South of the Border, down Mangalore way

I guess it is inevitable that from having hardly ever been to Mangalore (I had made a trip by bus just once, in my junior doctor years, in the 1990s, to visit a colleague at his workplace), I would begin to visit much more often after marrying a Mangalorean.

Technically, it’s not Mangalore proper that we visit; rather it is a little village on its outskirts, Kinnigoli, where my wife’s family has a sprawling farm estate, with paddy fields, arecanut plantations, and an abundance of coconut, tadgola, mango and jackfruit trees. It becomes the extended family’s annual, sometimes bi- or even tri-annual, bolthole escape from urban life, literally out of earshot of any traffic, and just the sounds of nature: peacocks, frogs, and crickets instead. It is a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Although we’ve travelled there by air a few times, I love the train journey the most, because the route takes you through some really breathtakingly picturesque coast-hugging tracts of our southern neighbour Karnataka.

This was in stark contrast to the muddy mayhem we would pass through on our way out of Goa, particularly at Loliem, where mining activity is back in full swing, with hundreds of trucks back and forth in columns of dust, like so many worker-ants in an ant-hill.

The first few times, the intervening stations between Margão and Mangalore (Canacona; Balli; Karwar; Ankola; Gokarna Road; Kumta; Honnavar; Murdeshwar; Bhatkal; Byndoor; Kundapura; Barkur; Udupi; Mulki; Surathkal) would seem a confusing blur. But over time, especially as I began to delve more and more into Goan history, the connections with several place-names became apparent.

South of the Border

It would be impossible to do justice to so much history in a column, but we could take a whistle-stop tour as we progress toward Mangalore.

Take the port city of Karwar (also called Chitrakul; or Cintacora by the Portuguese) for starters. It was noted for its shipbuilding, and much coveted through history for its favourable, safe-harbour port and for its access to the pepper markets as well as other spices such as cardamom; and to muslin. In 1510, the Portuguese ransacked and burnt its fort, described in their records as Forte de Piro due to the presence of the dargah of a Sufi saint (pir) there.

Aggressive demands by the British for the cession of the port to them prompted the king of Sonda to seek the protection of the Estado da Índia in 1697, becoming its tributary. The Sonda kingdom eventually capitulated to the British demand to establish a factory in Karwar, whereupon the Marquis of Távora captured the Sonda strongholds of Cabo de Rama and Karwar between 1752 and 1754. The French (notably Governor-General Joseph François Dupleix) also coveted Karwar, as they had an inferior port in Mahé, but desisted as it would upset the Portuguese, whose friendship they needed.

Honnavar, Bhatkal, Kundapura and Barkur all find mention in our history. According to one account (Oriente Conquistado, by António de Sousa), Muslims from Honnavar (Onor in Portuguese chronicles) sought refuge in Goa, then under the Bahmani rule, to escape the wrath of the Vijayanagar empire after a massacre of 10,000 there.

Although there is much historical confusion about Timoja (or Timayya), the controversial figure who colluded with the Portuguese in their conquest of Goa in 1510, Padre M.J. Gabriel de Saldanha in his História de Goa (Política e Arqueológica) refers to him as ‘Soberano de Onor’ (sovereign of Honnavar).

Some historical accounts state that Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagar Empire permitted the Portuguese to build a fort at Bhatkal in 1510. Prior to that, in 1502, Vasco da Gama torched its port. Luís Vaz de Camões in the final instalment of his epic Os Lusíadas (Canto Ten, verse 66) waxes jingoistic about ‘Baticala’: ‘Having cleared India of enemies, he [Dom Martim Affonso de Sousa, viceroy of Estado da Índia 1542-45] will take up the viceroy’s sceptre, With no opposition, nor any danger; For all fear him and none complain, Except Baticala, which brings on itself the pains Beadala [a southern port near Rameshwaram captured in 1538 by Affonso de Sousa] already suffered’.

Mangalore fell into Portuguese hands in 1524, and Honnavar and Kundapura in 1569. But links between Goa and Kanara pre-dated the Portuguese era as well, with migrations in both directions due to trade, or the ravages of pestilence and famine. The history of the Estado da Índia is marked by its heavy reliance on imports of rice from the rich paddy fields of Kanara and the Províncias do Norte for its sustenance. Annual tribute was received from Honnavar, Bhatkal and Basrur (Barcelor) in Kundapur district in the form of thousands of bags of rice.

Persecution added to the reasons many Goans, both Hindu and Catholic, migrated to Kanara, as is still evident from many surnames one encounters there. And in the reverse direction, we still encounter surnames here that are in fact place-names there: Mundkur, Padubidri, Kumta, Mulki, Uchil.

In the failed 1787 revolt (Conjuração dos Pintos) in Goa against the Portuguese, the outside assistance sought of ‘200 Muslims’ from beyond the Estado would probably have been of Kanara origin.

Mangalore brought to mind the wonderful ethnography ‘In an Antique Land’ written in narrative form by Amitav Ghosh, which I was reading at the time of our last trip. In it, he traces the history of a 12th century Jewish merchant Abraham Ben Yiju, and his slaves Ashu and Bomma, using documents from the Cairo Genizah, Jewish manuscript fragments spanning a millennium, in the genizah (store-room) of Ben Ezra synagogue, Cairo. Blowing the centuries of dust off the trail of Bomma from India to the Middle East, and of Ben Yiju in the reverse direction, Ghosh devotes a whole chapter to Mangalore. Its allure, as he puts it, was that it was “one of the premier ports of an extremely wealthy hinterland: a region that was well endowed with industrial crafts, apart from being one of the richest spice-producing territories of the medieval world.”

