Updated: December 30, 2021 9:16:51 am
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Civil Aviation wrote to the country’s airline and airport operators asking them to consider playing “Indian music”. The letter was sent out less than a week after Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe met Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and asked him to make Indian music mandatory for the country’s airlines and airports as it would help in “strengthening emotional connect of our people to our civilisational traditions in music and arts”. The letter from the Ministry seeks to invoke nationalistic pride: “… jazz in American airlines or Mozart in Austrian airlines or Arab music in an airline from the Middle East. But Indian airlines seldom play Indian music on the flights…”
But how does one define Indian music, when music is a borderless concept, more so in a shrinking world? Does Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, played by an American on a bamboo flute native to India, qualify? Should the decision depend on whether the piece is raga-based or derived from a folk tune? Does Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You make the cut? It’s based in Raag Bhimpalasi. And what about the music of the Symphony Orchestra of India, which revels in the glory of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach? Should we shun them, as they play “foreign” music?
Even if Indian music is needed to connect people to Indian traditions, are flights and airports the place to do it? Most airlines choose soothing music for their flights as well as lounges at the airport. Piano and strings are the go-to choice for most carriers including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines among others. Vistara has a lovely playlist, for instance, and plays John Lennon’s Imagine and Steely Dan songs on board. Air India has often played old classical instrumental recordings and they are loved too. To ask airline and airport operators to confine themselves to the Indian music route is at best silly and at worst lip service to India’s rich music traditions, which require more meaningful steps for preservation.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 30, 2021 under the title ‘Our notes and theirs’.
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