pro-active fostering and education of and for peace
By Dr. Mohammad Taqi
A peace is of the nature of a conquest; for then both parties nobly are subdued, and neither party loser. (William Shakespeare)
As commercialised as it may sound, for me, Disney World did turn out to be a place where the dreams come true.
A recent visit to the Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida with the king of the Indo-Pakistani classical music, Ustad Hamid Ali Khan was magical in its own right, as together we got to dream peace in South Asia.
While enjoying the 'Peter Pan's Flight of Fantasy' ride, our fantasies took us to the land of our birth and our ancestors and what could potentially be contributed to the efforts already underway to promote peace in that region.
Ustad (maestro) Hamid Ali Khan, along with his older brother Ustad Fateh Ali Khan is the foremost exponent of the Patiala Gharana (school) of Hindustani music. He has on a concert tour in North America for the past month, enthralling audiences with his performances from LA to Toronto.
Having listened to the music of the Patiala masters for the last twenty-five years, on tape and in person, I felt like the five year-old whose wish to go to the Disney World has just been granted, when I found out that Ustad Hamid would be visiting Florida.
The Central Florida Pakistani-American Cultural Society arranged a musical performance with a wonderfully diverse group - Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Americans - in attendance.
The icing on the cake was an equally diverse group accompanying the Maestro. Rajesh Bhandari on tabla, Shamsher Singh on dholak and Shawn on guitar completed the ensemble, which under Ustad Hamid's vocal lead gave one of best renditions of the South Asian music to have ever resonated in our ears.
Ustad Hamid opened the evening with a rendition of Raga Kalavati in teen-taal with the vintage Patiala bandish (lyrics), "piya naheen aaye sakhi". The night-time raga literally mesmerised the audience.
As all South Asian music aficionados know, the raga performance has, over the centuries, evolved - by design and default - to evoke the desired emotion called Rasa, both in the performer and in the audience. Theoretically, this music can evoke emotions like romance, peace, devotion, strength, anger, sadness and insouciance.
It is not surprising for an Indian or Pakistani ear and mind, attuned to our traditional music, to respond with the outpouring of the predicted or intended emotion when an appropriate musical piece is played. The impact of Indo-Pakistani classical music and its relationship to the moods, emotions, weather, seasons and above all peace, has been a subject of extensive research and publications.
In our case, the Kalavati's timing (night-time), the robust and refined vocals and a steady instrumental accompaniment, readily produced a simultaneous ambience of joy, sensuousness and peace in the hall that a raga of Khamaj taath is supposed to evoke.
The next morning when driving Ustad Hamid to Disney World, I noticed him observing the sky gradually getting overcast. I took the opportunity to prod him into telling me about the Raga-Rasa system. The Maestro responded with producing a bandish in Raga Megh … He demonstrated with the alaap and bol-taan the movement of the clouds and the clasp of thunder through his bass embellishment. This indeed is the type of music that fits the bill for a mode of expression that transcends all frontiers and flags.
However, less commonly known is that ample research has shown that the emotional messages produced via music are understood across different cultures. The 1999 work by Laura-Lee Balkwill and W F Thompson at York
University, Toronto has demonstrated that Western listeners, previously not exposed to Hindustani music, were highly sensitive to the emotional messages of the ragas played to them for the first time.
What is both surprising and disappointing that despite having such a powerful common denominator, the classical music shared between India and Pakistan - which in the latter's case has managed to survive against all odds - we have little or no sharing or exchange of this common heritage.
In fact, the Hindustani classical music is not just shared between India and Pakistan. Afghanistan, a hotbed of cold-war between these two countries, is another trustee of this musical legacy. The great masters like the late Ustad Muhammad Hussain "Sarahang" from Kabul trained with Ustad Hamid's uncle, the late Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan in Patiala.
This raga saga of the Indo-Pakistani music and especially the Patiala Gharana doesn't end with Afghanistan. An exponent of the Patiala school from Bengal, Ajoy Chakraborty forms a link in this chain of love and peace that runs from Kabul to Kolkata.
Ustad Hamid Ali Khan is acutely aware, not only of the 150-year musical history of his family and its impact on our region, but of the historical responsibility that now rests with him to help develop a peace-oriented frame of mind through his music.
With his older brother, the inimitable Ustad Fateh Ali Khan getting on in age now, Ustad Hamid is devoting much more time to pure classical music and in passing it on to the younger generations. His three sons Nayab, Qasim and Inam are the family's eighth generation performing. However, he is not just interested in the success of his sons. He believes peace across our region has to be not just absence of war but a pro-active fostering and education of and for peace. He gives his solemn pledge to play his due role in this process.
Hamid Ali Khan believes that an Indo-Pakistani classical music university, with campuses in Lahore and Delhi, is the way to preserve and improve upon our joint heritage. I might add that a third campus at Kabul may go to show that India and Pakistan are capable of jointly playing a constructive role in Afghanistan too.
The childlike curiosity, unassuming nature and forthrightness that I saw in him during that day at Disney World tells me that Ustad Hamid Ali Khan doesn't dream of subduing anyone even in the peace process. This emperor of classical music wishes a conquest of hearts through his art. More than that, his desire is to share his art across all borders. May these pages serve to further this amn ki asha.
The writer practices and teaches Medicine at the University of Florida and contributes to think-tanks www.politact.com and Aryana Institute.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
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