It was inevitable that ports like Mangalore and others along the Kanara coast should have strong links with Goa, another key port, borne out by travellers through history.

As in Goa, the past in Karnataka is simultaneously obscured, but also manifest in other ways. For instance, Portuguese is hardly spoken or understood on the city streets and in the villages today. But what do my son Manuel and his cousin, (and the rest of us), say to their great-grandmother, the family doyenne, at the end of the pre-bedtime rosary (ruzar)? “Bessao (Benção) di, Mãe!” There are two Portuguese loan-words in that three-word sentence.

(An edited version of this article was published on 23 July 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

My article on Maria Badstue in Scroll.in!

A Danish opera star discovered her origins in a briefcase – they led to a holy city in Maharashtra

The Royal Opera House in Mumbai is poised to stage its first full-length Italian opera, Domenico Cimarosa’s comedy Il Matrimonio Segreto, with a run of four performances from July 27 to 29. The opera’s conductor Maria Badstue has a heartwarming connection to India – she was adopted from here by a Danish family at five months of age and is returning to the country for the first time in 35 years.

Read my account of her wonderful story here in Scroll.in.

This resonated strongly within me as founder and project director of Child’s Play India Foundation, a music education charity working with underprivileged children. Our whole ethos rests on the untapped potential of India’s disadvantaged children and the transformative power of music in their lives.

Get tickets to see her in action here.

Laudato Si and Goa

In my half-century as a baptised Roman Catholic, these current years with Pope Francis at the helm are easily the most exciting time to be part of the faith. I used to feel that during the John Paul II era as well, but this Pope has gone beyond all before him in reaching out to others, pushing boundaries and breaking stereotypes.

When he was elected, and the news mentioned that he was the first Jesuit Pope in Papal history, I remember finding this odd, as the Jesuits are unquestionably a leading order among the various clerical orders within the Roman Catholic faith. I was thinking further about this at the recent, well-organised and extremely illuminating and thought-provoking conference “Towards a history of the Jesuits in South Asia: Post-Restoration Period” at the Xavier Centre for Historical Research, Porvorim at the end of last month.

Given that the Jesuit order began in 1540, and there was a long suppression, beginning in 1773 and ending in their Restoration only in 1814, with their re-emergence in many parts of the world even later for logistic reasons, it made more sense.

But it also dawned on me that Pope Francis’ path-breaking, hard-hitting ‘Laudato Si (Praise Be to You): On Care of Our Common Home’, his 2015 encyclical on the environment and climate change, is a logical extension of “Finding God in all things” which is at the core of the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus; indeed this idea is contained in the very beginning of the spiritual awakening of Saint Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises, composed by him before he had even become a priest.

Laudato Si Goa

Although the encyclical gets its title from and begins with a quote from the beautiful canticle ‘Laudato si, mi Signore’ (Praise be to You, my Lord) of St. Francis of Assisi (whose name this Pope took as his “guide and inspiration when elected Bishop of Rome”) and refers to him extensively, the influence of St. Ignatius seems evident as well.

In addressing climate change head-on in the very first chapter (‘What is happening to our Common Home’), Pope Francis effectively rebukes those (for example the Evangelical far-Right in the US) who use the bogey of religion as a spurious argument against the very notion or existence of climate change as an entity and a major problem facing our world today.

Laudato Si is a lengthy read, but just a few pages into it one can easily understand why Fr. Bismarque Dias was so excited when the encyclical was released, barely a few months before his brutal murder in November 2015.

In it, Pope Francis lashes out against the evil effects of mining projects, “which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture” (Chapter Four, ‘Integral Ecology’). Even earlier, in the first chapter, under the subheading ‘The Issue of Water’, he refers to the threat of pollution to underwater sources due to mining, “especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls.”

Just as pertinent, with the Damocles sword of the disastrous Mormugão Port Trust plans for a coal hub hanging uncomfortably over our heads (like the ominous black cloud of soot that blew over Panjim across from MPT during a particularly stormy gale some weeks ago; it is a harbinger of much worse to come if the coal hub becomes reality), Pope Francis in Chapter Five ‘Lines of Approach and Action’ reminds us of the redundancy of coal as an energy source in the 21st century: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels –especially coal, but also oil, and to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

This is the great Goan paradox: while the world media lauds India for cancelling plans to build nearly 14 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations due to solar energy prices falling to record low levels, we in Goa seem to be in reverse gear, with a coal hub being foisted on us even as the rest of the country wipes its hands clean of coal.

Isn’t it bizarre that at the same time that some £6.9 billion-worth of existing coal power plants at Mundra in Gujarat are deemed “no longer viable because of the prohibitively high cost of imported coal” and when investors the world over are showing interest in India’s burgeoning solar energy sector, that a regressive coal hub is proposed in our backyard? Daal mein kuchch kaala hai, and it is likely to be the highly polluting kaala patthar and everything that comes with it.

It has been two years since ‘Laudato Si’ was published, but it is my view that we the faithful have collectively not taken the time to read it, meditate upon its many messages and transform our own thinking, actions and way of life.

