Internet And The Indian Arts

 A mazingly, within a year or so, what is called the Internet has become the hottest phenomenon in the U.S. of A. While we in India are barely beginning to appreciate what it is all about, new technologies and devices are pushing the frontiers further out, not only in the U.S., but also in West Europe, Japan and Australia.

What is the Internet? An article by Edward W. Desmond in the 8 July issue of TIME provides some basic information. We learn that the Internet is a network of computers that allows someone accessing it to "visit" library collections, read countless newspapers and magazines (including The Hindu and The Indian Express), order books and other items from stores and send E-Mail  communication from one computer to another as well.

Indian musicians and dancers on performance tours of America are finding that the Internet can help increase attendance at their programmes across the country, even as it well may bring about the opposite effect. Discussions among Indian rasika-s in the U.S., via the Internet, about one programme or another of a visiting Indian performer have been commonplace for more than a couple of years now. But what seems to be a recent discovery is the fact that opinions or reviews posted on the Internet bulletin boards are helping to increase the size of the audience as the tour of the visiting performer progresses. Thus, according to information made available to me recently, rasika-s in such places as Philadelphia, Pa., Pittsburgh, Pa., Columbus, ()., Cleveland, O., New York, N.Y., and Los Angeles, Ca., posted their opinions of the concerts of Carnatic vocalist M. S. Sheela on the Internet. Excerpts made available to me are dotted with such adjectives as scintillating, gripping, wonderful and fantastic and also include highly positive references to Sheela's voice. The point is not whether such descriptions are entirely accurate; the point is that the enthusiastic comments set people talking about the music of Sheela and her accompanists and the audience for each successive concert increased. That is the report reaching me.

If this experience illustrates the fact that the opinions expressed and the subsequent crosstalk on the Interne t can provide benefits to Indian artists giving a string of performances in the U.S., I am afraid that the opposite can also happen in some cases. In fact I believe that the schedule of performances of another Carnatic musician, a senior who was also in the U.S. not long ago, had to be curtailed as interest in her performances flagged, possibly due to adverse comments and crosstalk on the Internet.

 I am afraid, too, that the Internet can be manipulated to yield benefits to a particular musician or to harm another, although the technology of the Internet is itself neutral. I recall the famous observation of the late V.K. Krishna Menon during a Security Council discussion at the United Nations. When a Western delegate said that military equipment had been given to a neighbouring country only for the purpose of defence, Menon shot back: I do not know of any gun that can shoot only in one direction.

 While on the subject of the Internet, I should also mention that technology is making such rapid progress and new products to utilise it are coming up so fast that, before you finish describing what it is all about, the picture is already out of date. I mentioned earlier that the Interne t provides access to products of the print medium, such as newspapers and magazines. That statement is already beginning to sound dated. According to Desmond, an Interne t user "can now receive broadcasts or "Webcasts', as they are coming to be known of live radio and video over the Internet. " Apparently, hundreds of radio stations in the U.S. are already offering live talk shows, music and sports commentaries, "thanks to software that compresses audio signals so they can travel anywhere over the Internet and emerge through a modem and a computer with a speaker." Imagine, the day may not be far off when Carnatic music fans in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan would be able to listen to a live Music Academy concert  to mention only those places where the Interne t is already widely in use  through the global computer network. And, since video is bound to follow audio sooner or later, fans all over the world with access to the Internet and its Websites should some day be able to be 'inside' the TTK Auditorium listening to a live concert, thanks to something called Virtual Reality which I still cannot fully comprehend because I have not yet experienced it.

 Amazing, isn't it all? But I can also see the humorous side of it even now. Like the auditorium of the Academy being filled by 'virtual listeners' accessing a performance through the Internet but really empty as far as the performers are concerned. Get it?

Ghost Writers

I read somewhere that, before Yamini Krishnamurti's autobiography was released not so long ago, there was some dispute concerning the credit to be given to Renuka Khandekar who collaborated with the dancer in writing the book. So, when I came across a column on this subject written by humorist Russell Baker for the New York Times and reproduced in The Hindu, I read it avidly. And I found a particular passage as delicious as it was informative. Referring to books supposed to have been authored by celebrities but in reality written by professional writers known popularly as ghost-writers, this is what Baker had written: "Publishers know it's folly to send a celebrity out alone and expect him to come back with a book, so they hire editors and skilled writers to put their books together.... Most celebrities don't [give credit to their collaborators], possibly because they don't know who did their books. The late Nelson Rockefeller is said to have written two books without reading either one. "

 While on this subject, what should we call someone who composes the music for someone else's lyrics but whose role is not publicly known or acknowledged? A ghost-geyakara? An aroopa-dhatukarta ? Maharajji, any other suggestions?