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Jagjit Singh hospitalised


Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh.

Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh was admitted to the Lilavati hospital in Mumbai on Friday after suffering from brain haemorrhage.

Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh was admitted to the Lilavati hospital here on Friday after suffering from brain haemorrhage.

Official sources said he underwent a surgery. Mr. Singh was to perform in the city on Friday evening along with another veteran ghazal singer Ghulam Ali. The sources said he was rushed to the hospital in the morning and operated upon.

Mr. Singh (70) is known to have a history of heart ailments.

PTI reports:

A close family friend told reporters at the hospital that the singer was out of danger “but will be kept under observation in the ICU for the next 24 hours.”

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Simplicity sculpted


Life Flows Like This - Exhibition of bronze sculptures by Usha Ramchandran at Kashi Art Gallery, Fort Kochi

Usha Ramachandran’s sculptures induce a sense of ‘wow’ in the ordinary

At 61, artist Usha Ramachandran says, she thinks and breathes only art. Earlier on, as a homemaker, the duty of raising a family and following her artistic call together was proving to be a difficult proposition. Now with achieving one well she is on her way to finding fulfilment in a vocation she taught herself to grow and bloom. Her exhibition of sculptures, ‘Life Flows Like This’, on at Kashi Art Gallery, Fort Kochi, is a delightful depiction of everyday life.

Instant connect

Life that casts itself around quotidian images like that of the cyclist, the fish hawker, angler, a namboothiri priest, a rainy day and such touches and connects with any and every viewer. There’s hardly the need to stoke one’s intellectual faculties but what is ruffled gently and joyfully is your heart, as the viewer rejoices in the simplicity of daily life, in the beauty of commonality that enjoins us in a single thread of humanity. Usha’s show uplifts in the first view.

The ordinariness of a washerwoman in action is breathtakingly caught in ‘The Little Laundress’. The movement of the cloth caught mid air is dexterously cast in bronze.

In ‘On The Move’, Usha has captured the hurry burry of walkers rushing to catch the tube. “I was in London and was struck by the rush that people were caught in. I noted the image and cast it when I returned.” ‘Back Home’ captures the joyous expression of the returnee just as in the ‘Cliffhanger’, the tension on the visage of the men is effectively caught.

Usha who lives in Thiruavanthapuram is originally from Thalassery. Coming from an army background she says that the itinerant living in the services aroused her curiosity to different aspects of life and art. It was only after her filial duties done that she took up painting and sculpting seriously. “I am a self taught artist,” she says but credits V. Satheesan, an art teacher, for teaching her the “nitty gritty” of sculpting.

The technique used by her is to make the model out of bees wax, castor oil and “kundhirikkam” (incense) and then cast it in bronze, with a gilded finish. Usha who paints too has now moved into sculpting wood. And though she enjoys working in both mediums it is sculpting that she finds more challenging. And if on a certain day she does not paint or sculpt she feels that her day is lost.

The show is on till the end of September and the prices range from Rs.25,000- 60,000.

Scholarly musician T.K. Govinda Rao passes away


Musician T.K. Govinda Rao.

His sound knowledge of theory and ability to put it into practice in his performances made him truly exceptional

Veteran musician, musicologist and revered guru T.K. Govinda Rao passed away at his residence here on Sunday after a brief illness.

He was 82 and is survived by his wife Haimavathi, three daughters and a son.

A highly regarded musician, Mr. Govinda Rao received his initial training under Chembai Vaidhyanatha Bhagavathar and much of his advanced music training under the legendary Musiri Subramania Iyer. In 1949, he joined the Central College of Music, Chennai and was guided by great musicians such as T. Brinda. Later, he also served as a lecturer there.

Mr. Govinda Rao’s sound knowledge in theory and his ability to translate that to practice in his performances made him a truly exceptional musician. He made several valuable contributions to the field of music as a performing artist, teacher, musicologist and author.

His books on the work of the Trinity, among others, are considered authentic guides for those learning and engaging with the compositions. He set to tune many compositions, including those of Periyasami Thooran. With his rich interpretation and bhava-laden presentation, he popularised many compositions. He was a specialist in Purandara Dasa compositions, too.

He was a visiting professor at the Annamalai University, Chidambaram, and also worked in All India Radio as chief producer. A scholarly musician, he placed great emphasis on the need for music to complement and enhance the lyrical content of a composition.

