Sunday, January 13, 2013


Chatur wachakani, able readers, of our humble blog, may their tribe grow, will recall the observation of Missus in a previous post, that for a classical singer, light classical is often a ‘different’ cup of tea. Light Classical is an uncharted high sea (‘seas’?) where not only the singer, but also the accompanists let their hair down. In that laissez-faire territory, you do not expect to be scrutinised by the practitioner of pakka gaana. You’ll find the most interesting innovations and improvisations here. And Senior and YT, musical twins that they are, regularly vie to spot and define the shapes and forms of the departures, usually Senior stepping in and polishing off the issue. The tabla is usually in the cross-hair. many interesting characters of the tabla world show up in these dialogues : लग्गी, परन,  टुकड़ा, वगैरेह वगैरेह ...

Chitralekha by Bhagwati Charan Verma was one of the earliest works of Hindi fiction we read- it was a adult stuff by Dad's standards, hence kept under wraps, and hence to be read by us brothers cover to back........! Even otherwise Dad wouldn't have foisted a Hindi book on us -Dad never imposed anything on us, or for that matter anybody, save perhaps Mom, he ,he, he!

Now for some mindless digression...for that’s what this blog is about....

Chitralekha...boyyyy...were we impressed! Though we do not remember the details now, one can always brush up, we remember it sort of takes you through intellectual mazes, and through corridors and corridors of multiple mirrors, so that one forgets one's way, and the distinction between one's received wisdom and what the brilliant girl, Chitralekha avers, gets blurred. No wonder Swami Kumargiri decides to get converted her cause, besotted by Chitra, by which time, alas, the danseuse has veered around to Swamiji's world view after she surrendered Samanta Bijgupta to Yashodhara,...her...friend.

The movie of course featured a powerful cast, Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari and Pradeep Kumar, and the music was composed by Pt. Roshan, who by the way, was taught for a while by Pt. Balaji Pathak, to whom we owe so much in life, most of all, our Missus. We would remember Chitralekha for the out-of-the-box and extraordinary tabla rendering, and of course the beautiful lyrics in sanskritised Hindi penned by none other than Sahir:

काहे तरसाये, जियरा
यौवन रुत सजन जा के ना आये

नीत नीत जागे ना, सोया सिंगार
झांजर झन झनन, नीत ना बुलाये
काहे जियरा तरसाये , काहे तरसाये, जियरा

नीत नीत आये ना, तन पे निखार
पवन मन कमल नीत ना खिलाये
काहे जियरा तरसाये , काहे तरसाये, जियरा

नीत नीत बरसे ना, रस की पुहार
सपन जल गगन नीत ना लुटाये
काहे जियरा तरसाये , काहे तरसाये, जियरा (Asha and Usha)

Bhagwati Charan Verma, uncharacteristically, was a Legal Practitioner . Yin and Yang at work again!

We travel to and fro between Shillong and Guwahati, at least 10 times a month, maybe 6 times with Missus, we are to visit the seven sister states regularly, and Guwahati is the gateway. In Shillong we just moved from Laitumkrah ( ‘t’ silent) to Nonghrim Maw.  A custom made, extra long stereo cable invariably connects the AUX in the Scorpio, umbilical cord like, to our well-populated IPOD. There is this remarkable song in the movie Chitralekha, ‘Chha Gaye Baadal, Neel Gagan Par’, which is invariably the first one played when we travel in Ngampu Kuki’s Scorpio. He’s into Mizo music, but he also loves the song now, the way he nods his head, not that he comprehends the words,... Ngampu, we tell his mentor, Major Saab, is the purest human being we have been blessed to behold. Kukis, by the way, live in Manipur hills, are at the receiving end, and are one of the quasi Mizo tribes, members of which tribe make it to the Civil Services the oftenest.   Other common Kuki titles are Aimol, Colony, Guite, Paite, Knaite, sound Maharashtrian, don’t they: they are not!                         .     
Most of us have heard the song, which we and Missus have critiqued to no end. Alas, ‘we are constrained to state’ (advantage Chabiwala Bank), ---for Mohd. Rafi has always been a beloved singer, for the tenor of his voice, and for the way he holds a steady ‘सा',--- that the contrast between the class of Rafi and Asha is too great to ignore and leave un-lamented, to put it mildly... mince, so we think...the only ‘charitable explanation’  can be that Pt. Roshanlal Nagrath has not done justice to Rafi Saheb, and that possibility gets excluded when one recalls what a prima donna Rafi was those days. Who but Ashatai can shed light on the observation- if asked she'd give an articulate explanation- the Mangeshkars' felicity with words is no less than what it is with swaras- alas.. IK has no access to Prabhu Kunj..I sayyy...?  

