In an ecosystem running on blatant lies and dogma, someone has to call a spade a spade. I am on that task today. If we make a list of fields where pride of tradition and culture of telling majestic stories of tradition and lineage prevails, Indian Classical Music would be in top five if not on the top. Sadly, students of music pickup myths and anecdotes much faster than actual music. It’s not a coincidence that musicians (even senior ones) these days enjoy telling stories more than presenting quality music.
While there are many things to talk about, today I will be focusing myself on Tanpura. Everyone calls it the foundation of Indian Classical Music but very few actually end up using it. Look at this pic of Mogubai Kurdikar. Clearly, she is old. At this point, she has stopped performing as well. She had mastered the notes to such an extent that she actually did not need a Tanpura when this picture was clicked. But still, she is using one 🙂
And then, here is one more musician who had stopped performing at an early stage of her career but had influenced (and even taught I guess) three giants : Lata Mangeshkar, Kishori Tai and Kumar Ji. She is Anjanibai Malpekar. Again with a Tanpura at very old age!
I have heard that Kumar Ji had a basic rule : He would not accept a concert if he could not manage a pair of Tanpura. Ustad Amir Khan often ditched the tradition of using two Tanpuras and instead used three. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was so particular about javhari of his Tanpura that he started using a kurta made using the thread which was his preferred thread for adjusting javhari.
Well if you think that only vocalists used Tanpuras, I have got some pictures of instrumentalists using Tanpura :
Not one, two. Three Tanpuras. That too, full scale Tanpuras. Not the Tanpuris.
It seems as if today’s musicians are so seasoned and have mastered such a grip on swaras that they don’t need the crutches of Tanpura. Poor Mogubai, Anjanibai, Kumarji, Ravishankarji Ali Akbarji and probably all other such maestros…practiced music for so many hours a day for so many years and could not reach the stage today’s many young musicians have reached.
I am not getting sentimental about Tanpura. I am not putting it on a pedestal. As a student of vocal music, I have seen quality of my own music go down when there is no acoustic Tanpura. As a listener of music, I have seen quality of music of many musicians (including today’s senior maestros) dwindle down considerably when they ditch an acoustic Tanpura. Of course, there is considerable audience for mediocre music. I am not talking about music that wins claps but music that leaves a lasting impact.
Why is Tanpura so integral to Indian Classical Music? First of all, Indian Classical Music is not static. The ability of taking birth in that very moment is integral and inseparable attribute of Indian Classical Music. An acoustic Tanpura, which actually gets tuned slightly different every time you tune it is the living canvas. We need not only a canvas but a living one. Electronic Tanpura is indeed a canvas but a dead one.
Look at it this way – can one compare the taste of home cooked fresh food with ready-to-cook packaged meal?
If you spend hours tuning the acoustic Tanpura and carefully listen to it, you would start noticing the interferences that emerge out of electronic Tanpura and would not primarily depend on it as your canvas.
The mental state in which an artist has to go to tune a Tanpura is pre-requisite to present authentic music. If you just casually sit on stage, turn on your electronic Tanpura and start, you are not doing your pre-concert homework. Athletes need warmup before they actually do the drill. A musician needs to dive within his or her own sonic and emotional sensitivity which is essential for sharing it with the audience. When artists use electronic Tanpura, they are sidetracking this important phase of the performance which reflects very much in the quality of the music that they present.
Most of the musicians know this. They know that the Tanpura is their playground. Many musicians are performing sitting in their houses because of the lockdown; still, they find it difficult to use an acoustic Tanpura. If one can invite accompanists for Tabla or Harmonium, getting a Tanpura player is not that difficult.
As a rule of thumb, if I and Dakshayani do not see an acouctic Tanpura, we just walk out or in these days, close the tab. Listening to an archival recording is much better.
In ecosystem of any art form, one individual can play multiple roles; for example, I am a student of Indian classical music, I perform very rarely and I am an avid listener.
As a listener of this magical art form and after listening to musicians from past three to four generations, I have my views about the current Indian classical music ecosystem based on some observations. Apart from this, as a part of Baithak Foundation we also organise concerts of artists, mostly in schools, for kids.
Most importantly, I am a believer who believes music can change lives. Thus this article, about music, musicians and the overall scenario, is inspired from all the positions that I have mentioned above. I am writing this not because I hate some artists and prefer some others; rather, I am writing this because I love this beautiful art form.
Are we going to wake up only when we need nine stitches?
Is everything alright with the present Indian Classical Music scene? Well, on the surface, yes. Let us ignore the impact of COVID-19 for the time being and consider the situation at the beginning of 2020. You may say, concerts are happening everywhere. Festivals are flooded with audience. Some artists are busy, doing as many as 20+ concerts a month. Even young artists have decent performance opportunities. With Skype and other tools, online teaching is also a source of additional little but steady income. More parents want their kids to learn an art form which creates ample of employment opportunities for the young as well as mid and senior musicians…….wait, wait!
