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     Volume 7 Issue 14 | April 4, 2008 |

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One Off

Classical Art and Corporate Responsibility

Aly Zaker

The other day I was zapping channels in my TV early in the morning. My eyes got stuck on a not so popular deshi channel. There was this young gentleman, may be in his early thirties, singing a khayal in Bhairabi raag, towards the end of his rendition. The bandish was excellent. The taan and gamak seemed extremely well presented. I was thrilled. I checked to confirm if this was one of our own innumerable channels or was I daydreaming? No, it was verily one of our own Bangladeshi channels. But as I said earlier, it was one of our not so popular channels. Thus the programme was not punctuated with a deluge of advertisements. Perhaps because the channel was almost inconsequential in terms of business that they had ventured to telecast such a musical feast. They could hazard to present art without business consideration. They are not yet dictated by the powerful and moneyed advertisers. If they were, you would seldom get to see programmes of genuinely classical quality. Our popular channels have to take recourse to sing the tune of our advertisers purely on business consideration. Good for them.

In societies of South Asia, classical art, especially performing art, was always patronised by a section of the moneyed feudal class. It ranged from the emperors of Delhi down to the rajas and zaminders of remote villages of India. In Bengal the zaminders of Muktagacha, and many other such areas, were known to have been frequented by such luminaries of Indian classical music as would subsequently become legends in their lifetime in the sub-continent. Today, the scenario has changed. The feudal structures of the society are making way for mercantile or industrial economic characteristics. The patrons of culture of the yesteryears are no more. In these days of transition to a modern economic order, who will take over the job of sustenance to practice or advancement of the classical art in our country? In our neighbouring India a large part of the responsibility has been taken over by the private sector business ventures, and, the rest, by the Government. The private sector started supporting first as mere patronage and subsequently to prove that they were good corporate citizens. And therefore we see various large multinational and national corporations coming forward in ever increasing numbers to wilfully accept their responsibility towards the cause. Hence we see luminaries from various branches of performing arts of South Asia (mostly from Pakistan) congregating in large numbers, and as frequently as they can.

In Bangladesh, our Government cannot give adequate support to this. The private sector, therefore, should take up the cause. I remember, years back, ITC had introduced a “Music Bus” that went through many towns all over India. It carried famous classical vocalists and instrumentalists. During their stops, they performed on a stage made earlier for their performances. This received huge media support and an exclusive article was published in the in-flight magazine of the Indian Airlines, which is how I came to know about the event. All major Indian festivals of classical art are, in fact, sponsored by either one or many corporate entities. But usually there is no direct business-interest in these ventures. These are done purely as exercises related to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

In Bangladesh we have come a long way in private sector initiatives in various cultural aspects, but the responsibilities of the private sector to expose our people to our rich cultural heritage is lacking or almost non-existent to say the least.

As I was watching the khayal in the TV it occurred to me that our private television channels also had a role in disseminating CSR activities of their own. It is through the electronic media that we can reach much greater number of audiences than through live performances. These television stations, verily, have to fall back on business to be running successfully and, also, profitably. But profit alone cannot be the responsibility of a people oriented venture. There has to be a dividing line between a trader and a TV channel. As it is, our popular electronic media have registered an ever-increasing growth of business. They have earned a lot. Now it is their responsibility to give back something to the people. What could be better than giving back in a manner that would take the nation a step forward towards cultural enlightenment?

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