Music should respect no borders of nation, region, religion or language. It should soar across the world and captivate all humanity. I am aghast that a Delhi concert, sponsored by Spic Macay and the Airports Authority of India (AAI), had to be “postponed” after Hindu fanatics warned against the participation of Carnatic music maestro T M Krishna.
His sin is that he has often included Christian and Muslim themes in his music. That is actually the sort of inclusiveness that has always marked Indian music, and indeed all Indian culture. Alas, the fanatics had so much clout with the ruling BJP that the sponsors had to back down. This was cultural barbarism.
Jawaharlal Nehru would have been outraged by such barbarism. But no outrage flowed from Rahul Gandhi and his gutless Congress cohorts, who have abandoned Nehruvian secularism for a soft Hindutva that smells like the leftovers of a BJP meal. Fortunately the Aam Aadmi Party, which rules Delhi state, came to the rescue by providing an alternative concert platform for Krishna.
Hindu fanatics have cowed many artists. But not Krishna. He says, “The troll army has the underlying patronage of people in power. I have been trolled for a long time for my social position, my perspectives on politics, and my disagreements with the BJP regime. I believe in every art form. Allah, Jesus and Ram make no difference. It is a multilingual and multi-religious country.” Bravo!
After the latest ruckus, he tweeted, “Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Carnatic compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Carnatic song every month on Jesus or Allah.” All musicians and artists need to applaud this stance, in contrast to the pathetic BJP whitewash attempted by dancer Sonal Mansingh (who, not entirely coincidentally, was earlier nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP government).
Hindustani music has many glorious roots, many sources of inspiration. The sitar is a modern version of the Persian setar (a three-stringed instrument), the sarod originated in the Afghan rubab, and the harmonium came from the European accordion. That does not make them Muslim or Christian or foreign. They are part and parcel of Hindustani music. Bismillah Khan and Amjad Ali Khan are as essential to Hindustani music as Ravi Shankar or Hari Prasad Chaurasia: their religions are irrelevant.
North Indians may not be aware of the remarkable absorptive capacity of southern Carnatic music. Classical music is often viewed as traditional and resistant to change. But the violin, introduced during the British Raj, has become so integral to Carnatic music that its followers would be outraged at the suggestion that it is alien.
Far from objecting, South Indian audiences cheered when Uppalapu Srinivas began using the mandolin to play Carnatic music. Indeed, he attained fame with the nickname Mandolin Srinivas. Today, Kadri Gopalnath is the foremost exponent of Carnatic music on the saxophone. Unlike Hindutva barbarians, these musicians know that music and musical instruments have no borders.
The bhajan may be called Hindu religious music. But Muslims have sung many of the greatest bhajans. Mohammed Rafi was among the greatest bhajan singers of all time. Probably the most famous bhajan in film history is O Duniya ke Rakhwale from Baiju Bawra. The music was composed by Naushad Ali, the lyrics were penned by Shakeel Badayuni and the song sung by Rafi. These three Muslims created a bhajan dearly beloved by Hindus, because music knows no boundaries.
My favourite bhajan of the 1950s is Insaaf ka Mandir Hai, from the film Amar. Here again, the music was by Naushad, the lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni and the singing by Rafi. In addition the film was produced by Mehboob Khan, and its three main actors were all Muslims — Dilip Kumar (aka Yusuf Khan), Madhubala (aka Mumtaz Jehan Dehlavi) and Nimmi (aka Nawab Banoo). Did this detract in the slightest from the quality of the bhajan? No, it was a triumphant demonstration that music conquers all barriers.
The barbarians want us all to dance to the tune of Hindu martial music. Well, the most nationalistic musical event featuring the armed forces bands is the Beating Retreat ceremony every year on January 29 at Vijay Chowk in New Delhi. Every year, the bands play Sare Jahan se Achha, penned by Iqbal. They also play Abide with Me, which was Gandhiji’s favourite Christian hymn. The message is clear: patriotism and music should have nothing to do with religion.