Anyway that's not the only remarkable feature of the song. It’s the Tabla. Of course the other instruments are the flute, sitar and the violin, with santoor and jaltarang thrown inn... and the song is an example of Khamaj,  ends with sitar getting Pilu-ish as the two unite.. Pilu and Khamaj...Chitralekha and Bijgupta... That crazy pirouette is made by Meena Kumari after antara 2..the sort of unorthodox reverse sweep which Eoin Morgan made in the T20 match, Kent vs. Middlesex, 2010!

It was in 1980 that we first came face to face with the tabla, at a popular Music School, run at Nandlalpura, Indore, M.P. by Pt. Shrikrishna Sawner, a modest musician, who often sang light music and ghazals on Doordarshan and occasionally at concerts. He had a way with all musical instruments. Panditji somehow saw some hidden potential in us which unfortunately never surfaced, he, he, he...but Panditji insisted we start with the tabla instead of wielding the violin from day one. A fakkad person, he never asked anyone for fee. The School had an ashram parampara, and traders who were alumni at the school, donated provisions, linen, construction material and other necessities, for Malwa-wasis from all walks of life patronise the arts. Wonly, they are averse to venturing beyond the precincts of Indore. Ustad Amir Khan, Pt. Kumar Gandharva, M.F.Hussain, Ustad Nizamuddin Khan, walked the criss-cross poha-jalebi lanes of Indore, Lata Mangeshkar’s voice, a shrill wail, was heard first in Sikh Moholla, Indore, for she was born there in 1929. That’s precisely the street where our ancestral home was, 26, Sikh Moholla, and Dad’s mama, Rahul Barpute, doyen of Hindi Journalism, was a sort of patron of the arts locally-Indian Classical Music owes a lot to him, for he was one of the close friends , Baba Dike, Guruji Chinchalkar, of course Vasundharatai being some of the others, who nursed Kumarji, enabling him to emerge from his illness and  settle at Dewas, M.P. Granny’s grand-uncle Tatya Barpute finds honourable mention in Damodar Kosambi’s reminiscences about Patalpani, Indore, when he, an American by naturalisation, visited India now and was a Man maaaannn..., we mean DDK ...पांडुरंग ......असुदे...!

Well, at the School, we confess, although we couldn’t do justice to the art, we learnt a lot about the craft, from the way Panditji taught the best of the tabalchis, and the way magical improvisations arose before our eyes. The contributions of our Senior, himself a tabalchi and tabla-thinker of some consequence, in reaching to the inner-most recesses of the minds of these merry ol’ souls’, cannot be termed mean. Ustad Zakir Hussain finds the term tabalchi obnoxious, and perhaps would plump for tabaliya. It’s all in the mind I sayyyy...(that’s a wakprayog of our beloved Tambrahm ex-Boss, which has stuck to our processes, I sayyyy...).

All but a few of the greats have contributed to, or scored in Hindi movies, some frequently, and some on rare occasions. In the former category one could count Ustad Halim Jaffar, Ustad Bismillah Khan (a monopolist!), Pt. Ravi Shankar, Pt. Hari Prasad and in the rare class, Pta. Kishoritai, Pta. Arti Anklikar (T), Pt. Bhimsen Joshi ...wagairah, wagairah, wagairah...

