Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Musical Upbringing - Part 2

Continued from part 1 ...

My father had a natural intuitive understanding of music. He may not have had the technical know-how, but he knew what was good, and more importantly, what was better. He had a lot of friends who were experts. I owe a lot to them as well. 

One my father's close friends, Vijay Gondhalekar was our go to person for any questions. I remember, perhaps in 5th grade, we had Music as a subject. As typical it was of Indian School System at that time, we were fed a lot of details and jargon without generating any real understanding. We were taught लक्षण गीत (Characteristic Song) of Bhoop which has lines like "म नि वर्जित ओडव सब गायत" (literally meaning, the notes 'ma' and 'ni' are not used in this raag). I didn't understand any of it. I remember Gondhalekar Kaka explaining it to me. True to his witty nature, I remember him making a joke in process, "Remember, that Bhoop doesn't have 'money'!". 

But it was another incident that has had a real impact on me. I took a very long route to liking classical music. I was (and still am) more fond of 'natya sangeet’ which is more accessible. I was lamenting my lack of understanding to Gondhalekar Kaka once. He told me to not worry at all. Keep listening to 'natya sangeet', was his advice. It's a journey, he said. Just like a spiritual journey, "सगुणा कडुन निर्गुणा कडे" (rough translation, "from concrete form to abstract divinity"). That thought has always stayed with me. Only after many years, I understood what he meant, how perfectly he captured the essence of "Shastriya Sangeet". I am deliberately using that phrase. It was he who told me, that the English term, "Indian Classical Music" is a misnomer. The correct description according to him, "Systematic rule based music", and he explained me why. It's discussions like these, and the positive encouragement that make a fundamental difference in your life.

When I did get really interested in Shastriya Sangeet, I started to accompany my father to music concerts. Once we attended a small mehfil of Pandit Jasraj. I don't even remember what raag he sang that day, but I remember feeling ecstatic. After 11:00 pm, Panditji really got into the mood. I was hypnotized. We knew the bus service and train service would be closed, but we stayed till the end, and took a taxi home. That magical experience made me a lifelong fan of Pandit Jasraj.

Later, Music Today (of India Today group) came out a with a big set of cassettes "Raagas from dawn to midnight". We used to listen to those together. Every cassette had one 30 minute khayal of a raag on one side and two 15 minutes of two other raag on reverse side. The Marwa was presented by Pandit Jasraj. It was perhaps the first time I heard a proper Marwa, and I was profoundly affected.

I remember excitedly mentioning about this to another close friend of my father, Mr Mone. He to me, was and is, the definition of the word connoisseur. His vast knowledge, his musical network and his personality commanded respect from everyone. He was happy that I finally discovered Marwa. But he looked at me with a disapproval on his face, and with his hand gesturing dismissal, he said, "No, that's not real Marwa. Only three singers have sung the real Marwa, Pandit Abhisheki, Pandit Vasantrao Deshpande and finally, Ustad Amir Khan. Go listen to them and then we will have a discussion". It was another, expanding horizon moment for me. He was telling me to go beyond vocal abilities, and towards a more sublime experience. It was not easy to find recordings in those days. I didn't get a chance to hear any of the recordings he mentioned till I came to US. With internet, it became easy. Now, all of these are available on YouTube. I never got the chance to tell him that I have listened to what he had recommended. I still won't be able to tell you which Marwa is better, I am not there yet, and perhaps never will be. But Mone Kaka had the authority to pass such judgements and it paid to listen to what he had to say.

The biggest such moment happened in one of the discussions with Mone kaka related to "babul mora", the most well known bandish of all times. I had recently heard a version from Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the Tansen of our generation. The clear consensus was, the best rendition is by K.L. Saigal, for a movie song! Better than Bhimsen? For a movie song? That was a shock I clearly remember. Again, I won't be able to say which one is better, but I am glad I listened.