I am not asking about the musicians. I am (right now) concerned about the music. What’s the state of music that is being served? What’s the quality of music being presented, what is the quality of experience that audience has? What is the quality of Taalim that is being given and received by disciples (or students?)
In cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, etc. maybe, things do not look that bad. But what’s the situation other than these few large cities? Let us take an example of Amaravti, a district in Maharashtra. I stayed in Amaravati for a couple of years and when I was living there, I came to know of many musicians who could perform phenomenal music. As cases in considerations, I am sharing two videos here.
First one is a recording by Pt. Manohar Kaslikar from Amaravati, presenting Raga Gaud Sarang:
Second video features Pt. Dinkarrao Deshpande, singing a Natyageet. Some of his full length Raga recordings are also available.
In the 70s and 80s, there were at least 5 musicians of this calibre in Amaravati. Same was the situation for Nagpur, Yavatmal, and other nearby towns and fairly across the country.
What do you think is the current situation in these or similar smaller towns? Many places may have teachers but do smaller towns have musicians and Gurus of the above mentioned calibre?
I want to point out a steep deterioration which is happening throughout; it might not be visible in cities like Mumbai, Pune or Kolkata, yet. That does not mean that there is no deterioration.
In our holy field of music, some questions are never asked. Forget of asking them, even having them in your mind might be perceived as a crime. In this long piece, I am going to put aside my fears, respect and other things. When one enters a temple, one keeps out the footwear.
I think undue pompousness about tradition, teachers, rules, formalities are like footwear if one wishes to enter the temple of genuine enquiry.
I am not claiming that I am out of the problems that I am about to discuss; I might be a part of them but I am willing to stop and question. Readers are free to share their thoughts through comments on this article or by writing to me on my email.
The music field has become diabetic because everyone is sweet!
Two years back, I was sitting in front of the editor of a leading Marathi newspaper. This newspaper wanted me to cover the famous Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav. They did not want me to do facts reporting; rather, they wanted musical comments and insights.
With lot of excitement, I met the editor. The first thing he told me was not writing anything negative about any artist. To quote, ‘this is a festival and we never say anything negative on festive occasions.’ That was the clause which came before discussing anything else.
Imagine, if every newspaper tells this to their music reporter, all musicians would be maestros, pundits and ustaads.
But, I was not ready to give up so easily. I played my card.
“Okay, I understand, but can I write suggestive?” I asked.
“Means what?” the editor questioned.
“I won’t say what went wrong. I would write about what could have been better,” I answered the query.
I got an approval on that.
With tremendous enthusiasm, I wrote my first piece, taking all care that I nowhere sounded negative or even critical. I only made few suggestions which were very obvious!
Next day, when I checked the paper, those suggestive comments were simply chopped off.
Why? Why cannot someone as a listener point out what was not right? We all understand that for a musician it might be a bad day and one wrong review might spoil his or her career. But there are dozens of musicians who are consistently performing crap for decades. You can’t anymore call a spade a spade. Immediately your ‘knowledge’ and ‘humility’ bear a question mark.
And, a good reviewer can of course mention that it could be a bad day and be as gentle as possible. Today, no organiser will book an artist from reading a newspaper review. There are YouTube Videos, fancy brochures, personal recommendations etc. through which organisers make these decisions.
Frankly, the world of Indian Classical Music has a history of honest reviews. If you do not believe, sharing two reviews written by veteran journalist Mohan Nadkarni – here and here . I am sharing these reviews just as examples of how critical a reviewer could be. I have heard of far more pungent reviews written about artists of the stature of Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and the likes. Many of these reviews were out of hatred; some of them had a point. The point that I am trying to make is, there was no pressure on a journalist that he needs to sound sweet.
Honesty is the new Aprachalit Raga
We often hear many anecdotes about how great maestros of the old time shared their frank opinions about music of fellow musicians. At times, these opinions were born out of a sense of competition and jealousy but, in general, musicians shared what they felt about the music presented. To take this a step further, even accompanists were quite open about sharing their views about the music of the main presenter and vice a versa.
Recently, the only feedback that artists give each other are nice, very good, kya baat hai, bahut badhiya! We never hear something like –
“I liked your performance but the tanpura could be tuned more precisely” or
“I like the vilambit rendition but I found the drut rendition a bit gimmicky which hampered the bhava of the Raga.” Or something as simple as –
“I liked your last month’s performance more than today’s.”
Lack of constructive feedback, from fellow musicians, from accompanists, from audience, from organisers is damaging not only the field of music but also the journey of musicians.
Is Sincerity the Lupta Raga?
