Sounds of music
St. Xavier's, Mumbai, continues its tradition of a music festival in January despite a restricting court order. RONITA TORCATO looks at this year's fare.
IN a little room on the ground floor of a venerable institution of learning, jean-clad undergrads sprawl on chattais listening to an afternoon raag. Academicians and alumni sneaking a peek, resisting the temptation to venture inside the room themselves, have grown accustomed to the sight. A small grant from the Birla group sparked the music archive; a generous one from biscuit manufacturer Britannia sustains the enviable collection of over 2000 hours of live music - recordings of contemporary musicians as well as the long dead, but immortal maestros of yesteryear. The collegians can now relax, having put in long hours of hard work to organise a three-day classical music extravaganza, a milestone event on Mumbai's cultural map.
But if the Mumbai High Court's interpretation of a noise pollution law had come in good time, Fr. Lancy Pereira S.J., Founder, and Dr. Trilok M. Telang, Honorary Secretary of the Governing Board of the Indian Music Group of St Xavier's College, would have been happy men. For this would have enabled them and their dedicated band of volunteers at Xavier's to hold the recently concluded Britannia-JanFest 2004, the annual concert of Indian classical music, in the college quadrangle. JanFest, sponsored by Britannia, was held for the first time in 30 years at a new venue midtown.
No loudspeakers (including the joyful sound of music) within earshot of educational institutions and hospitals, the anti-pollution law said. Certainly, it spelt finis to jazz, rock and classical concerts at Xavier's and the open-air Rang Bhavan, a footfall away.
Aah, groaned some music-lovers, that's not fair. Aha, snapped the khaki-clad, we don't care! The impeccably dressed Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma expressed regret that journalists didn't mind writing about festivals, but rarely attended concerts to relish the music. Pandit Jasraj was appalled: "Music therapy has proved to be extremely successful in hospitals where it has been introduced. Indian music is most scientific and has different raags for the treatment of different diseases. I will not be surprised if a multi-storeyed complex comes up on the Rang Bhavan space. I'm certain this is the real reason why the concerts have been stopped."
"The JanFest is each year eagerly looked forward to," said ex-Xavierite and recently appointed principal of St Xavier's, Fr. Fraser Mascarenhas. Conceptualised in 1973 by Fr. Lancy Pereira, then college principal and two ex-students, the late Chandu Kapadia and Yusuf Gandhi, the IMG initiated music appreciation courses. In January 1979, Brittania stepped in with financial support and the IMG seized the opportunity to hold a three-day festival now known as JanFest. IMG also conducts baithaks and lecture-demos by established artists at regular intervals. As Fr. Mascarenhas recalled, "the roster of the last 25 years sparkles with the topmost names in the field." Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, Ustad Zakir Hussain Khan, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pt. Shivkumar Sharma, the Dagar Brothers, Shruti Sadolikar, M. Srinivas...
"I received several e-mails from people abroad asking for the dates of the festival," said Fr. Mascarenhas. "This is the kind of college that is courageous enough to experiment and fail...(or shine) and the Festival has over the years introduced a variety to the staple menu of Hindustani classical music: Carnatic items, fusion, a tal vadya kaccheri and even once a dance performance."
The matter went to court in a petition submitted by fans of Rang Bhavan (which included many Xavierites). The court's interpretation means the IMG-Britannia JanFest 2005 will be held at Xavier's, but this year all roads led to the Ravindra Natya Mandir at Prabhadevi.
At the venue, the student volunteers were barely recognisable. Hip and hep clothing had been discarded in favour of glorious silk saris and kurta-pyjamas. Was that apparition in red, gold and white Kanjivaram welcoming ticket-holders, the tee shirt clad Subhashini I knew from FYJC? It couldn't have been much fun during the Fest, taking turns trying to catch snatches of those heavenly sounds on a temporarily vacant seat. The line-up, as usual, was impressive: Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (who wowed the Sunday morning crowd with Asavari and MiyanTodi), Pandit Jasraj (Jog), Shiv Kumar Sharma (Malkauns), Hari Prasad Chaurasia (Bhoop), Ustad Rashid Khan (Bageshri), Shujaat Khan (Yaman) and Jayteerth Mevundi who barely managed to get leave from his employer, AIR and sang an outstanding Adana, arguably, the best piece of the entire concert. Till next year then.
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