Wednesday, August 10, 2022
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Plight of travelling musicians




Airlines charging extra for musical instruments tax the shrinking income of musicians even further.

Img                                                              Aao ki koi khwaab bunein kal ke vaastey (Come! let’s weave a dream for tomorrow…)


Much to the disapproval of many purists the e-versions of the Tanpura are here to stay. These are basically travel-easy electronic versions, which provide the mandatory drone to any vocalist or instrumentalist practicing Indian (Classical) music. The beautiful Tanpura, made even now, mostly in the mecca of the instrument-making town in India, Miraj (near Goa), is beginning to face the threat, of becoming endangered soon. This even when there are many innovations to make it travel-friendly, like the smaller-lighter ones or the flatter “tumbas” (the round bottom that you typically see in a Tanpura). But surely that is not an option with accompanying instruments.

Fortunately, we are not at a point where electronic versions have completely taken over the live listening experience of the classical forms. Clearly, while in the thick of the Delhi winter, one can say that there is more to the woes of musicians than fog and delayed flights.
Life has become increasingly challenging while travelling with accompanying instrumentalists on private airlines. Airlines now charge extra for checking in musical instruments. Read the fine font on rules and regulations and you’ll see musical instruments are clubbed with LED devices and golf equipment. Fancy that! Only one would wish that these were comparable commodities and so should feature on the same list. Consider this: the community of musicians often generically referred to as Khan Sahebs are often from families that have been “khaandani” or families that have produced generations of musicians. They are like craftsmen-artisans who provide the most significant embellishments to a performance.

The story of North Indian music has really been one of journeys. An important defining point has been the gharana or the stylistic school, that emerged out of patronage. The system was a result of music being patronised in the courts of medieval India as is seen from their names — Gwalior, Jaipur, Patiala, and other princely kingdoms, and evolved most importantly out of the mobility of artistes across the country, made possible from the middle of the 19th Century with the advent of the Railways. The interest of the patron was centrally linked to how popular music became in the region. For instance, Dharwad in Karnataka, which produced legends like Bhimsen Joshi and Gangubai Hangal, was one such important centre for music, scoring high on patronage. Every year during the Dussehra celebrations, the Wodeyar King of Mysore organized a 10-day music festival. This festival saw important artistes coming from all over India. And given that the journey was long and tiring, it was not uncommon that musicians who came to the festival settled down here for many months — something the local audiences encouraged. The expansion of railway networks had a profound effect on the mobility of the musicians. By mid-19th century, important centres like Bombay and Madras were connected. Whereas musicians were earlier dependent on only a few patrons, performers started spending months in one court and then moving on to the next.

And so travel was an important aspect of a musician’s life. Stories of musicians linked to their travels abound the anecdotal history of music in India. Here is one such narrative about the legendary musician Begum Akhtar. The well-known poet Shakeel Badayuni is said to have slipped a chit of paper just as she was boarding a train from Lucknow to Bhopal. Ammi as she was fondly called, asked her student travelling with her, to pull out the Harmonium, which she would play herself and by the time she reached her destination, the evergreen ghazal Ai mohabbat tere anjaam pe ronaa aaya had been composed.

Quite a contrast to the situation today. This trend in private airlines is disturbing and doesn’t augur well for the future of this richness that we like taking pride in. Paying for your instrument to travel with you is a clear indication not only of the changing times but also of the status that musicians and their music acquire in this country. Also, the tendency to homogenise the idea of Indian culture has narrowed avenues for various kinds of artistes. Musicians are no exception. Mass media, importantly television, has narrowed our very view of culture. It is not uncommon for audiences not to be able to recognize instruments — Tanpura very often referred to as Sitar, but even more absurd guesses such as the Sarangi being the Banjo are not untrue. Artistes lead economically vulnerable lives and it would not be an exaggeration to say that music as a livelihood option is difficult and survival has become very tough. This has meant fewer concerts in their unstructured professional lives, and cutting corners by saving daily allowances on concert tours, travelling by public transport like buses and local trains as opposed to taxis, ensuring enough tuitions to make ends meet reasonably, to cope with a generally falling standard of living. It is not surprising then that many of them encourage their children to take on other professions.

In this scenario it is really the responsibility of concerned authorities like the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to take cognizance of the situation and ensure that Sarangis and golf clubs are not put in the same category. For an artiste to have to think twice before deciding to take an auto or a bus to the airport, or have to pay extra for his or her instrument to be checked in, is not merely unreasonable, it is outright unfair. We, in India, are still not creatures of contracts and such paperwork and so it is not often that the organiser would come forward to reimburse these amounts.

It’s the beginning of a new year and in the opening lines of his poem Sahir Ludhianavi urges you to dream of a world that is lined with hope, only that it should extend itself to the world of music as well.

The author is a musician and can be reached at




This is a re-published article, originally written by Vidya Shah Ji. You can read the original article by clicking on the given link……..



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