A Frog In A Well

One more death in the family. I am better off not dedicating a post for that. It’s become a norm this year. As I said earlier, I am really looking for a brighter, better New Year!!!

Now onto a completely different topic.

I can’t recall how many times I have had such discussions. I had one more yesterday, with yet another self-proclaimed Carnatic classical ‘purist’.  The difference this time is that I had 3 girls, including my wife support my stance this time. The discussion started with ‘M’ and his bride hunting stories and soon transformed into a debate on music, it’s core essentials and it’s role on mankind.

Now that I have mentioned that ‘M’ is a Carnatic classical ‘purist’, I need not specifically mention that he thinks that Indian film music is ‘crap’ (in his own words). Additionally his argument was based on a blanket statement of “If you are passionate about Carnatic music, you will not appreciate any other music”. Yeah right, talk of narrow mindedness. Unfortunately, from what I have seen (and I have seen quite some), there is no dearth for such attitudes among Carnatic classical musicians.

For the sake of argument, it was simple for me to combine film music, bhAvageethe, ghazals, vachanas, dEvaranAmas etc. under one ‘light music’ bracket. I tried explaining how people can easily listen to varied kinds of music and appreciate them both. I took my own example and said how I can enjoy both the harshness in ‘System of The Down’ and the melody of Latha Mangeshkar just fine. Then, I brought my mother’s example. Initially she used to give pure classical concerts, then she moved onto give both classical and light music concerts and finally she stuck with light music. Even today, she can enjoy both classical and light music equally well. ‘M’ knows about my mother from different perspectives (infact, ‘M’s mother once told me that she is a very big fan of my mother). And, in this case, ‘M’ came up with an argument that people like my mother are exceptions.

I tried explaining to him that there are tons of such people all over the place. A.V.Krishnammachar was such a passionate carnatic classical violinist, and at the same time he gave music to thousands of Kannada bhAvageethe’s under the name ‘Padmacharan’. He undoubtedly laid the foundation for the growth of Kannada bhAvageethe. My wife gave example of Vasanth Kanakapur, who is an excellent Hindustani classical harmonium player and at the same time a brilliant bhAvageethe composer. There are tons more. Balamurali Krishna and Bhimsen Joshi have sung light music. Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia have given music to commercial films. ‘M’ came up with a “they are an exception” for each and every one of them. Personally, I know several listeners including me, who appreciate multiple forms of music.

That was not the end of argument. Our dude tried giving rubbish analogies. Apparently, film music is like Toyota and Carnatic classical music is like a Ferrari. Not many people drive Ferrari because most people are not rich and similarly not many people are interested in listening to Carnatic classical music because theya re ‘intellectually challenged’. Do you see how pathetic the analogy is?

‘M’s problem with film music was that in some songs they use niShedha swaras without any regard to the ‘rules’. Sure, but then whose rules are we talking about? Music as a genre? The only rules in a film song is that it shouldn’t violate the basic music rules of pitch and rhythm and the music and lyrics should touch the heart and mind of the listener. It’s not that complicated, is it? ‘M’ argued that without rules you can never improve upon an existing infrastructure. I immediately saw why ‘M’ couldn’t appreciate film music. It’s because he was completely missing the point. He goes behind theory. He doesn’t understand that listening to film songs is not same as listening to Carnatic classical music. He certainly cannot appreciate film music. The reason was quite obvious to me by that time.

But, the claim that Carnatic classical musicians are ‘intellectually superior’ bugged me and the girls big time. Finally, I went tangentially and came up with the what is more important to humankind? Why we invented music? arguments. The fact that Latha Mangeshkar’s voice has touched millions more people than any individual Carnatic classical musician, she probably is so much more ‘greater’ and her life is so much more ‘complete’. ‘M’ didn’t have an answer to it and reluctantly agreed. Finally, I did mention to him that my argument was as stupid as his ‘intellectually superior Carnatic classical musicians’ argument and told him that I took this line just to counter him. I certainly won’t ever say that Latha Mangeshkar is ‘greater’ than Balamurali Krishna. It is so foolish to argue on those lines.

From what I have seen, ‘M’ is not an exception. It saddens me to see that several hardcore Carnatic classical musicians have a similar attitude.  Bask in the glory of your art form. At the same time, respect other human beings and other art forms. Only then is there any meaning to your loyalty. If not, your allegiance is the biggest farce the World has seen!!!

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15 Comments on “A Frog In A Well”

  1. Veena Says:

    Very nice topic to blog/debate about…

    I would say that Music in all forms (light, classical, film, folk) have their own essence and we can enjoy them in a different way. By and large all of them are infact swaras compiled in a different way..