For instance, in Chapter Six (‘Ecological Education and Spirituality’), Pope Francis writes under the subheading ‘Educating for the Covenant between Humanity and the Environment’: “There is a nobility in the duty of care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights and appliances…All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.”

Further along, he says something which to me is the most profound in the whole encyclical: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”

If we bear in mind just this message, we will not cut a hill; and think well before cutting a tree, or depleting our earth and water and air through mining; we will not pollute our oceans, rivers and lakes; we will not allow air, water and soil to be polluted by coal or any other pollutant; we will shun plastic. And we will not harm or allow harm to those less fortunate or more vulnerable than us. For we will see God in all beings and in all things.

(An edited version of this article was published on 16 July 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

The great Patriotism tug-of-war

The 2002 FIFA World Cup was special for me as it was the first time I was following it all away from home, and in England. Football mania was everywhere, and support for the home team was running high.

At the St. Albans high street weekend market, there was a stall selling outrageously oversized flags of what seemed like every nation on earth, the sort that would be draped by fans over the side of stadium balconies to cheer their team on.

On an impulse, I asked the man if he had the Indian tricolour. Yes, he had. Before I knew it, money had changed hands and I was walking away with an outrageously oversized Indian flag and not a clue what I was going to do with it.

I decided to fly it from the top of my hospital digs, directly above me. A few hospital officials looked at it and me with bemusement at first, but they left me and the flag alone. Even my Pakistani colleagues took it in good humour, and local cabbies told me it had become a convenient landmark in the maze that NHS accommodation can often be (“Take the second right after you pass the tricolour”). It has fluttered at other UK destinations that NHS subsequently chose to send me, each patch of land each time becoming “forever a piece of India” in spirit, well, at least for the duration of my stint there.

Two years before that, when I came home to bury my father in St. Inez, I draped the fresh earth over him in three bands, of marigolds of orange and white, and palm fronds, because I felt it would be a fitting thing to do, as the idea of India meant so much to him.

indian tricolour flowers

I still have a sheaf of letters in my possession, from Tristão de Bragança Cunha (1891-1958) to him from the 1940s and 50s, my dad’s Bombay years, that can attest to this. My parents even chose Independence Day as their marriage date, although for my mother the feast of Our Lady on that day as well made it a welcome additional bonus.

When I came back to India to set up Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org) and after the inception of our ensemble, Camerata Child’s Play India in 2013, the first piece I arranged for it was our national anthem, motivated not just by patriotic fervour, but because I felt that a good four-part harmony arrangement of the Jana Gana Mana was sorely needed. Many of you who have been to our concerts will have heard it, as we have begun so many concerts with it. The timing of our monsoon and Christmas concerts makes it appropriate as they fall fairly close to Independence Day and Liberation Day respectively.

When my son came of kindergarten age, one of the first songs he learnt to sing was the anthem, and when we went to the cinema, he would sing it with gusto (and I with him) before the main feature began. And we still do, whether at the cinema, or at our balcony watching the flag-hoisting at the Post Office on national holidays (as did my father with us as children).

Where am I going with this? All the above examples of outpourings of patriotic spirit were spontaneous, motivated by a genuine, deep-felt love for our country. There was no diktat from above, or from anywhere, no arm-twisting “do this or else”.

To put it simply, we were being driven by an innate love, not by external coercion. And this love had absolutely nothing to do with fear. It had even less to do with hatred. It was certainly not measured by how much one hated anyone else, whether a historic enemy or enemies across our borders, or anyone even within our borders that a ruling dispensation might deem ‘anti-national’, or a recasting of historical figures from the past, again because a ruling dispensation felt it suited a certain narrative better.

This is why the current political and social scenario is so disappointing, disheartening and soul-draining. A handful of people have become self-appointed custodians of that sacred entity called patriotism. A deft sleight-of-hand by them can turn a vested interest into artificial matters of burning national importance.

The atmosphere is so charged and the climate so fraught with fear that one has to weigh every sentence, every word, lest some bigot find even an imaginary whiff of ‘anti-national’ sentiment or sedition within it. It is the anti-thesis of the country that Tagore envisioned “Where the mind is without fear, where the head is held high.” On the contrary, ‘keep your head down and your mouth shut’ seems to be the order of the day.

Where does one even start to cite examples? There are so many. But the alarming pattern of public lynching of members of a minority community by self-appointed vigilantes and guardians and rakshaks of culture and morality in different corners of the country, the flagrant hate speech and calls for public hangings of people over food choices, the moral policing, is getting more and more entrenched, while the government and law-and-order machinery is either mute spectator or at best offers wishy-washy comments (“We have to look at both sides.” Really? Isn’t the public beating to death of a citizen by a mob an unequivocal crime? What “other side” can there possibly be?) that only embolden and shield the perpetrators. Too few in the media and in society are speaking out.

Any criticism of, or objections to projects that seem to be motivated more by corporate self-interest and greed rather than the public good are condemned as “anti-national.” It seems a handy rug under which any annoying public dissent can easily be swept, no questions asked.

One is reminded of Arundhati Roy’s recent article “My Seditious Heart” in Caravan magazine. Instead of being compelled to submit to a rigid, austere, authoritarian, straitjacketed, oppressive, singular vision of what it means to be Indian, she asks: “What if some of us dream instead of creating a society to which people long to belong? What if some of us dream of living in a society that people are not forced to be part of? What if some of us don’t have colonialist, imperialist dreams? What if some of us dream instead of justice? Is it a criminal offence?”

