Shubha Mudgal’s first work of fiction, Looking for Miss Sargam: Stories of Music and Misadventure, takes the reader—both the initiated and the uninitiated—gently by the hand into the lesser-known lives of musicians, young and old, in cities both big and small. ‘Aman Bol’ is the usual bringing of star singers from both Pakistan and India together for a peace offering concert. The twist is the petty backstage drama that is almost overwhelming. It looms like a dark cloud that hovers over the concert. Let me leave the twist in the tale for you to find out by reading the story. If you were to move on to ‘Foreign Returned’, there is a Pune-based classical singer’s much-awaited first trip overseas. But that’s scuttled even before she can unpack her bags and finds herself where it all began—back home. And that, too, almost before she herself has barely left Pune.
Take ‘Taan Kaptaan’. It’s a story set in a small town where a second generation musician finds himself caught up in the glittering, gossamer web of a reality show. Trouble is that the whole thing is a scam. Or let us go elsewhere, as the author explores the politics of winning a Padma Shri and you ride roughshod over the rubble strewn-road to musical stardom. What’s different? I think, it is the way in which the writer avoids conventional endings. Ferreting out minor details she fleshes out the lesser-known aspects of the music world: how artists deal with one another; their secretive desires, hopes and aspirations.
No prizes though for guessing who is Miss Sargam. The author shines through the stories, though in a most unobtrusive manner. It’s more as an artist who watches it all unfold. You will find her focusing on the ill-treatment of classical musicians; their copyright infringement and the pathetic support from the powers that be for arts and culture. The result is that you find yourself in a world that will seem familiar. Her characters find themselves in not-too-happy situations, but she deals lightly with them. No heavy moralising or passing judgement in these stories.
As she makes her debut as a fiction writer, Mudgal is humorous and heartbreaking. Read on to find out what happens when an old-world recording company tries to reinvent itself for the changing times, or when a devotee of a self-proclaimed Godwoman thinks of composing songs for the silver screen. These seven stories have obviously been crafted from anecdotes that have been a part of the author’s orbit as an accomplished Indian classical singer.