Well, for this particular point (by God’s grace) there are exceptions. I request you to prove me wrong by pointing out more and more talented and sincere young musicians. But, I am talking about the overall scene here.
We are always told the stories of dedication, sincerity, riyaz etc. of artists of the yester-years. Keeping aside the details, we can safely conclude that they were utterly serious about what they were doing. We have the story of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Sahab wearing a kurta made of the thread which he used for the javhari of his tanpura and we also have heard the story of Kesarbai Kerkar who would return ticket money of audience in the last rows, if they were not able to hear her clearly. She stopped singing when she had huge following just because she could not sing up to her own standards.
And then, we have musicians who share recordings of concerts where they are out of tune for 90 percent of the time! Being surel is very difficult and is a life long journey. What bothers me is, can a musician not avoid posting it? Don’t post it. I understand, one wants to be ‘seen’ and hence one uploads them. But please, do not DM your audience and tell them how beautifully you have sung. At least be humble!
Many times, artists do not even cut the patches where they have fallen flat on their faces; or record it on better quality devices. At least, learn a bit of technology to ensure the music that goes out is worth a listen.
I am not writing this sitting on a pedestal. I know I am far from being surel. What bothers me as a listener and as a music lover is this casual attitude. It makes me think of a salesman who sales rotten tomatoes with broad confidence on his face. It might be working for artists; but it is damaging the art for sure.
Today, lack of talent is not the problem knocking on our doors as much as the lack of sincerity and the burden of publicity. Somehow, we have lost fresh air which is very essential for an ecosystem to flourish.
One might argue that in spite of all this, the art form is becoming more popular and I am being pessimistic. Well, let me tell you a story.
Let’s hope Indian Classical Music does not end up like that coffee company…….
Once upon a time, there was a company which sold the finest Arabica coffee in the world. Their sales were growing exponentially. Their newly appointed CEO came up with a strategy to take profits up through the roof. He proposed to blend the Arabica coffee beans with the much cheaper Robusta beans. They did trials; some packets had pure Arabica while some had the blend.
Their study showed that most of the people are not able to make the difference and within a month, all the packets going out consisted the blend. The profits increased almost three to four times. Everyone was proud and happy. After 15-20 years, the sales started dropping crazily.
A team of consultants was hired to find out what was going wrong. The reports from the consultants said that only the people from earlier generations who were addicted to coffee drank coffee. The next generation stopped considering coffee as a drink of choice.
The company realised their mistake. By blending cheap coffee, they made huge short term profits but this new blend could not capture young consumers. They liked other options much more than coffee.
The company immediately banned the blending. It took them a generation or two to get back to their earlier size of consumers.
Let’s hope our rich tradition of music does not end up like this coffee company!
Is it an activity that we do repetitively to entertain ourselves and others?
Is it a vocation? Where we sing or dance or play with a few stretched strings to make a living out of it?
Or is it a ladder to climb up the ever increasing heights of our own ego?
More importantly, can art be same for each artist? And is it necessary that it serves the same role in lives of the audience that it does in the lives of the presenters of the art?
When one looks at any art and especially Indian Classical Music in the light of above questions, one will realise that it is very difficult to realise the full potential of this art form, even for those who practice it for their lifetimes.
Let me give you an example. What is sun? For a little kid who knows nothing of the world, it is just a red ball; probably a lollypop. As we grow up a bit, it is the sun – which does the arduous job of defining day and night for us. As we grow up a bit more, we realise that sun is what drives us. It is our source of energy. It is the very foundation of our survival. Our experiences and knowledge decide how we perceive things.
In same way, art can be looked at from different levels. Many will say that Indian Classical Music is like a prayer for them. While saying this, many conveniently forget that we do not pray to get fame for ourselves or in a prayer, there are no rivalries. A prayer has absolutely zero scope to show our intelligence and knowledge.
Many artists will say it’s their passion; something which they like as well as something which earns them a living.
For many, whatever they call it is, it’s the only thing they can do apart from basic reading and writing.
While I do not want to choose which answer is right and wrong, as it is an impossible task in itself, all these answers are from the perspective of the performer or the practitioner of the art.
What is Indian Classical Music, or rather, what role could Indian Classical Music play in the life of its audience? What’s in it for a kid whose parents barely manage sending him or her to school? What’s in it for a new born baby? for a coder who spends ten hours of his day in an artificial and stressful environment? What’s in it for a parent?
For any art, especially when it is a performing art, audience is as important as the performer. While artists spend so much time thinking about what role art plays in their life, do we really think about what our art has to offer to each of these audience members which at times cluelessly come to concerts?
It was quite a controversy when someone tried patenting turmeric. Indians suddenly woke up; we have been using turmeric for thousands of years may be. How can someone patent it?
Quite often, due to conditioning – by media, by peers, etc. or because of abundance of something, we start underestimating it.
