Monday, March 21, 2011

The Unforgettable Night of Music and Culture

Pune witnessed its longest musical overnight concert with SPIC MACAY along with College of Engineering, Pune inaugurating Heritage 2010, Pune chapter, SPIC MACAY’s annual cultural festival. It was one of the biggest cultural events in the country with six performing arts connoisseurs coming together at the same platform.

The evening began with Pandit Birju Maharaj and his disciple Saswati Sen setting the mood with their awe-inspiring performance. The jugalbandi between Panditji‘s ghungroos and the Pakhawaj was a delightful sight for the audience who were tapping their fingers on the rhythm of the taal. Kathak primarily being a dance form that is associated with women courtesans of the eighteenth century and the grace it is performed, Pt. Birju Maharaj performed with the same ardour and finesse that a woman of those times could have ever performed. Saswati Sen’s narrated the mythological story of Ahilya through her moves and mudras.

After Panditji’s performance, vocalists Uday Bhawalkar and Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande lend their voices to the ambience of the auditorium with the soulful ragas and dhrupads that they recited. The chantings were soulful and it captivated the audience. Nayan Ghosh, eminent Sitar artists mastered its oeuvre by playing some of the most beautiful recitals, mostly Thumri ragas and Khayals.

The event also witnessed Sarwar Hussain, the youngest Sarangi player at the age of 30 maintained the rich legacy of his family, who are part of the Hindustan Gharana clan for the past five generations. At the beginning of his performance, he said- “I will try my best to reflect the skills that I acquired from my gurus. If you like it, it is my gurus’ blessings that he has bestowed upon me and if I make a mistake, it is my inability to take the best from them.”

The event could not have concluded in its utmost grandeur when 102 year old, world reknowned vocalist, Ustad Rashid Khan mastered the ragas and paltas. Having stopped practice for the past twenty years, Ustad Saab represented the Gwalior Gayaki with much ease and strength which cannot be matched by his younger counterparts. Ustad Khan has composed more than 2000 bandishes and still continuing, he indeed is the lone pioneer of the rich Indian musical heritage of his generation.

SPIC MACAY, true to its reputation, has been successful in carrying forward the movement to promote the rich cultural heritage of India. This concert saw a turnout of a major portion of the large student population of Pune who were hooked to their seats till the end. From Pt.Birju Maharaj’s beats to the chantings of Ustad Rashid Khan till break of dawn, the Heritage Night was indeed an event that would be resonate in the minds of its spectators for a very long time.

P.S. The event happened in February 2010.

Poona Wonders

The second largest city in Maharashtra and the education capital of India, Pune has always welcomed communities, students, job aspirants and pensioners. It is a hub of the vast students’ population not only within the country but also abroad. With the maximum number of schools and colleges anywhere in the world, it is a city that witnesses an influx of thousands of students every year. With this migration, Pune has seen a metamorphosis of its culture- a culture that is cosmopolitan yet integrating with the distinct Marathi society of the city.

Coming from different backgrounds of the society and bringing in their own customs, traditions, ethics and values, education is the only string that has put together all these social and cultural systems brought in by the students to Pune. The serendipity of this phenomenon is seen in every corner of the city. Be it the tapri in front of the college or a Café Coffee Day outlet, the broad-based discussions ranging from the politics, movies, music, the latest gadgets in town, over a cup of tea or coffee is a common site. Although there is an existence of such a homogenous environment, like-minded people find their set of friends having the same interests and believing in similar ideologies.

The question that arises is what are the consequences of this to the development of Pune? The answers can be seen everywhere. The emergence of malls, multiplexes, night clubs and coffee shops have chalked the contemporary map of the city. These developments have its own pros and cons. The coming up of these institutions of modernity has added a metropolitan dimension to the city. Youth is such a powerful target audience that big brands cannot miss a chance to grab the markets and attract them. The major newspapers of the country exist here. Intelligentsia is welcomed as educationists reside or come here as visiting faculties in the educational institutions.

The problem that the city is facing is that modernization is only concentrated to the part of the city where the students and the IT hubs are based. The ‘city’ area which preserves the historical heritage of Pune has been untouched by these modernistic tools. The congested, narrow lanes, old buildings and the bumpy roads have not seen the dawn of these materialistic development indices. Though, some may criticize that it has preserved the distinct culture of Pune, which is the land rich in history and has kept their linguistic bases intact.

