On Tuesday, the Ministry of Civil Aviation wrote to airlines and airport operators nationwide asking them to consider streaming “Indian music.” The letter was sent less than a week after Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe met with Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and asked him to make Indian music compulsory for airlines and airports nationwide, as this would help “strengthen the emotions connecting our people to our civilizational traditions in music and the arts”. The ministry’s letter seeks to invoke nationalist pride: “… jazz on American airlines or Mozart on Austrian airlines or Arabic music on a Middle Eastern airline. But Indian airlines rarely play Indian music on flights… ”
But how to define Indian music, when music is a concept without borders, even more so in a shrinking world? Dylan’s Blowin ‘in the Wind, played by an American on a bamboo flute from India, is it eligible? Should the decision depend on whether the piece is raga-based or derived from a folk tune? Does Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You make the cut? He is based in Raag Bhimpalasi. And what about the music of the Indian Symphony Orchestra, which reveled in the glory of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach? Should we run away from them, because they play “foreign” music?
Even though Indian music is necessary to connect people to Indian traditions, are flights and airports the place to do it? Most airlines choose soothing music for their flights as well as airport lounges. Piano and strings are the preferred choice for most airlines, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines. Vistara has a nice playlist, for example, and plays John Lennon’s songs Imagine and Steely Dan on board. Air India has often played old classical instrument recordings and they are also very popular. Asking airlines and airport operators to limit themselves to the Indian music route is silly at best and at worst a tribute to India’s rich musical traditions, which require more meaningful measures for preservation.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 30, 2021 under the title “Our notes and theirs”.