Thanks to my mentors, as I get properly introduced to Indian wisdom, let it be about food, exercise, medicine, music or anything in general, I realise that our forefathers rarely discussed ‘why’. They just told us what to do but never told us why do it. In the age of science, reason and logic, lack of why was conveniently equated to absence of substance. As westerners take more and more efforts to study Indian wisdom, interesting things are surfacing up. Sadly, even now, when someone is throwing the ‘why’ right on our faces, we are unable to realise the significance and value of our own tradition. The same applies to the art of Indian Classical Music.
While so much research is popping up which clearly highlights the impact of music on brain development like this Swiss Study, we see a stark lack of awareness about all these things in young and even senior musicians who have been practising Indian Classical Music full time.
What happens in your brain when you are singing? Which neurones get fired up? Which centres are activated? How they communicate with each other? While western researchers are putting their best to study and document all these effects, the musicians will turn blank if you ask them these questions. I do not expect musicians to know about neurology but in today’s age, they should at least know how practising their art form helps the practitioner.
Through Baithak Foundation, we have been lucky to host more than 60 talented artists in schools and construction sites and thanks to community support, the work is expanding; but, as my general observation goes, most of the artists look at themselves just as performers and not as agents of transformation. Have they ever tasted the experienced the transformational power of music?
We have been taught by our Gurus that this art can change the life; it can bring about an instant transformation. We theoretically know it. Yet, hardly a few artists truly believe in the transformation quality of their art form.
While artists are happy to perform in small venues, as we interact with more artists, the subtle aims and objectives of the artists are quite defined – performing in famed festivals, at large scale events which bring huge publicity and money. There is nothing wrong about it; everyone is free to decide what they want in their lives.
But, more than justified focus on ‘eventizing’ Indian Classical Music is leading to another problem – there are hardly any artists in India who have first hand experience of the transformational power of music and are interested to take it to more people in that manner. On the other hand, a large number of western students and practitioners are getting increasingly attracted to Indian Classical Music and its transformational powers. Many are actively involved in integrating it with Yoga and other branches of Indian wisdom and are working towards creating valuable experiences. What happens if there are attempts to patent certain musical practices which we have been doing for years?
As the society matures, shift from entertainment to mindfulness is logical. As more and more artists get caught up in the rat race of concerts, unexplored opportunities exist for artists to absorb the practising aspect of Indian Classical Music and taking it to more people.
We should stop underestimating our own art form!
About the author
Mandar is a co-founder of Baithak Foundation. He is a passionate believer in the power of music as a tool for all round human development. Mandar brings his formal education in engineering and has many years of consulting experience with start-ups and MNCs. He is a published author with two books to his credit. He is a student of Indian Classical Vocal Music.
Many times, it is quite difficult to evaluate the impact of work that you are doing. If one keeps throwing seeds around, the impact won’t be seen the very next day; may be it will take a decade or so to realise that the mere act of sowing seeds has transformed a barren piece of land into an intricate ecosystem.
When we meet someone for the first time and explain them the work that we try to do through Baithak Foundation, the most obvious question that we get is – What is the outcome of organising concerts and workshops in schools? How is it actually going to help the students? How is it going to support the art form?
While exposing kids to music has many immediate benefits like building sensitivity, awareness about culture, imbibing values and discipline, support to young artists etc., could there be any long term benefits as well? Can such trivial exposure to this art form affect the Course of life of a person?
To answer this question, I would like to share two incidents which happened in the last year.
In the year of September, I got a call from a Pune based mid-aged man who wanted to host a Baithak at his house during Ganpati Festival. When we reached the venue, my first question was – What promoted you to host a classical music concert and not DJ or other forms of loud music?
The answer which he gave, was eye opening. When he was a kid, his family was a patron of art and stalwarts like Pt. Ravishankar used to stay at his uncle’s place for days and perform. Though this gentleman did not have any connection with music thereafter, in the later parts of his life, he felt like he was missing this art form and should reconnect with it.
Not only this, being in the profession of audio-video equipment, he also donated a professional recorder to Baithak which we now use to document our work.
The second incident happened in a school. At present, we are working with more than 12 locations in Pune, a mix of construction sites and municipal schools. Principal of one of the schools was quite keen on having our sessions at her school. When we did first concert in her school, we saw that unlike many other schools, she had done an excellent job with entire event organisation – from better publicity of event and student interest to actual on stage arrangements.
After interacting with her, she shared that when she was in college, she used to attend Spicmacay concerts and these concerts had had a deep impact on her and she was very keen to provide same experience to her kids.
Just imagine, a college student who heard Indian Classical Music in her college days and was touched by it, the experience she had is impacting how she provides experience of Indian Classical Music to next generation of students.
