What do you think about the current state of classical music
in India, and what are its prospects for the future?
Nowadays due to economic and political conditions the Indian people are mostly thinking about their daily lives, how to earn, how to live. Naturally, they are so engaged that they have no time for the sake of art-painting, sculpture or music. In the old days, men were not so busy earning due to a smaller population and the patronage of rajas and maharajas. Now there are no rajas or maharajas, who will patronize the artist? Suppose a painter works 1-2 years on a piece, his price is 4 lakhs of rupees, who will buy it except a raja or maharaja? At that time good musicians were helped by the state, "Please, stay in my state, play on and you teach these students." The students didn't need to pay a salary because the state provided for them. The guru just taught them, and the guru didn't worry about food or anything; the state provided education for their families, everything. Now there are no states, the government ruined all the states. And what is the government doing now? Nothing! The public doesn't have too much money, so the public can't support the artist. Most people are engaged in many kinds of jobs. Some go to the office in the morning and after returning they do another job, so how will they get the time to spend with the music or any fine arts? It's not possible. To become a good artist requires much time, a minimum 10-12 hours a day in your art. For instrumental music, the students need to learn vocal, and nowadays the students don't learn vocal. They start, 'sa ri ga ma pa dha ni' and then learn one or two gats. Within 2-4 years, "Manilal-ji, I want to sit for an audition, please recommend my name." How is it possible? I can't say the future position of our real classical music, but it may be ruined. And the influences of Calcutta TV and commercial pop music-the young generation is less interested in classical music. Before there was TV or popular film music, the school students, the college students, boy and girls used to listen to classical music. Now every house has TV blasting and they don't get the opportunity to listen to good music. This is my opinion, I can't say about the position in the future...What about my son? My father taught me sitar and I had to learn because he wanted me to become a musician. But who will support my son, who will give him food-only playing sitar, no food? The government will not back him nor give him any money to practice sitar. Naturally, Subhashish may have to do some job.
Now, without the royalty and the support of their states,
corporations have become the patrons. In India you have the ITC
[India Tobacco Company] and their Sangeet Research Academy in
Ah, yes, the ITC, but they're a monopoly. They have a good idea but they only support vocal, not instrumental music. Why? ITC can easily invite me, "Manilal, you are staying in Calcutta, please join ITC and please teach sitar." Why not? I can't say...Nowadays students are getting many more opportunities than before: in India there are music universities everywhere, and in general education, music is compulsory. Students get so many opportunities! In ancient times, there were no tape recorders, no notations, how did they learn? How did Allauddin Khan or my father learn? Nowadays, students listen to tapes, sing the notations, have videos-they have so much but they are not playing well! Why? Due to riyaaz [daily practice], due to taleem, due to discipline, due to regard of the guru. My father didn't allow me to listen to others, why? Because, first you take the systematic teaching -taleem-of the gharana, and then you listen and after that you can play nicely. But nowadays, suppose I tell my student, "Please practice this" and after taking lessons from me, at his home he listens to Nikhil Banerjee-tape recorder is not guru! If you listen for 30 minutes, you can play for 30 minutes like this, this, this. But if I say, "Please, play for two hours" how can you improvise, how can you play without ideas from vocal music? This is the vital point: now the tape recorder is our guru! Now the students come to me just one year and then leave and buy many records, listen, take the sitar and play. Not possible, because this is not composed music, this is creative art, understand my point?
It's at least a life time of work! Or even several life times!
A life time of work, yes! My idea is: as a musician, I will not follow the money, but money will follow me! Am I right or wrong? Now many musicians think, "I need money, money, too much money!" I don't want to name any names but here at this time many great musicians are snatching the students, like robbery, like dakkoos [dacoits: thieves]. I hate this, but students don't realize this. "Guru-ji, guru-ji, guru-ji, guru-ji, guru-ji!" But I'm not that type of man.
The economic conditions are different now. The gurukul system that used to exist is gone, and now artists are forced to become commercial. They have to perform for the public and they have to have students and receive tuitions.
Since the general public mostly understands the 'light' music, new musicians don't play much alap. "Dadadroom, push, push, push, taans," and the young chaps applaud, "Oh, very nice, very nice!" They don't realize, they have no feelings-without feelings, without kind heart, music will not come. Yes.
Let's discuss your philosophy about music and the role of the musician, and how this is connected with the wisdom and ancient philosophy of India? Why does this music have such a special power?
In India, we believe the Supreme Power, that means God, and everything depends on the natural atmosphere, Nature. If I go to the mandir [temple] for puja [worship] my mind will be like this; sit down calmly. [He gently sings a few notes with a very peaceful, devotional mood]. I believe that even those who don't understand music, will listen to and enjoy this-this is something powerful. But if I sing like this [loud and boisterously] you can't enjoy. This is the philosophy: music should be like meditation, yoga. What is yoga? The music should be like this, stay as much as possible in one swara [note]. Yoga comes from this and music comes from yoga! Modern music-nothing, just amusing, "Dadadada, dada, dada, dadadada!" listen one or two minutes, finished. But if you listen to classical music, sometimes after it's ended you are still listening in your mind. With good music your 'natural tape recorder' is playing in your brain! Sometimes, "Who's playing, who's playing? No one? But who's playing here?!" Music is absorbed in the mind, replaying. Right or wrong? Why? Due to that philosophy, due to depth. Depth!
The ancient tradition of music is known as 'Sangeet marg,' a path to God realization through music.