Now, my father always loved Saigal. As I said, he intuitively understood what's good music. But I never paid too much attention to those songs till this discussion. When I started listening to Saigal with more attention, I realized what I had been missing. Honestly, the tunes of those days are not what I can connect to. In 1930s, neither there was good recording technology, nor was there any expensive orchestration. So crossing these hurdles was not easy for me. But I am glad I did. Now, I can say this about Saigal - "main kyaa jaanu, kyaa jaadu hai". I get goosebumps listening to him sing it.

Later, Lata Mangeshkar released a cassette set, Shraddhanjali, a tribute to all the singers. She has sung this song. I remember buying this cassette, and me and my father listening to it for the first time. When this song started, within a few seconds, I remember, we both groaned. Oh no, Lata didn’t even come close to recreating the Saigal magic. 

They say, it takes a village to raise a kid. True for me. I wasn't born with a natural appreciation for Indian Classical music. It was this environment that cultivated my interest.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Musical Upbringing - Part 1

Everything we know is because someone taught that to us. One of the greatest joys of my life is to listen to music. This listening is a skill that has been nurtured. I was blessed to have people around me who taught me, directly and indirectly, how to listen to music, and how to notice, feel, appreciate and realize. I want to recount some incidences that I think contributed to quantum jumps in my listening abilities.

Almost all of this can be traced back to my father. Literature and music were core to his personality. He himself had a melodious voice, but never had any training. He used to sing, but rarely. I wish he had sung more often and it was all recorded. I have been told that my paternal grandfather was a good singer too.

When he came to Mumbai for work, my father stayed with his cousins in an iconic Dadar building called “Vasant Bhuvan”. While living there, he had many opportunities to meet the genius music director Vasant Prabhu, who used to live in a nearby building. My father was even fortunate enough to hear Vasant Prabhu's composition sessions. One of my father’s cousins, Baal Chavare, who considers Vasant Prabhu as his guru, also later became an established music director for movies and radio. My father and everyone from his friend circle there worshiped Vasant Prabhu’s musical creativity.

I remember one of my father’s friend, once dissing Naushad’s songs in comparison as “जात्यावर दळण दळताना म्हणायची गाणी”, a phrase hard to translate. Literally it means songs sung by housewives to keep themselves entertained when they do repetitive chores, repetitive being the operative word. Figuratively, it was a criticism of “लय” (tempo and /rhythm) or lack thereof in Naushad’s songs. My father was a fan of Naushad too, and so am I. One of the songs being criticized was none other than “मन तरपत हरी दर्शन को आज”. I was taken aback.

This incident made me listen to Vasant Prabhu’s songs more attentively. All his songs were recorded before I was born. The more I listened, the more I understood what a master he was of “लय”. Today, I consider Vasant Prabhu as perhaps the best music director ever for मराठी सुगम संगीत (light Marathi songs). Very pleasing melody, perfectly timed phrases and exemplary tempo. He is peerless in Marathi music. In Hindi, I prefer C. Ramchandra over others for similar reasons.

At home we had a vinyl disc record of two songs composed by Vasant Prabhu. On one side was “जन  पळभर म्हणतील हाय हाय”, and on the other side was “मधु मागशी माझ्या सख्या परि”. Both deeply meaningful poems written by भा. रा. तांबे. Both the songs were my father’s favorite, and now mine too. I even remember him explaining the meaning to me. Anyone who grows up listening to these poems, these songs and discussions about them is bound to grow up loving poetry and music.

It’s a shame, and a tragedy, that Vasant Prabhu is not so well known outside Maharashtra. His songs are pure 24 carat gold. I keep going back to them to understand, analyze and learn from them. Every time I hear these songs, I keep saying, “This, THIS, is how music should be composed”.

To those, who may not have heard his songs, here are a couple of songs to illustrate his mastery on all aspects of music direction. Pay special attention to timing, pauses and overall tempo aspects.

The first is from a movie “शिकलेली बायको”, and was a superhit. A song from the same movie “प्रेमा काय देऊ तुला” is mentioned by Lata as one her favorite songs.

