Gaanewale, Bajaanewale, Khaanewale
This article was first published in the Times of India, Mumbai in 2003.
This has been a difficult and violent year for India, with communal violence and terrorist strikes taking centre stage. Perhaps that is why not many have noticed that despite a lot of tall talk about preserving and promoting our glorious and ancient traditions, current government policies regarding art and culture have dealt a severe blow to Indian classical music and arts. For over half a century now, All India Radio was one of the only agencies to steadfastly broadcast Indian classical music, thereby providing regular performance opportunities to virtually thousands of musicians across the vast length and breadth of the country, and giving the nationâ€™s music lovers a chance to listen to Indian classical and folk music every single day of their lives. With the advent of television, the state run Doordarshan also became the only television channel to lend support to Indian classical music and the traditional performing arts. However, this commitment to Indian classical music and arts will soon become a part of All India Radio and Doordarshanâ€™s past policies, as both seem poised and ready to finally abandon all and any support to Indian classical arts. Why pretend any longer with meaningless talk of â€œsanskritiâ€ and â€œparamparaâ€ when budget allocations for classical music have seen a steady and cruel whittling and chopping, and are now down to a meagre few thousand rupees a month for both North Indian and Carnatic classical music at most radio stations? Musicians confirm that recordings, broadcasts and telecasts of classical and traditional music are becoming scarce with each passing day. Countrywide, the slogan now is â€œDown with Indian Classical Music and letâ€™s see the revenue rising with whatever brings in moneyâ€. Worse still is AIRâ€™s reported intention of recording classical music only when the musician brings in a sponsor for the programme! So if you now want to be heard performing classical music on AIR, formerly a bastion for classical music, you donâ€™t need to audition as in the good old days when strict screening made it possible for only the most deserving to perform on AIR; and neither do you need to bother with riyaaz any longer. All you need to do is to go out and find a sponsor and AIR will be ready to broadcast your music. It is going to be that easy, and sadly, no one seems to care or bother to protest.
Naturally, this has not stopped Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj from paying the customary lip service to Indian culture. At the recent Doordarshan Awards function in Mumbai in November 2002, she waxed eloquent about â€œsanskritiâ€ even as scantily clad performers gyrated to popular tunes, laying bare the hypocrisy underlying the Honorable Ministerâ€™s concern for traditional arts. Let me clarify here that at no point do I advocate a complete banishing or side-lining of the popular arts. I believe strongly that popular arts must be given due respect and stature alongside traditional arts. It is against the constant harping of the hypocritical â€œsanskritiâ€ brigade that I raise a voice of protest. Arenâ€™t these self-appointed keepers of Indian culture aware of what one of their very own favorites, Pramod Mahajan, Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology has to say about musicians and performers generally regarded as cultural ambassadors of the country? As he held aloft a replica of a commemorative stamp of Dhirubhai Ambani on December 28, 2002, he made a shockingly uncouth declaration when in his eagerness to please the powerful and wealthy for reasons best known to him and unknown to us, he said (as reported in the Sunday Times of India, Mumbai on December 29, 2002), â€œThe government hands out Padma Shris and Padma Bhushans to all kinds of people â€“ khaanewale, gaanewale, bajanewaleâ€¦â€. I suppose I should count myself amongst the gaanewale he refers to with such contempt as I was awarded the Padma Shri in 2000. Joining the ranks of gaanewale with me will be Padma Vibhushans Pt. Jasraj and Kishori Amonkar and of course Bharat Ratna M.S, Subhalakshmi among others! In the queue of Mahajanâ€™s bajanewalas will be Bharat Ratnas Pt. Ravi Shankar and Ustad Bismillah Khan and others! So the gaanewalas and bajanewalas are sorted out. But who could he be referring to when he said khaanewale? Surely he was not referring to unscrupulous political parties and politicians who bend backwards to please those who could fill party coffers?