The India I want to belong to has no place for hatred and violence. Let there be love instead, for our country and for every one of her citizens, regardless of background, gender, faith or any other consideration. Amen.

(An edited version of this article was published on 02 July 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

The good old days when the Times of India devoted dedicated space to Music, and even had an in-house music critic!

My dad was fond of saving newspaper clippings if he found an article or news item interesting. He would slip them into a book related to the subject. So I’m constantly ambushed by little time capsules, blasts from the past that take me back decades and trigger all sorts of memories from those times.

Here is one I found today, from 1980, a concert review of a recital by Ruggiero Ricci, with Mehroo Jeejeebhoy at the piano:

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The benefits to a child of a good music education

After seven years and counting in music education through Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org) and also in the wider community, as a friend or relative to peers who are now parents of growing children, I hear this constant refrain: “My child has got exams round the corner, so s/he had better take a break from music lessons for a while”; or “This is an important year for my child, so we’ll take a sabbatical from music for a whole year”; or “Now that my son/daughter is in medicine/law/(fill in the blank), it’s best that we shelve music altogether.”

Parents and children have the best of intentions, of course; there are only so many hours in a day after all, and the competition to get into colleges and higher education gets more and more fierce each year.

But doctors, scientists and researchers are finding increasing benefits to the growing and adult brain development that should make parents really sit up and take notice.

It would be worthwhile examining the mounting evidence. The results of a study conducted at the University of Kansas in 2014 seem to confirm a long-held anecdotal observation that “increased music participation has important direct and indirect effects on positive outcomes in student achievement and engagement.”

music education

After a study period of four years involving over 6000 children, the researchers were convinced that “education advocates should also be advocates for music education.” A detailed description of this study, selection criteria, methods used, data collected, complete with graphs and tables, and analysis of the data, results and conclusions is available online in the public domain for those interested.

It used to be thought that the reason that children exposed to music did better at school was because “the smart kids participate in music.” This study dispels this notion. Analysis of data showed that students (regardless of background) engaged in music education programmes outperformed their peers on every measurable indicator.

The observation of one of the researchers, Becky Eason, was also telling: “One of the key findings that shouldn’t get lost is how important music is for creating a sense of belonging and purpose for the students who participate. They identify themselves as musicians, as being in the band or chorus, and they’re motivated to come to school so that they can participate in music. The students also believe that music participation teaches them skills like discipline and concentration that they can use to their benefit throughout the school days.”

We have certainly noticed this at Child’s Play India. The bonds of friendship even across our various locations become ever stronger as our project grows, and there is a fulfilling sense of achievement as the years progress and the children notch more and more concerts and performance opportunities under their belts. Our children correspond through a pen-pal programme with peers in a likeminded music education project in the US called Phoenixville Phiddlesticks, and the letters from the children to each other reflect this sentiment repeatedly.

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The Kansas study was conducted in partnership with ‘Music Makes Us’, an initiative focussing on music literacy and student participation, for all students from kindergarten to Grade 12. The quality of music education imparted, however, must extremely high for beneficial effects to be noted, and this is something that we must address in India. Noted Goan-origin music educator and pianist Karl Lutchmayer touched upon this as well in a recent interview to the national press.

Another contemporaneous research article published in the scientific journal ‘Frontiers in Psychology’ by neuroscientist Dr. Nina Kraus et al from Northwestern University Illinois was of even greater interest to me, given Child’s Play’s particular emphasis on children from the underprivileged sector. The paper was titled “Engagement in community music classes sparks neuroplasticity and language development in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.” This was a much smaller study group involving just twenty-six children between the ages of six to nine; they were followed as they participated in a music education programme for 2 years. But the beneficial effects of music education even over a 2-year observation period were unmistakable.

And the benefits of a music education are not limited to just the classroom. One of the largest scientific studies looking at the effect of music on the brain (conducted at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, with a study group of 232 children between the ages of six to 18 and assessed by magnetic resonance imaging and behavioural testing) seems to indicate that music provides “tremendous benefits to children’s emotional and behavioural maturation.”

James Hudziak, professor of psychiatry involved in the study noted: “What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument, it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”

The study “provides even more evidence as to why providing children with high-quality education may be one of the most effective ways to ensure their success in life.”

56-year old Hudziak was sufficiently impressed and inspired by the results of his own study to take up a musical instrument (viola) himself, having not had the opportunity to learn a musical instrument in his own childhood.

I was not able to easily access similar studies conducted in India, using either western or Indian music education projects, but I am pretty certain they would reveal salutary effects on children’s academic performance and other life development parameters as well.

The important thing however, to belabour the point, is the quality of music education, and we have to strive harder to raise the bar here while simultaneously pushing for wider access to greater numbers of children in India. Quality should never become a casualty to quantity.

Paradoxically, music education, not just in India but worldwide, gets neglected or very cursorily addressed when it comes to budgeting and formulating mainstream education reform agendas. As increasing data gathers to demonstrate that music education can play such a vital role in child development, educators everywhere will have to factor this into mainstream education programmes.

(An edited version of this article was published on 25 June 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Dance in Music: the Gavotte

Spurred on by the positive feedback I have received from local readers, and thanks to the reach of the internet, to music educators further afield, I have decided to continue the ‘Dance in Music’ series that I began some columns ago with the Minuet.

Rather than follow a historical, chronological order in looking at dance terms in music, I felt it better to address them according to the frequency with which we might encounter them, as music students and teachers, or in a concert programme. So let us look this week at the gavotte (also gavot or gavote).

