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London music centre in doldrums?

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The Economic Times, February 21, 1988


Is the music centre, started by the London branch of the Bharataiya Vidya Bhavan with a course of scholastic instruction in Hindustani music barely a year ago, in doldrums? It would sadly appear to be so, if one goes by the fact that all the senior musicians, specially debuted to London to conduct a three-year course, have come back home, sad and disgusted.

The London branch was the first of its kind established abroad way back in 1973. As is well known, the Vidya Bhavan was founded by the late K. M. Munshi in 1938 with its headquarters in Bombay with the object of promoting ancient Indian culture in all its multi-faceted aspects among our people as also all over the world. Four years after the establishment of the London branch, the authorities acquired an old church for the purpose of setting up of its office. Mr. James Callaghan, the then British Prime Minister, inaugurated the branch in 1978.

It is learnt that facilities had been provided for teaching Hindustani music and dance ever since the inception of the branch itself. Till last year, however, teaching was not conducted on a systematic basis, nor was any regular syllabus prescribed for the purpose. The new music centre was set up in September last year, in response to demand from a significant section of music lovers, both Indians and foreigners, in that capital city.

It is also learnt that it was planned to conduct regular examinations at the centre at the end of the prescribed academic year. At the end of the three-year course, students passing the final examination were deemed eligible for a diploma of the Bhatkhande Vidya Peeth, to which the centre has been affiliated.

London is a place where a large number of Indians have taken up residence for several decades. And it is natural that after Independence, most of them felt a deep urge to involve themselves in the kind of cultural renaissance that came in the wake of freedom. They were equally anxious to ensure that their children, exposed to Western culture and way of life by reason of their birth and education on the foreign soil, should not grow alien, in their outlook and approach, to Indian culture.

The setting up of the Bhavan’s branch was naturally hailed by them as a boon. The parents did not even hesitate to pay as much as £300 annually toward payment of fees and they sent their children to the institution to learn music and dance.

Ironically, it is learnt that precious little was ever done by those in charge of the management of the London branch towards fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of culture-conscious Indian families. According to knowledgeable sources, there were all too frequent changes in the teaching staff, resulting in a grave dislocation in the process of teaching. Oftentimes, the students had to face situations when there would be no teaching staff to conduct the courses!

The establishment of an independent music centre at the Bhavan’s branch last year was, by all accounts, designed to set the matters right. The plan was warmly welcomed by art-lovers in Bombay and elsewhere in India, because of its good intentions. But then, as the old adage goes, the way to hell is also paved with good intentions.

The premature come-back staged by Mr Sharad Sathe, the well-known vocalist, Mr Ratnakar Vyas, the noted sarodist, and Mr Vijay Kangutkar, the young but talented percussionist, who were given the teaching assignments at the centre, emphatically validates the growing belief that all is not well with the Bhavan’s affairs in London.

It now transpires that the ills besetting the affairs of the London branch are the result of autocratic manner and style of functioning by those charged with its management. Reportedly, the blame for these ills is laid squarely at the doors of one Mr M. Krishnamurthy.

It is on record that representations have been made against Mr Krishnamurthy, who is at the helm of affairs, by leading London residents, who include Dr I. G. Patel, former governor of the Reserve Bank and his vocalist wife, Alakananda; Mr C. Chatterjee, who holds a top position in Siemens Ltd., and several others. But it is said that Mr Krishnamurthy is an extremely influential man and that he has managed to steer clear of even serious complaints against him, even though they are based on unimpeachable evidence.

Allegations of nepotism and highhandedness have reportedly been made against Mr Krishnamurthy ever since he has been in charge of the London branch. It is said that even before the inception of the music centre, “hire and fire” has been his policy in dealing with the staff. I am told that the artistes, who fell victim to this policy in the earlier years, include Mr Deepak Choudhary, a sitarist disciple of Ravi Shankar, Mr Manikrao Popatkar, a leading disciple of the percussion maestro, Amin Hussain Khan, and Mr Markandeya Mishra, a percussion teacher based in London.

It sounds rather amazing that the Bhavan’s authorities in Bombay should choose to remain so completely oblivious to the goings-on at its London branch and for so long. Is this to be taken as a sign of indifference or an act of connivance? Whatever it is, doesn’t it go to tarnish the image of a great cultural organisation like the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan?


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