At 60, Shubha Mudgal looks back - and forward - to Indian music

Last Updated: Fri, Sep 13, 2019 14:18 hrs

What's new? Her first collection of short stories "Looking for Miss Sargam: Stories of Music and Misadventure" that has recently launched.

Mudgal, a 2000 Padma Shri recipient, has been writing on music for a long time, but the novel, which took over four years, is her first-ever attempt at fiction. Creating waves in musical as well as literary circles, the book is being hailed as a refreshing piece of writing from an industry insider.

"My stories draw inspiration from the world of Indian music, which is a space I have inhabited and explored all through my life," Mudgal, 60, told IANSlife in an email interview.

Some of her characters are: An Indian musician who flies from Pune to Philadelphia for a foreign tour, two star musicians who are brought together for a peace concert between India-Pakistan, and the mysterious Miss Sargam whom no one hears anymore but everyone remembers.

On how her process looked like, Mudgal said that she began by creating a plot.

"This was followed by creating sketches of the main characters, deciding how old they would be, what they would wear, what they looked like, how they spoke or sang. Once I had the characters in place, I would start working on the story again, adding details in the narrative and I decided on the conclusion more or less instinctively."

The singer lives in Delhi with spouse Aneesh Pradhan, a noted Tabla player. Together, they have established an online distribution platform for musicians of diverse forms of Indian music through UnderscoreRecords.com.

Asked if the duo riyaaz (practice) together or break into impromptu musical sessions, Mudgal said: "While it is absolutely fabulous to have a life partner who is an accomplished musician and scholar, riyaaz demands solitude and therefore both of us have our respective, solitary riyaaz sessions.

"At other times, we do sit together for riyaaz and for trying out compositions," she added.

Mudgal has been a student of Thumri -- a blend of Indian classical music and folk narratives -- for almost four decades now. As a child in Allahabad, she began her training in music not as a student of vocal music, but as a student of Kathak which is also "inextricably linked with the art of Thumri".

"It is from Kathak that I transitioned towards studying vocal music," she had earlier told IANS.

However, the skill of keen listening, learnt early, has come handy all along as she was encouraged by parents to "attend recitals and listen carefully".

To add to her scope of work, is her involvement with arts education in India.

Having taught at the Goa University, Mudgal discussed introducing an arts education programme in mainstream school education during the National Curriculum Framework 2005. <br> <br>"To the best of my knowledge, there is no programme in our education system that provides schoolchildren an opportunity to learn about the rich art traditions of India. In most cases, music, dance and other arts are taught as hobby activities or as optional extra curricular activities, but often the time reserved for such activities is allotted to extra classes for other, supposedly more important subjects.

"Even in the few instances where opportunities are provided for students to take up lessons in music and dance, the syllabus is more geared towards performance than to encourage an awareness and understanding of the arts," she explained.

The "Ab Ke Saawan" singer, who has also been associated with Goa's Serendipity Arts Festival as a curator in 2016 and 2017, feels music festivals provide sustained exposure to the arts, create more listeners and give access to new artistes and different kinds of repertoire.

Apart from her regular involvement with music as a student, performer, teacher and composer, Mudgal is also in the process of working on a second book on music. She recently performed at the Parampara Series festival by Natya Tarangini.

Siddhi Jain can be contacted at siddhi.j@ians.in.

--sj/soni/lh