    M’s argument may be this way.. classical music is little complex to learn and understand and needs practice and learning… while film music can be followed easily and people do think that complex ones are the better ones! 🙂

    There are one set of people who think they are intellectually high.. for eg., some ranga bhoomi artists or that group and they proudly announce themselves as saints while the rest of the world is ‘enjoying’ the worldly benefits and they do pass in comments like ‘ idella nimmanthorige artha aagalla’ thinking that it needs something extra to understand what they do! I disagree anyway…

    and this analogy holds good w.r.t Art movie and a commercial movie!

    I liked the way you have concluded the post and it surprises me why you can’t think in same lines when it comes to language!!

    ps – DS, I see that you have written quite a few posts on pseudo intellectuals .. with a different angle to it.. if I remember well 🙂

  2. Aram Says:

    ” Bask in the glory of your art form. At the same time, respect other human beings and other art forms. Only then is there any meaning to your loyalty.”

    Well said!

    The mahaan hastis of Hindustani like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, DV Paluskar, Kishori Amonkar, etc. have sung in films. Even the great Amir Khan who refused to sing the light classical form of Thumris did sing in films.

    As usual a very apt title! Let us pity the frogs! They are a much sought after delicacy!!! 🙂

  3. Aram Says:

    ” Bask in the glory of your art form. At the same time, respect other human beings and other art forms. Only then is there any meaning to your loyalty.”

    Well said!

    The mahaan hastis of Hindustani like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, DV Paluskar, Kishori Amonkar, etc. have sung in films. Even the great Amir Khan who refused to sing the light classical form of Thumris did sing in films.

    As usual a very apt title! BTW, the frogs are a much sought after delicacy!!! 🙂

  4. neelanjana Says:

    >>‘M’s problem with film music was that in some songs they use niShedha swaras ??>>without any regard to the ‘rules’. Sure, but then whose rules are we talking about? >>Muisc as a genre? ”

    M is true iff the song in question is claimed to be in a certain rAga – Unless such a claim is made there no note is niSiddha. There are several cases in films where the storyline would indicate a certain song is to be in a certain rAga – and M’s argument holds only for such cases. Remember, the movie Shruti sEridAga, where the storyline hinges on the fact that the heroine gets upset whenever she listens to rAga madhuvanti. It is in such cases where, the music director has to be a purist.

    Otherwise it will be a situation like Ilayaraja and Yesudas changing the rAgas of Tyagaraja and Dikshita’s compositions. I definitely am against such ‘mal-practices’!

    The rules of consonence and dissonence hold good for most genre of the world music.

    However, I can see where M is coming from. Karnataka sangIta (or even hindUstANi) is a melodic system. However filmi music takes lots of elements from harmonic music.
    To appreciate certain rakti rAgas, the listener has to develop a taste for such rAgas. Almost anyone in the world can fall far a mOhana, shuddha sAvEri or kalyANi. But it takes some time and exposure for a listener to appreciate a yadukula kAmbhOji, or a kEdAragouLa or a bEgaDe.

    About classical musicians having higher intellectual abilities – It is a cultivated, and channelised ability in a specific field. I am sure filmi-musicians and sugama sangItagAras have a different kind of developed, intellectual abilities. They also have another ability that most classical musicians lack – singing in a false voice. It suits that form of music, but not the classical variety that needs a full throated singing. For that same reason, I may like S Janaki’s rendition of ‘nambide ninna nAdadEvateye’ but I just can’t stand when she starts singing a kriti like ‘rA rA mAyinti dAkA”!


  5. Vasuki Says:

    It intrigues me as to how too much of awareness in one thing can make a person closed minded towards all others. I sometimes feel bad that I am not “knowledgeable” about music. But, now I feel may be it has made me have an open mind to listen to any kind of music. The lack of knowledge has made me retain the wonder towards it.

    And who are these experts to decide what is best and what is not? There are different kinds of music, in different countries – which touch people and their lives in their own unique ways. There can be so many flavors, but we Indians suffer from this huge moral superiority!

  6. Coincidentally, yesterday on the radio, I was listening to an interview with Oliver Sacks, who has recently written a book on music and its effects on the brain.

    One of the lines from the interview that seems apt was along these lines – “no form of music, (classical, rock etc.) has been scientifically shown to be superior in terms of its effects on the brain.”

    Streaming audio here: http://wamu.org/audio/kn/07/12/k1071226-18951.asx

    The argument that you went through is an old one, and applies to fields other than music: one could just as easily have had the same debate about painting, for example. The philosophical issue is that of absolute vs. relative standards. After long hours spent debating friends and strangers, the only conclusion I have reached is to move on – this argument cannot be resolved.

