It took me a long time getting comfortable with this idea, but here it is: I like filmi music.
Despite all those music appreciaion courses, all that exposure to western classical, all the firang tapes mommy stocked up on - my tastes remained stubbornly proletarian. Some would even say, I have the musical inclination of a sadakchhaap.
But years of attending live concerts - including small-town 'orchestra parties' - led me to discover this facet: at concerts, I can enjoy Hindustani classical (especially vocal), or fusion, or jazz, or folk... anything but film music, pop or hard rock.
That said, I can get around to describing a Muneer Khatoon performance, at the IIC. Though I feel most unequal to the task, considering I don't know my Bhairavi from my Durbaari.
Muneer Khatoon (or does she spell it 'Khatun'?) is from the Kirana gharana, and was in Delhi to sing Hori (Holi) and Rasiya Thumris at a program, organised by Hindustani Awaz (a one-woman army led by Rakhshanda Jalil).
In keeping with the Hindustani classical tradition, where one must sing compositions relevant to the season, the lady would sing only Rasiya and Hori raags (I think), sung only in Basant (spring). Muneer Apa refused to sing a Kirana because those are sung only during the rainy season.
As it turned out, like the festival itself, the music of Holi is about fun, teasing and taking liberties with the object of one's affection. Finally, Muneer Apa was persuaded to throw in a ghazal; she closed the evening with 'Kaun si voh surat hogi...', the part that I liked best of all. The last line is still ringing in my ears - "Uthh jayegi mayyat meri; Tum na uthhaanaa, zahmat hogi." (Rough translation: 'my coffin will be lifted/I will die, anyway; why trouble yourself?')
What I love about Hindustani vocal is the overwhelming earthiness. You can't escape the rustic simplicity; you can't miss the roots. You could be singing of the Lord, but there's no 'lordliness' to the raag - just some longing, pleading, cajoling, complaining... like the old, old clay-footed love-stories of every age and race.
And of course, I developed an immediate soft spot for Muneer Khatoon, because she's a native of my birth-place. Her plain silken sari, her strong eastern-UP accent and her less-than-elegant attempts to clear her throat of the last vestiges of phlegm - I was transported straight to our old ancestral house near Chowk in the old city, where pigtailed grandmothers in gharaaraas would live out their cloistered lives, smoking bidi and chewing paan.
But Hindustani classical (Thumri, in particular) must be approached with a sense of quiet.
I cannot enjoy it in a rush. I've got to arrive early, wait for the singer to arrive. I must get up a few times to make way for a dozen octogenarians, limping and happily expectant.
Then, I let myself slip into a Thumri-induced trance. One must sit still, so still, until the blood begins to move and stop and lift and waver on, guided by the singer's voice. One waits, until the polite clapping turns to a genuine round of applause, and then into a series of requests and wah-wahs.
It's like... maybe this is bad analogy, but it's like soaking in a scented bubble-bath, you know? You're there - thinking of nothing in particular, wanting nothing in particular, letting the sense of indulgence sweep over you, letting yourself sink beneath waves that are not waves, beneath layers of something nearly tangible, but it stays on you only as water stays, as fragrance stays... it stays, yet you know it cannot stay.
PS - We have Tabla maestros, Sitar and Santoor and Shehnai and Guitar and Drum maestros... why don't we have any Harmonium ustaads? Do we? Is there anyone made famous by the humble harmonium?