The gavotte is an old French dance form. It originated in the southeast of France, in the Pays du Gap region; its inhabitants were called Gavots, and their folk dance, the gavotte.

gavotte

It became popular in the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, where Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) composed many examples, and its vogue in Paris lasted until the French Revolution. In its early days as a courtly dance, the gavotte involved couples kissing, but (reminiscent of Bollywood censorship and prudishness here!) this was replaced by the presentation of flowers.

Passing to other countries, it became one of the optional movements of the classical dance suite. The gavotte, the third in six movements of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita no. 3 in E major, BWV 1006, is a notable example.

It featured on the Voyager Records sent with the spacecraft launched into outer space in 1977.

An internet search reveals that many people looked up ‘gavotte’ in order to learn more about the lyrics of Carly Simon’s 1972 song ‘You’re so vain’; in the first verse she sings “You had one eye on the mirror/ And watched yourself gavotte.” In this context, she is referring to the protagonist’s self-absorbed, narcissistic dancing. Interesting use of ‘gavotte’ as a verb, and it also implies a solo dance. There is poetic license, of course, i song-writing, and a rhyme word was needed to follow ‘yacht’ and ‘apricot’. But the gavotte is danced by a couple or a group.

It is notated in 4/4 or 2/2 and in a moderate tempo. It is usually in simple binary form (which means it has two contrasting sections, A & B); the sections are often repeated.

The distinctive feature of the 18th-century French court gavotte is that the phrases begin in the middle of the bar; so the phrases begin on the third crotchet of the bar, creating a half-measure upbeat.

For this reason, the ‘gavotte’ by François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829), which is widely taught to music students, is not a gavotte in the purest sense, as the phrases begin on the downbeat, at the beginning of the bar.

But later composers like Gossec wrote gavottes with phrases beginning on the downbeat rather than on the half-bar upbeat. The gavotte in Jules Massenet’s opera Manon also begins on the downbeat.

Another ‘upbeat’ example worth visiting, because it also features in teaching material of many music students, is the Gavotte I/II in Bach’s Orchestral Suite no. 3 in D major, BWV 1068. It is the central third movement of this five-movement suite. Incidentally the second movement of this suite is an Air (better known to many of us as the Air on the G string, after it was arranged for solo violin).

Bach fused the Italian and French styles with his own German musical tradition. This very engaging fusion of three national styles can be observed in this suite.

It is thought that the original composition of the suite was for strings and continuo alone; his son C.P.E. Bach wrote out the trumpet oboe and timpani parts, and Bach senior’s student Johann Ludwig Krebs wrote out the second violin and viola parts.

Bach called this suite an ‘ouverture’; its very name indicates its French influence. The French ouverture was meant to be a festive composition written for an occasion. It was meant to precede a stage-work, such as an opera or a ballet. Its form had become standardised under the strong influence of Lully. A grandiose Adagio opening indicating the entrance of the courtiers, would be followed by a gay, brilliant allegro section, to suggest the entertainment to come.

Bach largely adhered to this French tradition, but also greatly enriched it, melodically (often with the bass line itself taking the melody), and with great dynamism in harmonic progression and variety. He thus raised the stature of the French dance suite to musical heights, which were to pave the way for great serenades and symphonies of the following generation.

The rhythm of the gavotte is two light steps and one heavy step twice as long. Musically, this rhythm is a light upbeat and a heavy downbeat. But Bach didn’t intend for this gavotte to be danced; the rhythm of the dance was for him only a springboard for musical invention.

Gavotte I has two subsections, of 10 and 16 bars length respectively. Each subsection is usually repeated.

In Gavotte I, the lower instruments mimic the rhythm of the upbeat when the melody is playing the longer heavy step or downbeat.

The first gavotte is linked to a second (Gavotte II). In this second gavotte, Bach extends the upbeat to three times its normal length. Melodically, this becomes a broken chord or arpeggio. Its many appearances throughout the movement are punctuated by the trumpets.

Gavotte II also has two subsections, also usually repeated, and each 16 bars in length.

Bach makes use of an ingenious device at the end of each part of this second gavotte: when the upper instruments finish off the phrase, Bach cleverly uses the arpeggio, which is the rhythmical and melodic motive of this movement, as a bass; thus it acts as a musical punctuation mark.

If one were to look at Gavotte I as A, and Gavotte II as B, it is performed as A-B-A, with gavotte I ending the movement, usually without repeating each subsection.

In popular culture, a song ‘Ascot Gavotte’ features in the 1956 My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. It is an ‘upbeat’ gavotte, with a suitably canter-trot tempo for the Ascot races.

(An edited version of this article was published on 18 June 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

The Battler of Men: A Parable for our Times

Had you visited our house until the mid-1990s, you might have noticed, while walking up the winding stone stairway, a black-and-white print of a painting on the wall above you.

This was just one of the artworks that were on display in the entrance stairwell, until the thefts began. First the beautiful Japanese porcelain face masks over each doorway disappeared; then the shiny brass railing. We even had to place protective padlocked cages around lightbulbs, as they vanished too.

The painting survived, deemed by thieves too inaccessible, heavy, and uninteresting. I knew it depicted a scene from ancient Greece, but it didn’t arouse further curiosity.

