Monthly Archives: January 2007

The sublime elegance of classical music

All of yesterday and today I’ve been listening almost obsessively to Bade Ustad’s Yaman on the Rudra Veena, and the quality that keeps coming back to strike me is the elegance of the music – the ease and fluidity with which the phrases flow into each other, the intricacy of the threads and ripples in the greater pattern, and most of all the restraint and austerity that enables him to bring things to a conclusion and then just abandon it all. It’s that last quality that really brings out the creativity in Indian classical music; I think – you constantly create, but you don’t seek to capture. What has been played is there, and then dissolves.

This elegance is even stronger in dhrupad than khayal. I listen to Nikhil Banerjee and Vilayat Khan and there occassionally seems to be a slightly melodramatic elongation of the jhala, an almost frantic rush of speed before the final letting go. Dhrupad, on the other hand, is stately; majestic. Nothing will induce such unseemly displays of technique, and the simplicity is the elegance. There is no winding up of emotion to a fevered pitch; rather a glide into a journey that just gathers intensity and then allows itself to naturally dissolve.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, here is a link to an mp3; this is what I have been listening to. 28 minutes; 10MB.

Big Brother meets Speakers’ Corner

It’s quite possible that it’s just my brain selectively seeing patterns where none exist, but I find it curious how the whole Big Brother racism brouhaha tied in rather neatly with the soapbox-mounted orators that I saw in Hyde Park on Sunday last.

First, a disclaimer. I don’t watch Big Brother, having rather less time for “reality” television than for, say, watching paint dry, so I have no idea what really happened or who said what; I just know what I read on the BBC. Racist? Possibly. Idiotic? Certainly.

Speakers’ Corner was populated with the usual mix of religious fanatics, but two people struck me as being particularly interesting. One was a Jamaican Rastafarian, who was standing in a middle of a crowd of people urging them to beware the revenge of the Black Man, coming out from under centuries of oppression. Not ten feet away from him, a silver-haired woman with a strong grandmotherly air was producing a bizarrely Kipling-esque diatribe on the benefits of colonialism, and how “other people” should leave England.

Quite apart from the stark contrast of the two viewpoints, what I found interesting was the suggestion that I should be offended at the woman’s invective. I’m not suggesting for a moment that colonial oppression didn’t happen, or should be defended, but I don’t see why I should be offended that she is insulting my race. I don’t identify with being Indian more than as a statement of fact (and if pressed, I might admit to a slight sporting bias). I don’t feel insulted on behalf of all Indians, because I think that’s just as divisive and racist as anything else.

Don’t get me wrong – I am deeply offended that racism is something that is still tolerated and possibly held closer to the surface than is apparent in this politically correct age, but I feel that the outrage is being wrongly directed. To be offended on behalf of humanity and intelligence and sense is something I can get behind – just don’t ask me to do it for a selected portion of them.

British Museum interior

In other news, visited the British Museum with Fran, and did a little photography near Covent Garden Market.

Living statue, Covent Garden

Glide, Anu, glide! (Or, my poor aching legs…)

Ice-skating is definitely fun. It’s also an interesting experience in that I know of no other form of locomotion where it is possible to go from relaxed progression to frantic uncontrolled arm-flailing collapse in a heartbeat. I always felt like I was teetering on the edge of disaster, and I did indeed fall down four times, to the great amusement of all those around me.

When it does work, though, it’s joyous. Makes you discover whole groups of muscles you never knew existed, however. I still ache.