31 October, 2020

A Song Of Penury

Bitter and angry, legendary Dhrupad exponent Asghari Bai would sell all her honours for two square meals a day

Prashant Panjiar
A Song Of Penury

There is no music in the air. Only hunger pangs. Only grim complaints. And the melodious voice that once held millions in thrall, is hoarse with anger. "I want the sarkar to take back my Padma Shri! I'll barter it for two square meals a day. I've discovered my family can't lick it when they're starving!"

These days, songs rarely touch the lips of Asghari Bai, the living legend of Dhrupad and the country's only woman vocalist in this dying discipline. The unlettered maestro doesn't know of the books written on her. Nor is she interested in any of the films made on her. She'd sell them all, she says, to buy a decent lifestyle. Dismissing the Padma Shri, the Tansen and the Shikhar Samman as dusty memorabilia from happier times, the 86-year-old says she now finds little to sing about. "Neglected souls can't have singing voices," she pronounces with a sad shake of her grey head. Then, ire wins over resignation, and she turns prophetic: "Beware, I tell you. Art will not thrive in a country that forgets its artistes!"




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