Veteran violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, who has known Mr. Govinda Rao since the time the latter was under Musiri, said it was remarkable that he continued making rich contributions to the field of music even after his active years as a performer. “By authoring various books in English, he made the art form accessible to several thousand students in different parts of the world,” Mr. Jayaraman said.

Pointing to Mr. Rao’s reverence for saint-composer Thyagaraja and bhakti towards his guru, Mr. Jayaraman said: “His music was marked by classicism, and he was very humble and cheerful as a person. His contributions in popularising Carnatic music during his stint in AIR were very significant.” If contemporary artistes considered him a scholarly colleague, disciples remember him as a very affectionate and brilliant master of music teaching.

His disciples and senior musicians, the Bombay Sisters – C. Saroja and C. Lalitha, who were under his tutelage for nearly five decades, deem it a blessing to have had a guru like him. “He was so generous in sharing his knowledge,” Ms. Saroja said.

He was an expert in different languages, compositions and aspects of music and he was an exceptional “all-in-one guru,” noted Ms. Lalitha. “It was a great honour when we received the Sangita Kalanidhi award last year, for we are the fourth generation in the music lineage to receive it. Govinda Rao sir was so proud of us.”

Eye for detail

Recalling his classes under Mr. Govinda Rao at Annamalai University, Nagaswaram vidwan Enjikudi E.M. Subramaniam said he had a phenomenal eye for detail. “I vividly remember how he taught us Periyasami Thooran’s Muruga Muruga in Saveri. He would give a mild emphasis to the first syllable of the word Muruga and just that ‘mm…’ was soaked in Saveri. He would point to every nuance and ensure that we students enjoyed each phrase as much as he did.”

Mr. Govinda Rao knew exactly where each of his students stood. “Sometimes, he would share some points, saying we may not get them immediately, but will understand them later. Now, I often look back and recall those points and he was so right,” Mr. Subramaniam added.

Aesthetic value

Secretary to the Highways Department, Tamil Nadu, and musician T.K. Ramachandran, a disciple of Mr. Govinda Rao, said his guru believed that aesthetic appeal and beauty ought to be the core of one’s music. “While approaching a particular raga, he would teach us different compositions in it for days together…he would take up aspects such as niraval and kalpana swarams in each of them and make sure we had an opportunity to obtain in-depth understanding of the raga and its essence.”

As someone who always radiated positive energy and optimism, he was a role model for his disciples. Mr. Ramachandran observed that Mr. Govinda Rao was a very loving and caring guru. “I was a student in IIT-Delhi then and he was with the AIR there. One day, I had gone for class in the morning, and he was so immersed in the music that he spent hours together teaching me. Later, he realised it was 3 p.m., well past lunch time and got all apologetic…he immediately took me on his scooter, to a restaurant nearby and bought me lunch.”

Disciples and associates note that while Mr. Govinda Rao was an advocate of classicism, he was always willing to approach the art form with an open mind, looking at possible avenues for innovation. He was a recipient of prestigious awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the ‘Sangita Kalanidhi’ presented by The Music Academy.

Zen and the art of light


REAL EFFECT: Nirav Shah during the making of "Deivathirumagal." Photo: Special Arrangement

Few cinematographers have played around with genres and styles the way Nirav Shah has in the last few years. A chat with the thinking lensman

An action film that turned out to be a slick and stylish exposition of black and white, a spoof that captured every quirk of Tamil cinema, a caper shot mostly outdoors in the dead of the night in Chennai with a red and green palette, a period film that painstakingly recreated Madras of 1947, a modern candy floss romance set abroad, and then a sentimental drama that served as a contrast between the purity of small town life and the big bad city.

Very few cinematographers have played around with genres and styles the way Nirav Shah has in the last few years. Think about these films again. “Billa”, “Tamizh Padam”, “Quarter Cutting”, “Madrasapattinam”, “Engaiyum Kaadhal” and “Deivathirumagal”. Each distinctly different from each other in feel, colours and treatment.

Nirav is one of the few thinking lensmen around who prefers to pick a project that challenges him rather than just a big banner. He had to turn down “Enthiran”. “I had already committed to ‘Sarvam’. On hindsight, given the amount of time it would have taken me, I was able to shoot five different kinds of films.”