The art and culture scenario has also seen a paradigm shift with the existence of the students’ population. There is a mélange of existing cultures and new cultures with both existing parallel to each other. At one part, there are takers for Indian classical music and Jazz and on the other hand, Indie- rock bands and metal also find audience. Another interesting aspect is the acceptance of fusion music. A sitar- piano concert see a lot of youth turn up in the city. In terms of theatre, experimental theatre has come up in a big way and the local theatre groups are trying out new ways to blend Marathi folk theatre with contemporary genres.

Pune art scene has a distinctive facet to it. It has brought art to the public. It is not something only the elite enjoy. Thematically, Pune’s art scenario has a dominance of depicting everyday life and the simplicity of it attracts people from all walks of life. Enter an art exhibiton and there are artistes, teachers, students and even housewives discussing and sharing their views.

Be it ‘Oxford of the East’, ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’ or ‘Land of the Peshwas’, Pune is ever- changing. Through ages Pune has adopted whatever has come on its way without losing its true essence. It is this spirit of the city that keeps it alive giving space to everyone irrespective of all differences.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bong Connection

Typical as it seems, we often overlook the community we belong to and have views of other communities existing around us. This thought struck me recently when I was travelling in a train from Delhi to Mumbai. It was a sheer co-incidence that I was travelling with an assemblage of Bengali families who were going for a week long holiday to Mumbai and Goa. For me this 26 hour journey was the best way to observe and scan the community I belong to.

Bengalis are often seen travelling in a big group consisting of people of all ages and all the year round. A very common statement often heard in Bengali families-“Next week 3 din chhuti aachey,cholo bondhu bandhob miley kothaye bediye aashi”. They are found enjoying hot tea in hill stations to camel riding in desertlands to bathing in seas. Nevertheless, we are said to be the most prolific travelers in India constituting 60% of India’s 400 million annual domestic tourists.

Talking about Bengalis and not talking about food is something like discussing about the present Commonwealth Games without Kalmadi. We love to eat and have no issues showing off the various delicacies we can come up with by mix and match of spices, vegetables, fish, chicken etc. Fish is a part and parcel of our meal and I feel Bengalis are blessed with this certain kind of power that despite the fact that a fish market has such strong smells, with one sniff a Bengali knows if a fish is all right or not. That also reminds me of Ileesh maach, although having 10,000 bones we have it with great pleasure. I am sure Dhokar dalna, shorshey maach, malai chingri, cholar daal and many other mouth watering cuisines can make Haldirams or the Punjabi Dhabas a run for their money.

Another very aspect of us that really makes us different from others is the amount of nicknames we can come up with. Stand amongst a group of Bengali kids and each and every child will have a nickname and no two kids have the same one. Jhumpa, Tumpa, Dola, Laltu, Chotu, Bubul, Bulbul,Montu , Bablu- all this names also bring out the creativity of ours.

From sports to politics, culture to literature, no doubt we are the wealthiest society in the world. Football madness is evident when there is a Mohunbagan vs. East Bengal match and thousands of Bengalis are glued to DD Bangla channel. Even during FIFA World Cup, I think there are more supporters of Argentina and Brazil among the Bengalis than in the respective countries. Also reminds me of Ganguly-Chappell scuffle which shook the hearts of each and every Bangali in India. Korbo, lorbo, jeetbo is the spirit we have in the field of sports. Communism, Mamata, Jyoti Basu are hot topics discussed in all Bengali get-togethers and not to mention Kolkata coffee houses. Politics runs in the veins of khati bangali person.

Coming to culture and literature, nothing can be soothing to our ears than Rabindrasangeet, book shelves are not completed without Sarat Chandra and Bimal Mitra, still movies for us is Satyajit Ray’s Panther Panchali and Gopi Gayin Baga Bayin. Durga Puja is a perfect example of our cultural prowess. I can boast as a Bengali that no one else has taken a religious function of Puja up to this level. The folk culture and various songs written by our poets of the land on yearly home coming of Uma which has given a separate entity to the whole aspect and these songs are named as "AAGAMONI". I wonder, the untimely worshipping of Maa Durga by Ramchandraji in the period of unknown history, today has achieved a status of celebration not only as a simple puja but also enriched the bangla language with all those songs and poems, with an approach to establish a direct connection between human and God. Only we the Bengalis can do this sort of soul searching as we are blessed one.

Finally, the train was one stop away from Bombay Central Station where my journey ended. It was fun thinking of the eccentricities and idiosyncracies of my very own Bangla community. As Rabindranath wrote,- “My golden Bengal, I love You”, I am fortunate to be a part of this civilization which has its own charm yet well integrated with other societies of the world.

P.S. Written for a Bengali magazine a year back.

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