Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known for his penchant for inaugurating various projects across the country, particularly when elections are round the corner. With elections in Uttar Pradesh scheduled to take place next year, it was not surprising to hear of another inauguration during his visit last month to Varanasi, his parliamentary constituency.
But it is important to review the state of projects that have been inaugurated in this manner to establish whether they are serving their mandate.
One such project was introduced following Modi’s speech in Varanasi on December 25, 2014, which mentioned the need to acquaint school and college students with the life and work of eminent personalities of the city and with themes related to the heritage of Varanasi, and of organising programmes based on such themes.
This was considered an effective mechanism to increase tourist interest in Varanasi and to make students aware of the city’s cultural heritage. The project was also envisaged to motivate students “to aspire for greater heights in their artistic career just like the maestros they have been introduced to through these Interpretation Centres”.
Accordingly, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, an autonomous body working within the domain of the Ministry of Culture, has set up “Interpretation Centres” in five schools in Varanasi. This endeavour was a part of a larger project involving the adoption of 32 schools by key bodies of the Ministry of Culture.
Of the five schools adopted by the Akademi as Interpretation Centres, three focus on the life and work of eminent personalities from the world of Hindustani music – sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, shehnai virtuoso Bismillah Khan and tabla exponent Kishan Maharaj. The activities planned for the Interpretation Centres include a talent search among students in all forms of performing arts, career counselling, workshops and lecture-demonstrations for students, screenings of films on eminent performing artists, visits to historical places, heritage walks and essay competitions focusing on the lives of eminent personalities, with cash prizes for winners.
A scholarship of Rs 500 per month has been instituted in the memory of Bismillah Khan for the students who are participating in activities at the centre and a cultural space or a room was to be created in the school with audio/video equipment and a permanent photo gallery commemorating Bismillah Khan.
While this project undertaken by the Akademi and the activities envisaged are positive signs in creating artistic awareness among students, we cannot assess their efficacy in the absence of detailed reports. In this situation, perhaps, Prime Minister Modi could ask for such reports to be made public, particularly since they are related to his constituency and to the idea that he had originally come up with. Better still, maybe, he could pay a visit to these Interpretation Centres the next time he is in Varanasi.
On our part, as students of music and music lovers, it might also be a good idea for us to ask pertinent questions about their activities, particularly since they are run by organisations supported by public funding. Of course, irrespective of the responses to our questions, we will, continue to celebrate and study the work of the eminent musicians in whose names these Centres have been set up.
We end with tracks featuring the three artistes mentioned earlier. The first track features the inimitable shehnai exponent Bismillah Khan’s rendition of Gunkali, a raag prescribed for the morning. The composition is set to a madhya laya or medium tempo 16-matra Teentaal. The speed is accelerated towards the end of the track.
The second track includes the opening segment of a performance by the famous Banaras gharana tabla player Kishan Maharaj. In this exploration of Teentaal, his son Puran Maharaj accompanies him on the tabla and sarangi accompaniment is provided by Ramesh Mishra.
We conclude with a presentation of the raag Mia ki Todi on the sitar by the renowned maestro Ravi Shankar. According to the accompanying text, this track was recorded from a private concert held at Kolkata in the 1950s. After a brief introductory aalaap, the maestro plays two compositions in Teentaal ending with a climactic jhala.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.