Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Principles - do you remember them?


There have been successful protests against the proposed visit this week to Cambridge University by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. This welcome revival of the antiquated notion of principles reminds me of a story about the sitar master Ustad Vilayat Khan*:
Khan's irreverence is legendary. One famous incident occured when the Indian prime minister was scheduled to appear at a Vilayat Khan duet performance with shehnai master Bismillah Khan in Delhi. Vilayat Khan always prioritized his audience, and announced he would start on time as planned. The organizers informed Khan that the prime minister would arrive a half-hour late, sit for ten minutes to hear the music,and then leave; and Khan would stop the performance twice, to acknowledge the prime minister's arrival and departure. Khan flatly refused,and had no intention of disrespecting his audience or the music by allowing such interruptions. Indeed, why was the prime minister coming for ten minutes if he knew that such comings and goings would disrupt the concert? After Khan and the promoters reached an impasse, Bismillah Khan agreed to perform solo and go through the rigmarole for the prime minister. Vilayat Khan appeared after an intermission, apologizing to the audience and explaining that he had no desire to compromise his performance for such a charade. As expected, Khan's flagrant snub made headlines, further dramatizing his glacial relations with the establishment.
Ustad Vilayat Khan, whose family was originally Hindu but converted to Islam, died in 2004. So we can only speculate on what his reaction would have been if asked to play for an Indian prime minister with disturbingly sectarian credentials.

* Story is quoted from Peter Lavazzoli's The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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