Monday, September 20, 2010


Yuddhasya waartah: ramyah:, they used to say. ‘War tales are engrossing’, that’s the best we can make it. Ramyah: literally translates to ‘entertaining’. But the Sanskrit word harks to something enduring. Something like Entertainment-SR®, - Sustained Release. The word raises visions of someone lost in a beautiful forest.

Sir Basil Zaharoff
But Alas! or Hurray! (depends on whether you are Basil Zaharoff or Mahatma Gandhi), now wars are few and far between, and the ‘tales’ part is now replaced by ‘video’. But aiisayyyy…., tales about musicians, mince ‘classical’ musicians, can make up for the lost génre.

So what are these tales? Again we grope for words. Kisse, they call it in Hindi. For want of a substitute, and in deference to the Greater Tradition, that’s the word one usually uses in Marathi. After all Hindustani Classical is a Northern-Deccan phenomenon. Deccan we define as ‘Midsouth’- something like Illinois or Michigan- the ‘Midwest’.

Again, the technically correct word ‘anecdote’, which stems from the Greek ‘unpublished item’, doesn’t quite measure up to the required stature. Yes, kissas are mostly of the personal sort, offering rare glimpses of your favourite personalities. Again, Sanskrit to the rescue, ‘Kimvadanti’ is more like it.

Why classical musicians? The other variety is rather banal. ‘Muggles’, in Harrypotterese. Our geniuses are blessed with eccentric, unconventional minds. Predictably unpredictable. And the greatness of our subjects, say Ustad Faiyaz Khan, puts a halo around the tale.

We were blessed with a spouse with a pucca classical pedigree. Platinum standard. The family lives it. The highlight of our wedding was a full length music conference-yessir, a Kalyanam Kutcheri, performed by Dr. Sunanda Pathak, HOD, Classical Vocal, Mata Sundari College, Delhi! The wedding kutcheri is not that popular with Mahabrahms, but musically inclined Tambrahms swear by the institution, in recognition of which a few words must be said.

Mani of, 4/36, first floor, W.E,A., Krishna Market, Karol Bagh, New Delhi-5, loved to hold forth on the subject. Krishna Market-the words spelt the aroma of roasted coffee beans for denizens, that was where Mardas Filter roasted their beans, and the aroma wafted furlongs, beyond even Saraswati Marg! Nescafe or Bru was sacrilege in those cosmopolitan streets, where literally the flavours of Punjab, Bengal, Maharashtra, and Vaidynathan’s mess blended in mysterious chemistry, creating that elusive concoction called nostalgia! Venkat remembers.

Back to Mani. What good is a wedding without a Kalyanam Kutcheri? (What good is a book without pictures? :Alice) Radha Kalyanam of the Bagavathars is the right thing, because more important than the physical union is the spiritual union II Iti Mani Uwach II

Then again:

Radha Kalyanam is a spiritual way of merging with God. The Jeevaatma merging with Paramatma.[ Check ]

Then there is a practical side to it. Look at this:

“Radha Kalyanam, Veda Parayanam or even recorded good instrumental music is ok especially when the muhurtham happens to be early in the morning say before 8 AM. This will keep the guests engaged till the lunch gets ready which is normally around 11 AM. This is a good opportune moment for having the above programme during wedding rather than having it during reception when the guests are in a hurry to wish the newly weds, have dinner and push off, (quoth S.Sridharan) [Check]

So, this musical prowess of our in-laws guarantees a steady stream of kissas, all initially unheard of, and coming from Baba, they are liable to get tweaked, mince improved a little bit now and then. And this repertoire forms the subject of today’s blog. First, the basics.

Wife’s Dad, that is our Dada, was a doyen of the Gwalior Gharana of Hindustani Classical. A vocalist’s vocalist. He, and his Gurus Poonchwale and Ratanjankar were the pioneers in the annotation of the body of Hindustani Classical, classifying ragas etc. etc. He was Professor of Hindustani Classical Vocal at Allahabad University. Rajan Parrikar’s Guru Pt. Ramashray Jha (‘Ramrang’) was his pupil at the University, and later Ramrang Jha taught missus also. That makes her a gurubhagini of Parrikar (Let us disclose, no dropping names, Rajan Parrikar doesn't know us personally, only on account of his website, one of the nicest and most highly opinionated, thank God... websites on the subject). Dada was then associated with Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapeeth. For more on Bhatkhande, click

Dada naturally had the most fabulous encounters of all. Or rather his spider sense to perceive the humour and poignancy of it was the acutest. At Allahabad, in the days gone by, there were few hotels and many an Ustad and Pandit stayed at the Pathaks’ abode, at Ram Bhawan, above the Koyale ki Taal (coal depot.) Count among them, Kumar Gandharva, V.G. Jog, Manik Verma, Pt. Poonchwale.