Filmmakers who work with him swear by him and have rarely moved on to work with anyone else. Vishnuvardhan, Vijay, Prabhudeva, Gayathri-Pushkar and now Lingusamy, for whom he is now shooting “Vettai” in Kumbakonam.

“I have just been lucky that they want to work with me again. Once you hit it off with somebody, it’s much easier. They are open to ideas. The script is very important. People are very, very important. If you are going to spend five to six months of your life, make it a happy experience.”

Soon after “Vettai”, Nirav will start working on a new film starring Siddharth and Amala Paul, besides Vijay’s next with Vikram.

Has he hiked his price with all that success? “I am very affordable. My salary is inversely proportional to the quality of the script,” he says, as a matter of fact.

Nirav started his journey in the film business in 1994 assisting P.C. Sreeram. He worked on “May Maatham”, “Kuruthi Punal”, “Subha Sankalpam”, and “Kathalar Dinam”.
Learning ethic

“Everything that I know I have learnt from PC. The most important thing I have learnt from him is how to learn. The learning ethic, the way to be open… that I learned from him.”

Though Nirav’s first Hindi film was “Paisa Vasool”, it was the “Dhoom” series that catapulted him into the big league. “With all the work here, I haven’t got the time to go back and do a Hindi film.”

In 1999, before the cafe culture spread in the city, Nirav started what was one of the city’s first modern cafes — Coffee? His brothers Bhavesh and Pratik built a community around the cafe in Greenways Road and it is that cold coffee that is still sold in Sathyam Cinemas.

And soon, he diversified into the restaurant business (with two speciality restaurants) and a company that provided specialised equipment for film shoots.

He has now partnered with Arya to run Light House, a company that provides lights and camera. “We have a lightning generator called Lightning Strikes. It’s the only way to create believable lightning in films.”

At some point, Nirav also wants to start making films. “Not sure I want to direct but I am looking at producing films. I watch all kinds of cinema. I love going and watching star-based films. Who am I to decide what good cinema is? I can have my personal choice and opinion about a film but that’s about it.”

Over the last year, he loved “Aaranya Kaandam”, “Aadukalam”, and “Shaitaan”. If he had to pick favourites from his own work, he would pick “Banaras” (he loves the way that film looks), “Quarter Cutting” (because the all-night outdoors were a break from what he usually gets to do) and “Madrasapattinam” (because of the sheer scale and ambition of the period film and the way it subtly employed visual effects).

“Yes, there is a definite shift towards the digital. We shot ‘Tamizh Padam’ using Red cameras but I find that film is much simpler to shoot. It is the script that determines the budget and the technology you want to shoot with,” says Nirav.

Personally, he’s not too fond of 3D. “It gives me a headache.”

Last year, he got obsessed with sunrise and would wake up just to click pictures of the patterns on the skies. “I enjoy my work. I find it very meditative, very calming,” says the 36-year-old who lives with his wife Renuka and ten-year-old son Nanda.

Remembering MS


M.S. Subbulakshmi.

EVENT ‘Madura Geetham’ is being held for the fourth consecutive year to mark the birth anniversary celebrations of legendary singer M.S. Subbulakshmi

Singers and musicians from the four Southern States are converging in Temple Town this week to pay musical tribute to legendary Carnatic singer M.S.Subbulakshmi as part of the fourth edition of “Madura Geetham”. This annual festival of music is organized under the joint aegis of INTACH, Madurai chapter, and Sri Sathguru Sangeetha Samajam, to commemorate the birth anniversary of MS in her hometown.

Like every year, school students will kick start the festival with a musical homage to MS at her ancestral home on Hanumantharayar Koil Street on Friday, September 16, which also marks her birthday. Some well known songs of MS will be sung by the children at 10 a.m. On the following day (September 17, Saturday), NadakalaPraveena Shiek .Mastaan will give a lecture demonstration titled “Nadabindu Kalaadhi namo namah” at Lakshmi Sundaram Hall, 6 p.m.

At the same venue, same time on September 18, a unique event will be coordinated where young budding Carnatic music aspirants from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh will render popular melodies of MS. The chorus called “Navashakti” will feature nine-member all-women team who will indirectly demonstrate how well the intangible heritage of classical Indian music is taken to the next generation.