    Come to think of it, that reminds me of another post you did not too long ago on Bhyrappa. 😛

  7. Veena Says:

    oh.. the comment I posted got messed up.. it got posted twice.. pls moderate!!

  8. Here’s some more grist for the mill. Of course, your friend will just call her one more exception 😀

  9. Manu Says:

    DS! (Why this anonymity??)

    Anyways, I read your blog, and I am very disappointed in how you have manipulated the whole discussion… A few things in general, I must point out, are:

    1. You have just failed to capture the crux of the discussion: “Clear distinction between the listener base of carnatic music and film music” (Or classical v/s Light as you may put it)
    2. Your blog is based on me calling film music ” ‘crap’ (in his own words)”. But I never called that (not even once!), and in fact, every other sentence I used to put a disclaimer that “I am not trying to prove any superiority of any music”. If you are going to quote me, quote me properly… dont mix what others said into what I was arguing!

    Now, to the specifics:
    1. yet another self-proclaimed Carnatic classical ‘purist’: When did I “self-proclaim”?? (Can you quote me calling myself a purist?)

    2. Talking about ppl like your mother, or Balamurali Krishna, or ‘Padmacharan’, I know they are multi-interested… But thats not what I was arguing about… We were talking about listeners, and not performers (To substantiate that, I told you that I myself know a lot of good classical musicians who have sung in film songs… And, I would have no problem accepting the fact that a good classical musician can sing good film music… Of course I may not be, but many can)… So, there’s pretty much nothing to argue about! But, as a listener, I stand by my statement that you cannot be passionate about 2 different styles of music in the same way…

    3. Coming to Toyota v/s Ferrari: The reason I brought that up is to simply give an analogy that you need to spend more money to get an exotic car, and more effort in driving/maintaining it so that you can justify satisfaction-to-effort ratio. In the same way, in carnatic music, you need to know the basics, you need to put in thought to understand whats happening, and you need to look in detail to get digest its beauty. Whereas lighter music is ‘light’ by definition and is readily-digestible. I was talking about intellectual-expenditure, not intellectually-challenged…. If you cant find the world of difference between them, I am not sure if its worth talking any further. The discussion we were having took an ugly turn at the last minute, and you have mentioned that in your blog as well… So, I guess thats settled as well…

    From what I’ve seen from your blog, you absolutely never tried to understand what I was trying to tell… Which means the whole discussion was more like a war of words, rather than a debate… And, the most disappointing thing is that you have mis-quoted me. I can live with misunderstandings or misinterpretations, but not this.

  10. @ Veena:
    Be it music, literature, theatre, or any other form, these arguments will always happen. It will never cease. The fact that we are all so different is the beauty of this World. As for language, I think on the same lines even there – Love your language, respect other languages. Simple….People forcing Hindi on non-Hindi speaking crowd is not something which comes under that umbrella.

    @ Aram:
    On that note, I think Parveen Sultana’s rendition of ‘hame tumse pyAr kitnA’ is so much more peaceful than Kishore’s version.

    @ neelanjana:
    I completely agree with you. I would really like to see M’s take on this. Now, that he has read this post, I hope he will comment on your point.

    @ Vasuki:
    You and I are the general kind – jack of all tricks and master of none. And, I think we gt a kick out of it.

    @ BS:
    Thanks for the links. Yes, I agree. This argument holds good for any topic, not just music. And, I didn’t mean it this was when i wrote on Bhyrappa. I was just trying to make an analysis of what he probably meant. Bhyrappa is perhaps one of the greatest Hindustani Classical listeners. And, I am quite certain he doesn’t appreciate many other forms of music.

    @ Manu:
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you will come by more often.

    Sorry, I had to take out my name from your comment. I prefer to be anon (even though tons around the web know my real name). I believe when people who know me read the blog, they would be prejudiced if they knew the owner, because they know how I think and feel. Actually, there was a huge debate about this in my “Who Am I?” page. Maybe, I should put it back up.

    As you can see, I had no intention of naming you either. Anyway….

    1. to manage or influence skillfully, esp. in an unfair manner.
    2. to adapt or change (accounts, figures, etc.) to suit one’s purpose or advantage.

    I have done neither. I don’t have to. I really don’t gain anything by doing it. This could as well be a fictional post (but it’s not, and it doesn’t matter). The idea is to see what the others feel about such topics and how people react. It’s a learning experience more than anything.

    So, I have put in here whatever I thought was the crux of the discussion we had. If you disagree, that’s fair and fine. It means that we were never on the same page probably. But, that is not manipulation.

