Rashid Malik was a serious scholar of music as is evident from the various writings that he had left behind. Most of these are either in book form or in the shape of extended essays which meant that he had debated the issue at length and extensively. But he also wrote for the layman and some of his writings for newspapers have been collected as well.
Doyens of Sub-Continental Music selected and compiled from various newspapers by his friend and admirer Dr Muhammad Athar Masood is quite educative and easy to understand.
Even in the journalistic pieces both the wide sweep of information and the seriousness with which he tackled very tricky issues and problems is quite clear. These may be meant for a newspaper with life of one day but the veracity of information with a little bit of analysis thrown in was never below a certain level. These were informative and paved the way for assessing music at a deeper level than the generalised assumption of the ordinary listener.
Most of the articles in this compilation had been about towering music personalities of the recent past, the maestros mostly associated with evolution of the kheyal and its institutionalisation into the gharana system. These ustads or pandits all lived within the last 200 years, negotiating the changing temperament and taste of the audiences and patrons with the decline of the Mughal Empire. The rise of the hundreds of quasi independent states, the growing clout of the various Europeans factions and the shift of power and influence away from the feudal princely states to the new burgeoning cities and the mercantile classes that patronised art and culture in this more eclectic and polyglot environment impacted music greatly.
No thorough analysis has been conducted regarding this change of patronage and the changing platforms for the promotion of music since the decline and disintegration of central rule in India that preceded the colonial era.
As it was, music scholarship usually took place in isolation from what was happening in society at large and other forms of art. Actually, in India, all the art forms being very stylised seemed to have developed in isolation from each other in varying degrees. The musicians or musicologists had not written about what was happening in poetry, painting and architecture and likewise the poets and the painters too did not express their opinions regarding music. One did not know what was happening in other forms of art, which could have provided a lead into the development and changes that might have been taking place in music as well.
In the last 1000 years or so, civilization in India developed on parallel lines while also merging at some points. Parallel development was considered necessary to keep the religions pure and the ruling classes distinct, but some of it was the result of the difficulties that were not readily surmountable. Most of the people did not know both Persian and Sanskrit. Those who knew Persian tapped into its sources and those who knew Sanskrit dipped into its pool and insisted on the continuous and unbroken tradition in their respective areas.
The scholarship of music too suffered on account of this parallel development and musicologists did not bother to find out what was written in the text of the language that they did not know.
Rashid Malik tapped into the various sources of our music — from ancient times to the coming of the Europeans — in most of the languages now either obsolete or dead. The information, even of the texts that have survived, is from secondary sources in the shape of some commentaries or explanation palmed off by various famous practitioners of music who were basically followers of some famous rishis, ustads or pandits. From the Rigveda, Samaveda, Gandharva Veda, Natyashastra and the various Puranas alongwith the Persian texts, he earnestly and objectively attempted to understand the theoretical basis of our music.
The artistes covered in this edition were Bade Mohammad Khan, Haddu Khan, Hassu Khan, Rehmat Khan, Nisar Hussain Khan, Alladia Khan, Inayat Khan Pathan, Abdul Karim Khan, Abdul Wahid Khan, Amir Khan, Allauddin Khan, Mushtaq Hussain Khan, Vilayat Hussain Khan, Yunus Hussain Khan,Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Ghagge Khuda Bakhsh, Ghulam Abbas, Kalan Khan, Bhaskar Rao, Omkarnath Thakur and Khursheed Anwer.
His articles were always thought provoking and raised eyebrows but could not be dismissed for not being thoroughly worked out. When Rashid Malik questioned the contribution of Amir Khusro to music, he challenged not only a point of view but took a cannon shot at an almost belief system that has been accepted by all, especially the practicing and hereditary musicians.
Needless to say, where music was concerned, Rashid Malik was a self-taught person. There was no institution where one could be educated on the theoretical and philosophical aspects of music — it was basically one’s own initiative, developed by associating with minds and intellects who thought it was important to discuss such issues. This informal process was taken very seriously by Rashid Malik and he emerged as one of the leading musicologists of the country, not necessarily buckling under the dogmas of accepted theories. It was always difficult for such a man to live happily and well and he had his fair share of problems and hardships.
For doing something important, peace of mind, ready resources and ample time is required. Scholarship and research are lonely affairs in our country because very few people are involved in it. It is mostly a vocation that isolates rather than brings together. The lack of institutions and academic framework that provides the centre as well as inspiration is now coming into some sort of shape. The hard work done by the likes of Rashid Malik is considered almost seminal by these bodies and scholars associated with them and almost forms the foundation of musicological studies in the country.