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In A Monsoon Of Music, Mitra Phukan gives us an insightful peek into the multi-faceted lives of Hindustani Classical music singers.
Review by Anjana Basu
What makes A Monsoon Of Music interesting is its glimpse into the world of Hindustani Classical music. Recently quite a few authors have been giving us their take on this previously closed world, including Amit Chaudhuri in The Immortals. Known for her novel The Collector’s Wife and her journalism, Mitra Phukan is also a vocalist who studied Hindustani Classical music under the late Biren Phukan and is currently studying under Pandit Samaresh Choudhury of Kolkata.
A Monsoon Of Music tells the story of an up and coming student, Nomita, two gurus and her unexpected relationship with a global superstar in the Hindustani Classical music world. Nomita comes from the backwater of Tamulbari and is very conscious of being a small town girl – her trips outside town are in the company of her Guruma, Sandhya Sanapathy. Phukan details the relationships between performers and the petty jealousies that fester at the heart of the world. She also gives insights into the technical aspects of performing, the problems with sound systems, the way sarod players have to toughen their fingers, or shehnai players blow sand and bubbles to strengthen their cheek muscles. She also discusses why it is that most women in this field stick to vocals and tanpuras rather than perfecting their skills on shehnais and tablas.
At the heart of the book is a clash between traditional middle class values and the more liberated world that music opens up with its songs of love and parting. This is accentuated by Nomita’s small town background which makes her vulnerable to the glamour of the world outside, despite being a realistic, sensitive person who prefers teaching physically challenged children to find themselves through song.
Because of the world in which she lives, Nomita has never really understood that she has the freedom to be herself, even though she is known as the ‘independent daughter’. Not very much happens in the book – the incidents are more internal than external, though Nomita narrowly misses being hit by a falling chandelier in the opening pages of the book and there is a final climactic car crash which is hinted at through the repetition of the tale of a well-known musician who was flung out of his car at night on a Calcutta street, as his driver took a turn recklessly.
Sensitive readers will be able to anticipate what happens and in fact may find themselves fretting for what they can see coming almost from the middle of the book. Phukan’s stories of the world of Hindustani Classical music, though fascinating for the lay person, serve to hold up the story until occasionally it almost seems to be at a standstill. Perhaps in the end one expected a tale of parting and romance in keeping with the passionate themes of the drupads that her protagonists sing, love, longing betrayal and drama. Instead it remains a tranquil book on the lives of Hindustani Classical music singers and what they have to undergo in their personal and professional lives.
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