Why turn up early, when the late hours promise so much more? That exactly was the general crowd mentality as I observed Nazrul Mancha at less than 35 percent attendance, yet again. Being the second day of the 61st Annual Dover Lane Music Conference, the line up would immediately make anyone stand up and take notice- Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma performing immediately after Arshad Ali Khan( first in today’s line up of artistes), much akin to discovering Prince Harry among a bunch of marines in Iraq! It is only obvious that people would tend to come in numbers after 9.45 pm. However, what followed was completely unexpected.
After being introduced as one of the young frontrunners of the Kirana Gharana, it was heartening to watch Arshad openly declaring that it was his childhood dream to perform in the Dover Lane Music Conference some day, and his childlike exuberance brought a smile to many a person. He immediately chose a raga which generally a public favorite,Raga Shudh Kalyan, and focused on a weapon that he has been developing for quite some time. While his uncle, Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan prefers a slightly faster approach towards alaap, with meend based embellishments peppering it all over, Arshad chose to follow on the lines of the Rampur Sahaswan Gharana, more like Ustad Rashid Khan, where his slower alaap gave him more time to showcase the timbre and resonance of his voice. I must say that after years of practice, his voice has acquired the sort of maturity that is expected after maybe ten to fifteen more years of training. The gamble completely paid off, and those who had chosen to relax outside, sipping tea or going through the CD collections that the stalls had to offer, found themselves drawn to his strong voice like moths to a flame, and the audience was suddenly looking like a proper Dover Lane audience, with the hall close to being full. Add to that the Khan family, who were present in full strength in the front row to provide support, and it was touch and go from the start. He never left any stone unturned and poured in everything his uncle had taught him into one grand conglomeration, playing completely to his strengths, them being his merukhand patterned tans, speed and tonal quality. Pandit Samar Saha was right on track with his amazing rhythmic sense and beats complementary to Arshad’s vocal histrionics. Sarwar Hussain and Rupashree Bhattacharya did a very good job in ably supporting Arshad on the sarangi and harmonium respectively.
Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma : Santoor
Pandit Anindo Chatterjee: Tabla
Need we say any more? This matchup only promised a cracker of an event in which artistic temperament and acoustic experimentation met the power of percussion generated after years of practice and timeless ‘set - piece tabla ‘magic. As he was awarded by the CEO of United Spirits Limited, Mr. Anant Iyer and Ms Jyoti Iyer, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.Afterwars, he immediately began tuning his instrument to the tune of the tanpura, and thanked the crowd for their time and patience. With his trademark smile, he dedicated his performance to one of the greatest ambassadors of Indian Classical Music abroad, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and declared that there will be no one ever like him. He fondly went on to say that his love affair with Kolkata now spanned fifty-seven years and no matter where he went, Kolkata would always have a special place in his heart. He humbly said that he would try to live up to our expectations like all the previous years, and began with alaap, jod and jhala in Raga Jog Kauns. It is said that Jog Kauns is the fusion of ragas Jog and Bhairav, and as he explored the boundaries of the raga in every possible way, the theory did seem to match. When it came to the gat, Pt. Anindo Chatterjee utilized his years of riyaaz to provide a perfectly executed start to Shiv ji’s bandish set to the catchy rupak taal. Whereas he was perfect in combining his santoor’s ‘ripple effect’ with the amazing sound settings to paint a collage named ‘Jog Kauns’, his creativity that has been increased after years of performances with seasoned veterans came to the fore after some time. It was a sheer delight to watch as he sharply executed a flurry of musical constructs with smart touches and finishes, much like a well executed goal by a famous footballer. These impromptu creations served to keep the audience and Pt. Anindo Chatterjee guessing as to what should be the appropriate response for such a great piece of work. Even the tanpura player had completely stopped in the middle and was busy admiring his guru in action( the admiring continued….throughout the performance).After the intellectually satisfying rupak taal bandish, he went for a vocal approach with a bandish in teental that sounded exactly like the instrumental equivalent of the popular Jog Kauns chhota Khayal ‘Peere pada’. This allowed Pt. Anindo to free his arms and play some of the popular tabla set pieces ( like, tod, tukda, qayda….) which we all love, combining his power with the acoustics, looking like he came out of hibernation roaring like a grizzly bear. The ultra fast jhala that ensued, led the crowd on a wild goose chase as to how it was going to end, as Shiv ji suddenly in the middle of the jhala, came up a set of confusing musical phrases and combined it with the time honored tradition of sawal-jawaab to make Pandit Anindo Chatterjee come dangerously close to having panic attacks on occasion. As the jhala ended with the trademark nauhakka, the hall erupted in applause. No, he hadn’t let us down at all. After that he played one of his filmy styled dhuns which catered more to public demand, and ended with a Kashmiri folk song set to deepchandi that was as refreshing as the advertisements of Himalayan water project it to be.
