Book Review: Shubha Mudgal’s vocals are crystal clear even in print

Celebrated classical and contemporary singer Shubha Mudgal, of the lustrous powerhouse voice fame, forgoes the clichéd path with her first fictional foray. What that means is that she DOES NOT pen her autobiography, instead takes the short story route to point the spotlight on ubiquitous characters from the music teaching and entertainment industries that we, the listening audience, may not necessarily be aware of.

And her straight-forward meticulous writing stemming from the vantage point of being an educated listener as well as an industry insider coupled with her charming drollness is what makes this book a keeper.

The author has painstakingly stated in interviews how seeming references to anything and anyone living or otherwise is purely unintentional; instead admitting to having built on situations that she has witnessed or heard of.

So while we are dealing with short-type fiction, the roots are strongly entrenched in the actuality of the temperamental and often punishing world of music.

What seem like oblique references to huge media houses and organisations that send empanelled artistes for overseas concerts, etc. are done with a characteristic bonhomie and warm, and yet wry wit that one has to be downright petty to take offence at them.

In the author’s favourite story titled 'A Farewell to Music' her connect with and concern for the new generation burns bright. The unquestionably talented, idealistic prodigy Mrigo, who dreams of becoming a career musician but finally bows out to choosing the commerce of life over music in the face of societal pressure could be any of the many youngsters around you.

In this and the rest of the six stories, the one genuine quality that marks Mudgal’s writing is that she does not turn away from the reality or hardships, hypocrisy, heartbreaks and grief of being an artist in India – and yet she doesn’t make them such huge issues either that they become insurmountable.

The triumph of the human spirit, the true champion throughout, whatever is the outcome of the account is the moral I carry away each time. The stories are real and yet relatably positive, the characters are not perfect; instead they personify the real walking-breathing people around.

Even as a columnist, the author was consistent in voicing her concerns regarding intellectual property rights of artists and musicians and the lack of any kind of state support to classical musicians among others. This campaign of evening out the hierarchies so as to propagate a square playing ground is steadfast here as well.

She professes being nervous about her literary debut but the quality of her work and the integrity in her storytelling suggests that as a fear unfounded. Her three-year riyaaz – plus her years as a columnist – for the tome has been time well-invested when you see the result in impactful characters such as the pining Asavari Apte, manipulative marketing maven Shweta Bansal, the phantasmagoric and fleeting Miss Sargam, the eccentric and pathetic Manzoor Rehmati and the highly egoistic and entertaining Sikander Sufi, and the well-crafted circumstances they find themselves in.

Her attention to detail is commendable with her effortless sketching of these self-conscious Saraswati devotees (artists) who search hard for that elusive blessing of success bestowed by Lakshmi.

Each enjoyable tiny byte of breath of a short story in the sparkling collection packs a sharp fragrant punch, every shade shines true, and through and through...

“Yes, art is a compulsion, it’s a huge obsessive compulsion and we all feel the urge and pull of it but I also earn my livelihood through music and I’m very proud of it,” the author says somewhere.

We are happy that you have decided to step beyond music into the published sphere! hope you spin some new fictional tunes around the eponymous Miss Sargam and regale us some more.g Book: Looking for Miss Sargam: Stories of Music and Misadventure

Author: Shubha Mudgal

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Pages: 205; Price: Rs 499