So, the Grand-dad of Hindustani Classical Ustad Faiyaz Khan came calling at Allahabad for a Music Conference. He had the day free and Dada invited him to accompany him to the lavishly green Varsity campus, for the vocal practical which Dada was scheduled to take. Khansaheb loved to interact with budding musicians, and the duo went to the University for the mission. Khansaheb never had formal education. What a liberal setup it must have been then! The first candidate (not testee) was well prepared and Khansaheb was all praise for the kid. What marks should he be given, politely Dada asked. What’s that, asked Khansaheb. Briefed about the concept, Khansaheb gave the boy 90 out of hundred. The next man in did even better and Khansaheb raised the auntie, quoting 95. Feeling things were getting out hand, Dada gently suggested 92. Nahi, nahi, Panditji- kya taan gaata hai bachha! OK sir, 95 then! The next student, a girl sounded even better to the doyen of Agra Gharana, and she got a neat 100. Soon enough, an even better singer surfaced, leaving Dada perplexed. Not so the Ustad. He announced 120 for the boy. Startled, Dada repeated Marx on marks, but Khansaheb was livid. Uss bacche ko hamne 100 diya, to ye to uss se kahin achha hai na! Dada conceded defeat sportingly, and after the Ustad’s departure, reached for the blue pencil! What simplicity nōō?
Young Kumar
Another one on Khansaheb Bade Ghulam Ali Khan concerning Kumar Gandharva. Kumar was The child prodigy of Indian Classical. He was born Shivaputra Komkalimath, at Sulebhavi, North Karnataka. At a delicate 8, he was an accomplished singer. He had an uncanny talent for mimicking swaras. Had to hear a rendition once, to internalize every taan every murki, every nook and corner of it. Sort of converting ‘streaming audio’ to mp3 file, our latest obsession. He accompanied his Guru to Ustad’s recital, who sang for about an hour. After the recital, Kumar’s Guru hesitantly sought Ustad’s permission to let the boy sing in his august presence. It did not go down well with the Ustad’s companions, but Khansaheb was nothing if not indulgent. To the astonishment of the audience, and to the consternation of Khansaheb’s disciples, Kumar just replicated the Ustad’s recital, note for note, sam for sam in an even span of time. The disciples were livid- what an affront, man! What cheek! The Ustad, however had other ideas. He took off his precious necklace, decorated the boy, and to his disciples, he said, wah ji! What I could not din into your heads for years, the kid has picked up in an hour. He is the future of our music, Sir!
Mudra Ya Swranno Ya

Kumar and Bhanumati
Then, there is a zany one about the charming Pt. Samta Prasad aka Gudai Maharaj of Benaras. (tale sr. no. 817) Nache mana mora magan dhigda dhigi dhigi fame. Panditji was to play solo at a music conference at Allahabad, which was, alas, arranged by some, ahem! lawyers. The other artiste of the evening was Roshan Ara, not to be confused with Malika-a-Mausiki Roashnara Begum, or with Roshanara Park near Ghanta Ghar, or with Roshanara Road of Palace Cinema. Roshan Ara was the daughter of Patna based Chanda Bai, who later settled in Bombay (later, Mumbai). She was also known as Maua, and was, of course, young, beautiful and able-bodied (Baba’s testimony).

Venue of Concert

Pandit Samta Prasad
Some of the organizers were advocates of ‘Roshan Ara first’, whereas according to convention, it was a call to be taken by the Senior Artiste, who, we cannot help agreeing-celebrated words from Poe- was Panditji. While agreeing to accompany Roshan Ara, Panditji was primed to open the concert. My tabla undertook the journey from Benaras, has disrobed, and the instruments have been laid on the stage, said the proud Pandit Samta Prasad, and they shallll not disembark from the stage unless they have played out. A battle ensued, crowd getting restive. Baba, our brother-in-law, was fortunately there in the audience, to record the kissa for posterity and must have been vocal also, if not instrumental.