Vocal renditions by Smitha Madhav, Saaswathi Prabu, Shubashree Ramachandran and Manasi Prasad will be accompanied by musical strains from the ghatam played by Ramya, Retnasree on tabla, Jananiy on keyboard, Nandhini on violin and Lavanya on muridangam. On September 19, the scene will shift to LAICO building where Nandini Anand, daughter and student of Mayavaram sisters, will play the violin in a recital titled “Inbavellam”. The concert will feature simple but rare songs of MS and Nandhini will be accompanied by her team members.

City school children who are members of INTACH Heritage Clubs will get an opportunity to understand the intricate world of Carnatic music in lay man’s terms. This workshop, “Build a rasika” will be conducted by “Shri. N. Vijay Siva at Lakshmi School, Veerapanchaan, on September 20, Tuesday, from 8.30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The same evening, curtains will be drawn on the five day music festival with Shri N. Vijay Siva’s recital, “Anthareeki Vandanamu”, saluting the great composers whose compositions were immortalized because MS lent her voice to them. This performance is slated for 6 p.m. at Hotel Fortune Pandiyan

For enquiries and more details about the event, call 9994499974

Fashion photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha passes away


Legendary fashion photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha.

Veteran Bollywood and fashion photographer Gautam Rajadhyaksha, whose glamorous photoshoots helped propel many actors to stardom, passed away on Tuesday following a heart attack. He was 62.

Mr. Rajadhyaksha passed away at his residence here, his family said. The funeral of Mr. Rajadhyaksha, cousin of writer Shobhaa De, will be held this evening.

His first encounter with fashion photography happened in 1980, when he shot pictures of veteran actress Shabana Azmi, Tina Munim and Jackie Shroff.

Mr. Rajadhyaksha left his advertising job in 1987 and took up commercial photography full-time. He soon started doing product campaigns, media assignments and fashion portfolios.

In 1997, he released a coffee table book, ‘FACES’, containing 45 film personalities beginning with Durga Khote and ending with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

In 1992, he wrote his first screenplay for Bekhudi, which launched actor Kajol’s career and his second Anjaam presented Madhuri Dixit in a challenging role.

Mourning Mr. Rajadhyaksha’s death, Ms. De said, “Gautam’s soft-focus photography style was unique and his artistic personality was unmatched. There will be only one Gautam.”

Bollywood mourns

Several Bollywood personalities also took to Twitter to express their grief over his demise.

Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar said, “He used to like opera and had a sound knowledge of classical ragas. He talked to us on music and also explained photography to me.”

“Gautam Rajadhyaksha the most gentlest of humans, and one of the finest photographers in the industry, a friend, family favorite. RIP. Too shocked to learn of Gautam! Were talking about him just the other day. Many of his pictures adorn our house and our books,” Amitabh Bachchan wrote on Twitter.

“Gautam ! You have left behind a legacy that shall keep you in our hearts forever… pictures that you took shall be with us always!,” Bachchan added.

“Photography and possibly one of the sweetest and most gentle people you would ever meet. Rest in peace Gautam, you will be greatly missed,” Abhishek Bachchan said.

“Shocked to learn Gautam Rajadhakshya passed away. Great photographer, artist old friend and supporter,” filmmaker Shekar Kapur said.

Photographer Dabboo Ratnani said, “Rest in Peace, Gautam Rajadhyaksha. You will be dearly missed.”

“Gautam Rajadhyaksha was one my most favourite people in the fraternity…funny, sensitive and always positive..I love you gautam and I miss you,” Karan Johar wrote.

“Rest in peace Gautam Rajadhyaksha — every photographer aspired to be him and every face wanted to be captured by him — will miss you,” Riteish Deshmukh said.

Other celebrities like Sonu Nigam, Celina Jaitley, Madhur Bhandharkar, Boman Irani, Pritish Nandy, Farhan Akhtar, Tusshar Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukhesh and Maria Goretti also mourned the death of ace photographer.

Maharashtra Governor condoles Rajadhyaksha’s death

Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan has expressed grief over the untimely demise of the writer, cinematographer and ace photographer. The media and film industry has lost one of the finest craftsmen in photography, the Governor said in his condolence message.

“Gautam Rajadhadhyaksha was one of the most respected names in the world of cinematography and still photography in the country. He had taken photography to the level of a fine art. Getting photographed by Gautam was a matter of immense pride and prestige for people, especially those from the film industry.