The next is a poem by poet नारायण मुरलिधर गुप्‍ते who wrote with pen name कवि ’बी’. It’s a difficult poem to understand and extremely difficult to compose a tune for. Vasant Prabhu created a fantastic song out of it, that’s catchy and can be hummed by anyone. It’s one of his most well known songs

I still like Naushad’s songs. Nothing changed there. But because of people around me who understood many aspects of music, not only did I develop a special appreciation for Vasant Prabhu's songs, but I can also now better appreciate the “लय” or tempo/rhythm aspect of music.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Marathi Rubaai

Just like that, on a whim, I was struck with following Rubaai in my mind. It's my first Marathi Rubaai. I have never dabbled in Marathi poetry much before. I can count those instances with fingers of my hand, maybe fingers of one hand. But this sounded nice, and here it is.

#रुबाई #काहीतरी #उगाचच

नजर मंदावली, वेळही टळली, वाट तरीही बघतो आहे 
अंधार जरी, दाट भोवताली, दिवा एक हृदयी तेवतो आहे
उमजेल तुला, पटेल तुला, आणि कदाचित जमेलही तुला
आशा अजूनही, धृढ अशी ही, पण धीर तरीही सुटतो आहे

Some friends asked for translation. Which also came easily, and fits the meaning surprisingly well.

थक गयी नज़र, शाम गयी गुज़र, इंतज़ार फिर भी हो रहा है
है बाहर फैला घोर अँधेरा, चिराग़ एक दिल में जला रक्खा है
तुम मान जाओगे, समझ जाओगे और शायद आ भी जाओगे
है उम्मीद तो यह, अब तक कायम, सब्र कुछ मगर टूट रहा है

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Marathi Kavita has a special place in its heart for Baalkavi. He is peerless when it comes to describing nature, both in terms of quality and quantity. Of all his poems, Audumbar is not only the cutest, but also the most mystical of all. Many interpretations abound, but no song has been made to my knowledge. Hence with great excitement and infinite respect for this celebrated poem, I present to you, the collective interpretation of everyone involved in making this song.

Many thanks to Anagha Bhide for her melodious vocals, as well as numerous subtle suggestions. Aniket Damle has beautifully arranged the accompanying music and patiently helped a newbie like me. The credit of adding cinematic effect fully goes to him. Rhythm is masterfully handled by Amey Thakurdesai, who also played the tabla for my previous song, Ik Pal Bhi. The superb flute ornamentation is thanks to Mohit Shastri.

Big thank you to my college mate Arati Phadke who generously provided her wonderful paintings for creating a matching visual background in the video.

I have kept the melody in line with Bhairav, a perfect raag to capture the mood of this interpretation. To me, Audumbar is a journey of spiritual maturity. From lively innocence to contemplative satisfaction. I hope we have succeeded in conveying this essence.

If you like the song, please support it by sharing and forwarding!

Credits :
Poet: Baalkavi
Singer: Anagha Bhide-Bendkhale
Composer: Abhay Avachat
Music Arrangement and Mixing: Aniket Damale
Tabla and Rhythm: Amey Thakurdesai
Flute : Mohit Shastri
Visual Art: Arati Phadke
Video Editing: Abhay Avachat
Special Thanks: Aparna Nimkar

ऐल तटावर, पैल तटावर हिरवाळी घेऊन
निळा सावंळा झरा वाहतो बेटाबेटांतुन

चार घरांचे  गाव चिमुकले पैल टेकडीकडे
शेत मळ्यांची दाट लागली हिरवी गर्दी पुढे

पायवाट पांढरी तयांतुनि अडवी तिडवी पडे
हिरव्या कुरणांमधुन चालली काळ्या डोहाकडे

झाकळुनि जळ गोड काळिमा पसरी लाटांवर
पाय टाकुनी जळात बसला असला औदुंबर

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