Finding the advocates unrelenting, Panditji strode the stage (like a colossus ha, ha, ha!) in his crisp silk attire (iti Baba) and bitterly announced his intention to walk out, requesting the organizers to kindly refund the ticket amount. Hue and cry. We came to listen to Samta Prasad and none else, the crowd exclaimed, and listen we shallll. No refund wifund. Meanwhile the Ustad had picked up the tablas and had trotted out of the hall, intending to cover the modesty of the instruments outside. The crowd followed, leaving the organizers in no doubt as to who was the Prima Donna of the evening. We want Panditji, or অকিলের জুলুম চলবে না or something like that, they must have said in vernacular, one imagines, for passionate classical audiences are Bengalis, diffident ones, Ghatis, and ignorant ones, Hindis. Moved, the Ustad offered to play at any শালা inconvenient or convenient place for anybody who wanted to listen, and the crowd was ecstatic. Off marched the Ustad, furious, followed by the accompanists, followed by around 501 people (500+Baba). Quite a sight. Like mice or kids following the Pied Piper of Hamelin. There was a park, but freshly watered. Out then, they spilled into the streets. Like a beehive stoned (as per Baba). Into the crowded lanes of Allahabad, most named after famous Hindi writers. To cut a long walk short, they approached the Rambagh railway station, or rather the elevated station stood in the way like a mountain. Ustad ascended the creaking iron ramp, crowd following. Very few trains oblige Rambagh, so says Baba. Nice place, huge platform, Panditji said, but being one of the few abiding citizens of UP, asked people to seek the Station Master’s permission. The Station Master himself was a tabalchi, who rushed and took a vantage seat. From 7.00 PM to the wee hours of the next morning, Panditji played, making headlines tomorrow. We have Baba’s word that even a train halted there beyond the scheduled time. The best things in life come free, don’t they? On a platform, if not on a platter, ha,ha,ha! The sword had not re-entered the scabbard without tasting blood!

Finally, to end this edition, Kumar again. The great man was staying with the Pathaks at Allahabad- above Koyale ki Taal. Strolling on the terrace one morning, he came across a misshapen copper tabla shell, in which someone had foolishly planted a shrub. Kumar was mad at this act of sacrilege, and demanded that the tabla be cleaned and shipped to Dewas. The rescued tabla was restored the same evening to its original dignity by the powers that be, and it resonates to this day in all its glory!

Around 16-17% of the readers of this blog have complained that the blog gets more and more and more complicated, convoluted and caricaturous (?) with every new instalment. Actually the blog has exactly 6 readers including the writer, and the writer’s spouse is the complainant. Thereby hangs someone.

Louis Wain (August 5, 1860 – July 4, 1939) was a British painter who was partial to cats, and exclusively painted anthropomorphic cats. So much so that even his self-portrait had to be done by someone else and not by a cat. In common with most artistes, he was subject to mental disorders, which the author shares, if not their artistry. Wain was schizophrenic and the cats in his paintings became more and more convoluted over the years, painfully so. Wain and van Gogh are understandably the two painters most popular with shrinks.

Following is the sequence of the progression or regression of the cats he drew, followed by a portrait of the abnormal painter himself.

(this not a cat)

For the benefit of those of our other 5 readers who find all this abnormal, we repeat the theory of the normal abnormal, which we are fond of repeating. The ‘normal’ is defined as the most commonly occurring observation (‘norm’) amongst say a large number of observations. For instance if we tabulate heights of a hundred Indian men, and find 5’9” to be the commonest reading, shared by say 10 men, we should say that 5’9” is the normal height of the Indian male. So- 90 males differ from the normal. Ergo, the normal man is abnormal.

So! See you on the ōther side then (Haryanvi). But a conundrum, to preface our next blog on Indian Music: Einstein used to muse as to what would happen to the Universe if Mass was removed from it. The Universe will disappear, was his ‘relativistic’ conjecture which we support, if that myäters!

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