“He was a well-read person and came across as an extremely humble and courteous person. I had the privilege of meeting him on a couple of occasions and was touched by his simplicity. In his demise, we have lost one of the finest craftsmen in photography and a gem of a person,” he said.

A platform for young talent


CREATIVITY UNLIMITED A sculpture by S. K. Srinivasan

EVENT After a long gap of 17 years, the National Exhibition of Art comes to Chennai, presenting the works of young artists from across the country at Lalit Kala Akademi 

For only the second time in its 53-year-old history, the prestigious National Exhibition of Art has come to Chennai. The exhibition, held annually by the Lalit Kala Akademi, returns to the city after a gap of 17 long years, and gives art lovers a chance to experience the work of some of the most exceptional young artists nationwide.

“This is a very important exhibition, giving up-and-coming artists a chance to establish themselves on a national platform,” says Rm. Palaniappan, regional secretary, Lalit Kala Akademi.

“The 116 works on display have been selected from more than 4,000 submissions from across the country, and out of these, 10 have been selected for the National Award.”
Two floors of exhibits

The exhibition, spread across two floors at the Lalit Kala Akademi, Greams Road, is remarkable for the sheer imagination on display, and the variety of materials and media employed in creating these works.

The installations and sculptures are particularly experimental, often eccentric and downright wonky in the creative vision they represent. You have, for instance, Rajesh Kumar Ranjan’s ‘Virgin Preservation – I’, with metal balls put together to create a reef-like effect, ensconced within fluid-filled glass jars. You have the tiny bells of ghungroos cascading down strands of copper wire in Chandra Prakash’s ‘Spiritual Resonance – II’, and bronze bells embedded within a steel model of a steel loudspeaker in Krishnamurthy Char K.N.’s untitled sculpture. Bamdeb Mondal’s quirky ‘Bag Bite’ has a bubblegum pink school bag bearing its teeth, and Sandeep Kumar’s ‘Alexander’ features a life-size model of a strutting rooster sporting a tiara. Sanjib Kumar Kalsi’s ‘A flow within’ is a towering installation created entirely out of tangled threads in shades of blue, aqua, indigo and black, while Rupa Rani’s untitled watercolour portrait is done on the underside of a charpoy.

The paintings are no less eclectic in form and conception. They range from the eccentric to the conventional — from Hrusikesh Biswal’s fragmented figurative abstract ‘Saw – 1′ to Tanveer Farooqui’s traditionally beautiful ‘Lucknow – 2′, which plays with light and perspective. Some are striking such as Deepak John Mathew’s ‘Lost and Found III’, while others are quiet and introspective such as Gurmeet Singh Marwah’s woodcut work ‘Relaxxx’. Jitendrakumar D. Oghani’s ‘Urbanization – 24′ takes on the dark and disturbing theme of suffocation in our cities, while works such as Shovin Bhattacharjee’s ‘Society’ are more whimsical in their approach to capturing the urban experience on canvas. Here too, there is plenty of experimentation with media. For instance, Vibhuti Sharma’s award-winning ‘Cherry Blossom’ uses woodcut and chincolle, Sucheta Madhavrao Ghadge’s ‘Untitled – II’ uses kneewood on paper, and Abhineet Kumar’s rustic ‘Satya-Shunya’ blends chincolle and wood intaglio.

“It’s important for Chennai to have such a major show so that local artists get to see the work artists in the rest of the country are doing,” remarks Palaniappan.

The exhibition is on till September 15.

Look, hues talking


COLOUR CARNIVAL At P. Manickavachagam’s show

P.Manickavachagam’s works are a mix of abstract and realist paintings in a riot of colours

“I am trying to incorporate form into the formless,” says P.Manickavachagam, of his abstracts that are on display at his exhibition at Kasthuri Sreenivasan Art Gallery. As you enter the first room in the gallery, you are inundated with colours. “The abstracts present in this room are the result of my recent experiments,” he continues.

“I have been studying human forms and their fragmentation. I have tried to visually depict that fragmentation in my abstracts.” Manickavachagam’s abstracts are a splatter of complementary coloured strokes (some of which depict fragmented body parts).

