That was then, this is now

Ali Akbar was two years younger than Robu [later named Ravi Shankar], but a couple of years ahead in his musical training.  He has been through a brutal regime: Baba had even tied him to a tree and beaten him when his progress was unsatisfactory.  Although Baba had arranged for Ali Akbar to marry at the age of fifteen, he still expected him to remain celibate — married to music.  Twice Ali Akbar ran away.  Ultimately the harsh discipline brought out his talent and made him into a master of the sarod, although one wonders about the emotional cost.

That is from Oliver Craske’s Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar, which I am quite enjoying.


Next up, the benefits of TM.

Is it politically incorrect to point out that many highly functioning adults were beat as kids?

No, but Hitler and Stalin were beat, too, so it is hard to believe it is the ticket to becoming a treasure for mankind.

All the cost of torture to the benefit of becoming a forgotten master of an obscure instrument.

The sarod is obscure to you if you never heard one before. Otherwise it is part of the audio landscape to over a billion people.

When you read about sarod maestros, it's evident this is not the music on the radio. There are strong hierarchies everywhere on India but music coming literally from the courts of kings is now the music of the masses. I'd bet that if you try to listen it live, one can expect to be patronized by educated listeners. Of course you need education to appreciate it....."education" in the sense of being born in the right family.

If this is part of the audio landscape to over a billion people, Bach along violas or hapsichords are also part of the audio landscape to over a billion people on another part of the world.

So are you saying Bach is obscure?

Actually Axa is right. In India I doubt even 1 in thousand people would be able to name or identify the sarod. Classical (aka "raga") music in India is appreciated by an extremely limited audience.

Aha, interesting. First, the sarod is only about 200 years old, not more (see below). It reminds me of modern sailboats who's design is only about 200 years old at best (main triangular sail with boom, see: )

Second, it's not unusual in India to have 'caste' families train their children harshly to take up the family caste. Was Ravi Shankar from such a 'musical family'? In Indian back in the day, you'd have family members who were Thugs (highway robbers, see Mike Dash's book) train family members to take up this sordid trade, and even today I've heard of "beggar caste" families who amputate the limbs of their babies so they can become better beggars. It beggars belief, but that's what I've heard.

This was a public service post. I'm now going back to lurking for a month... - RL

Wikipedia, others: The conventional sarod is a 17 to 25-stringed lute-like instrument — four to five main strings used for playing the melody, one or two drone strings, two chikari strings and nine to eleven sympathetic strings. The design of this early model is generally credited to Niyamatullah Khan of the Lucknow Gharana ... Niyamatullah Khan (1804-1902).

Ravi Shankar was not from a traditional musical family, however his teacher Baba Allauddin Khan was a generous - though strict - teacher who taught music to many students outside his family. Including the great Nikhil Banerjee, a greater sitar player that Ravi Shankar, but an introverted personality unlike the charismatic Ravi.

"one wonders about the emotional cost."

All that emotion will be translated into beautiful music. Oppression is good for the soul.

As long as you are the one being oppressed. Basically it is, "What are the Hebrews complaining about to YHWH? The pyramids (or whatever they were forced to work on for the pharaohs) are cool, dude."

Can't you find an example from fact rather than fiction?

Ravi Shankar is Norah Jones's father.

And Anoushka Shankar, who was clearly the one he favored.

Many years ago, Bill McGlaughlin host of NPR St. Paul Sunday Morning did a broadcast with Ravi Shankar explaining the instruments, musical history and playing techniques. Fascinating program which I don't find archived online but may be available somewhere.

Just pause for a second and think that if this was even remotely normal for a musician, how the rest of Indian society approached mastering other disciplines at the time (and maybe today?).

Not normal, but not totally out of the ordinary either. Raga music was considered a treasure taught only to "worthy" individiuals and worth had to be demonstrated by years of rigor. Baba Allauddin Khan was no normal teacher either - he taught at least 5 extraordinary musicians: Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee, Annapurna Devi (his daughter) and Pannalal Ghosh (flute). His record of teaching is unmatched.

Notably, neither Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Pannalal Ghosh or Nikhil Banerjee produced any worthy disciples. Only his daughter devoted her life to teaching.

Doubtless that explains why India is the envy of the world in every artistic and scientific field - all that extremely rigorous training leading to utter mastery. We all know how important educational practices are to human capital formation.

Given the information shared, the "that I'm quite enjoying" was an unexpected phrase.

Although Whiplash is set in the present.

Is it wrong of me to say I'd rather have my children be happy than successful?

I'd rather my children were whatever they themselves preferred to be, unless they preferred to be serial sadistic sex killers (none of them have been or seem to be heading that way, so far at least, as far as I know, thanks to God), or something like that.

On a lesser scale, one thinks of Andre Agassi -- who was forced to practice and apparently hated tennis -- for those who have read his memoir, Open.

Beethoven was brutally beaten by his alcoholic father. Brian Wilson's father beat the crap out of him - deafening him in one ear. Of course, Lang Lang's father was famously cruel to his little boy. Some of the young classical musicians from Russia I know were called humiliating names and smacked around by their music teachers. It's hard to get kids to practice.

And Beethoven himself did not turn out to be a nice man. He paid the price for our pleasure.

Worth noting that AAK became an alcoholic, to the point of kidney failure. No way to prove it was due to the abuse, but the joy he brought to others was apparently denied to him.

For all who think sarod is esoteric, it is quite common and beautiful to listen to, Listen to the brief excerpt starting at 5 minutes from a very famous DD video showcasing musicians/dancers from different regions.

It is by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, a great sarod player, and is in Desh Raag, the raga associated with rains.

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