By Suresh Bodiwala
CHICAGO: Shubha Mudgal performed to a packed house at the Reva and David Logan Center of the Arts, University of Chicago (UC), as part of the on-going Eye on India Festival (EIF) 2013.
The Hindustani classical vocalist was here to lend her voice to the cause of communal harmony.
She was accompanied by Aneesh Pradhan on the tabla and Sudhir Nayak on the harmonium.
Her concert officially marked the closing, at the UC Smart Museum of Art, of the exhibition on “The Sahmat Collective: Art and Activism in India since 1989,” which was inaugurated on Feb 13, 2013, likewise amidst Hindustani musical concerts and a SAHMAT discussion panel.
Mudgal began with a long khyal in the afternoon rag Multani that she elaborated for well over 40 minutes.
She continued with two thumris of which the first was in rag Khamaaj. She concluded with her own rendering of a poem by Kabir, the ever popular medieval saint of Banaras, who fostered communal harmony through his teachings and exemplary life. Mudgal emphasized, before beginning, that she had first sung this Kabir poem at a SAHMAT event.
Patent attorney Shiv Naimpally had flown in all the way from Austin, Texas, in the morning just to hear Mudgal, and was returning home the same evening. Asked by Asian Media USA whether his trip was worth it, he replied with a resounding “Yes. The purity of her notes and the intensity of her expression are matched only by the effortlessness of her delivery.” Naimpally, a co-disciple with Aneesh Pradhan of the late tabla-maestro Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, had privately requested the rag Multani during their preceding rehearsal session.
Mudgal is close to Indian activist movements such as “Act Now for Harmony and Democracy” (ANHAD) and the “Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust” (SAHMAT), and was reinforcing, in her own musical way, the same message of tolerance, exchange, and inclusiveness that had been heralded by India’s premier film-couple, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, over the weekend.
The SAHMAT exhibition was devoted to the efforts of intellectuals, activists, and artists of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds to counter the growth of communal forces and resulting attempts to rationalize and even legitimize violence. The long one-and-a-half hour video that had been running continuously at the exhibition tent in the Smart Museum on SAHMAT celebrating and harnessing the performance arts for this integrative purpose had featured long clips of Mudgal singing at that festival.
Eye on India is clearly intended not only to entertain and educate Chicagoans on its ancient, diverse, and ever contemporary culture but also promote a certain vision for its future.
The concert was jointly presented by Eye on India, the Smart Museum of Art, and Natya Dance Theatre, with additional support provided by the University of Chicago’s Committee on Southern Asian Studies and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
Mudgal has been awarded the 1996 National Film Award for Best Non-Feature Film Music Direction for the movie Amrit Beej (“Seed of Immortality”), the 1998 Gold Plaque Award for Special Achievement in Music at the 34th Chicago International Film Festival for her music in the film Dance of the Wind (1997), and the Padma Shri in 2000. Hailing from an academic family—both her parents were professors of English literature at Allahabad University—Mudgal was a disciple of Pandit Ramashreya Jha and continued her musical education under Pandits Vinaya Chandra Mudgalya and Vasant Thakar in Delhi. She also received training in thumri from Naina Devi. In the 1990s, she started experimenting with other forms of music, including pop and fusion, and now runs website called raagsangeet.com aimed at lovers of Classical Indian Music. She is married to tabla-player Aneesh Pradhan, who accompanied her at the concert.