupy in my head and heart when I try to express my whole self through the idiom of music. This realization made me ask myself, seriously for the first time, what it is that I am really saying when I sing. I knew from the accumulated lore of a lifetime in music that a conscious switching off of everything one has learnt is a necessary prerequisite for a genuine musical performance. For me the act of singing ideally means recognizing and intensifying my own identity, and communicating it in the rigorous traditional idiom of an ancient musical language. This ideal is not always achieved, but when It is, my musical utterance inalienably carries within it the flavour of everything that has ever happened to me, and of all the emotional landscapes I have traversed. The feel of my grandfather's beard, the smell of the dank basement in our childhood home, the aroma of my Ustad's cooking, the sense of wonder I experienced at the pristine innocence of the Queen of Tonga, the sound of Siddheshwari's very musical but hearty belly laughs, the unbelievable simplicity behind Mohan Rao's eccentricities, the despair and the delight, the green Chillies and black pepper of life itself are all within me and therefore a part of the body of my music.

If I were to take myself apart like a mechanical toy, and then try to retrieve the main parts from the debris of twisted wire and broken springs, I would at this point store them for possible reassembly in three bags clearly marked 'Home', 'Musicians' and 'Other People'. This is why I have retained these three labels for the reflections in this book. Most of the material has to do with Indian classical musicians and their world which it has been my life's ambition to enter, but there are some accounts of unforgettable people and events outside it as well.

I love and admire the artistes that figure in this book. The eccentricities and frailties I have described do not diminish them in any way. On the contrary, they are intended to enhance the charms of their rich personalities.

As for the events I recount, they are the prisms through which I saw life and the transmitters of the cultural sounds I heard. In recalling them, I find once again the people, voices, and scenes that populate and nurture my spirit and the music within me.

The anecdotes that follow are not arranged chronologically but form a continuous narrative with overlapping threads. These are of different lengths and textures, and frequently break off, giving the whole fabric a random look. But for me that itself is the reality.


Part I: Here's Someone I'D Like You To Meet
  Acknowledgements 3
  Introduction 4
1 Number Seven, Civil Lines 6
2 Persian Couplets and One Green Chilli 19
3 Baua 24
4 If Music Be the Love of Food 38
5 Playing for the Flowers 49
6 Pran Nath: An Odyssey 58
7 Begum Akhtar to the Rescue 87
8 Siddheshwari: A Bird of Paradise 113
9 The Muse and the Truck Drivers 134
  Other People  
10 Mrs Henderson from Ohio 152
11 The 'Cent per Cent' Gandhian 167
12 Cat Among the Bureaucrats 186
13 Mrs G and the Queen of Tonga 196
Part II: The Cooking Of Music And Other Essays
  Publisher's Note 2212
14 Sound and Hindustani Music 213
15 The Raga: An Inward Journey 217
16 Reflections on the Kirana Legacy 224
17 The Cooking of Music 238
18 Fear of Recording: The Non-Westernness of Hindustani Music 244
19 Sunlight in the Raga 252
20 Begum Akhtar 260
21 Go, Lady, Go: Lady Linlithgow and the Taming of Raga Adana 268
22 A Taste of British Guiana 274
23 The Many-Splendoured Harmonium 281
24 The New Face of Listening 288
Part III: Afterword
  Two Obituaries of Sheila Dhar 305

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