We often feel that one can contribute to art only by becoming a donor or a performer. That’s so untrue; there are so many roles in this ecosystem for which we need passionate people! Whenever I see some volunteer taking notes of a concert, with an intention to convert it into a nice piece of documentation, or someone passionately preparing the stage before the concert, I feel thankful that in society, we have so many people who are touched by immense power of this art form and are honestly trying to contribute to the ecosystem in whatever manner they can.
While working, one has to believe in the circular force of life – what you do, will not immediately bounce back on you; it will follow a circular path and will meet you unexpectedly, may be after a few decades!
For a long time, I wanted to interview this radiant and joyful Tabla Maestro, Nishikant Barodekar. I heard him first when he accompanied Rakesh Chaurasia at a concert in Pune. What a coincidence it was! I, my wife Dakshayani, Rakesh ji and Nishikant Barodekar- all of us came out together from the parking area. As Rakesh Chaurasia is a good friend, we exchanged a few words with him. After this brief conversation, Rakesh Chaurasia and Nishikant Barodekar went to the green room and I and Dakshayani to the auditorium!
At that time, I was unaware of the fact that Tabla Maestro was Nishikant Barodekar, grandson of the great Kirana Gharana vocalist, Smt. Hirabai Barodekar. It took us almost three years to meet in person after the concert that day!
Anyway, meeting Nishikant Barodekar was a totally new experience. Nishikant conveys certain things very clearly- he is humble, calm, devoted to the purity of his art and is well aware of his role in the world of music- not only as an artist but also a person and more importantly, as a teacher.
For almost one and half hour, Nishikant Barodekar took us on a ride, touching various aspects right from music, riyaz, spirituality to his observations about the young generation. Though he hails from a musical family, his musical journey was as tough as anyone else’s.
“For three years, I used to travel every day to Mumbai to learn Tabla from Abbaji (Ustad Allarakha) and come back to Pune. It was after three years of testing, that Abbaji asked me to stay at Mumbai”, humbly Nishikant unfolds the efforts which he has taken to master the art.
Nishikant started learning vocals and had to switch to Tabla due to some reasons. Under the initial guidance of Ustad Ghulam Rasool Khan, he began his Tabla lessons and was awarded national scholarship for three years. After this initial study, later he was accepted as a Gandabandh disciple by Ustad Allarakha.
“Ustad Allarakha was a great artist and had very simple personality. Ammaji (Abbaji’s wife) looked after us like mother. She always ensured that we are not hungry even if we were practicing late in nights.”
In this digital age, where many students of music meet their teachers only through Skype, the point made by Nishikant makes us realise that somewhere, the love and intimacy between Guru and Shishya is spiralling down.
When we asked him about who his favourite artist is or who are the artists he likes to listen to, he opened up his wide canvas.
“I am listening to all the great artists right from my childhood. Hence, there is no comparison. I just learned to pick up good things from each one of them.”
Nishikant Barodekar is a seasoned artist and his contribution to the field of art is significant. He has accompanied greatest of the great artists including Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Vilayat Khannad many many more. He is a teacher passionately sharing his art and knowledge with students. Nishikant also conducts workshops regularly.
“How is your experience with the young students who learn from you?”
“Well, there are lot many distractions which keep them away from focusing”, he tells.
“When we were kids, television was the only entertainment and distraction. Today, life is so fast and there are so many things to keep you away. But in spite of that, due to this, the speed of understanding and grasping has also improved.”
Nishikant Barodekar is a devotee of Satya Sai Baba and teaches Tabla at Music College at Puttapurthi. I appreciate his concern about music and his art which is not limited only to performing in concerts but also stretches to openly sharing his knowledge with students.
Meeting Nishikant Barodekar has left behind many impressions and has given us many things to reflect and contemplate on. He has invited us to Puttapurthi, and we are much excited to see the place and the work which he is doing over there.
After a long chat and filling dinner, we got up. I was a bit upset as hotel management insisted on visitors picking up their plates and keeping them at the washing counter.
“This is very similar to our place (Puttapurthi). Here at least you do not have to wash your plates!” commented Nishikant, with twinkle in his eyes, gauging my anxiety. We came back home with memories which will be cherished for long!
As many other music lovers do, I also keep on waiting for some good concerts. A long time entry in my wish list was a concert by Pt. Mukuls Shivputra.
In the last week of Feb, I was in Ahmedabad for some official purpose. I had been there for a conference. While going to the conference venue from our guest house, I passed by CEPT. I have a collection of around 6 recordings of Pt. Mukul Shivputra performing at CEPT. All of them are high quality audio recordings and Mukulji has sung many Ragas like Malkauns, Puriya Dhanashree, Jog, Chhayanat etc. and also has given a demonstrative talk.
While passing by, I asked my wife this many times repeated question- “When would he sing again?”
