God, Music and Food for Thought

Anjum Altaf in The South Asian Idea:

Sitar_vias_img In a discussion of the arts, it was mentioned that middle-class families in India encouraged children to learn classical music because it was a mark of high culture; it made one special in one’s esteem and in that of others. It was then asked why classical music was not healthy in Pakistan given that much the same considerations should be applicable across the border. It is my sense that the question was less an expression of belief and more an opening for a discussion and I am going to exploit that to speculate on some topics of interest.

The one-word, and not altogether flippant, answer to the question is God. Hindu deities (Krishna and Saraswati, to mention just two) not only approve of but delight in music. Whether Allah approves or disapproves is still in doubt with no resolution in sight while the camp of disapprovers continues to add adherents.

That would be sufficient; but simple answers rarely do justice to the fascinating complexities of reality. Many conjectures beg to be addressed and many tales clamor to be told.

Ustad Jhandey Khan was the guru of Begum Akhtar and the mentor of Naushad. His story, found in a fading magazine from the 1960s, was the centerpiece of a lament about the conflicted state of music in Pakistan. Ustad Jhandey Khan loved his music and would weep all night after practicing certain ragas. Then something would happen; he would unstring his instruments and pronounce that henceforth there would be no more profanity in his house. Life would lose all meaning; after a while he would quietly go back to the music. The point of the article was that music would never flourish in Pakistan till this conflict between the yearning of the soul and the voices in the head was resolved.

More here.