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A taste for quality

Madhup Mudgal provides some food for thought, with snacks thrown in

PHOTO: R.V. MOORTHY

THE SAVING CHIP A vegetarian might have to survive on finger chips in a non-vegetarian atmosphere

He knows the by-lanes and highroads of Delhi well, knows the emotional and mental vistas of this city too. Nothing surprising, really. Madhup Mudgal, eminent Hindustani vocalist and son of the late Professor Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, who founded the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, has quietly watched the transformation of a cultural desert into a city of opportunity. Currently Principal of Gandharva, the first - arguably still the foremost - classical music teaching establishment in Delhi, Mudgal has, in his own unostentatious way, contributed to the growth of culture in a city renowned for having no heart. As he walks into The Claridges, one of Delhi's oldest landmarks, he too represents a landmark, and pleasant memories abound.

"This is one of the oldest hotels," he remarks, settling down at a window seat at Pickwicks, the hotel's 24-hour multi-cuisine restaurant. "I used to live in Connaught Place. In those days there were only a few restaurants like Volgas, Gaylords, Yorks. Then there were Bappe di Hatti and Kake di Hatti."

Lemon tarts

Immersed in music, teaching, performing, composing, Mudgal, whose album Samwaad - India meets Brazil has just been released by Music Today, and who is still warm from the reception he received in Chennai during the December music season, is hardly the type you would associate with gourmet cuisine. Yet he doesn't miss the nice things. "The pastries here are good. Especially the lemon tarts," he says spontaneously.

Toasted sandwiches, coffee and finger chips make an appearance. The Claridges prides itself on serving cuisine from across the world. The walls of Pickwicks are decorated with sketches of 19th Century London, and the well-travelled singer is at home in the ambience. But as a vegetarian, he knows the risks of remaining so when work routinely takes him far from home. "Sometimes you have to survive on finger chips," he comments.

Admiring the view from the picture window, the veteran vocalist reels back to another era, and the mind's eye sees other vistas altogether. Playing with friends on the terrace of Yorks, creating music for school productions, cycling daily down to Modern School.

"I had mounted a truck's horn on my bike," he smiles, describing the rubber bhopu of old. "I was so proud of that horn. It was so impressive, everyone admired it! Then one day someone swiped it. It was out of sheer jealousy!" The pain of the schoolboy is palpable.

Sister Madhavi Mudgal, renowned Odissi dancer, had already started going on tours abroad. "She would bring all kinds of interesting souvenirs. Like the see-through umbrella," he laughs. "Such things were novelties then. What fun to take them to school!"

His twinkling eyes light up his serious demeanour. The delight at the little joys of life, the heartbreak too - "The horn was desi, I could have got another, par dil toot gaya thaa" - speak of one who grew up surrounded by aesthetics.

His father started Gandharva from his own residence near Plaza cinema. "We would do our homework sitting on the verandah since there were classes going on inside. We heard music all the time. After classes were over, the cots would be laid out in the rooms. Musically speaking, Delhi was a desert those days. Actually the credit for inculcating interest in music should go to my father," he recalls.

Everyone's mite

"We moved to our own building in 1972. It was built bit by bit. There was no large government grant or anything. Even the students contributed. We would give them aath aaana (50 paisa) coupons. So many people have made their own contribution."

The praiseworthy lemon tart is served to complement the freshly brewed coffee. Such luxuries are no longer rare for a successful musician. But he has experienced the ordinary world too. He wonders how today's young products of TV talent hunts, rocketed into instant fame, handle the change in lifestyle.

"Today if I travel to my concerts by airplane, I have also travelled by 3-tier coach. So have great musicians like, say Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shiv Kumar Sharma and others. That's why I say if such people are paid in lakhs today, they have climbed up the hard way. Take Pandit Ravi Shankar. We have seen him playing seven-eight hour concerts at music conferences where the fee would be only Rs.500 those days. But these kids, they are starting off so high. Of course it is good, everyone should prosper, but I feel there should be a gradual climb," he muses.

ANJANA RAJAN

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