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6 Instances that Give a Glimpse into the Life of Classical Musicians

When Namita is ten, her mother takes her to Dhondutai, a respected music teacher from the great Jaipur Gharana. Dhondutai’s antecedents are rich- she is the only remaining student of the legendary Alladiya Khan, the founder of the gharana and of its most famous singer, the tempestuous Kesarbai Kerkar. Namita begins to learn singing from Dhondutai, at first reluctantly and then, as the years pass, with growing passion. Dhondutai sees in her a second Kesar, but does Namita have the dedication to give herself up completely to music-or will there always be too many late nights and cigarettes?
Here are six anecdotes from her book, The Music Room that offer a glimpse into the life of classical musicians:
Some classes (and concerts) sucked the joy out of singing.
“I hated my mother for pushing me into this embarrassing, depressing world. Besides these classes, I was routinely dragged to even more irksome music concerts, where I would usually fall asleep and wake up when the singer was rendering fast, arpeggiated passages which meant the end of the show was near.”


The most talented musicians had some interesting neighbours
“The music teacher lived in an old building under Kennedy Bridge… [it]was a neighbourhood known for prostitutes and gentlemen’s clubs, but not for musicians. The only other time I had heard of Kennedy Bridge was when my parents joked about their adventurous evening in a mujrah dance parlour many years ago.”


A cough is a serious illness which needs to be taken care of using any means necessary (superstitious or otherwise)
“During my next lesson, I was made to sit on the sofa with the marigold garland around my neck, looking like a horrendous child goddess, while my teacher circulated a hairy brown coconut around my head three times, muttering a mantra…I don’t know whether it was the coconut ritual, the plant, or a heavy dose of vitamins, but my cough disappeared.”


Even bandits appreciate good music
“Before leaving, the bandits happened to ask the brothers where they had gotten the money. When they found out that they were musicians, they asked them to sing. At first the duo was nervous, but as they warmed up, they forgot where they were, or who their audience was, and sang a sublime raga. The bandits were so moved by their music, that they returned not just Khansahib’s purse but also gave them whatever other stolen jewels and money they were carrying.”


Musicians can go to extreme lengths to plagiarize…
 “Rajabali Khan, moved into a house right next to Alladiya Khan’s home so that he could secretly listen to the Khansahib while he practiced and then try and copy his style. He did this for years, until his singing actually began to sound like Alladiya Khan’s music, and he even became a well-regarded performer. Finally Alladiya Khan persuaded the king to send the plagiarist away.”


Competitors can come up with extremely creative (and illegal) ways to get you out of the picture
“One hot afternoon, Badeji was playing cricket and the ball hit him right on the chest. He vomited a little blood. Worried about his growing prowess as a singer, some rival musicians went to a local doctor and bribed him to give an incorrect diagnosis about Badeji so that he would never sing again.”

Beautifully written, full of anecdotes, gossip and legend, The Music Room is perhaps the most intimate book to be written about Indian classical music yet.

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