Indian music in Mauritius came with the girmitias.
They brought their songs and rudimentary instruments of music. They sang and played the music on the long and perilous sea voyages. Their songs expressed their woes, their trauma, their moments of joy, their trials and tribulations on the sugar estates. Most of this music was folk in nature.
But Indian music got a good grounding with the arrival in Mauritius of Dr Iswurduth Nundlall with his degree in classical Indian music in the late 1950s. He started classes in vocal and instrumental music, and singers and musicians from all over the island flocked to his residence in Vacoas, avid to improve their talents.
In the mid-sixties, the Indian School of Music and Dance was set up by the government at the initiative of Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo, with the help of the Government of India. This school started operating at Vandermeersch Street, Beau Bassin under Mr and Mrs Nand Kishore. They introduced classical Indian music and dance also in the secondary schools under the Ministry of Education. Later on, with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute opening its doors in 1976, at Moka, the Beau-Bassin School of Music and Dance was shifted to and integrated into it.
Then in 1987 the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture (IGCIC) was set up under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), as an autonomous body under the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India. It was operational at first from the Newry Complex on St Jean Road in Quatre Bornes, until it moved to the state of the art complex at Phoenix. These institutions served and continue to acquaint a vast number of students thirsty to improve their talents in various genres of Indian music, dance and musical instruments. They are aided in this by the socio-cultural organisations and Cultural Trusts which have served to democratise the Art.
I remember that when the Centenary Celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore was being organised with great enthusiasm in 1961, there was a huge effervescence in the country. We girls were trained in classical dance by Lady Padma Ghurburrun at the Triveni Circle and by Dr Iswurduth Nundlall in Rabindra Sangeet for the grand celebration at the Plaza Theatre, Rose Hill. We were a handful. It was a thrilling and memorable experience. Today, Indian music and dance is widely democratised and finds its way in the nooks and corners of Mauritius. The MBC TV too has been a powerful medium to give access to performers and artists to show their talents with the organisation of various competitions. Under the cultural exchange programme between the governments of Mauritius and India, cultural troupes and singers from India perform from time to time.
Ghazal as a form of Indian Music
A magnificent two-hour programme in ghazal singing was organised by the IGCIC in collaboration with the Indian High Commission on Friday 10th April. In fact, it was the 10th ghazal evening presented by the IGCIC. The programme was conducted by the Hindustani vocal teacher of the IGCIC Dr Rahul Ranade who was also a performer as well. It grouped the veterans of the IGCIC, the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, and well-known and upcoming ghazal singers of Mauritius: Mr Rahul Ranade, Bilal Lal Mohammed, Nikhil Shibnauth, Varsha Rani Bissessur, Lalita Gopee, Sangeeta Deerpaul Sharma and Reshma Sharma. Some fifteen rare as well as popular non-filmy semi classical morceaux were the choice ghazals sung. They were indeed superbly handled by the singers, which brought exquisite delight and touched a chord in the heart of everyone in the enthusiastic audience. The huge gathering present in the auditorium was a sure manifestation of the love of Mauritians for ghazal singing. The appreciation was palpable.
Mauritians are familiar with this genre now. People flock to performances of great ghazal singers whenever they come here. Who does not remember with nostalgia the delightful ghazals of Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali or Jagjit Singh?
Ghazal as a Poetic Form
Ghazal as a poetic form sung in Urdu, with a good number of words in Persian and Arabic demands good training by those who choose to sing it. They need to understand its theme, its structure, its style and emotional nuances to be able to convey a vibe to the audience. Therefore training in classical Indian music is useful for training the voice, to gain excellence in handling the delicate poetic form and melody. The structural requirements of the ghazal are quite stringent and demand great mastery to echo the necessary emotional resonance in the public’s heart. The ghazal performance of Friday last did reach that level of right nuances to echo the right note in the listeners’ hearts. As Mr Rahul Ranade music teacher at IGCIC says “semi classical ghazals cannot be sung without learning and understanding Hindustani classical music. Such type of singing is known as gaayaki.” The extraordinary variety of expression around the central themes of love, longing and belonging, the pangs of separation, invoking melancholy as well as metaphysical questions make the ghazal a very prominent form of poetry. The ghazal of Mir Taki Mir, Rumi, Mirza Ghalib, Mohammed Iqbal are memorable. Mirza Ghalib’s ghazals have been immortalised in the masses through Indian cinema. Who does not remember the delightful renderings of Talat Mahmood and Suraiya?
“Dil-e-nadaan tujhe hua kya hai
Akhir is dard ki dawa kya hai?”
The ghazal form is found now in the poetry of many other Indian languages such as Hindi, Bhojpuri, Telugu and Gujarati. It has also been adopted by other non-Indian languages such as English in the UK and USA. The German poet and philosopher Goethe also experimented with the form. The ghazal was popularised by Ravi Shankar and Begum Akhtar in non-Indian milieu in the 1960s.
As a poetic form, ghazal is also recited at mushairas or poetic evenings. As more and more people are awakening to the appreciation of good music, it would not be out of place to have regular workshops held for those not initiated in the ghazal form of poetry and music. But who nonetheless would find it profitable. The MBC TV too could offer a viable platform for such a display. Lyrics courses could be run for those without special knowledge or the inexperienced or unskilled, as well as for those who want to write good poetry and songs. Not all of us are familiar with the intricate language, the structure and style of the verses and couplets of the ghazal. Some sort of vocabulary pamphlets with translation of the words or songs would be welcome.
* Published in print edition on 17 April 2015