I don’t know how long the print has been in the family, but the fact that it is titled in German “Die Gefangene Andromache” (“Captive Andromache”) suggests it was purchased by my grandfather during his years in Germany.

Today, of course, everything is accessible online. So here is a picture of the painting in colour; the original oil painting hangs in the Manchester City Art Gallery,s the work (1888) of English sculptor and painter Sir Frederic Leighton (1830-1896).

frederic_leighton_40_captive_andromache

Leighton, like so many other artists, was partial to themes from ancient Greek history and mythology. This is a scene depicting the sequel, if you will, to Homer’s Iliad: the aftermath of the Trojan War.

It’s still not a historical certainty that the Trojan War actually took place, although there are so many different accounts of it down the ages that it must contain at least a basic kernel of truth.

According to Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged between the 13th and 12th centuries BC. The trigger was the abduction (or perhaps the elopement) of Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, to Troy by Paris, prince of Troy.

If the Trojan War was indeed a historical event, historians now feel that Helen’s abduction was a convenient pretext (just was the fabricated ‘weapons of mass destruction’ were for the invasion of Iraq) for a concerted Greek attack on the rich city of Troy. Its location in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) near the narrow Dardanelles strait (known in antiquity as Hellespont) joining the Black Sea to the Aegean, made it of strategic importance on the vital trade routes connecting East and West. In addition to spices, gold and other riches, it also handled copper and tin necessary for making bronze, the crucial alloy for fashioning armaments in the Bronze Age. Just as wars today are fought over oil, whatever the ostensible reasons given to us are, so it is also plausible to assume that the Trojan War, a supposedly ‘just war’ based on lofty principles and honour, like so many ‘just wars’ after it, was actually a grab for power and control.

The principal characters in the Trojan War are, on the Greek side: Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus; another king Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin), king of Ithaca and part of the Greek coalition; and the Greek hero-warrior Achilles.

On the Trojan side: Priam, king of Troy; his sons Hector and Paris, princes of Troy and his daughter Cassandra, princess of Troy; and Andromache, wife of Hector, by whom she has an infant son Astyanax. There are many more on both sides, but these will suffice for us. Hector is the Trojan hero-warrior counterpart to the Greek Achilles.

According to Homer’s Iliad, the war raged for ten years, with neither side the victor; the formidable battlements of the fortress-city of Troy were immune to attack, and there were obviously sufficient food and water supplies within despite the long siege.

Matters come to a head when Achilles, maddened with rage after the death of his cousin Patroclus, challenges Hector to a duel. This is given much melodrama in the 2004 Hollywood film Troy.

Ironically, the soldier idealised by Homer is the Trojan warrior-hero Hector. He has the character of the model soldier and citizen.

Andromache in classical Greek means “battler of men” (Andros= male; mache=battle). In many accounts of the story and in the 2004 film, when Hector bids goodbye to his family, Andromache beseeches him not to rise to Achilles’ bait. In Hector’s response, Homer foreshadows the end of the Trojan War and its outcome for not just Hector and for Troy, but for his nuclear family as well, tilting the reader’s sympathy in favour of Troy rather than Greece.

Like any husband, Hector tells Andromache he cares more for her and their son than for his country. He is fighting for something much more personal: his wife, his child and his home. We identify very much with Hector and with Troy.

Hector envisages that Andromache will soon be a widow and Astyanax an orphan. What even he is unable to foresee (and Homer’s Iliad ends before the outcome of the Trojan War is revealed) is that the outcome will actually be far more gruesome. Achilles murders Hector in full view of Andromache, and then defiles the corpse by dragging it behind his chariot around the city walls. King Priam has to beg for the return of his son’s body, so it can be given a proper hero’s farewell.

And when Troy eventually falls (whether the Trojan horse is a literal device of Greek deceit, or a metaphor for an ancient ‘weapon of mass destruction’ is unclear), Andromache has her son Astyanax wrenched from her bosom and hurled from the battlement walls, killing him instantly; the Greeks consider it too dangerous to allow Astyanax to live lest he grow up to avenge his father and his countrymen. The Greeks’ ‘just war’ ends unjustly, dishonourably and deceitfully.

And what of Andromache? She becomes a ‘spoil of war’. No time to even grieve her husband and son, she is forcibly made concubine to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus.

It is at this juncture that Leighton portrays Andromache. She is literally at the centre of the painting, clad in drab black clothes (signifying mourning to 19th century England, even if not ancient Greece) in stark contrast to the bright colours worn by everyone else. Head bowed, isolated from those who bustle around her, she contemplates her fate.

A once-proud princess, she is now reduced to the menial task of drawing water from the common well, and patiently waits her turn in the queue.

And although Leighton couldn’t have foreseen it in 1888, the cloud directly above Andromache resembles eerily the mushroom cloud we associate with another horror of warfare, the atom bomb.

Andromache is true to her name, not in the literal sense of ‘battling’ men. Not every battle need be fought in the physical sense, all blood and gore. But her character and her life, although influenced, prodded, traumatised and brutalised by testosterone-fuelled notions of war, honour, glory, rise above it all. She seems to be questioning both the victor and the loser in the war whether the human toll and blood price was really worth it.

