Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Salzburg in India

Prior to our Europe trip a few years back the most difficult task before me and my wife was to decide on the number of places we should visit with a small baby of one and a half years. Our itinerary finally had only a few places in Switzerland, Germany, and yes, Salzburg in Austria for sure. To anyone interested in Western Classical Music the name Salzburg is synonymous to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, perhaps the most well known composer world wide. He has composed 626 pieces including 24 operas, 41 symphonies and over 40 concertos. Salzburg was also the place of the Von Trapp Family whose escapades were immortalized in the all time favorite 1965 Oscar winning Hollywood musical “Sound of Music”. I have been stuck with awe ever since I first saw the movie. Its songs like "My Favorite Things", "You Are Sixteen, Going on Seventeen", "Do-Re-Mi," and "Edelweiss" have been part of my growing up. Salzburg has been a fantasy land for me since childhood. I always wanted to see the edelweiss flower, the abbey, the castles, the river the trees and everything that featured in the film. Hence a Europe trip would have been meaningless for me without a visit to Salzburg. After reaching Salzburg I found that it’s not only me who’s obsessed with Mozart and “Sound of Music”, but the entire Salzburg is so. Salzburg eats drinks and breathes Mozart and “Sound of Music”, on which depends the majority of tourism. Numerous streets, university, museum, airport, a very famous international Music Festival and even a chocolate brand, Mozartkugeln, are named after its most glorious child. As per Lonely Planet a tour even includes a visit to Mozart's birthplace, his home, the grave of his father and widow, and the house of a person who once knew someone who knew someone whose great-great grandfather once played second bassoon in a Mozart opera. There are also innumerable “Sound of Music” tours showing different spots where the movie was shot. But the irony is that though born in Salzburg in 1756 Mozart felt stifled during the years that he spent as an organist and orchestra director for the Archbishops of Salzburg. He finally quit his palace job and fled to Vienna, where he died in poverty at the age of 35. But today's Salzburg residents, or at least those in the tourist business, have made up for the sins of their forefathers. Equally ironical is that most of the local people haven’t even seen the movie “Sound of Music”. Our tour guide mentioned of an anecdote that in some international seminar in China the host delegates had greeted the Austrian team with the song “Edelweiss” assuming that it might have been a very popular song in Austria. But none of the Austrian delegates had ever heard of that particular song. Whatever be the case I enjoyed the every moment in Salzburg. I put my ears on the walls of the house where Mozart was born to find out if it still reverberates with the strains of music. I bought so many mementoes bearing the name Mozart. I idled across the old downtown, entered into every possible alley and corner trying to grasp the aura of music that prevailed everywhere. In the train while returning to Frankfurt from Salzburg I had a thought.

India has a rich and very long legacy of classical music. There have been so many stalwarts in Indian music, both in present times and in past. But is there any Salzburg in India? The name that’s perhaps most widely associated with Hindustani Music is Tansen, who was born in a place near Gwalior in 1520 AD. His tomb located in Gwalior is the site of the famous Tansen Music Festival. But can we call Gwalior the Salzburg of India? In Gwalior there’s a hotel run by MP tourism named after Tansen. There can be some streets or some organizations named after Tansen. But I can’t say that Gwalior has kept Tansen alive as Salzburg has kept Mozart. Amir Khusru, considered to be the father of Hindustani Classical Music by many, or Baiju Bawra, a great proponent of the Dhrupad Style of music, has a much worse fate than Tansen. I couldn’t remember of any Music Festival or street or organization named after either of them. I argued that Tansen is almost two hundred and fifty years older than Mozart. It might have been easier for Salzburg to keep alive a more recent person. Then I recalled my only trip to Jorasanko, the place where Rabindranath Tagore was born in 1861, more than a hundred year after Mozart’s birth. Apart from the national anthem of two countries he had also composed the music of “Vande Mataram”, which was perhaps the biggest ammunition for a nonviolent India during her struggle for independence, and innumerable other songs. I wanted to feel the ambience of the house where Rabindranath grew up, walked, slept, sung and composed his music. Apart from a few rooms of the huge palatial Thakur Bari, the name by which the house of Tagores used to be referred, the rest is in shambles, like dilapidated debris of something unworthy of remembrance.

I also recalled that a few years back Delhi Development Authority had a very embarrassing moment when they found that they had created a public urinal beside the place where Mirza Ghalib had lived. Even the birth place of Gandhi seldom features among popular tourist destinations in India. If not for the sake of tradition or culture can’t we have a Salzburg in India even for the sake of business?

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