As clueless as I was, she was unable to answer. Just after reaching the venue, I got an alert from Facebook about Pt. Mukul Shivputra performing in Pune on 15th March 2015.
Though both of us were quite busy with the launch of our book, we marked the date. The occasion was Mukulji completing 60 years. The concert was to be followed by dinner.
Many music lovers and fans of Pt. Mukul Shivputra were already present, waiting for him to arrive on the stage. We could coincidentally meet renowned Tabla Player Shree Anand Badamikar during the concert.
He arrived and after some formalities, the concert began. In spite of having some issues and trouble with the sound system, Mukulji sang. Unfortunately, the concert was arranged in open lawns and another classical concert was going on in the immediately next place. In spite of all these hurdles, Mukulji took audience to a different plane.
As a policy, I avoid writing elaborately on what Ragas were sung in a concert, which Bandishes, which Talas etc. The purpose is go beyond all that and taste the environment which the artist builds in his concert. It is a precaution to ensure that reviews are not intellectual.
Pt. Mukul Shivputra opened the concert with Multani, very stirdy yet delicate. The chain went on ending with Bageshree and then Bhairavee. The music was enriching, sensitive. One of the biggest problem I see with musicians is their insensitivity. They take all the efforts to make their music wide, entertaining, intellectually compelling. All these things can be added with practice, sensitivity cannot. Pt. Mukul Shivputra won the audience and made a mark because of his sensitivity and delicacy.
He is whimsical and many people in the world of Indian classical music simply avoid talking about him. Still, many more miss him and miss his divine music. Mukul Shivputra quenched a thirst of music lovers which no other singer can.
His concerts are now rare. Not many of his recordings are available in the stores. Some clips are uploaded on the internet but they lack the quality.
A few days ago, when we were attending a concert by Rahul Sharma [Barkha Ritu], on a CD stall there, I found a recording of Raga Jaijaiwanti and Kedar by Pt. Mukul Shivputra.
Without a second thought, I bought the CD.
Raga Jaijaiwanti- by different artists
I have listened to this melodious late night Raga Jaijaiwanti by many artists. Many of them are records and a few were the live concerts which I attended. The first rendition of Raga Jaijaiwanti which I came across was that of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. [Kanchan SInghasan and Jhanan Jhanan]. Later, I got more and more curious about this Raga and listened to its renditions by different artists including Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia,Pt. Jasraj etc.
Till the date, I loved Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pt. Kumar Gandharva’s approach the most. This recording of Pt. Mukul Shivputra has changed the situation a bit.
Mukul Shivputra : Jaijaiwanti live in Mumbai
Jaijaiwanti is a vast Raga, with many possible combinations producing strikingly different emotions and moods. An artist can mend it to justify his feelings. At the same time, Jaijaiwanti has its own flavor also, which is very delicate to keep intact through out the concert.
Pt. Mukul Shivputra has done a really marvelous job while presenting this Raga. His swift movements from Dha to Ga, a trademark pattern in which he takes both the Gandhars together takes the Raga to another level. This also opened up a completely unexplored aspect of personality of the Raga. The quality of the recording is also excellent which adds up to the overall joy of listening.
I would highly recommend music lovers to listen to this live recording to experience the nonperishable beauty of this Raga.
When I listened to Shri. Milind Sheorey for the first time, I remembered what Pt. Shivkumar Sharma said in ‘Antardhwani’, a documentary made by national film archives exploring the journey of this Santoor Maestro.
A Guru should not look at sculpting dozens or hundreds of disciples. Even if you are able to create one or two disciples who can understand the music of Guru and then add something of their own to it, that is more than enough.
As my observation goes, this is quite true. Musicians cannot be bulk produced. At the same time, three factors play their role simultaneously. The first is disciple’s hard work- both as a musician and a human being, second is finding a Guru and the third and the last is the divine grace.
I feel, when all these three factors work out together positively, a great musician is born. It is quite clear that rarely something like this happens. It happened with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, it happened with Pt. Nityanand Haldipur and yes, it is happening with Shri Milind Sheorey.
Gurumata Annapurna Devi- The river of knowledge
Gurumata Annapurna Devi, who is taking efforts beyond human capacity to transfer the treasures of knowledge which she has, is very lucky as far as getting disciples is concerned. I could meet and have a discussion with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pt. Nityanand Haldipur. During our discussions with both the artists, we realized the tremendous efforts taken by Annapurna Ji and also the two disciples. Listening to Shri. Milind Sheorey made me realize that the chain does not end with these two artists.
Though Milind Sheorey learned music from same Guru, his style is very different than his two Gurubandhus. As Nityanandji had rightly said, Annapurna Ji crafted each disciple considering his personality and skills. As it is said, true Guru never forces his knowledge own disciples but tries to understand each disciple and cultivates him accordingly.