(An edited version of this article was published on 11 June 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Ode to a Martaban Jar

Like many Goan homes, ours too had earthenware heirlooms scattered about the house. They were ovoid jars of varying size, and years of dust and grime and use had obscured their features. With the water shortages (remember the Opa crisis and the molasses scandal?), they assumed the role of reservoirs, and therefore found their place in our kitchen and bathrooms.

martaban jar

But like so much else that innocuously hides in plain sight in Goa, they had a story to tell, so here it is. Let’s start with their name. They are called Martaban jars, named after a port Mottama in Burma (modern-day Myanmar) where they were produced in bulk, but soon became a generic term for similar jars used along the spice trade route between East and West.

The demand of traders initially from the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Gulf, and later the Europeans as well, for large jars in which to store water, oil, wine, spices and other commodities was met by the supply at Mottama/Martaban of Chinese, Sawankhalok (from the Sukhothai province, Thailand) and local jars so that the term ‘Martaban’ was used for a wide range of jars from many sources. The Burmese connection persists with similar jars still being manufactured, using the same processes, at Kyaukmyaung in upper Myanmar.

Following the Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511, a feitoria (‘factory’) was opened by them in Martaban in 1521. Joost Schouten (c. 1600-1644), diplomat, administrator and negotiator for the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) or the Dutch East India Company, reported that “apart from foodstuffs, the Peguans [natives of Pegu, modern-day Bago in Myanmar] imported gold, rubies, musk, tin and Martaban jars into Malacca, which they exchanged for cloth, sandalwood, pepper, cloves, silks, porcelain and iron pans.” Garcia de Orta (1501-1568), pioneer of tropical medicine and ethnobotany, refers to “jarras martabaas” in his epic ‘Colóquio dos simples e drogas e cousas medicinais da Índia”.

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611), Dutch merchant, trader, historian and likely espionage agent who copied and later sold Portuguese maritime secrets to the Dutch and helped end the Portuguese rule of the Indian Ocean, also records the presence of these jars: “In this town, many of the great earthen pots are made, which in India are called Martavans, and many of them are carried throughout all of India, of all sorts both great and small; some [are so great that they] hold to full pipes [1 pipe= 2 hogshead= approximately 105 gallons] of water. The cause why so many are brought into India, is for that they use them in every house, and in their ships instead of cask. There are none in India but such as come out of Portingall [Portugal], therefore they use these pots to keep oil, wine and water and it is a good thing for a traveller.” He describes their use for the storage and transport of ‘Nype’ (Nipa arrack, a liquor distilled from the palm Nipa fruticans)

They find mention in the chronicles of French gem merchant and traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689) and navigator François Pyrard de Laval (1578-1623) as well. British merchant sailor Thomas Bowrey (d. 1719) in his diary wryly documents a bhang-intoxicated man running his head “into a great Mortavan jarre.”

Even before them, Duarte Barbosa (c. 1480- 1521) escrivão (scribe) at the Estado da Índia feitoria at Cannanore and brother-in-law of Ferdinand Magellan and like him quite the intrepid explorer, wrote: “In this town [Martaban] are made very large and beautiful porcelain vases, and some of glazed earthenwares of a black colour, which are highly valued among the Moors, and they export them as merchandise.”

And before them, medieval Moroccan traveller and scholar Ibn Batuta (1304-1369) described the use of ‘Martabans’ probably as far away as Tonkin, for holding preserved ginger, pepper, lemons and mangoes.

Going further back, a Sanskrit inscription (Kathāsaritsagara) from around the 11th century AD makes a reference to Kalasapura (“city of jars”), a coastal town of Suvarnadvipa, whose geographic location would roughly match that of Mottama. Archaeological findings from the Dvaravati period in Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal corroborate this.

In the literature, one also finds description of pots of different sizes. Among them one finds the ‘tumbay’, “a small rounded pot with a comparatively narrow neck.” It fits the description of our ‘tambyo’ perfectly. Could the Konkani word have come from here as well?

A range of kilns have been excavated around the Bay of Martaban. The potters seemed to have been Mon (ethnic group within Myanmar), and the jars were produced mainly in the dry season, using clay and sand (clay:sand ratio of 2:1) from the riverbanks and the coast and thrown on a potter’s wheel. They were left to dry in the shade for a couple of days, and then beaten into the desired shape using a mallet against a mold inside the vessel, and ornamented using figured and carved mallets before being set aside to be thoroughly dried. They were then fired in kilns and glazed. Glazing materials included a mixture of galena (the natural mineral form of lead sulphide) and rice water.

The colours can range from black or almost black, to brown, golden brown and olive-green. Often placed around the shoulder of the jars are loop handles or pierced masks through which a rope could be passed, to keep a lid or cover in place and seal it tight. They could also have been used to secure an outer protective covering of vegetable fibre such as coconut coir, which might have made them easier to lift and carry. The Linschoten engraving depicting a market scene in the city of Goa would seem to suggest this. Many heritage enthusiasts will be familiar with it; a print was exhibited at the recent Serendipity Arts festival at the Secretariat as well. At the extreme left of the illustration, two porters seem to be carrying just such a jar, in a protective coir casing, suspended from a pole balanced on their shoulders.

jan-huyghen-van-linschoten-goa-16th-c-architecture

Were the magnificent dragons and chimera monsters on the sides of the Martaban jars merely ornamental, or did they represent a ‘trade mark’ of a particular kiln? Or could users get them custom-made with designs of their choice?

The next time you come across one of these gorgeous vessels, take the time to really admire them. Use your imagination to speculate what it once carried, and how many ports it visited, and the sights, smells, sounds, and languages it has been mute witness to. And if one is languishing in your kitchen, to borrow the lines of an Alfred Rose and Rita Rose song (he was referring to the Concanim language, but it applies here as well), “tika saalan hadunk maan diunk zai.”