Tabla is another story. Tabalchis in general (or, tabaliyas), save Zakirbhai, Ustad Shamsi, Pt. Anindo, Ahmed Jan Thirakwa, are hardly, or hardly were prima donnas. How else do you explain the absence of Nana Muley, Shaik Dawood and Nizamuddin Khan, in the afsanas of tabla residing in the public mind? By the way, YT never was in any illusion so far as the class of Zakirbhai is concerned, he’s a tabla great, we only object to the narcissistic streak, which comes in the way of good listening. ‘Amake Shoonte Dao’  was our blog where we pleaded for mercy to the listener’s ear. And for this view, we have cited slash enlisted the support of authorities, including Pt. Ravi Shankar. But on several occasions in earlier blogs, we have marvelled  at his craft, we swear...

With some effort, we listened to 50 classical based Hindi movie songs when we began this post, in order to find out how frequently these enterprising tabalchis come into their own, and the answer was not frequently. The tabla-artistry in some songs like Nache mann mora and Piya tose naina laage re has received some attention thanks to some vocal tabaliyas, Pt. Samta Prasad playing for the former.... Maaind you han, these tabalchis don’t have to be guided by the music director- they only agree on a certain taal.  Chha gaye tablachi, so far as we could guess, should be one out of Ustad Abdul Karim and Ustad Nizamuddin Khan, who frequently played for Roshan, we could be off-mark also. Ustad Abdul Karim was from the Naushad household, younger brother of music director Ghulam Mohammad, breathtakingly talented. Ustad Nizamuddin Khan hailed from Jaora, Malwa, and represented the Lucknow Farrukhabad gharana. He was a tabalchi of Ustad Tari Khan genre, and specially excelled at laggi, which is a sort of seasoning added to spice up a monotonous rhythm, e.g., to say a teen taal theka. Back to chha gaye baadal...

If you listen carefully, there are four very elegant variations of the kehrwa, and the tihai (i.e. concluding flourish) is also unlike a tihai, three pairs of na, members of each pair separated by half a matra, like in rupak. These variations, theoretically, are called prakars. The variations may be same theka, with khali and tali varied (‘off’ and ‘on’ in Indori lingo) or the spaces alternately varied, though many of the bols sound the same in the audio, unless you are witnessing a live recital. Seeing is believing...!

In contrast, usually the taal in Hindi classical songs is straight-forward, as in ‘bole re papihara’ of Guddi:

Bole re’ taal can be likened to a loose-loose kurta worn by the song, while in the case of chha gaye baadal, it’s as if the kurta being wet, clings to the form and shape of the wearer, that is the song, we are visualising a male, innuendos on IK...or we could say that the tabalchi is 'imitating' the singer...or it's as if the tabla is 'marking' the voice in the manner witnessed on a football field.. such a tailor-made tabla taal can be produced only by someone who has lived the hindi movie song, has immersed himself fully in the genre...

(Later addition) The above phenomenon is more universal than we suspected: the greatest tabla-nawaz of his times, Ustad Thirkawa (Marathis call him Tir-khawa) associated himself more with the great Bal Gandharwa because he found creative scope on the Marathi stage. The tabla he played, for instance with Vad Jawu Kunala (please see tailpiece) is unbelievable. Seems to be kaharwa without sounding one! As Pula Deshpande remarked, in order to align with the thrust of the natyageet, he even played teen taal or dadra as another prakar in a manner that it sounds like a new invention..

Another interesting trick....this time it’s the lyricist who is responsible:

Straying from the sam and returning, or sam at an unexpected syllable of the lyrics is a technique we found frequently in Sachin Dev Burman songs, for example,

(mora gora angg lai le in Bandini- you expect the tabla to start where mora or gora begins, instead it starts at the second ra of mera gora, you expect the stroke of na to fall at lai, but then it falls at le... )

We cannot escape the temptation to comment on our favourite taans here, but we are moving them to Tailpiece for a smoother experience...

