about the artists and the surrounding suspicion has deeper roots, and is
probably linked to unpredictability inherent in the arts writes Sarwat
The basic problem with
music is the validity of the criterion under which it can be evaluated.
It has usually been done either on purely technical grounds or the
emotional content that it is supposed to evoke. Obviously, when dealing
with the latter we find ourselves on very slippery grounds. It is said
that a song or a piece of music has the capacity to make you happy, a
composition evokes a feeling of sorrow, a musical movement appeals to
baser instincts and some are pure and elevate you spiritually. But the
relationship and process of music with the feeling or mood that is
evoked has never been properly established.
Daud Rehbar is a scholar
and a practicing musician. He is not one of those who talk nineteen to a
dozen about the theoretical aspects, effect and function of music
without ever having touched a musical instrument, or sung a musical
phrase. Writing about Ustad Abdul Karim Khan in 'Batein Kuch Sureeli Si'
he says that in the twentieth century the style of Karim Khan's music (asloobe
ghina) influenced many singers but it must be stressed that the women
singers were more influenced by him as compared to male singers.
He goes on to elaborate by saying that women singers were influenced
because they adopted his style that was shaista and baawaqaar. The
sanjeedgi changed the style of music because it provided a counter to
the miraasipan, which he further qualifies as ibtazaal (base) and
rakakat (mean) and elevated music to be a purely spiritual exercise.
Many of the phrases are
loaded and carry a specific reference or bias, and need to be looked at
more closely before it can be safely said that these phrases can form
the basis of sufficient reasoning to qualify as the basics for judging a
piece of music.
The assumption here is
that miraasipan is a quality that is integrally linked to immorality and
meanness, the implication being that the social position of a person is
fully reflected in his art. Since the miraasis are considered not to be
respectable material, some immorality is reflected in their music. As
far as Abdul Karim Khan is concerned he attributes the sobriety that he
conferred on his music to his association with the pandits as they
considered music to be sacred and part of religious ritual. It did not
have the miraasipan of the Khansahibs so to say.
One reason he attributes
to their lowly status is that musicians who played instruments which
used the skin or guts of an animal were considered untouchables. Most of
them converted to Islam to escape the social stigma that was attached to
them and necessarily brought their habits and traits with them into
their new faith.
As the logic goes this
should have rid them of the stigma of their lowly status and liberated
them to be treated at par in the religious order that they had adopted.
It did not happen as they were still discriminated in an order when the
entire body of art was under constant microscopic scrutiny and had to
justify its existence and expression. It was never treated as self
evident but had to be defined again and again to meet with the morally
acceptable standards of society.
Unfortunately most who
have written about music have not been practitioners and professional
musicians, while almost all great musicians have been professional
musicians in the sense that they have inherited the art of music -- they
have been born to family of musicians and not are atayees, those not
been born to professional musicians and have to acquire music.
The proof of music lies
in its practice and the practicing musician has only focused on
mastering the technicalities to a stage where it only becomes an
effortless act to give a form to his musical sensibility. The
non-practicing musician never has the skill to implement what he feels
or thinks about. The mastery of craft is totally indispensable in music
and any serious discussion about it without that level of mastery is
merely hot air.
This dichotomy has
existed in all societies, and it has only been in the twentieth century
that the artists have perhaps become an icon and a star in the social
sense. An artist was always a star but socially he was never accepted as
an equal. His place was outside the sanctified circle of respectability
and as an outsider he was supposed to provide pleasure and entertainment
to the respectable section of society that usually provided patronage to
The performing arts have
been much maligned and more than the performing arts the performers have
been rated as immoral, of a lowly status and disreputable. This is a
generic condemnation and is not directed towards an individual. The
entire community is the target of this discrimination. In music, as
indeed in other performing arts, the debate about the moral effect has
occupied centre stage for a very long time. Even Plato was worried about
the corrupting influence of the artists and poets, and was wary of
offering them an honourable status in his 'Republic'.
It is quite sad that this
prejudice has tainted and discoloured the true evaluation of music and
scholars like Daud Rehbar -- without fighting or resisting it have
fallen victim to it. Music that has come down to us has been in the form
of practice and all the words ever created could not have been able to
ensure the continuity of a tradition. The practitioners of music have
overwhelmingly been miraasis and the music that we have inherited has
oodles of miraasipan in it. If this is the only music that we have
inherited then we are in no position to compare it with any other music
which is essentially ours.
The European example is
not applicable to us and cannot be blindly applied without giving due
consideration to the local ethos. It only means that all the rest is
only a wish fulfillment of what should have been, without totally having
one's feet on the ground.
The discrimination about
the artists and the surrounding suspicion has deeper roots, and is
probably linked to unpredictability inherent in the arts. It does not
yield to any simple meaning and interpretation and is always open to
meaning which may not be found to be acceptable to the social order.
Poets and artists have always been perceived as threats to any
established code, be it political, social or moral. Perhaps that was the
necessity for the art coming into existence, where it could imply more
than its surface meaning. Some philosophers and religious scholars have
got nearer to the true nature of the dilemma, labeling them as liars by
not following their words with their deeds.