New Delhi: In 1935, Hindi poet and humourist Prabhu Lal Garg, better known by his pen name Kaka Hathrasi, started publishing a monthly music magazine in Hindi, Sangeet. The aim, according to the website of Sangeet Karyalaya — a company Hathrasi had started in 1932 and which publishes the journal — was to bring Indian classical music, an art form practiced only by the doyens of music, and patronised by the rich and the royal, to the masses.
Through Sangeet and Sangeet Karyalaya (which had started its life with the much more modest name of Garg and Co. and is based in the poet’s hometown of Hathras, UP), Hathrasi, sought to help the common people both comprehend and appreciate this classical art form. For this, Hathrasi, who has also written books on Indian classical dance and music under the pen name Vasant, reworked old writings on Indian classical music and dance into the layman’s language and explained the nuances and intricacies of different styles of signing — such as dhrupad, thumri, bhagans — and the ragas and taal.
In addition to Sangeet, Sangeet Karyalaya also published books, many of them written by Hathrasi, and his son, Laxminarayan Garg.
The magazine itself was a mixed bag of content — writings on classical music, dance and instruments, shared space with articles on folk and film music, quizzes, biographies of famous musicians, tips for artistes… it worked perfectly for Sangeet‘s readership that included both musicians and the average Indian family.
It was the first of its kind in India. And though other music magazines, such as Shruti, Bhairavi and Sangeet Kala Vihar, joined the list in later years, at over 86-year-old, Sangeet remains the country’s longest-running such journal.
The years are beginning to tell on the magazine, however.
After Hathrasi, Sangeet and Sangeet Karyalaya, had both found an able leader in the Padma Shri awardee Hathrasi’s son, Laxminarayan. But his death last year, and the impact of the pandemic (which left even more flourishing publications reeling), have dealt a heavy blow to the magazine.
The magazine currently works with Dr. Rajendra Krishan Agrawal as editor and Laxminarayan’s US-based son, Ashok, as director. But subscriptions are down and the magazine is caught in a time warp, steadfastly holding on its legacy, while refusing to move with the times to try something new — like a digital edition.
From 3,000-4,000 published copies, to subscription of 650
When Sangeet was launched in 1935, one could get an annual subscription of the magazine for Rs 2. Advertisement rates varied from Rs 15 (for a full page ad) to Rs 4 (for a quarter page).
The magazine is priced at Rs 40 today. But whereas once 3,000-4,000 copies of the magazine would be published in a month, today subscriptions are down to 650, says Sangeet Karyalaya manager, Sharan Gopal.
In addition to their own publications, over the years, Sangeet Karyalaya, has been selling books on music published by others. Their website has books on music theories, dance, vocal music, instrumental music… there are books for novices here, as well as for researchers on music. But the pandemic has impacted the demand for even these, said Sharan Gopal.
He remembers a time when writers on music would plead to have their pieces published in Sangeet, but added, “Many people have lost interest in shastriya sangeet (Indian classical music) over the years. Often research scholars take interest in the magazine and send write-ups till the time they complete their PhDs. After that they even stop their subscriptions.”
Professor Ashish Khokar, a reputed dance and cultural historian-scholar, who is also director-curator of the Mohan Khokar National Dance Archives-Museum at IGNCA recalls being given copies of the magazine by musicologist Acharya Kailash Chandra Dev Brahaspati once. “The real credit for giving teeth and musical content to Sangeet goes to Acharya Brahaspati. He was the pillar that sustained it in the critical decades around 1960-70. Kaka Haathrasi depended a lot on him to bring out issue after issue.”
The magazine’s fortunes have changed dramatically since then. The printing press closed down in 2002 according to Sharan Gopal, and now the magazine is printed at Shree Krishna printing press in Hathras.
But he and the rest of the staff at the magazine, about five-six of them according to Sharan Gopal, are determined to carry on publishing the magazine as long as they have even their handful of readers. “Every business tries. We too are trying our best, the rest is up to God (Ishwar Malik hai),” said Sharan Gopal.
Failing to strike a chord
Among Sangeet‘s small band of remaining loyalists is Tukaram Jivram Patil, a resident of Madhya Pradesh’s Turak Gurada village. Patil was introduced to Sangeet as a teenager by local musicians. Now 80 years old, he remains an avid reader of the magazine.
He has also been contributing to it for years. Himself a folk artist, he recalls sharing his dilemma regarding having his articles published with Laxminarayan Garg. Patil says he was worried of drawing criticism for his writings, but Garg encouraged him to keep writing.
Such enthusiasm for the magazine is rare now.
“Sangeet has served its purpose, especially in the Hindi heartland. Today it has to either reach out to the Indian diaspora abroad, who greatly appreciate such cultural heritage, or reinvent itself technologically (go digital — a move that Sangeet has steadfastly avoided),” said Professor Khokar.
Intent on “preserving its legacy” Sangeet continues to be not only a print-only magazine, but also retains much of its decade-old content character — discussions on music, quizzes…
Talking about how the magazine may extend its base, Khokar added that it should try to get subscriptions from university and school libraries in central India. He also suggested seeking government and corporate help for the magazine’s revival and preservation.
Meanwhile the question on the mind of both staff and its remaining readership is whether the country’s longest-running classical music magazine will be able to achieve the feat of completing 100 years of publication. Sharan Gopal would like to think it will.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)