Pandit Kaivalyakumar Gurav had to bear the brunt of bad timing. Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma had just finished his performance like a true champion, and his departure took more than fifty percent of the audience with him, leaving him to ply his trade in a hall, which though not completely empty, looked just like a person in his middle stage of balding. However, like Arshad, he could more than make up for his temporary disadvantage with his aggressiveness and unpredictability( showing shades of Pandit Kumar Gandharva). In spite of his gifts, the raga Abhogi is supposed to be food for thought, not chicken soup for the soul, hence it took some time for the audience to come in. The second raga was a crowd puller and his teental and drut ektaal bandishes in Raga Basant (Paraj variant) were technically brilliant and aesthetic. To top it all, his aggressiveness really appealed to the crowd. His multi-vowel taan patterns, which bore the word ‘old-school’ stamped all over them. Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki was good at it. Pt. Bhimsen Joshi wowed all with them. And now, we have him following a similar path. To be in awe is only natural. His vocal range was also displayed in grandiose, where he used a combination of dhrupadish standing notes and meend based jump to create an unusual sound, which I personally like to call ‘doobkiri’ ( ‘doob’ for dive and ‘kiri’ from gitkiri). Add to that the unpredictable melodic bursts in the upper octave and we have a complete package of a performance. Which only served to set the audience up for his mind blowing Natyasangeet in Raga Bhatiyar, where his strong standing notes and great bandish got the crowd going .Not to mention the lively tarana in Raga Kalavati, which was good too.
Given the nature of the program lineup, usually 2.45 am is naptime for all the classical enthusiasts, as the penultimate performance usually goes to someone who can fill the time slot between the present and the final performance, which goes to a classical giant as a matter of tradition, so that the final knock. Nishat Khan came in at such a slot, and things weren’t looking good when the acoustic feedback failed to match up to his sitar, leaving it a tad louder than usual. Also, Ramkali isn’t a great choice to get people’s attention. That being said, he played his sitar like an electric guitar, with a lot of power chord like plucking and heavy fret based stresses and note damping. The circular damping patterns did give off an azaan like feel, though. The son of Ustad Imdad Khan had indeed quite a lot to offer, with fast patterned streaks aimed at pleasing those with a penchant for shredding, layakari, taiyyari and the trademark loud fret clasps which produce a clashing noise, portraying magnificence and showmanship. He did have Pandit Ravi Shankar’s influence in him, and it showed more and more as time progressed. However he did a decent job in portraying all the nooks and crannies of ragas Ramkali and Lalit, with respect to their vilambit teental and drut teental bandishes, with a Lalit jhala to top it off. Robust accompaniment by Rashid Mustafa Thirakwa on the tabla served to make the performance enjoyable, though the excessive tuning threatened to ruin the ambience they had worked so hard to achieve, completely. This was followed by a couple of Bengali songs based on popular demand, which were accessories at most, as you cannot group biryani and a rice-daal combo in the same category, from an aesthetic perspective. What can I say? Jumping the trend along with the likes of Ustad Amjad ali Khan in this matter of playing bong songs may not always yield expected results.
After all that came the much anticipated entry of Begum Parween Sultana, the last vocalist to perform today. As she was ushered in along with Pandit Abhijit Banerjee (tabla) ,Debaprasad Dey (harmonium) and the others, the crowd became alive once more. As usual, Bhawani Dayani, her signature bhajan in Raga Bhairavi, was on everybody’s lips. However, something threatened to put a damper on this whole performance : she was down with fever at that time and had still braved the night time cold of Kolkata to come to perform. Her willingness to let the show go on at the expense of her condition made us salute her in her mind for her dedication to this art, like Bal Gandharva did so many years ago. When she announced that she was going to sing Raga Gujri Todi, the deafening applause that followed was one to hear. It was almost as if time slowed down, making 5 am seemingly perfect as a setting for the raga. So, when she suddenly dove to the Sa of the mandra saptak, it brushed aways any doubts that the people had in her mind about whether she would be able to ‘aptly’ perform or not. And she delivered a knockout punch, like any artiste does when coming in to perform last, leaving a lasting impression upon us all. The entire hall resonated with the first three notes, Sa, komal Re and komal Ga and silenced the excited crowd. She quickly got her act together and wowed us all with her tonal quality and vistars that brought her Gujri Todi to life. Even though we have listened to her performances in the past, she never ceases to amaze us with her creativity, vocal prowress and blinding speed. She will always be unique, a tour de force unto herself. Some of her voice modulation techniques like the one using two voices, making one seem like a distant echo of the other, left us totally speechless. Where was the person who was down with 102 degrees F and speaking to us like a broken individual. She sang like a person possessed, using her immaculate standing notes, chhoot tans and layakari to great effect. Pandit Abhijit Banerjee provided solid support on the table like a true sangatkaar. However, it was the bhajan based on Raga Mishra Kirwani that showed us that playing the tabla is a combination of power and sweetness and it was this that he excelled in, playing a superb laggi. The bhajan also warmed her up for her sweet vocal embellishments that were very pleasing to the ear. To top it off, next- Bhawani Dayani ! With this she made this night absolutely unforgettable. With Debaprasad Dey on the harmonium, who came up with a few noteworthy pieces of his his own, which only served to fuel her enthusiasm to the extent that she completely surpassed our expectations today. I returned home, glad that I was present today, not as a vocalist, but as an enamored fanatic, eager for more.
Blog by - Riddhidev Banerjee. He has been a student of St Xaviers Collegiate School, Kolkata ,and is currently doing his 5th year as a student of BITS Pilani, and is currently pursuing a dual degree in Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering.He is also a Junior Scholar of ITC SRA, and has received the National Scholarship by the Ministry of Culture, 2009-2010. He currently resides in Pilani and enjoys music, writing and an occasional game of table tennis.