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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...