Le Monde, the premier French broadsheet, carried an editorial in December 2017. It rued the end of reading culture and the moribund state of (popular) music all over the world. Very recently, when a lad asked Shashi Tharoor to suggest a rare word, the erudite Congress MP said: read. He regretfully added that people are not reading any longer. A few days ago, a legendary instrumentalist opined in Poona that reading and music have declined almost simultaneously. This makes one think as to whether there's a connection between good music and profuse reading. Yes. Very much. They're Siamese Twins. Music and reading make an interestingly deep and a sort of hand in glove association. Mike Brearley, the legendary English cricket captain and world's foremost psychologist who taught at the New Castle University, England, observed that the worldwide decline in reading (habits) and the plummeting standards in music are happening at the same time. Now the point is: How are they related?
Before the reasons are elaborately adduced, it'll be interesting to know how people associated with good music have also been deeply interested in reading. And you can conclude on your own that because of their fondness for books, they could create immortal music, destined to last forever. Let me cite a few examples to buttress the point. Manna Dey, who looked like a professor at some university, told the legendary film critic Bunny Reuben that riyaaz (practice) and reading helped him retain the texture of his voice and the rendition of finest music. Sahir Ludhianavi could write songs like Man re tu kaahe na dheer dhare (Chitralekha, 1964), Tu Hindu banega na Musalman banega (Dhool ka phool, 1959), Sansaar ki har shai ka (Dhund, 1973), among others, because he was continuously reading and jotting down points in his diary. AMU graduate Shakeel Badayuni would be seen carrying a book all the time. It's said that rarely did anyone see Shakeel sans a book. Profound reading impacted Shakeel's poetry and manifested itself through gems like, Aaj purani raahon se koi mujhe aawaaz na de (Aadmi, 1968), Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj (Baiju Bawara, 1952) and many more. Poona-based sound recordist Murli Rangnekar told yours truly that when the great Rafi would come for morning recordings, he would be carrying minimum three Urdu dailies. After cursorily glancing through all papers and having a cuppa, the legendary singer would record a song. Akhbaar se meri aawaaz ko tavanaai aur taravat haasil hoti hai (I get energised and freshened up to sing after going through a newspaper), he'd often say with a beatific smile. Alas, how many modern singers, lyricists, composers and actors read even the front page of a newspaper is indeed a matter of research! Western classical masters viz, Sebastian Bach, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven and all the greats were either reading or composing music. Needless to say, what they produced is still unchallenged and immortal. Bob Dylan, the Nobel laureate for Literature in 2016, lyricist Paul Anka and great Frank Sinatra have been voracious readers. Bob Dylan famously said after getting the Nobel that, 'My lifelong association with books creatively culminated in my lyrics. I exist because of books and songs.'
Modern neuro-analysts and psycho-linguists have come to the conclusion that reading refines minds. 'The neural assimilation of printed words gets further internalised into the psyche and its manifestation is invariably musical,' what C G Jung opined decades ago is being understood today in advanced neurology. That's why, all scriptures are musically recited and they create a magical spell that's spiritually edifying and sublimely ennobling. Whether it's Qeerat (lyrical recitation of Qur'an; there are seven types and the Mishri, Egyptian Qeerat is considered to be the most beautiful and can move a person to tears), Japji Sahab, Ardaas, Ramcharitmanas' musical rendition, Hymns and Psalms in the Bible, Gathas (17 Avestan hymns in Zoroastrianism) or Talmudic musicality etc., you'll find that words and music flow together seamlessly. Do you know, the entire Qur'an and its 6,236 (contrary to the general belief that there're 6,666 verses in Al-Furqaan) verses can be musically rendered? I once asked a Granthi at Nanded Sahab Gurudwara, how he created that rare musical effect through his recitation of baanis and teachings in the Guru Granth Sahib. He said that he read the Holy Book continuously and his voice developed natural, nay divine musicality!
Reading also helps master a language and adds to one's cornucopia of words. One comes across new expressions that're integral to good poetry and music. Nowadays, even in the West, songs like New York, New York or My Way (both soulfully sung by Frank Sinatra) are not being penned anymore. Remember, the world-wide recession is not just in economy, there's a creative regression and recession in all walks of life. The prime reason being our utter reluctance to read.
The great German composer Johannes Brahms believed that when one reads a lot, his/her mind evolves musically. Tagore was also of the same view. He was also a great musician. Today's songs, whether Hindi or English, immediately give the impression to a discerning listener that some devolved lyricists have scribbled them in a hurry. These pedestrian numbers don't reflect the reading mind of a lyricist.
The problem with us is that we seem to be in a state of unnecessary hurry all the time. Ultra-refined pursuits thrive only when we sit, introspect, read a book or listen to a fine piece of music and poetry. But glued to the Androids all the time, when does one get time for reading and creating ethereal music and poetry? This is the bane of our times, a nemesis of modernity. Alack, what can't be cured, must be endured.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.