Zulfie is responsible for some of the most enthralling and some detestable tabla moments in the Universe : for the former, just you hear the accompaniment in ja ja re apne mandirwa (Pt. Jasraj) - once he condescends to play ball- nonpareil

 (tabalchi apni aukaat mey) and Mareeze Ishq by Hariharan:

This is one of the most interesting prayogs of kehrwa one hears, as if the percussion is 
‘tailor-made’ and not ‘off-the-shelf’ –fits the ghazal like a’s called a Ghazal Theka for the way the tabla can imitate a Ghazal. Not talking about the Hariharan part haaan...that’s a bit ...uhn..uhn...theek hi hai..

In fact the asar of a composition is a compound result of- or the interplay between- the voice, lyrics, percussion, raga, emotion (the power of Shabads) etc. etc. The possibilities hidden in boring (?!)  ragas like Maand or Khamaj see the light of the day, if Lataji intones the songs...Thaade rahiyo,...,O Sajana...

Whew........!!! One of   the   most  natural  musicians  we  knew was Ashok Razdan, aka Nobody!        - he could listen- to-a-complex-piece-once-and-reproduce-it, on a harmonium, producing an illusion of the original instrument. He was a Casanova, led a 60s orchestra in Delhi, ‘Gnats’, and went the way expected, fell to a 4 letter fatal malady...What he always said and we quote, sounds trivial, but means a lot to us.. “All songs are great...”  ...We are prepared to go on record- the 'lousiest' filmi song you can recall, maybe based on a 'lifted' tune, deserves respect, it's the product of human endeavour--for someone has sweated over it and has tried to please the "listener''- a bloody someone who has no stake in the art maaan...- and ..wagairah, wagairah....what's it to the bally listener....and don't forget to count amongst the heroes the Jaintia or the Bhil or the band-wala who had a mug of challu or munta or taadi or what-ever-you-call-it, with the Rs. 5/- (Rs. five only) the Best Man gave- 50 lacs spent on the wedding! Anybody just try to sing a'll blast anybody's.....ahem...Do you know about the end of a tabla great, Ustad Nizamuddin Khan?.... he died pennyless near Mahim Dargah in 2000 AD, and he played his last composition on a wooden 'chakla' on which we roll a chhapati, know....!


this is Ashatai Khadilkar’s vad jawu kunala sharana ga?(from historically the first Marathi Sangeet Natak, Sangeet Saubhadra, 1882 AD), in which a fantastically convoluted kehrwa is played. Between 2.20 and 2.25 you’ll find a taan which we were constrained to analyse mathematically, sorry, so mathematically precise and unique it is (YF is a Pure Maths post-graduate).. Though on the net you'll find software that does that, wonder why no known critic has attempted to visually analyse दृष्टिगत-  taans (maybe someone has done it unsung..) look so beautiful...Aeron Systems again came to our  rescue and explained it graphically thus:

vad jawu kunala...that special taan:

and as a function thus:

The taan comprises 3 surs, it’s like  a  geometric  progression in frequency domain i.e. Pa for say T time followed by Dha for T time then time period for the same sur repetition decreasing to 3T/4 Pa, 3T/4 Dha then T/2 Pa,   T/2 Dha,  T/4  each then T/8 each ....... ends with Re for infinite duration..

Functions governing the graph:
F1 * T* (1/2)^n  for n = 1,3,5,7...
F2 * T* (1/2)^m for m = 2,4,6,8....

x = A*sin (2. π. F1. t^O) + A*sin (2.π.F2.t^E)
in time domain.

E = 1 for even multiples of unit time
O = 1 for odd multiples of unit time
X= amplitude A= volume
Rest of the symbols: as mentioned in graphic.

We sweated over it so laboriously, what was child's play for the singer..






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