28 July, 2021

Mewat In The Mirror

Jasraj was one of the early popularisers of Hindustani classical, his voice timbrally pleasing and rich, but ductile enough to be drawn into thin filigree

Mewati Petrichor
Pandit Jasraj in his 40s, from the documentary by James Beveridge
Mewat In The Mirror

Dense swirling clouds blur the horizon, but I know they are there, the low hills of Mewat, slung like mute sentinel around this plastic matchbox city. Young Jasraj is playing, Kunj Bihari, all spry and sombre at once; recorded perhaps in the year I was born…. There’s been a belated systolic rush of monsoon, and the glass door of my eyrie is fogged over. A flotilla of aural shards and fragments swim into memory; a mélange of things heard. Rifling through them, I absent-mindedly play a little game of mirrors. Place three canonical, popular figures of Hindustani vocal music—Ustad Amir Khan, Bhimsen Joshi and Pt Jasraj—in front of a mirror. What happens?

All three answer, one way or the other, to the conventional description of good-looking. Amir Khan, soft and professorial, introverted. Bhimsen, craggily masculine, and knows it…but couldn’t care less. Jasraj, dimpled, preening, not above looking at himself in the mirror. Is this valid musicological analysis? Despite myself, I try to trace a movement, from the attitude towards the...

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