Being accepted as a disciple by Annapurna Ji is in itself a big thing- it certifies that you are honest with your art. Being accepted by a godly Guru is a difficult thing to happen. But, being with such Guru and trying to manifest her dreams is even more difficult. When a demanding Guru and a hardworking disciple comes together, the third factor has to come into the picture- the grace of the god.
Miilnd Sheorey and his Music
It is quite visible from Milind Ji’s performances that he plays Ragas which are generally not played on flute. It is a feast to listen to Ragas like Shuddha Kalyan, Puriya Dhanashree on flute which are generally played on string instruments. As one can imagine, the task is not that easy, I would say, it is not at all easy. Flute is a very different kind of instrument as compared to string instrument where the show is managed by artist’s breath.
Before this, I had listened to such ‘non flute’ Ragas being performed on flute but one could easily make out that something is missing and not fitting. When I gave a try to Milind Sheorey’s rendering, there was nothing missing. It had superb blend of stable breath, correct approach to play the notes, immense continuity.
I am sitting here, close to Annapurna Ji’s house, listening to Puriya Dhanashree, played by Shri. Milind Sheorey. It is a perfect evening, with winds blowing without any control and sea roaring. Milind Sheorey has reached to some different height, and his music is accommodating enough to take me also there, with him. The sun is about to collapse in the sea and the curtains are dancing. So are the notes, though a bit constrained by the rhythm.
Osho says music should bring you to your origin. It should make you look inside. That is what happening. At this time, I am experiencing the three factors pouring in- the hard work of this disciple, the perfect Guru and yes, the grace of the almighty, blowing around as wildly as these winds.
I have interviewed and written about many artists on this website till date. This is first time when I am writing something about Ustad Zakir Hussain. I have countless memories which resonate with divine music of Ustad Zakir Hussain. Infinite impressions are created both by his music and his being. As I have many times said, an artist is not only his art but a lot more than that. Zakir Bhai, in true sense has a lot of this ‘lot more’.
Zakir Hussain, through his music, has helped me many times and I am very much sure that I am one of the countless persons who are knowingly and unknowingly helped by his music. Through his music, I have learnt many lessons and learned a better way to live my life. One might wonder how listening to a Tabla performance can teach someone so many things. But yes, if the music is hijacked by the god, it can even wake up the dead.
Zakir Hussain and other Tabla players
Though I do not like to compare artists, I always like to discuss what makes the tallest peak ‘the tallest’. Undoubtedly, Ustad Zakir Hussain is the tallest peak in world of Tabla today. I have attended many concerts where Tabla was either a solo instrument or an accompanying instrument. These concerts were given by different Tabla players, Zakir Hussain being one of them. Keeping my eyes open helped me to learn many things about him which in my opinion differentiate him from the others. I will share them one by one.
1. Understanding music of the main performing artist
Ustad Zakir Hussain has tremendous understanding (sometimes even more than the main artist himself!) of the way artist he is going to accompany performs. If you listen carefully, other Tabla players play in same way every time, with every instrument and everty artist. On the other hand, the way Zakir Bhai plays changes with the artist, changes with the instrument. The way he accompanies Santoor is different than the way he accompanies Sitar or flute. In order to attain this level of performance, the accompanying artist has to have a deep understanding of the instrument and also the artist. On this front, he is beyond any parallel in today’s world.
2. Thorough knowledge of sound system and acoustics
As we do, artists also tend to avoid the technical part- acoustics and sound check. My experience tells that Zakir Hussain has in depth knowledge of sound systems, acoustics and other technical things. In all the concerts I attended, Zakir Bhai religiously did the sound check, paying attention to the finest of the details. As a result, each of his concert is supported by highest quality of sound.
3. Humbler than the humblest
I respect Zakir Hussain for his humble nature. His humbleness is not borrowed. It is not for show. He is humble. It is very natural in his being. I have always seen him respecting old and learned people, forgiving organizers for small mistakes. I remember one of my friend telling me his first-hand experience where after a concert, Ustad Zakir Hussain lifted the Chappals (Indian type of footwear) of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and brought them to him. In fact, his understanding of music of other artists also comes from this humble nature.
Zakir Hussain as an accompanist
I look at Zakir Hussain as best accompanying artist. I also remember the lit up faces of many music lovers when they came to know that the particular artist was being accompanied by Zakir Hussain. As already discussed, he has good understanding of different instruments and artists and he performs accordingly. Is that the only thing which separates him out? No, and the list is very long.
1. Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain
If someone asks me about which concert would be my highest priority concert, it would be this combination where Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is accompanied by Ustad Zakir Hussain. I remember a concert by these two great artists where Pt Shivkumar Sharma said that accompanists like Zakir Bhai are rarely born. The music of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is meditative. His strokes and patterns are meditative. If the accompanying artist is not aware of this fact, his strokes tend to disturb this meditative quality of the music. The legacy of Zakir Hussain rests in the fact that his Tabla always adds to the meditative quality of music and it never disturbs it.
