The commercial channels rarely transmit or promote Indian Classical Music or traditional folk music. I say this with the exception of ETV Bangla (the only bangla channel I have access to in my hometown), which regularly airs programmes on Rabindra Sangeet. But it is the only type of cultural music being promoted by the channel. The channel does not even show programmes of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan or their sons who are Sarod maestros in their own right.
I am also sometimes surprised at the policies of Doordarshan (DD) and All-India Radio (AIR). Since my childhood I have always seen that programmes which correspond to the Indian Cultural music or dance are transmitted either at late night or at times when there is the least possibility of viewers being present. The young generation, which has to carry the flag of India forward, is in deep sleep by the end of the day, and never gets to listen to classical music or appreciate dance forms.
I cannot be called a great connoisseur of music. In my schooldays, I considered myself to be lucky if I got to see some quiz shows, science programmes, the sunday movie, and maybe Spiderman. I have been usually listening to film songs, English pop and classical music and some French music over the last few years. My mother, on the other hand, was interested in listening to classical music and usually stayed up late, when the ragas sung by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi or Pt. Jasraj surrounded the environment in a soft volume.
I decided to take a break this year from the chores of Society of Civil Engineers at IITK and join the SPIC-MACAY group at IITK. The interest was to establish new contacts, expand the horizons and have intellectual discussions with motivated people across the disciplines. I therefore volunteered to offer some of my time to the SPIC MACAY group. In the last six months, I have had a lot of discussions about art and dance forms, had the opportunity to hear Ms Kalapini Komakali, dine with Ms. Kiran Segal and listen to the pillars of Indian classical music namely Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan and Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma at the banks of the river ganges at Saraswati Ghat, Allahabad.
It was on the second of December, when Srinath made a move to collect people to go to Allahabad for two purposes, first to hear Ustad sahib and Panditji sing and play respectively, and second to visit the Sangam. The semester had already finished, the teaching assistantship work was already over, and I decided to give it a try. I am well known in the campus for my over endowed appearance and as obvious I insisted upon having lunch and then depart for the destination. Thirteen group members assembled at the gates of our hostel. To my surprise, I saw Eugenie, a young french lady who works at a project and teaches us the French language. She, I was told, was keen to get a brush of the Indian culture, as she had heard heard so much about our country. We started at about 1300 hrs.
I, as usual, switched to the PJ mode, quipping at every statement and trying hard to invoke laughter, as the vehicle made its way through the traffic and crowd of the Kanpur city. We were more bothered about making Eugenie feel comfortable with us, so at times I also dabbled with my half polished Indianised french lingo. At mid way, we saw two shops which were named Mohan Pedaa and Sohan Pedaa and thought it was the right time to purchase some sweets. Uma, in the meantime kept getting calls from her supervisor, and Mayank kept in touch with his mates in the campus curious about his grades. But for most of the time, it was Srinath who kept on talking about the various experiences and feelings he had when he witnessed Indian maestros at their performances.
The programme was to commence at 1800 hrs, and the traffic and the lack of knowledge about Allahabad's routes had us a bit perplexed. We however managed to ask a police constable for the route and he guided us in the right direction.
Ustad ji's performance had already begun. We wanted to be fully immersed in it and therefore decided to have some snacks and tea before entering the venue. But, it seemed that the magic had already started working. The Alaap was already mesmerising us by the magic of a frail 99 year old man, who could barely walk. I felt a magnetic pull towards the stage, and in a moment we all were inside, silent and deeply immersed in the alaap. The surroundings were perfect, the banks of the ganges, a moonless sky, the reflection of the street lights in water, pindrop silence from the audience and the sounds weaving their spell through Ustadji's voice. Ustad sahib performed for two hours continuously and ended with a bhajan scripted by Meerabai.
We were still deeply lost, when the name of Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma was announced. I had only heard Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma till now, watched him occasionally on the television, and heard his name as one of the music composer duos of the Shiv-Hari. As some of the people had taken the advantage of the interval for a quick break, we silently went down two steps to see the maestro more closely. He appeared, as I had seen him, but with white hair, his charismatic personality, the smile on his face. He reminded me of the poem by Robert Browning titled Pied Piper of Hamlin (1888),
... Into the street, the piper stepped,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what music slept,
In his quite pipe, the while...
Panditji took a humble bow before Ustad ji, who by now was sitting on a chair in front of the stage, and sat down quietly, tuning his instrument. Then he raised up his face, and asked the school children if they were tired. The children answered that they were not. He advised the children, that if they wanted to preserve their energy, they should keep quite and this also helps the performer to concentrate.
Panditji started playing on the santoor with the announcement that he would be playing rag Jhinjhoti. I closed my eyes and just imagined the pit-pit-patter of the rain drops and heard the santoor playing, and I was bathed in music from all sides. I managed to record a part of the santoor recital on my handycam.
The SPIC MACAY organisers at SMC GHOORPUR were rather kind to ask us for dinner as it was really late in the night. We clicked photos with the team at Allahabad and as we departed from the place, Ustad sahib's song “Piyaji tori teekhi teekhi batiyaan moke na bhaaye”, along with the Santoor kept going on and on in my mind as we rode the Qualis back to IIT Kanpur. What made me happier was Eugenie's smile and the twinkle in her eyes, after she heard the recitals patiently for about 4 hours.