Friday, August 27, 2010

Music over Matter

Posting after a long, long time. I had a hairline fracture on the left elbow and was down for a fortnight.
Posting an interesting story I wrote in The Telegraph for those who may not have read it. The context of the story is the 50-year-old border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka over marathi-speaking villages and towns. The dispute is currently before the Supreme Court, and a war of words was on between politicians of both states. On this background, Bhimsen Joshi was chosen for the first Gangubai Hangal Memorial Award by Hangal's family.
I also need to thank my editors R Rajagopal and Arijit Dasgupta who have polished, edited and rewritten my verbose report. A reporter's byeline appears on a news story, but there are a number of people who fine-tune the copy before it goes to the page. This one appeared in the coveted, sacred space -- Page One Lead.
Read on...

Memory of music wafts past strife

Mumbai, July 18: Music has bridged a chasm that language created and nurtured.

Amid the inflamed passions over a 50-year-old Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute, the Hubli-based family of legendary singer Gangubai Hangal has decided to confer the first lifetime achievement award in her memory to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who lives in Pune.

Joshi, 88, and Gangubai, who passed away a year ago aged 96, had, of course, learnt music together under Sawai Gandharva’s tutelage and “were like brother and sister”, their family members said. Still, to many, the award may take on a symbolic significance at a time politicians are stoking emotions over Maharashtra being denied the Marathi-speaking areas of Karnataka.

Joshi represents, as Gangubai did, the Kirana gharana of the Belgaum-Dharwad-Hubli region, parts of which fall within the disputed area. The vocalist is now the sole living torchbearer of the musical legacy of the region that also produced Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, Pandit Kumar Gandharva and Basavraj Rajguru.

The Pune-based Joshi was born in a Brahmin family in Dharwad, but Maharashtra has long claimed him as its own.

He speaks both Kannada and Marathi at home and accepted awards from both state governments — the Maharashtra Bhushan in 2002 and the Karnataka Ratna in 2005 — before the Bharat Ratna in 2009 stamped his status as a treasure belonging to the nation.

Gangubai’s grandson Manoj Hangal, reminded that the honour to Joshi comes amid an inter-state political controversy, said: “We wanted to show that music is above these political considerations.”

He added: “When we asked her about the border dispute, Gangubai would say there are no boundaries of nationality, caste, colour or language for a musician. She herself always considered Mumbai her maher (mother’s home).”

Joshi’s son Shrinivas Joshi said: “Panditji is very happy and honoured to receive this award. Gangubai always treated him as her younger brother, and they shared a wonderful bond.”

Language, the fulcrum of the border dispute, had never been a barrier for Joshi or Gangubai. Joshi is as well known for his Kannada renditions of Purandara Dasa’s kirtanas in the album Dasavani as for his Marathi abhangs.

“We speak Kannada as well as Marathi,” Manoj Hangal said. “Gangubai not only spoke fluent Marathi, she would visit the Mumbai All India Radio office once every month since 1936. Some members of my family have married Maharashtrians and live in Maharashtra.”

To many, the Gangubai Hangal Music Foundation’s move to honour Joshi — and the maestro’s acceptance — has set an example at a time artistes have often failed to rise above ethnic strife.

Tamil and Kannada film stars had demonstrated in support of their states during the Hogenakkal water dispute in March 2008, some even supporting the boycott of films and TV channels from the rival state. Rajanikanth was accused of making “anti-Kannadiga” comments after criticising Karnataka politicians.

The foundation’s — and Joshi’s — decision also shows courage because celebrities can face a backlash if they are perceived as ignoring emotional issues, or as tilting towards one of the sides, even if unwittingly. A week ago, Hollywood star Jennifer Lopez had to call off her birthday show in Cyprus’s breakaway Turkish north following a campaign by incensed Greek Cypriots.

Manoj Hangal had announced the award in the run-up to the first death anniversary of Gangubai on July 21. The first Padmabhushan Gangubai Hangal Memorial National Award for Lifetime Achievement, consisting of Rs 50,000 in cash, a citation and a certificate, will be presented to the ailing vocalist in October.

Joshi would visit the Hangal home every time he passed through Hubli during his whirlwind concert tours, son Shrinivas said.

“When they studied under Sawai Gandharva in Dharwad, Gangubai had to travel from Hubli. Panditji would take a lantern and drop her at the railway station at night. Panditji’s first public performance was organised by Gangubai’s husband in Hubli in 1941,” Shrinivas said.

If Joshi took Dharwad’s legacy to Pune, Marathi culture too exerted its influence on Hubli-Dharwad, political commentator Arvind Kulkarni said. “Dharwad has a huge Marathi library, and leading Marathi writer G.A. Kulkarni lived in Dharwad,” he said.

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