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September 30, 2011

My Name is Gauhar Jaan


Title:My Name is Gauhar Jaan
Author: Vikram Sampath

Book Review

This book is neither a novel nor a straightforward biography. Think of it as a  well-researched documentary of Indian classical music at the turn of the 20th century, wrapped around the  life of Gauhar Jaan. Of Indian and Armenian parentage, she was a flamboyant 'nautch girl' and a  brilliant exponent of Hindustani music and poetry. The first woman to cut a record of Indian classical music in 1902, she went on to sing for several hundred more recordings. 

Sampath gives  fascinating  insights into the lifestyle of the tawaifs of India.  The book brings to life the brilliant women vocalists who through their performances nurtured and popularised  Hindustani music. Their art and the tawaif culture which was already on the decline during Gauhar Jaan's life, has vanished forever.  

Bedecked in finest silk and exotic ornaments, Gauhar Jaan will never ride in a grand four-horse carriage past the British Governor in Calcutta nor will she sing  late into the night, enthralling an appreciative audience with the latest Thumri, Dadra or Ghazal. Through this book the author, himself a votary of Indian classical music, brings alive this bygone era

Bottomline
The book is well-researched. The narrative style is excellent, though heavy going in parts. Read it if you are interested in Indian classical music, history or Hindi/Urdu poetry. 

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