House of memories

Print edition : March 10, 2006

A rare collection of photographs and musical instruments in the museum. - K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

ASK anybody in Hubli where Gangubai lives and they are sure to take you to Ajji's (grandmother's) house in Deshpandenagar. It is a modest house with a huge front yard and a lot of trees, always teeming with visitors. The morning we visited the place was no different. Around 50 children from a music school with their teacher and their parents had turned up to meet Gangubai.

Much of the house, built in 1943, has been converted to a museum - the Museum of Indian Classical Music. Manoj Hanagal, Gangubai's grandson and the brain behind the museum, has ambitious plans for expansion and says that in another three years the museum will be complete. "But for my late aunt Krishna and my father Baburao, who preserved every bit of information about my grandmother, this museum would have been impossible," says Manoj.

The museum moves from the larger framework of Hindustani classical music to Gangubai Hanagal. There are charts tracing the history of music. There is also a chart that has pictures of 150 musicians of both the Hindustani and Carnatic genres. The museum has been lucky in that many collectors have passed on rare pictures from their collections. There are lovely pictures of Siddeshwari Devi and Rasoolan Bai sharing a joke, a Bade Ghulam Ali Khan concert, sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan's father Hafiz Ali Khan in a performance and many more.

The most interesting pictures are of Sawai Gandharva, Gangubai's teacher. There are pictures of him acting in a play and in female roles. There are instruments that are 100 years old. From the veen to rudraveen to ektara to taus, what is on display is an immense treasure. "By March 2008, we plan to have 300 folk and classical instruments in the museum," says Manoj.

The picture gallery is meticulously compiled. There are pictures of Gangubai as a 16-year-old, with Indira Gandhi. There are several pictures of Gangubai, quite a few in what she calls the "police constable pose", left hand clapped on a ear and right hand stretched. There is a huge picture of Gangubai in a warm hug with Ustad Bismillah Khan.

"We all have one common home, why should we treat each other like enemies?" says Gangubai, who was the peace-maker's role whenever the city was battered by communal riots.

Manoj believes that such a museum is important for future generations. "They should be inspired by the lives of all these musicians," he says. Some of Gangubai's young visitors hold out their books for autographs.

"Should I sign in Kannada or English?" asks Gangubai, and then giggles: "People who see my English signature think that I am well read. But I studied only up to the fifth standard."

Deepa Ganesh
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