About the Author: The author is a chartered accountant working in the field of exports with an unquenchable thirst for writing and singing. He has written about music and film music on his blog and also contributed articles to the blog of a well-known film critic. Before the pandemic, the author was also a passionate amateur tennis player with a proud record of losing in every tournament he participated in! The time not devoted anymore to tennis is now spent unleashing his vocal gymnastics on a small audience of relatives, friends, and well-wishers.
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At 220 pages, the book is a unique blend of the home and the world, the personal life and take of the author with the professional lives of those who are the stalwarts of Indian music industry. It is moderately lengthy and has a quick pace. The short, crisp sentences make for a rhythmic read that jumps, thumps and seems to be making a lot of quality music. The book cover just as much as the title gives away a lot of what the plot is about. Covered in hues of brown, it has all sorts of mix of classical and modern musical instruments starting from the table, dholak to the electric guitar and saxophone. There is the image of a young boy with headphones on and grooving to some feet thumping tunes which is probably reflective of Madan Mohan.
However, there are highs and lows in the book though mostly highs that lead to an unpredictable character of the book and there are elements that are meant to be devoured by the reader, more so if the reader is a music lover. While classical and modern music are contradictory genres but they blend in and reside in the heart of the author like colours in a rainbow. This strikes a balance that may be monotonous to non- music lovers but has a symphony of its own to those who understand the nuances of the art of making music.
The content of the book covers major Hindi composers from the 50s to 70s in short paragraphs which include their biography and achievements. There is mostly analysis of the songs from each of the composers, a metrical and technical analysis that are fair opinion pieces bringing out the good and the great in each. In the case of Ilyaraja and Rahman, he has discussed more than 2 songs. The analysis covers the overall effect of the songs through the pace, the tone, the notes, troughs and crests in the melody and the arrangement. In the case of Ilyaraja and Rahman there is also the analysis of chord writing. This is something that Mohan calls a Western music centric analysis which means that he is trying to analyse Indian compositions using parameters that are different from Indian, tending towards the western but in no way a biased interpretation. No matter how subjective, Mohan has a sensitivity towards the art and the world of these artistes who compose with their senses as much as with their souls.
The disclaimer needs to be put in that the book in no way is trying to showcase one style or composer over the other. Rather it is all a personal take from an experienced individual who has taste, knowledge and good sense of music. This is where there seems to emerge some contradiction as Mohan confesses not knowing all the ragas of Carnatic/ Hindustani music but presents his take on these genres of music. Although he names the raga of the specific song being analysed, he agrees that he is not completely equipped to carry out the analysis of which raga the composers were accustomed to use. The book does not contain any analysis of lyrics or lyricists. This limits the scope of the book to one that has technical analysis. This also limits the target audience which can be any reader at the intermediate level but mainly someone who has a deep interest in Indian music.
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The amazing thing about the book is that it is not commercially inclined but the content is expressive of personal views. This does not mean that the views are not logical or rational. Many may have points of difference but regardless of that the book is worth a read.
Candid, passionate and full of life, the book is a vivid narration of a voracious music lover. While it has a confessional note to it, the book shows the evolution of the individual and music genres in Hindi language which paradoxically does not happen to be the mother tongue of the author. Mohan was born in Chennai and spent his infancy in Kolkata and later moved to Mumbai. This explains the subtitle of the book ‘A Mumbai Tamil’s Musical Journey.’ Quipping about his eccentricity and highlighting the unique position he finds himself in Mohan notes, “You see I am not a boomer/ Gen X curmudgeon who heard the songs of the golden era as they happened, on radio or LP or cassette.”
This is what brings in the intriguing factor of the book. For someone who is not fluent with the Hindi language and has mostly spent time with Western music, will an analytical book about Indian music penned down by him be credible? Regardless of the popularity of his blog posts, Mohan’s charm is in his writing style. He is a genuinely smart conversationalist. He knows how to introduce his topic, elaborate the facts without misinterpreting them and speak from the heart. The language is simple and easy to follow with an eye for detail that jots down every single thing necessary to build the scene, to charm the reader, to keep him wanting for more. Its almost like attending a live concert. The witing style is brutally honest, straight forward, and to the point.
Book Title – Raga 2 Rock: A Mumbai Tamil’s Musical Journey
Author Name – Madan Mohan
Publisher: Notion Press
Reviewed by – Tasnima at Criticspace
Rating – 4/5
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