The ‘upaj’ on demonetization

Shubha Mudgal injects creative humour in tough times


Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Upaj, which means growth or produce, is a term of great significance in Hindustani classical music. A more nuanced explanation of the term points towards the practice of impromptu elaboration and expansion through which musicians take seed ideas and elaborate on them, growing them as it were, to their full potential through spontaneous displays of virtuosity and talent. This spontaneity in elaboration is greatly valued by both musicians and music lovers. But musicians do not restrict their penchant for upaj to music-making alone, and are known to utilize their skills with generous doses of good humour in a variety of situations and conditions. Here’s how the recent demonetization of Rs500 and Rs1,000 currency notes also prompted some enjoyable upaj laced with good humour.

The popular TV show Kon Hoeel Marathi Crorepati 2016 (KHMC 3) includes a special weekly segment titled Ghar Baslya Kamwa (GBK; Sit at home and earn) in which a quiz question is posed to the public. Participants are asked to select the answer from four options that are provided to them. Within a stipulated time and date, participants have to submit their answers either by SMS in a specified format, or through an IVRS (interactive voice response system). The participant who provides the correct answer first receives Rs50,000 as prize money.

In a recent episode of KHMC 3, the question posed to the public concerned Hindustani classical music. Participants were asked which instrument iconic musician Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia is associated with. Options included A. Jaltarang, B. Shehnai, C. Tabla and D. Bansuri. To the shock and horror of music lovers and musicians, Option B, namely shehnai, or sanai as it called in Marathi, was declared the correct answer. Vishal Khokade of Bhilwadi, the participant who provided the supposedly correct answer, was declared the lucky winner without anyone discovering the mistake up until the time of the telecast. The well-known fact of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia’s name being inextricably linked with the bansuri or flute did not, in this case, deter the shehnai from trumping the bansuri.

Students of music on a WhatsApp group, of which I too am a member, discussed the mistake. Just when everyone was indignant at how such a colossal mistake could have remained unnoticed, Abhimanyu Herlekar, a young tabla player who is also administrator of the group, came up with the upaj that the winner of the GBK question on the show deserved to be paid the prize money in demonetized Rs1,000 currency notes, preferably after 30 December.

Elaborating on the commonly used “notes” (musical notes) as a translation for “swara”, other music lovers and musicians tweeted pictures of smiling musicians playing music with the message “Relax and Rejoice! Musical notes are still legal, even after mid-night today”, even as people rushed to ATM machines on the night of 8 November. WhatsApp buddies also shared news of the recent emergence of the brand new raga Dhan-khallas (the end of wealth) introduced by the Modi gharana of musicians. The upaj on demonetization is bound to continue with more clever quips being contributed by artistes, and hopefully everyone will retain their sense of humour and good cheer. But it is also essential to point out that while musicians often compliment each other on quick-witted repartee by saying “waah, kya achhi upaj hai”, the concept of upaj is no flippant laughing matter. It is in fact, a very serious and profound expression of creativity.

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

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