Geometric patterns

The artist tries to bring out an assembly in the disassembly. Not all of his brush strokes are fluid. There are geometric patterns slipped in between organic lines and sinuous strokes that shatter linearity. Unlike true abstracts, there are recognisable elements among the scatter.

“I am trying to show that there can be harmony irrespective of fragmentation in this world,” says Manickavachagam who is Associate Professor of Fine Arts at the National Institute of Technology, Trichy.

In fact, the exhibition is called “In pursuit of harmony”.

Manickavachagam, who believes in the “grammar of colour”, has played around with a lot of shades.

His greens embrace tones of jade, olive, emerald and viridian, his blues, azure, sapphire, Prussian and peacock, and his reds include scarlet, burgundy and vermillion. A green is introduced to break the monotony of the purples, and blues disrupt the yellows. Says the artist, “I am trying to portray harmony in colours too.”

He elaborates, “When basic colours are brought together, there are chances that the final composition may turn out to be chaotic. With the right mix of colours, however, a harmony, like that in music, can be achieved.”

The second room of his paintings reveal a completely different side to the artist. The paintings here are realistic. Inspired by villages such as Poolavedi and Thoovakudi, Manickavachagam has replicated the pastoral settings on his canvas.

There are water-colours of ram shackled houses, shepherds, construction workers, boom-boom maadu kaaran, kovil theru, kili josiyakaaran and vendors in shanties.

His paintings exude old-world charm, with thatched huts, bullock carts and wheel barrows.

There is a delightful play of light and shadows in this collection. Look out for the fragmented reference to a very famous historical figure in the third painting in Manickavachagam’s “Peace series”!

“In pursuit of harmony” is on at Kasthuri Sreenivasan Art Gallery from 9.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. on all days till September 11.

The paintings in this exhibition are priced between Rs. 500 and Rs. 10,000.

For details, call: 0422 2574110.

Banaras without Bismillah


Bharat Ratna Shehnai Maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan

On the occasion of his fifth death anniversary, musicians recall their association with shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan.

It was in August five years ago in Varanasi that the shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan Saheb breathed his last. Despite the passage of time he remains etched in the memory of his admirers. “Though we did not meet him regularly, we always used to feel his presence. There was all round activity, an aura around Sarai Hadaha, where his daily movements ran rhythmically. Now all that we feel only in our hearts,” recalls Balwant Rai Bhatt, the senior most vocalist of the Gwalior gharana and a resident of Banaras (Varanasi). His elder son, who represented Khan Saheb’s musical lineage, is also no more.

This is the season of Kajri, especially celebrated in Banaras, and Bismillah Khan was fond of this style of singing. It is famously known that he used to sing and play on his shehnai the kajri “Kachauri jalebi soon kareloo”. This is a kajri from Mirzapur which says the absence of one’s beloved in the season of Sawan (monsoon) makes delicacies like kachauri and jalebi tasteless. At the end of his every recital, Khan Saheb was expected to sing and then play this kajri on his shehnai.

He was as simple and lucid as the sweetness of his shehnai. He liked to stay in Banaras because of his fond memories of his childhood. He also relished his second childhood from moment to moment in his old days. “We still miss his charming presence on the stage,” says Vanmala Parvatkar, a senior vocalist of the Banaras gharana.

Sucharita Gupta, another Banaras gharana exponent and a disciple of Savita Devi, misses Khan Saheb a lot. She recalls, “At a time when we are approaching Id-Ul-Fitr, his memories come rushing. Khan Saheb loved to share the taste of sevain with everyone. He was a gentle soul, lovable, generous and musical. He understood and deciphered everything in terms of music of Allah.”

Humble genius

So humble was this genius that in his interviews to this writer, he used to claim innocently that if he was unable to play a correct note, he would pray to God to bless him with a pure note. “He was addicted to praying in a divine sense,” adds senior guitarist Shibnath Bhattacharya of Banaras. “He had a tremendous sense of religiosity which emerged in his personal life and in his music life. He never uttered a word of double entendre. He never criticised any artiste. He loved them all.”

Oral odyssey


FAWNING OVER FAUNA: Canada-based H. Masud Taj’s poems grant a voice to a range of animals

Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty strikes up a conversation with H. Masud Taj, an oral poet, a rare breed in a scenario where anything literary means the printed word

A nudge and he goes versical; a query and he is explanatory — about why he does what he does.

