I have spent so many New Year eves traveling in the trains or in between ongoing concert tours. I remember celebrating the New Year twice with Prisoners! In the year 1967, to celebrate the New Year eve, an Honourable Jail Superintendent along with other important police officers came to invite me for my Sarod recital at the Alipore Jail in Kolkata. It was a night long musical programme with three other classical musicians. I was the concluding artist. This was an unusual event and for the first time in my life I got an opportunity to serve the prisoners in Kolkata. I was curious to meet the prisoners and see how they lived, where they slept and what they ate. I reached the venue much ahead of time. The prisoners prepared special food for us. It was indeed a truly memorable experience. In 1998, a similar invitation came from Tihar jail in Delhi, though not for New Years. My earlier experience with the prisoners made me accept the same immediately. The memories of this concert did not fade out of my mind for many months. I shall always cherish the moments spent with the prisoners in kolkata and Tihar. for years to come. I met people who were victims of various circumstances, troubled childhoods, social vagaries and many other unfortunate situations.
In our Gwalior house, we had an Imaam Baaraa and on New Years, my father used to invite some young maulvis and spiritual people to pray all night for the peace and harmony all over the world, especially India. Many disciples of my father who belonged to so many different religions also joined this prayer and in the morning of 1st January all the disciples performed together. They were all blessed by my father and offered very delicious food cooked by my mother to complete the New Year celebrations.
Just few years back, I had received an invitation from Music Academy in Chennai to perform on 31st December with Amaan and Ayaan. This was the most coveted slot for the festival for years; following this, another concert by all three of us in Bangalore on the 1st of January. When conveyed this to my sons, they were a bit annoyed since they had to alter their existing New Year plans.They told me that “nobody will come. It’s New Year’s eve”. My wife Subhalakshmiji and I convinced them on this and by god’s grace, we saw the Music Academy hall completely packed and sold out.
As we step into another year, one area that touches me dearly is of course culture and perhaps closer is music. Having been reared on a diet of tradition and continuity, it’s difficult to live in a modern world with classic values. Yet, I chose to belong to a system, where oral knowledge is passed on from guru to student along with actual music lessons. I am standing at a crossroad. Where do we go from here? How will classical music evolve? There is a deluge of pop and so-called fusion, remix ragas and experimental music out there. Great work is being done. The instant success of any of these, as opposed to the long hours of dedication required in the traditional set up sometimes stands in the way of progress. I think it’s great to imbibe cultures from all around the world, but let’s not forget who we are or what we have to offer. We need to be first and foremost, proud of ourselves.
The world is large enough to accommodate our innumerable cultures and give adequate space to all. But exposure to the arts should be mandatory to ensure true appreciation of any medium. It will indeed be a sad day for all of us if our musical traditions that date back more than 5000 years, are sacrificed at the altar of modernity. It is crucial that historic and contemporary cultures enmesh with one another to preserve an India way of life as it stands today.
While the standard of living may have improved for some, it has worsened for many. Amenities and fast track development in cities excite us and spur us to do faster and aim higher. But, a closer look reveals the true picture, as you don’t have to travel far to see that there are many that have no clue about where the world has gone. They seem to exist in another timeframe altogether, a world apart, with no water, health, sanitation, education or opportunities. Age-old customs are still practiced and given a sanctity that defies logic. The despair is not restricted to any area, caste or creed but it even has educated individuals as practitioners. I hope that the coming year, puts an end to my worries and makes our country way ahead of the world. At the same time, while modernizing we must not loose our traditional infrastructures. We must ensure that modernization in our country occurs, as far as possible, in keeping with those historic trends that can be preserved. We should be proud of these trends as they have brought us to where we stand today. We must never forget our roots.
I personally would like to welcome the New Year by praying for our peaceful future, good education, well being and prosperity of people all over the world. I would like to wish all a very peaceful, musical and successful New Year. I hope all of us achieve every thing we deserve and desire in our life. May god be with all of us!