    1. I think the crux of the debate was “A person who is passionate about one music form cannot appreciate any other music form.” If you recall, this statement itself went through several revisions.

    2. I want to clear one thing here. ‘M’ is not just you. ‘M’ is mostly the argument from the opposite side. I used ‘M’ here just because you did most of the talking. I could have as easily used some other alphabet, say ‘R’ if some other person had spoken more than you had. You do remember the ‘crap’ comment don’t you? And you do remember me clearly saying that I won’t argue further if that’s the basis for argument, don’t you? So, I hope you understand what I am getting to here. Please don’t mistake ‘M’ to be just you.

    1. (again): Your arguments led me to believe that. Your take on why you don’t listen to Metallica anymore was one of many reasons for me to believe that you are a purist. By definition, from whatever you said, you certainly qualify as a purist.

    2. (again): And, I did agree with you that in anything in this world it’s not possible to be “passionate” about more than one thing, didn’t I? It defeats Math. But, again, it was back to the initial statement about “being passionate about one form, not appreciating another form”.

    3.: There were too many analogies. And, I still believe that more than half of them were not good analogies. You tried making up an analogy for everything we had. I can certainly differentiate between ‘intellectual expenditure’ and intellectually challenged’. But, I honestly cannot ever recall you talking about ‘intellectual expenditure’. I always thought you meant the latter. Infact, you were slightly defensive if you recall. If you didn’t talk about ‘intellectual superiority’, then there’s no argument here.

    I certainly tried to understand what you were saying, but probably failed to. And, the same holds good to you as well. That makes it ‘misinterpretation’, and NOT ‘mis-quoting’. I am certainly not a cheap yellow journalist, and you know it better than most others who visit this blog.

  11. some body Says:


    we discussed this on pavan’s some time ago.

    this argument will go nowhere anyway … i recently had a similar debate with my b-i-l about vegetarianism, which all started when i disclosed why i don’t eat pizza anymore.

    anyway, my opinion: i don’t care (ok, may be i do, a little bit) what who thinks as long as they don’t a) force me to their belief, b) change how they view me just because of *my* beliefs which i would not force on them (i do, of course, try to force them on my kids … not all of which are endorsed by v.b.)

    – s.b.

  12. Murali Says:

    Interesting argument, very well written though. ‘M’s arguments reflect his attitude and personality rather than his fanatisism for classical music. He probably relates classical music to ‘class’ and uses that as his defence to cling to the complex world of ‘superiority ‘ that he thinks he belongs to. If, that world is seen to be embracing Film Music he would readily start admiring it. I am sure his other tastes and alliances would reflect the same ideologies, some more obvious than the others.

    I was lucky to spend my new year eve in the company of three extremely talented musicians. Three together had more than 60 years of learning and teaching experience in Carnatic and Hindustani music. Guess what we listened and discussed about the whole night? Film music – mostly Telugu and Tamil, talking about the greatness and improvisations of Ilayaraja!

    In ‘M’s case, music , perhaps, was only a means to make an attempt to prove his’class’!

    PS: I know M could well have been a She.

  13. @ SB:
    I completely agree with you. It’s not just this topic. there are sebveral millions of such topics and whenever there is mroe than one option, there will always be multiple opinions. It’s just healthy to argue. I agree that nobody should try to force the others’ opinions, we were just arguing why we believe what we believe is right. Ha Ha forcing your ideas on the kids huh, I bet that must feel good 🙂

    @ Murali:
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. I agree that such arguments usually have multiple levels and I agree that it reflects the personality in us to a certain degree. Until we have more than one human being on this Earth, arguments will keep happening. If not, there is no color, ambition or goal to human life. Then, it becomes quite boring. So, I like the fact that we are all so different.

  14. Arjav Says:

    Hi December Stud,

    I stumbled onto this entry. A bit late for the discussion but you know, you are right.

    I just posted a comment on Manu’s blog, where he also listed a status update (again quite old) Here is summary.

    Nobody likes to be treated as an inferior. At the first sign of that, all humans develop a thick resistant shield. Nothing penetrates after that – even the greatness of Carnatic music.

    Think, if an art form produces conceited individuals, how can that art form be great?

    The changes needed are:
    a) Banish the superiority complex from all music teachers, music critics and event organizers.
    b) Start training in carnatic music in every school
    c) Include other forms of music along with this traing – like you include seemingly conflicting subjects in school – poetry and science or history and quantum mechanics.

    I suspect that the greatness of carnatic music is no longer understood by anyone except that really old maestroes. They don’t have the energy to go cleaning up the mess everywhere…

    It is up to us.

    See you around. Arjav.

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