Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Hindustani Musicians are Good Cooks

Adrian McNeil playing his sarod

Around two decades back, the Australian sarodiya-musicologist Adrian McNeil wrote a fascinating article called Why Hindustani Musicians are Good Cooks’. In this extremely imaginative piece, McNeil shows how the process of exploration of a raag by a Hindustani classical musician is very similar to the process of cooking. Not only this, he manages to explain, mainly for an audience who is unfamiliar with this genre of music, the nature of performance of a raag in culinary terms. He says that just as in cooking, one needs three kinds of ingredients – primary (like chicken, potatoes etc.), secondary (like onions, ginger, garlic, oil etc.) and tertiary (like spices, salt etc.), so in the performance of a raag we need three such kinds of constituent parts – the basic scale/mod as the primary component, vadi, samvadi, chalan, pakad etc. as the secondary elements and gamak, shruti etc. as the tertiary ones. Just like cooking, the performance of a raag hinges on the right mix of all these components. McNeil closes with the perceptive comment:

I have observed during my association with many practicing Indian musicians over the last decade or so, that on the whole their ability to prepare tasty food is by no means confined to one or two individuals from amongst this profession. This situation could be due to the parallels that exist in the cognitive processes involved in preparing a tasty dish of Indian food and interpreting a rag, as has been described above. It is for this reason that I assert that Hindustani musicians are good cooks.’

Got impressed by the idea and convinced by the arguments in my first read. It has also been one of the major inspirations behind this blog. McNeil’s recipe is ready to be tried out in Asian Music, vol. 25, no. 1/2, 1993-1994, pp. 69-80.

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