The Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) wrote to the Ministry of Civil Aviation on December 23, suggesting that Indian Airlines should play Indian music in their flights. The Council felt that such a step would go a long way to promote the country’s music. Within a few days of receiving the communication the Ministry advised the Director General of Civil Aviation and the Chairman of the Airports Authority of India that Indian airlines and Indian airports should play Indian music.
The Ministry’s advisory stated that “Music played by most airlines across the globe is quintessential of the country to which the airline belongs…” but the Ministry regretted “Indian airlines seldom play Indian music in their flights, whereas, our music has a rich heritage and culture and it is one of the many things every Indian has a reason for being truly proud of it”. The Ministry letter also noted, “Owing to India’s vastness and diversity, Indian music encompasses various genres in multiple varieties and forms, which include classical music, folk, light vocal, instrumental music etc”.
Airlines operate in a very competitive environment and attract passengers, among other means, through their inflight services. These include their entertainment packages for passengers which includes music. They seek to cater to their passengers’ tastes and provide the kind of music they feel passengers would like. In my experience the airlines also add their national music to their packages because it is the right thing to do and also because their own nationals travel are passengers. Hence, there is nothing extraordinary in the Ministry of Civil Aviation on the ICCR’s suggestion, to ask Indian airlines to provide Indian music during flights. However, the Ministry should not insist that the airlines only provide Indian music to their passengers for that would be a disincentive to many foreign travellers.
The Ministry is correct in extolling the splendour of India’s music heritage. It is good that it has noted India’s “vastness and diversity” which is reflected in the corpus of the country’s music. This corpus is the product of ancient forms which were enriched with the contribution of music traditions that came in from outside but were indigenised. This has been an ongoing process. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Ministry of Civil Aviation or the ICCR to seek to prescribe the kind of Indian music that should be provided to passengers. That choice should be left to the airlines.
Over the decades the world has recognised that Indian dance and music in all its forms and complexities is one of the great global traditions in dance and music. Indian exponents of this cultural heritage have earned fame. They include sitar maestros like Ravi Shanker and Vilayat Khan but they also include Zubin Mehta the great conductor who has been music director of a host of leading philharmonic orchestras of the western world. He began learning his craft in Mumbai before he went abroad. There is every reason to take pride in his accomplishments. In addition it can be asserted that ghazals and qawwalis are also part of the great tradition of Indian music and the great ghazal artistes such as Begum Akhtar have a firm place in the great hall of Indian music.
The fact is that Indians seldom realise how much of their culture has been moulded by outside influences through the centuries. This is so in almost aspects of life. This writer is currently in Goa which was ruled by Portugal for over four and a half centuries beginning with 1510. Thus Portugal established itself here over fifteen years before Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi to capture Delhi and lay the foundations of the Mughal dynasty. The legacy of the Portuguese connection can be witnessed in Goa’s culture and laws even after six decades of the end of Portuguese colonial rule. It is interesting that personal laws concerning marriage and inheritance are quasi-uniform in Goa unlike other parts of India where they are largely based on religious identities.
The Portuguese connection lives on generally in India in the manner in which it impacted Indian cuisine. They brought food items which are extensively used in India’s daily food from South America. These include chillies, potatoes and tomatoes. Can Indian food be imagined today without the use of these vegetables, and of chillies? It can be safely asserted that most Indians would never accept these vegetables and chillies are not native to the country. Maize which is the third most important cereal in India—after rice and wheat - too was brought by the Portuguese to India; maize is also of South Indian origin. Among fruits of South American origin which were introduced into India and are now widely cultivated are guavas and custard apples (sharifa). Pineapple too was brought by the Portuguese to India. Through the centuries they have become part of the Indian scene. It may be added that India’s favourite beverage is now tea which is essentially of foreign origin.
India has thus never been shy of accepting foreign ideas or products but has moulded the former to indigenise them in keeping with its own culture. And in accepting foreign products it has never given up its basic way of life. Thus, for instance while accepting food products from abroad it did not imitate the culinary traditions of those who brought them but included these items in its own culinary repertoire after adapting them to its own tastes. That process continues today. That is India’s genius and it is futile to attempt to prevent this process.
Before concluding this writer would like to wish all Greater Kashmir readers a happy new year.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.