Really, and music is the language of God. There are so many religions in the world-churches, temples, mosques-and everywhere is music for worshipping God. It's all the same! I don't understand the difference between all religions. Your blood is red, my blood is red; if you don't get air you can't live, if I don't get air I can't live; if I don't get water I can't live, I will die. Everyone is like this, everyone depends upon this universe, that means the power of the Supreme. Why do we judge, "He is this. He is this. I am that." Why? You need food, I need food; you need water, I need water-what is the difference between you and me? This comes from the mind, not reading books. From books it will never come-many people have MAs, PhDs, doctorates-but nothing, no sense, no sense. Ha, ha, ha! Music has power but we have to play with 'yoga' [union] in mind. Many musicians ruined our music-"You play rock'n'roll, why do you need Indian ragas?" Rock'n'roll, pop music, "Dum dum dum, Dum dum dum, plink, plink, dum dum dum dum, plink, plink." You'll get much popularity! If you play Indian music alap like this, I will not bother! You have to maintain strict discipline. Music, dhrupad, is like this: if you like, you come here, you listen. If you don't like, you need not to come, please stay in your house. Those who come I think will understand my music, if they don't like, they need not to listen to my music-I am only for those who understand my music. I'm not for all people, I can't satisfy all the people.
This music originated in the temples and then when the Moghuls came it entertained the kings, and it has remained in the province of the elite.
Yes, right, right. Always.
That's the way it is. Keep your music pure and for those few who really understand it. You could see when you performed the other night in Woodstock that people were listening with genuine appreciation. Now it's only a question of whether people will try to continue the type of practice and taleem...
I don't know, people are not getting the time-especially in Calcutta, maybe throughout India-to practice, no patience. They love the music but have no patience, and they don't practice hard enough. For that reason they can't play nicely. Always stay with the guru-in ancient times was 'guru shishya parampara' [teacher-disciple lineage] and the students had to stay at the residence of the guru, and at all times had to listen to the guru. After the guru's practice the student had to practice like this. Nowadays it's not possible-the guru has no house so how can he accommodate his students like the rajas or maharajas? Allauddin Khan-Maihar State! So many students all over India came to Maihar and stayed with their guru, in this room, in that room, in this room, in that room and Allauddin Khan, "Is he practicing? Yes, OK. Is she practicing? Oh, yes. Ah, you are sleeping, get up! Practice!" My father was like this: very early in the morning, "Manilal, get up, get up! Take your sitar!" I remember. Without a guardian, if you are left alone, "Later, later. I will practice later." Strict administration by guru or guardian.
I've heard so many stories that when teaching Ustad Allauddin Khan was extremely strict and had a very bad temper; what was your father like?
My father really was just like Allauddin Khan! But when you
first came to Calcutta  my father was very calm and relaxed,
but before he was a very strict person-especially towards me!
Ha, hah, ha! And he never went to anyone asking, "Please
give me a program. Please, do something for me. Please do this."
No, never. Naturally, I am his son and my nature is the same.
I have my father's blood! Try to understand, this is my difficulty!
I can't go to everyone asking, "I am Manilal, please do something
for me." I am satisfied God will give me enough. I can't
snatch anything from you. He will give me. He has sent me, He
will give me. I believe it! God sent me here, He will give me
the money. I never ask anybody, "I am hungry, please give
me money." But I have no big house, no car, nothing. This
is the way, and now God has made it possible for me to purchase
the land, and God will provide the money slowly, slowly, and I
will build-up my house. And what is my idea? That some students
like you, any time they come to Calcutta can stay at my house
and enjoy. The house I now live in can't accommodate any students,
any guest. God has given me land-slowly, yes, and only lately-but
He has given, and I believe God will give me my house, slowly,
slowly, slowly. Heh, heh, heh, heh! This is my idea. Many musicians
suddenly rise and then immediately drop but I continue from 1954
up until now. Slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly. Why? "Slow
and steady wins the game." Practice every day, slow, you
will progress. But if immediately, "Zoom! Too much money!
Zoom!" Okay, then, "Whoosh..." Many artists end
up like this. This is realization. I saw how much my father struggled.
He never went asking of any man. Simple food, simple clothes,
in one room. My father got many opportunities from many big jamindars,
big people. In Calcutta they asked my father, "Please take
this house, this house is for you." "This big building?
No, no, no, I don't need it, I don't need it." My father's
philosophy...If any students came he would say, "Please sit
down, take tea." Allauddin Khan was like that, I have seen
it. Allauddin Khan loved me too much, and Hafiz Ali Khan, the
father of Amjad Ali Khan, loved me too much but I didn't take
any pictures at that time!
Well, you have the memory and the experience.
Yes, many, many experiences! Thirty years ago in Calcutta, I played sitar for the birthday of Dabir Khan, the guru of Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, the guru of Santosh Banerjee-Dabir Khan was the last descendant of Mian Tansen. Vilayat Khan was in the front row; a full two hours he had listened and then he came to the dais, "Manilal, you played very nicely." He was really satisfied, as a musician he expressed his feelings, and up until now Vilayat Khan regards me well, "Manilal plays very nicely."
He has told me that as well.
Vilayat Khan has mentioned in an interview in Calcutta, "The Nag family is the only family of sitar gharana in India." Acchaa, let's take some breakfast now. If you have some bread, butter, eggs and milk I'd like to make French toast! I will do it!
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