Accompanying Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is one of the most difficult task as the artist has to be highly attentive. Many times, a clear stress can be observed on the faces of artists accompanying him when they realize that they have lost it!
At that point, where both the artists could not afford to stop for even a fraction of second, one stoke of Ustad Zakir Hussain slipped a bit. Hardly anyone of thousands of people noticed it- it was a very subtle issue. The greatness of Zakir Hussain is, he touched his right ear even at that moment.
I appreciate this honesty, of accepting one’s mistake, so small that no one can even notice it. On the other hand, I have seen many famous Tabla players going out of rhythm with a wide smile on their faces- to pretend the crowd that they are playing with rhythm and nothing has gone wrong.
2. Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Ustad Zakir Hussain
Once, I had this opportunity to listen to Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and the accompanying artist was Zakir Hussain. I could not attend the concert as I had to visit another city. But, I have an album, named Posession where Hariji and Zakir Bhai perform together at Osho Ashram (Now Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune). The album has Ragas Hansdhwani, Puriya Kalyan, Kala Ranjani and Pahadi.
This album possession truly shows what Zakir Hussain is. His Tabla talks with the flute. One can feel that both the instruments are having a conversation with each other. Infinite number of times I have listened to all of the recordings but still, they are fresh and they are alive.
3.Ustad Zakir Hussain: The king of Humor
Zakir Bhai is one of the most lively and humorous artists. His humor is pure, fresh and innocent. I have many impressions of his humorous behavior left on my heart. I remember a concert where the anchor was praising him without any limits. Silently, Zakir Bhai left his seat, stood behind the anchor and made him horns with his hands!
In another concert, where Niladri Kumar was frustrated while tuning his instrument (and which was not getting tuned), Zakir Hussain called him and asked him if he needs the hammer to tune it.
Zakir Hussain as a Solo Tabla Player
Playing Solo Tabla demands an altogether different judgment and RIyaz compared to playing Tabla as an accompanying artist. If you have to be best at both, you have to be Zakir Hussain.
Everyone has his own purpose behind watching or listening to any art form. What is my purpose? What am I looking for when I attend a concert? During a concert, if the artist is divine enough, there comes a time where the controls of the performance shift from artist to the divine. This is what I call as ‘hijacked by the divine’. This transition is something for which the artist performs. I can experience this transition in Zakir Bhai’s music. Whenever I go to a concert, I am waiting for this transition- it may happen or it may not. When Zakir Hussain is performing, it always happens!
Note- Tarana is a type of composition which generally does not carry any meaning. As per the trend goes, Taranas are sung in a fast tempo.
Many times, it is seen that listeners as well as vocalists are not aware of purpose behind different types of compositions that are being sung. Ideally, everyone should do what Pt. Kumar Gandharva used to do- contemplation. I really like the way this maestro, Kumar Gandharva has put forward his original thoughts on different aspects of Indian Classical Music, Tarana not being an exception
I often used to wonder, why Tarana is sung in any particular Raga. It is made up of syllables which carry no meaning at all. What people generally think is, it is some kind of adventure in Classical Music. For casual listeners, Indian Classical Music is very slow, boring and monotonous. I know many of my friends whose interest levels suddenly boost up when any artist says that he will be performing a Tarana. Generally, Tarana is thought to be the athletic part of classical music, unfortunately, not only by casual listeners but even by the many of the most famous musicians.
While listening to Tarana sung by different artists, I used to feel unsatisfied. The constant fight with rhythm and notes used to seem senseless. I remember a concert, where Pt. Mukul Shivputra had sung a Tarana in Bhairav Raga. It was an early morning concert organized on the birth anniversary of Pt. Kumar Gandharva in Pune. It was first time when I listened to a Tarana in Madhya Laya (medium tempo). Otherwise, it is always performed in Ati Drut Laya (Super fast tempo). I enjoyed that Tarana a lot. It had conveyed something- which was beyond words.
Still, I was looking from some statement or document written by some authority which explained why Tarana is sung or what is the purpose behind singing Tarana. They say, when you are searching for something seriously, you get it. Last week, I had ordered for myself a copy of ‘Hans Akela’ , a documentary made on Pt. Kumar Gandharva. This documentary was directed by Jabbar Patel. Somewhere in this documentary, they have mentioned what thoughts he had about Tarana. As he says,
‘When singer sings everything, and still wants to say something more, something which he could not convey through the compositions sung, he sings Tarana- which has no meaning. ’
– Pt. Kumar Gandharva
I found this explanation very relevant, authentic and having some experimental value. Pt. Kumar Gandharva has sung his Taranas in same way. They convey something which the words cannot.