Ottawa-based H. Masud Taj is certainly an experience if you can catch him reciting his poems, one couplet tailing the other, like dominoes falling to high winds. The words spoken have the power to drape you in implicit joy and you are easily immersed in his mood, wide-eyed. You hate to impede him, knit in a query only to ensure that he continues. As he recites the lines, his soft, silken voice rides a knoll at times, reacting to the string of words mouthed. And the effect is simply marvellous.

At a New Delhi hotel, striking up a conversation with this oral poet, you throw the obvious question at him at the first opportunity — so who is an oral poet? What makes him different from a regular poet? “An oral poet is one who recites his verses and may not publish them. They believe that a poem primarily belongs to the sound and sense,” he replies. Living in an age when anything literary means the printed word, you have long forgotten that the first works of literature were oral. “Beowulf”, “Odyssey”…all were first recited before alphabets took over.

So here you are with India-born Masud, who is also a part-time calligrapher and Adjunct professor of Architecture at Carleton University in Canada. Some of Masud’s poems have been a part of anthologies in India, the U.S. and the U.K. but that’s because he doesn’t refuse “when friends and publishers ask for my poems.” But in the last three decades that he has been practising poetry, his creations have chiefly homed in on his mind. They are meant for the ears rather than for the eyes. Such an attitude definitely leaves many startled.

“Once, after reciting my poems in the University of Toronto, someone asked me where he would find my poems and I told him, ‘You have found them, they are in your mind’,” he says, half-chuckling. Often people fail to understand why it is not important to publish. What if the mind forgets? “But so far I have not,” he retorts.

Masud, however, has bowed down to a long-standing request of fellow poet Bruce Meyers to allow him to publish his poems. The result is a recent book, “Alphabestiary”, in collaboration with Meyers.

“When I used to live in Mumbai, I came across a poem of Meyers and wrote to him what I understood of it. He wrote back asking, ‘Who are you?’” relates Masud. A friendship brewed between the two which thickened once Masud migrated to Canada. In “Alphabestiary”, while a poem of Masud’s is on one leaf, Meyers’ writings are on the adjacent one.

Interestingly, Masud’s subject of verses is the animal world. From dragon fly to ant to cat to dog to name what you may, he has some of the most incisive lines on them. “Alphabestiary” is a celebration of this world of fauna. “That is why the title of the book; ‘Alpha’ is Meyers’ contribution and ‘bestiary’ is mine. His writing coincides with the subject of the particular animal that my poem is about. It goes alphabetically, so the book starts with my poem on ant,” he explains.

Come October, Masud and Meyers will take the book to the 32nd annual International Festival of Authors (IFOA) in Toronto. The fest, one of Canada’s biggest literary events, is bringing together over 100 choicest participants from 20 countries, for readings, talks, interviews, roundtable discussions and award presentations. There, Masud will recite his poems from the book. The duo then will take on a touring programme of IFOA’s Ontario chapter.

Bringing to the conversation his early days, Masud rests a lot of credit on his parents who nurtured the creative side of all the three children in the household. “I write poetry, while one sister travels round the world telling stories; the other is a musician,” he says. His great-grandfather was the literary luminary of 19th Century Lucknow, Amir Minai. “My love for poetry is also because when I was in a residential school in Ooty, we used to listen to records of poets like T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas reciting their poems. It helped me develop an interest in poetry,” he adds.

He also tries his hand at writing sonnets. “I write the difficult ones, the Petrarchan sonnets,” he says. Impressed by the architecture of the famous secular museum in Istanbul, Haga Sophia, he wrote a Petrarchan sonnet on it years ago. “On this visit to Delhi, I gave a lecture at the School of Planning and Architecture on Haga Sophia and the style of its architect Sinan,” says the expert on Islamic architecture.

Masud is also a calligrapher. “I am an amateur,” he says, but mentions that some years ago at Alliance Francaise, Mumbai, he made a calligraphic presentation of his poems for an exhibition.

Masud wraps up the banter by saying that he is not a performance poet. “I let the poem perform, with or without me. Poetry is the art of time. My earliest influence of living in different points of time at the same time was in the house I grew up in. It had 17 clocks and 11 mirrors. All the clocks gave different times.” No wonder, he has long got over the idea of wearing a watch.

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