(An edited version of this article was published on 04 June 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Dance in Music: the Minuet

If you are a student of a musical instrument, a music teacher, a concert-goer, or a music listener, you will have come across the word Minuet (Menuet in French; Minuetto in Italian. It might be useful to learn more about it, so we can give more context to the term the next time we find it in a concert programme, or attempt to play it. Hopefully this will be the first of many more columns that will look at other terms in music that have their origins in dance.

The minuet began as a social dance in 17th century France; the name probably originates from the small steps (or ‘pas menus’; yes, the menu we come across in a restaurant essentially also means ‘small’, a ‘small’ list) which are part of the dance. It may also have derived from popular group dances of the time, called branle à mener (to move) or amener (to lead).

It is typically in triple (or 3/4; sometimes 6/8) time, to be danced by two people, at a moderate tempo or speed, with a light quality to it. It is this lightness and elegance that gives it its character.

Minuet

In its dance avatar, it was usually in binary form. All this means is that it had two repeated sections, A and B. Each of these sections are usually eight bars each in length.

The minuet gradually began to be used out of the context of dancing, which allowed composers to use the idiom but quicken the tempo if they so wished. The Italian-born French composer (incidentally also a fine dancer) Jean-Baptiste Lully (born Giovanni Battista Lulli 1632-1687) used it extensively (at least 92 times, by one estimate) in his theatrical works, such as opera and ballet.

It later got incorporated into the musical form called the suite, or the dance suite, about which more in another column. Orchestral suites of the late 17th century often contained one or even two minuets. And this could be true of suites for solo instruments as well. For instance, the Partita no. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 (basically a suite) for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) has two minuets as the fourth and fifth of its seven movements.

And the minuet began to evolve as well. The B section got expanded, often resulting in a ternary A-B-A form. And could get more complex than that as well.

Around the time of Lully, it became customary to give the now ‘middle’ B section over to a trio of usually wind instruments (Lully seemed partial to two oboes and a bassoon), although other combinations were also scored. Over time, this contrasting section began to be called a trio, even when scored for groups larger than three, or even the whole ensemble.

It is thought that Austrian composer Georg Christoph Wagenseil (1715-1777) was the first to incorporate the minuet and trio into the symphony, and it remained an integral part, usually the third movement of the four-movement Classical symphony, until Beethoven tossed convention to the winds and replaced it with the scherzo. Again, more about this some other time.

A good example of a ‘true’ minuet, in binary form, with equal eight-bar sections, is the famous minuet from the finale of act 1 of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni.

A minuet often used for didactic purposes for students of the piano and violin is the Minuet in G major, (BWV Anh. 114), essentially a keyboard work thought to be by Johann Sebastian Bach included in the 1725 Notebook (Notebüchlein) for Anna Magdalena Bach, his second wife, whom he loved very much. I must confess I thought it to be the work of Bach too, and was surprised to learn that several musicologists now credit it to Bach’s contemporary, the German composer Christian Petzold 91677-1733). But music books for students, including the Suzuki book 1 for violin, still ascribe it to Bach.

Nevertheless, it still is a good example to look at. Its tempo marking is, as discussed before, Moderato, at medium speed, neither too slow nor too fast, and as its title suggests, it is in the key of G major.

The ‘A’ section is sixteen bars long, divided into two equal eight-bar subsections. The first six bars in each subsection are exactly the same. Without getting into technicalities about cadences (chord sequence at the close of a musical phrase), but suffice it to say that the remaining two bars act like a semi-colon after the first subsection, and a decisive full stop after the second, to use a literary simile.

The ‘B’ section begins in E minor, which is like a cousin to G major, being its relative minor. It too is sixteen bars long, and also has two eight-bar subsections. But there the structural similarity ends. The composer takes the contour of the first bar of the work and tweaks and plays with this idea; he also travels (this is called modulation) to new keys thus far unexplored. The first subsection ends with a lovely chord (D7) familiar to jazz and popular musicians as a dominant seventh.

The last subsection has a new idea for a melodic shape, but its last four bars recall the shape of the last four bars of the first B subsection in returning ‘home’ to G major.

I would encourage those interested to go to YouTube and have a listen. If you feel a sense of déjà vu (or perhaps that should be déjà entendu), it may be because, like me, you also grew up listening to the Stars on 45 compilations, and this melody, albeit modified, makes a brief appearance in one of them.

The 1965 pop song is ‘A Lover’s Concerto’, turned into a smash hit by the girl group the Toys. It takes ‘inspiration’ (plagiarism is too strong a word, and in any case copyright laws don’t apply for composers sop long dead) from just the A section of the minuet. It is modified by adding an extra beat in each bar, effectively making it in 4/4 time instead of 3/4. This is achieved by doubling the length of the first beat in every bar. The same A section is repeated over and over, but rising a notch with a key change each time.

And if you’ve seen the 1995 film Mr. Holland’s Opus, the title character (played wonderfully by Richard Dreyfuss), in trying to enthuse his school students about music in general and classical music in particular, cites this very song and makes the connection to Bach, although we now know the credit should go to Mr. Petzold. And what about Mr. Petzold’s opus? Was he a one-hit wonder, or did he write music just as memorable as this minuet? Definitely worth exploring.

(An edited version of this article was published on 28 May 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)