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Subsidies don’t make a music class

Those desirous of setting up a cultural institution must first have a plan for raising and securing funds to run it in accordance with their vision

Actor Hema Malini was in news lately for acquiring a piece of land for her dance academy in Mumbai. Photo: AFP<br />
Actor Hema Malini was in news lately for acquiring a piece of land for her dance academy in Mumbai. Photo: AFP

The idea of establishing schools and institutions exclusively for the purpose of teaching performing arts such as Indian music and dance is by no means new. Anyone with the dream of founding and funding a new art or cultural institution could perhaps study historical information and analyses that detail the strategies and directions taken by pioneers in the field of music education in India. Greatly eulogized by followers and severely criticized by dissenters is the case of Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, who set up the first Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Lahore in 1901. Paluskar is said to have rented a “decrepit and dark building for 13 per month" where he was able to gather 60-70 students in the first year itself. Paluskar utilized several methods to raise money for the Mahavidyalaya, which scholar Bonnie C. Wade describes as “the first music institution to be supported by public rather than royal patronage". Writer and musician James Kippen notes that Paluskar raised funds by sending his students to perform at weddings and other functions, utilizing the fee from these performances for the impoverished institution. Paluskar’s vision was grand and, perhaps, both overly ambitious and impractical. From establishing a press to print textbooks on music to running a gaushala (cow shelter) to provide adequate milk for students, Paluskar’s elaborate plans ran into a financial crunch and led him to bankruptcy.

Other institutions too, such as the prestigious Bhatkhande Music Institute University in Lucknow, established by Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande in 1926 as the Marris College of Music, have also faced severe monetary problems. And if a recent report in The Times Of India about land allotments to cultural complexes in Mumbai is to be believed, more recent establishments in the city also face a financial crunch. In the report, star vocalist Suresh Wadkar and flute legend Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, when questioned about violations of the rules governing allotment of land for cultural institutions, cited lack of financial support for running their institutions on prime land that is essentially public property.

Perhaps, then, Hema Malini, actor and member of Parliament from Mathura, could consider the history of cultural institutions in the country before embarking on her plan to establish a dance academy in Mumbai on land allotted to her at throwaway prices. Is the government also going to provide her with the funds to pay salaries to teachers, or will those funds be raised by some other method? What pay scales will be offered to gurus and instructors at the academy? Will they be on contract or will they be permanent employees, and will they receive medical insurance cover, maternity leave, study leave, and other benefits mandated by the government for its own institutions? Will the academy follow the Vishaka guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace and other procedural guidelines? If the government sees fit to allot land at subsidized rates or even throwaway prices, it must also ensure that its own rules with regard to such establishments are adhered to by its grantees. Else, following in the footsteps of many gurus today and in the past, artistes too must abandon the idea of establishing institutions by seeking subsidies and land allotments, and instead open their doors to students to share with them the boon of knowledge that they have inherited from their own masters in the spirit of vidya daan. For decades, I sat on the mud floor of my guru Pandit Ramashreya Jha’s very modest home in Allahabad, as did scores of other students, crowding the small room where he taught freely and without charging a fee. I know for a fact that my guru was not alone in opening his doors to seekers, and that the scene is repeated even today in the homes of many gurus across the country. If Hema Malini wishes to start a dance academy she could follow the tradition of the guru shishya parampara and open her home to her students. Or better still, establish a dance academy in her own constituency, Mathura, which was once a centre for the arts, particularly under the Kushan rulers.

Without wishing to contest the intentions and contribution of artistes who have in the past received land for setting up cultural institutions, or currently face scrutiny in the face of controversies, there is one fact that cannot be wished away—namely, that those desirous of taking up this challenge in the future must first have a plan for raising and securing funds to run the institution in accordance with their vision. Land allotment alone will not serve their purpose.

Shubha Mudgal tweets at @smudgal and posts on Instagram as shubhamudgal.

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