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In tune with the times

Spooning a selection of salads onto her plate, Shubha presents the picture of the light eater."I do eat well, but I will feel sleepy if I eat a heavy meal.



TIME FOR A BITE: Shubha Mudgal strikes the right notes at The Park's Fire restaurant in New Delhi. Photos: S. Arneja.

SHE MAY be a regular on TV music channels, taking her classically trained voice to hypnotic heights loved by young and old alike, but Shubha Mudgal is not your usual pop celebrity. First of all, she protests, she is not a celebrity. Well, words can be quibbled over at length.

Words like fire. There's a Fire at The Park, on Parliament Street in New Delhi, where Shubha has agreed to lunch. There's fire in the air when she sings, passion when she speaks of subjects close to her heart. And spring bursts forth when she smiles. For the dignified classical singer, Fire seems a sedate enough restaurant. It's the adjacent Agni where they dance till the wee hours of the night. But, like her voice that sweeps the spectrum from classical to pop, this vocalist, who admits to "unabashedly" enjoying performing the pop numbers that have taken her to the top of the charts - clarifying that money concerns have not forced her into the fusion route - seems at home in it all. Yet, speak to her about food, and all the enthusiasm seems to fade away: "Don't ask me about my favourite food." It's music here that is the food of love.

Love, as in "Haman Hain Ishq", her latest album, brought out by Sony Music. A collaboration between Shubha Mudgal, visual artist Haku Shah and the NGOs Breakthrough and CMAC - the Centre for Media and Alternative Communication - the aim of this project is to promote the pluralistic traditions of India through medieval mystic poets like Kabir, Meera, Sunderdas and Pemi.

Shubha, who has also composed the music, has made use of Indian and non-Indian instruments. "The idea is for the text to come out." Even though sometimes in the raga elaboration of Hindustani music, the lyrics get lost, says Shubha, the emphasis on text is only natural, considering Indian music has a tradition of vaggeyakaras - composers who create the tune, lyrics and rhythmic pattern as an organic whole. Others before her have taken this approach, she says, citing Kumar Gandharva, whose devotional songs would not have had the impact they did, had not the text been so beautifully rendered. Also, she has learnt from gurus who understood the importance of literature: "Naina Devi ji, who knew beautiful Braj poetry, Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, Pandit Ram Ashreya Jha - none of their students are really able to lose sight of all that." Spooning a selection of salads onto her plate, Shubha presents the picture of the light eater. What happened to the precepts of the gurus of old, who prescribed a diet for a vocalist akin to that of a wrestler? "I do eat well, but I will feel sleepy if I eat a heavy meal now," replies the artiste who touched in from Mumbai for the promotion of "Haman Hain Ishq" and is braced to face a battery of journalists.

The other project keeping Shubha busy is the establishment of centres called Leap Years for four to 14-year-olds. The first branch is due to open in South Delhi this March. As the Fire staff unsuccessfully try to tempt her with the dessert menu, she explains that with her husband and other artistes under the guidance of Ashok Ranade, the aim is to provide children "with a safe and secure environment and also facilities to teach dance, music, photography." Her views on music teaching are forthright and imaginative, a blend of the best of institutionalisation and individual teaching. While "wonderful things have happened in music education," she also feels that "somewhere along the way we've been very rigid about our approach."

The conversation has been rich, the meal rather frugal. But, away from the table, Shubha confesses to a terrible sweet tooth. How's that for icing on the cake!

ANJANA RAJAN

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