118 years of Trust This above all
THE TRIBUNEsaturday plus
Saturday, August 15, 1998


Shubha Mudgal, a rare artiste

LAST year at the exhibition of prints of Padshanama at the National Museum, I heard Shubha Mudgal live for the first time. It was a song in praise of Emperor Jehangir composed by one of his courtiers and set to music by Mudgal. I was transported to ethereal heights and imagined that rulers of the Mughal dynasty were listening to her in rapt attention. I know very little of Pukka raags and can’t tell Asavari from Deepak. I presumed since the song was in praise of an emperor, it must be Raag Darbari. It turned out to be Bheem Palassee.

However, there and then, I decided to cultivate this beautiful woman. Though a little buxom, she has silken soft skin, large gazelle eyes and a heavenly voice. She was taken aback by the compliments I showered on her but did not respond. She had to suffer my enthusiastic effusions once again when I interviewed her for Star TV series Not a Nice Man to Know.

A day before the interview, as Sadia Dehlavi was driving me home, she asked: "Would you like to hear Shubha Mudgal’s latest hit?" The word ‘hit’ sounded discordant. Soon the car was resounding with a chorus of voices— half qawaali, half pop — singing Ali Morey Angna. Shubha’s voice was barely audible: she has a very powerful voice full of resonance. The song was catchy enough but I did not expect a purist like Shubha making such a compromise. Did she do it to make more money?

When I put the question to her, she gave me cryptic reply: "My name Shubha is from Saraswati, the goddess of learning. She is on notoriously bad terms with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Money and I don’t go together."

Strange! Shubha was born into a Bania family of Allahabad. Both parents were professors of English literature but classical Hindustani music and Kathak were their passions. Shubha was put through both and of her own opted for singing. From Allahabad she came to Delhi where she was trained under a number of distinguished ustaads. She married into a very musical family. The marriage did not hold. She divorced her husband (He is now a Judge of the Delhi High Court) and devotes her time entirely to music, her son and her Dalmatians.

Shubha Mudgal has taken to experimenting and creating music to cater for different situations. She composed the music for Mira Nair’s film Kama Sutra and for Sonal Mansingh’s ballet. She demonstrated how music can be used to convey anger and joy as command and submission — in fact for every human situation. Her one regret is that pioneers and inventors never get what is due to them in terms of money or recognition because as soon as others smell success, they cash in with immitations.

The law of copyright is full of holes and pirates can get away with murder. The late Gulshan Kumar was able to hire new singers at a low rate and make cassettes of old film favourites and bhajans, market them at prices much lower than those of originals and make a last buck. She also has bones to pick with producers who arrange concerts for her over the phone and at the last minute cancel them without consideration of the time and money she has spent preparing for them. Despite all the skullduggery in the world of music and her disappointment with the patronage of the state through AIR, Doordarshan, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the ICCR, Shubha continues undaunted with her punishing schedule of riaaz many hours a day. Her most faithful audience comprises two Dalmatians who are her constant companions.

Their ears pick up as she touches the strings of her Tanpura. "When I sing a particular note, one of my dogs begins to sing with me", she told me with a laugh, "One of them can even change its tone with mine". So, besides the many students she teaches, she also has a singing Dalmatian.

If you have not heard Shubha Mudgal sing, you have missed a very rare experience.

A less crowded India

It is hard to believe that there was a time , not very long ago, when you could take a picture of Bombay’s Marine Drive in broad daylight without a single car on the road; or of Calcutta’s Chowringhee with only three taxis plying and no pedestrians on the footpaths. This was India in 1930s and 1940s, captured by a box camera by a young Anglo-Indian boy Garney Nyss. Garney’s first interest in life was music; he was a celebrated player of the steel guitar. Second, was field hockey: four times he made it to the Indian Olympic team led by Captain Dhyan Chand but just missed being included in the side which played against other countries.

The third was photography. His parents bought him a Kodak Brownie box camera. He carried it with him wherever he went from Peshawar to Assam, from Madras to Simla and Darjeeling. And clicked away whatever caught his fancy: from the Taj Mahal and the Gateway of India to the greenery of Bangalore to Gurkha women smoking chilams. He developed his films himself and printed them using the sun’s rays as agents. He stacked his collections in sacks which he put under his bed.

A selection of Garney Nyss’s photographs have been published in book form: Memories: A Photographic Essay of India in the 1940. It has been edited by Neil O’Brien, till a few years ago General Manager of the Oxford University Press and his son Berry O’Brien. The price is exorbitant, Rs 1350. I am sure if you write a nice letter to Arvind Pande (husband of Mrinal) saying what a wonderful job the Steel Authority of India is doing he may let you have a copy at a concessional price. Or as a gift. The book has been published as a tribute from SAIL.

Not improper

A widow, Rampyari, married her late husband’s brother very soon after his death. Her neighbours considered this improper.

But Rampyari did have the kindness to hang a picture of her departed husband in the drawing-room. One day a new saheli (friend) asked her: "Tell me, who is this person whose photograph you’ve hung here?" pointing towards the frame.

"Oh!" said Rampyari, "Wa photo mhare jeth ki sai (that photo is of my elder brother-in-law). He passed away recently".

Catchy signs

(i) Discovered written on an Opel Astra in Vashi (New Mumbai): "What do you do if an apple a day costs more than the doctor?"

(ii) Sign at a health club in Mumbai: "Be good at counting calories — you’ll have the figures to prove it!"

(iii) Sticker on a Maruti van in Meerut: "I’d like to resist temptation. But suppose it never came my way again?"

(Contributed by Shashank Shekhar, New Mumbai)

Home Image Map
| Chandigarh Heartbeat | Dream Analysis | Regional Vignettes |
Fact File | Crossword | Stamp Quiz | Roots |