“We have been coming to your place frequently. Now it’s your turn.” I proposed.
“Yes, of course. How about sometime in the next month?”
“Yes, works very well with us. Shall we plan a dinner?”
“Not just a dinner. I want to sing at your place; and of course, dinner after that!”
I was having this conversation not with a friend, but with one of the senior most masters of Indian Classical Vocal Music, Pt. Sharad Sathe. Sharad Kaka’s simplicity, his rigour to sing and share the treasures he had was unmatched. I knew him only for a short span of last couple of years of his life. His generosity, energy and enthusiasm always amused me.
Many musicologists, music critics and musicians have written at a length to describe his rich Gayaki and his refined aesthetics. While it is imperative to talk about his music, it is equally essential to talk about his persona and some values he firmly believed in and lived up to.
What I admired the most about him was his generosity; he never held back anything. We used to meet him often as we had initiated a project to document his life and publish it as a biography. In one particular meeting, I asked him whether there were any recordings where he spoke about music and theoretical aspects of it. He immediately got up from his chair and got a handful of CDs and DVDs. Not all of them were talks and speeches. Many of them had his concert recordings as well as some studio recordings. Without even checking what recordings the CDs contained, he handed it all to me.
In many of his baithaks that we attended, he always obliged to the farmaish of his students and chahetas.
Two years ago, we hosted Sharad Kaka at our place in Baner. After singing a full length Chhayanat and two other short Ragas, he took interval. In the interval, I and Dakshayani were running across; managing tea and coffee for everyone. After his tea was over, he was trying hard to locate both of us in our apartment, which was crowded with more than 60 odd people. It was only when both of us were settled, he began singing.
“The hosts should enjoy the concert first!” He said with his gentle smile. The kind of alertness and sensitivity that he had at the age of 87, that too in the midst of a concert, was truly unique.
During one particular meeting that we had at his place, by mistake, I told him about my concert happening in the city the next day.
“Both I and Sunetra will definitely come to listen to you tomorrow.” Sharad Kaka said when we were about to leave and I realised what a grave mistake I had committed. He was so full of excitement and energy that I was pretty sure he would be coming.
“You are most welcome to attend but honestly, I do not think I sing that well.” I told him humbly.
“Let me at least listen to you!” he said with twinkle in his eyes.
I was sincerely praying that Sharad Kaka either forgets about the concert or gets busy in something. I honestly did not want him to take all the troubles to listen to my immature singing.
The next day, while tuning the Tanpura in green room, I was hoping he would not come. When I reached on the stage, I missed a heartbit when I saw Sharad Kaka and Sunetra Kaku sitting in the front row.
I sang and in the interval went to him, touched his feet and requested him to forgive the mistakes.
“Not at all. You sang really well!” I thought he must be saying this just for the sake of it.
After the concert, I reached home and as a daily ritual, checked my email. On the top of a few mails from my clients, there was an email from Sharad Kaka appreciating my singing and our sincere efforts to take music to more people. He also insisted that I invite him for all future programs.
Of course, my music was nothing close to deserving his praise. But I was touched by his attitude, his openness and the way he encouraged me to continue my Sadhana.
I had invited him for the launch of The Kabir Way, which happened almost two years ago. He could not come for it as he had a concert the same evening. To my surprise, in his next concert, he had come prepared to sing a composition of Kabir in Raga Jaunpuri, just for me. Just to clarify, I was not the only one for whom he cared so much. He had such intimate bonds with many of his chahetas and in each of his concerts, he tried his best to sing something to which they could specially relate.
In one of our meetings with him, he showed us the diary in which he had written compositions which Prof. B. R. Deodhar had taught him. He had meticulously noted the date on which it was taught to him and also the source from where Deodhar ji had received that particular composition. Not to mention, all of this was written in his beautiful handwriting.
I have not seen any musician being this particular and meticulous. He communicated efficiently and promptly on emails which many young musicians find difficult.
“I want to come and see the work that you do at municipal schools.” He would say this quite often. Most of the venues where we operated were not easily accessible. So, we always hesitated to take him there.
When he came to know about we organising a workshop by his daughter and accomplished Bharatnatyam performer Smita Mahajan, he declared that he would definitely come. The workshop was organised at a municipal school in Yerawada and the venue was on the third floor.
He came, climbed up the floors slowly, at his pace and attended the workshop.
We were fortunate to host him second time at the place of his disciples, Alhad and Alok Alsi. It was quite a scene to see audience of fifty people singing along with him when he approached the Sam. He needed no time to create the magic through his music. In each of his performances that we attended, he not just sang; rather, he tried innovating in situ. A few times, he would find it difficult to sing a phrase that occurred to him; but he would not give up. Again, with twinkle in his eyes, he would sing the phrase, to his satisfaction and the audience’s delight. A few times, while singing a difficult fast-paced composition, though the audience was mesmerised, he would not be happy with his own singing. I have seen him apologising with an open heart when something like this happened. Probably it was this honesty and sincerity to present best music which took his art to the level it was.
Pt. Sharad Sathe’s life and his musical journey clearly highlight his simplicity and integrity, both things disappearing fast in today’s landscape of music and art.