Ancient Bankruptcies

This post was written two weeks back, during one of those days when I didn’t have internet access at home. Posting now. 

In the course of a rather elaborate shower this morning, I started thinking about the global economic crisis. I thought of the crisis of 2008. I thought about the Arab countries where there is revolution. And I thought about Greece. And I began to wonder how such events had been handled in the past.

A long time ago, most parts of the world were ruled by kings. People assumed kings had divine right to rule, and they rather gladly parted with a big part of their income as taxes. These taxes would go into the treasury, and be used to finance, among other things the administration of the kingdom. Those were times of great wars and battles, and hence it was important to keep a ready army, and the treasury also financed that.

The best thing about being a king was that you weren’t really questioned about your spending, and thus kings could also spend a substantial amount from the taxes they collected on themselves. On living a life of opulence, keeping several wives or concubines while large parts of the population went without any, on building monuments to their fathers, their forefathers and to themselves. If Behen Mayawati were a queen, for example, nobody would’ve dared to question her expenses on erecting statues of herself.

This lack of accountability did have an up-shot, though. The large surpluses that were generated for the royal treasury by means of squeezing every last ounce of blood from the subjects (who willingly gave it, remember) meant that kings could invest on art and architecture. Thus, palaces funded artists and musicians. Grand buildings and mausoleums and temples were built, and intricately decorated, the results of which are being seen today in terms of increased revenues from tourism. Sometimes, though, the kings would over-reach and spend much more than their kingdoms could possibly finance. What would happen then?

At first, there would be an attempt to increase taxes. For a while, people, still in the belief that kings were gods, would give in. And then they would begin to protest. And refuse to pay further taxes. In effect, they would go on protests ‘against austerity measures’. In the light of these protests, the king would need greater use of his army in order to consolidate his power. But his treasury would be dwindling.

With the army over-worked, but the kingdom’s finances tight thanks to a depleting treasury, dissent would start to brew in the army. Getting wind of this, a neighbouring king would see an opportunity. Soldiers would be bribed, though one cannot really call it that, tempted with higher salaries backed by a stronger treasury in order to change allegiances. And the neighbouring king would declare war.

The beleaguered king would now come under pressure both internally and externally. He would not be able to keep up the fight for long. The war would soon be lost and the king would either be dead or captured. And the people would gladly accept the new king as their new god, and start paying taxes to him.

The unfortunate thing about this parallel now is that there is now no neighbouring country to Greece that could possibly pull off an audacious annexation. Even the US, the attacker of last resort, has its own set of trouble. Essentially, Greece has chosen a good time to get into trouble – at a time when everyone else is also in trouble. And this also means that the people of Greece will continue to have no respite from this politics. In the medium run (Hail Gebreselassie) they will have no choice but to accept austerity.

Live Music at Wedding Receptions

The problem with live music at wedding receptions is with the volume. If you keep the volume too low, the musicians find it offensive. If you keep the volume high, on the other hand, people can’t hear each other talk and get irritated. And I’ve never really attended a wedding reception where the live music has had the “right volume”.

Hence, at my wedding reception, we dispensed with live music and instead carefully put together a set of trance numbers which were to be played over a CD-speaker system. And two hours before the reception is to begin, we find that there was no music player in the hall, and no one had bothered arranging for one. Thankfully the photographer, who I’d fought with for the duration of the wedding, agreed to arrange for a music system at quick notice. And then, when the reception was about to begin, it turned out that the uncle who had the CDs had gone home to get dressed.

Ultimately, I think they played the music that we’d carefully put together. I don’t know really because it wasn’t audible on stage, but we’re told by a few people it was quite good (they even asked for and “borrowed” the CDs). If you attended my wedding reception, please to be telling me how the music was.

So before my wedding, when I sent the invite to Mammo, he replied asking who was performing at the reception. When I told him my reasons for not having live music at the reception, he explained that performing at a wedding was a good chance for musicians to experiment, and in some ways it was a “paid rehearsal”. And that it really helps in the development of musicians.

On the other hand, I remember, some fifteen years back, my violin teacher being furious that he’d been called to play at a wedding, and there was no one listening to him, and his volume was turned out to be quite low, and he had a really bad experience.

So I don’t know. I still think the best thing to do would be to put recorded instrumental music that isn’t too intrusive. What do you think?

Fixed and variable scales

One major point of difference I’ve noticed between Indian and Western classical music is about the starting point of scales. Western music has a fixed starting frequency, and all instruments and voices are supposed to be tuned to that. Every guitar is tuned identically, and I’m talking about absolute frequencies of various strings here. Similarly with other instruments.

Indian classical music on the other hand doesn’t bother as much about absolute freuqencies. The frequency of the base Sa doesn’t matter at all, it’s only the relative frequencies of various notes that matter and as long as those are perfect the music will be good. This allows greater flexibility to artistes, especially vocalists and allows them to find their own range rather than having to conform to set standards.

Related to this is the individualist nature of Indian music (you usually have one lead performer here, accompanied by two or three others) and the orchestra nature of Western classical. When the “band” is small, it is not so much of a big deal to retune instruments to match each other and because of this it is not so much of a problem to coordinate. When you are part of an orchestra, however, it is important to have a standard and have everyone conform to that, rather than have a large number of musicians retune for every performance.

What I wonder, however, is which came first – synchronized tuning or the orchestra.