The Word


By Isha Manchanda

Shubha Mudgal

A book that means a lot to you?
Ye Kothewaaliyaan by Amritlal Nagar is one book that I value greatly. Being a professional woman musician in contemporary India has been, in many ways, very easy for artistes like me, but the songstresses and courtesans of yesteryears were denied respect and due appreciation. Almost always portrayed as vamps and vixens in films, the truth about these women musicians remains elusive. Amritlal Nagar’s book is one of the few records available to students of music which provides valuable information about the greatly misunderstood culture of the tawaifs.

Your favourite character?
The Little Saint in Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold. As a Hindustani musician, I have heard countless interpretations of Meerabai’s verses, some that have been impeccably rendered by the greatest singers, such as MS Subbalakshmi and Lata Mangeshkar. I have also learnt innumerable Meera bhajans myself and yet, somehow I cannot get myself to agree with the archetypal representation of the saint poetess as a blissfully calm woman clad in pristine white or saffron, holding an ektara as she sings to Krishna. Nagarkar’s portrait of Meera in Cuckold is what I would imagine her to be but could never have sketched with such exquisite detailing and felicity.

How many books do you own?
About a thousand, many about Indian music and literature.

Last book bought?
Aatish Taseer’s Stranger to History.

Last book read?
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. I’m still reading it.


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