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Feature The young Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar was European in his musical tastes

A royal society's dream project

Is Bangalore's International Music and Arts Society, founded on the suggestion of Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, doing enough for the struggling artiste? In its silver jubilee year, secretary Urmila Devi introspects

"Make sure you are there by eleven. The rani and I can meet you," Patrick Wilson tells me over the phone.

The rani is Urmila Devi, niece of the last Mysore king, Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. That's the man Bangalore's busy J C Road is named after, known for his generous patronage of the arts, especially music.

We meet at Koshy's, the watering hole of socialite Bangalore. Patrick is an Anglo-Indian who has lived in England for a long time. He says the peril of belonging to his community is that "you grow with a western rather than an Indian orientation." He is now familiarising himself with Indian music.

It's six months since he joined the International Music and Arts Society.

Urmila Devi walks in a little later. We talk about her musician-mother, Rani Vijaya Devi, who in 1974 founded the society at the prompting of her brother Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar.

Urmila is now the organizing secretary. She remembers Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar as an "awe-inspiring and authoritarian figure who played the piano in his room". The palace then had a western orchestra directed by a German, Otto Schmidt. The Maharaja's interest in Karnatak music came later. Rani Vijaya Devi plays the veena and the piano, and blends in herself, like the rest of Mysore royalty, the classical Indian and the classical Western.

The society has a Western preference, going by the list of concerts it has hosted. You find a few Hindustani and Karnatak concerts in between.

On the rolls of IMAS, as the society is abbreviated, are about 300 members. Its silver jubilee specials, the Vilayat Khan and L Subramaniam concerts, were sponsored events. Companies like Himmatsingke Suede and Deutschebank brought in the funds. Royalty now needs corporate support to keep the music going.

The society collaborates with Max Meuller Bhavan, Alliance Francaise or the British Library. It also has links with other societies in the country, so that when a foreign artiste visits India he is just "passed on from one society to another" to achieve economy.

The society, Urmila says, is unable to promote young and lesser known artistes for want of funds. "The patrons aren't musically educated. A big sponsor wants big names," she rues. And then there's the other side. Big artistes can nitpick, and may refuse to perform unless the venue is big.

S M Krishna, chief minister, and Srikantadatta Wadiyar, MP, are patrons of the society. Urmila hopes the government will support the society's dream of building an arts centre on the lines of Delhi's India International Centre.

Does lineage help in getting sponsorship? "Yes, and also the fact that we've been around 25 years," says Urmila.

P B Parvathy

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