Friday 8th April was Pandit Kumar Gandharv’s birth anniversary and a local group of Kumar’s disciples in Mumbai organized to celebrate this occasion with a concert by the legend’s son – Mukul Shivputra. If I can imagine an artist who does not differentiate between action (as riyaz, practice – in all its implications) and a performance, I will name Mukul. However, I must admit my very limited engagement with contemporary art culture, further limited to a small part of urban India.
What further complicates my story is my little understanding of Hindustani music and a farther less engagement (which is not more than a couple of audio tapes) with Mukul’s work. Nevertheless, the intention here is to contemplate upon ideas of ‘performance’ and ‘collective.’ So, when the opportunity appeared of seeing Mukul and listening to him and participating in a performance with an inherent inclination to vaporize, I was alert. I was anxious to experience the tales of this artiste’s eccentricities, either in performance or non-performance.
It was a generous gesture from the organizers considering that the passes to such a keenly anticipated event were free, but it was necessary that you collect one in order to gain entry into the reputed auditorium. I did not manage one and initially had to bear the rudeness of the attendants standing at the gate of this quasi-governmental cultural center. Anyways, a few moments before the scheduled commencement of the program, all enthusiasts – pass or no pass – were allowed in.
Siddharth april ’04, mumbai
Performance against Schizophrenia: between the Self and the Collective
The Unpredictability of Events
The curtains parted, and a frail figure in a thin gray beard sat hunched on the stage amidst his accompanists, peering through swollen eyelids at the “housefull” of audience. Hardly had the compere ended his weakly sutured introduction, and Mukul spurt out the mukhda of a bandish much to the astonishment, if not shock, of an impatient audience that was perhaps awaiting a gradual buildup though an alaap. Even the accompanists were taken aback with such a beginning, and Mukul would now turn to the tabalchi to goad him to converge with his movement, then to the harmonium, and even to the girl with the tanpura, urging her to sing – “sur pakdo.” This went on, Mukul occasionally repeating the mukhda, turning left, turning right, leaning back, and peering up and around the “housefull.”
Meanwhile people were moving in and out of the hall, doors creaking open and close, very important people finishing very important tasks on their mobile phones before they shut themselves out of the ordinary world, thinkers discussing what otherwise they wouldn’t in the mundane world…and in general the impatient audience becoming expressive as the artiste was taking too long to begin the ‘show.’ Mukul’s sinicism was giving way, as he began reciting the taal to the tabalchi, and giggling at the disunion. He spotted someone upfront and spoke to that person in the audience – “aap agaye abhi samajhnewale…” then glancing around the ‘housefull,’ “aur koi to samajhta hi naheen…” It was an embarrassing moment for me, that I could not hear him. Even though I was trying, I remained one among the ‘housefull.’ Mukul went about his struggle, and then almost in disdain – “Shuddha Kalyan hai yaar…”
While Mukul continued probing, a couple of intelligent and aware individuals, strategically seated in two high corners of the balcony, chose to exercise their right to incite the performer by clapping away and initiating a mob follow-up. Meanwhile, Mukul was still groping… I could not decide if I should participate in the performance and give back something to these expressive monkeys pretending to be a cultural collective, but I chose to retain my privileges as an observer. A couple of white-haired, white-clad rasik shrota were seen in the wings entering the stage. The performance stopped, the musicians turned around and one of the old men, having approached Mukul, said to him “ata suru kar” (better to start now…) stroking his back “ata suru kar” patting his head…and Mukul replied “ho chaluch aahe…suru keleloe me..” (it is on… I have already begun…) and he turned around, climbed down the deck and walked off stage.
The expected but unanticipated had occurred. The genius was exhibiting glimpses of his infamous dark side.
What followed was an acknowledgment of embarrassment and disappointment from the organizers – “it is shameful that on such an occasion, the late legend’s son is in such a state… let aside singing he can’t even sit in front of us…but the audience’s exuberance cannot be let to discharge in vain…whatever my great guru has imparted to me I will try to share it with you.”
The audience went mad with pleasure at such a brave acceptance of responsibility from this elderly gentleman, and cheered as if in a rock concert. Mukul went into the background, literally walking across the stage in the rear, being followed by a couple of pacifiers, and oblivious to the ‘housefull.’ The white-haired, white-clad Pandurang Kolhapure turned out to be a crafty showman, and he went on to exhibit his idea of how Kumar’s birth anniversary ought to be celebrated, rendering Rituraj, upholding the mantle, preserving the pedestal. I couldn’t remain passive anymore and walked out.
May be I am watching too much of television soaps, but Mukul’s reputation, free passes, inciting elements in the audience, interruption by elderly organizers, comments on Mukul’s “condition” over the microphone as he walks off stage, and the spontaneous acceptance to perform by the elderly disciple of Kumar… all these seem more like links in a conspiracy rather than any eruption of violence inherent in a performance. Conspiracy or not, Mukul remains what he is…
Bridging the Self & the Collective
Walking out of the auditorium I passed Mukul, seated in the foyer accompanied by a couple. I earnestly wanted to talk to him, but what would I say, or ask? “Only if I were a little more disciplined, with a few more miles of depth in my beliefs, if only I could share something with him…” thoughts pushed me out the door.
Allow me to impose upon this event concerning Mukul five aspects that I feel are essential to be capable of traversing between the self and the collective. The ‘imposition’ is necessary in two ways.
One is to test these characteristics’ applicability; an elucidation of these qualities, as I have tried once, went haywire without a reference to an event. And the other reason is to put this entire event in perspectives that can offer me nutrients.
Mukul’s defiance of the mass is his courage.
His capacity to wait endlessly for convergence to occur without feeling any compulsion to produce is his patience.
Humility is in the breath of his attitude: that the act of finding/ discovering is the essence of practice/ performance rather than the superfluous exchange (through auditory/ visual material in this context) of power – which is both significant and enticing but not enduring.
It is his faith in his medium, the universe of music, a world of interiority that sustains him, makes him humble to wait for one to exchange with, amidst a passive mass.
Day after day, a man with such immensity of endurance and power to gestate and to create, has to rely – to manage a diffusion of the restrictions of biological and social codes – on external intoxicants: therein cartwheels the humour of his choice.
Against Splitting our Personality
Yet all this is word play, Mukul remains what he is… So far my engagements with him have built Mukul into an idea, an inspiration to me. Perhaps, my aspirations shamelessly piggyback on this image. However, I must accept the limitation against agitating this impression through a personal engagement, and strive to transcend my impressions through these contemplations and their exchange.
My various faculties do not yet speak in unison, and I have to rely on fragments to enquire/ find/ speak. Placing the parts together, the picture still differs from the whole – it falls short.
Conforming to the demands of being a schizophrenic that the social structure ascribes upon people is the accepted norm for survival. “Do what you are told to, that’s what you are paid for…don’t think!” Any allowance for ‘free thought’ and ‘creative independence’ is only sugar-coated pills of exploitation. Without apologies for this causticity, I can only wonder at Mukul’s apparent independence from barbwire-fences of economy and livelihood.
I would like to ask him what is the self, what is the collective, and how does one traverse between them? What is creativity and what is sustenance; are they not recognizable but inseparable two?
Of course, I’ll have to find a language in which I can pose these questions to him. And, as it appears, he understands, or rather feels but one language – that of music. His non-performance showed me that he is not a schizophrenic. He is with himself, at all times, intoxicated…in his music.
While this article was being written, yet another coincidence occurred – significant for its ominous potential: Guru Dutt’s Pyasa, was playing in the background somewhere – “ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai…” I must caution myself, and the reader against the climbing shadow of the pedestal.