A lovely article indeed.


There is now a common apathy for anything remotely difficult. Unlike connoisseurs who attended mehfils a century ago, audiences nowadays go to concerts mostly out of a lumpen curiosity to listen to young artists of exalted pedigree rattling off their ancestral rote-learning with aplomb. It would be unfair to undermine their stock athletic skills or their capacity to produce beautiful sounds, but they are seldom able to illustrate the inner richness of the music, as Mansur almost always managed to. Listening to him sing rare treasures like Khat, Bahaduri Todi, Sawani or Yamani Bilawal is as sublime an experience as hearing him delineate familiar ragas like Shree, Nayaki Kanada, Gaud Sarang or Bhairav. Mansur was less concerned with demonstrating his own ingenuity; he wanted his listeners to glimpse the mind at work beyond the voice. For him, making music went beyond technical acrobatics.

Contemporary audiences, attuned to the easy pleasures of singing contests, their tastes honed by a commercially driven ethos, tend to approach classical music in an intellectual vacuum. At music conferences in Calcutta — the self-proclaimed national cultural capital — one hears rousing applause after a feisty saath-sangat or a thunderous tihai, while many a subtle meend or unusual sargam goes unnoticed. The reason behind this decline goes back to what the artists routinely present before their audiences, as also to a serious lack of public discourse on classical music.