Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Janardan Mitta and Ravi Shankar

(From the pages of Sruti)
 
By V Ramnarayan
 
Janardan Mitta, whom Ravi Shankar once described as “my favourite student”, was born into a musically inclined family. His father Mitta Lakshminarasiah, was a leading lawyer of Hyderabad. Keen on music, the senior Mitta would come home on Thursdays (Friday was a holiday in the Nizam’s Hyderabad) and close his office for the weekend, to play the tabla or the harmonium and sing with his wife and six children for an audience. “Vakil sahib’s” home was the gateway to the twin cities for most visiting musicians.
 
Janardan, who joined the film industry in Madras back in 1956 and became a permanent fixture as a sitarist in films made here for over four decades, picked up his sister’s sitar once she left home after marriage. By 1952, he had successfully auditioned before stalwarts Pandit Ratanjankar and Veerendra Kishore and started playing for Deccan Radio. He first heard Ravi Shankar live in 1955, when he came to Hyderabad for a Sangeet Sammelan concert. Janardan had completed his M.A. and was now doing his second year in engineering, but was dying to take up music full time. His father said he had six sons and so didn’t mind one of them taking to music. He took Janardan to meet Ravi Shankar. “Are you crazy?” was Ravi Shankar’s response when Lakshminarasiah said he would take Janardan out of engineering college if Ravi Shankar would take him as a disciple.
 
Ravi Shankar came to Hyderabad again in 1956, and this time he did listen to the young sitarist. He said, “You seem to know some of the advanced things without knowing the basics.” He appreciated the way Janardan played the raga, the taan and the meend, but corrected a basic mistake he was making in the number of front and back strokes. “That’s why I need a guruji,” the young man shot back in all innocence. Ravi Shankar asked him to apply for a government scholarship, but though he did not get it, Janardan still went to Delhi in 1956 to learn from Ravi Shankar. It was a busy year for Ravi Shankar. He had just quit the AIR job and become a full time musician. That year he travelled to Afghanistan for the first time on a concert tour. “Whenever he found time to teach us in the midst of his travels, he opened a treasure box,” Janardan remembers.
 
Janardan was one of the students to take part in the annual camp in Benares. Kartik Kumar, Shamim Ahmed, Rama Rao and Arun Bharat Ram were some of the others. At the classes, Ravi Shankar was a strict disciplinarian. “He was never satisfied until you got every nuance right,” he said. “Outside the classroom, he was a friend, mixing freely with everyone. At Benares, we always had lunch with him. ‘Today, we have an apology for sambar,’ he would apologise. In the evening, we were free to go where we chose, but sometimes he would accompany us on outings, taking a childlike pleasure in simple things. He took us on boat rides to watch the sunset, even liked to go to movies. Once after a concert in Chennai, he said, ‘Let’s go to Bobby’, referring to the Hindi superhit film of the 1970s.
 
“Guruji had been trained in the tough school of Ustad Alauddin Khan. He taught him dhrupad, the surbahar, complicated tala-s. It was Guruji who reintroduced the complex laya techniques of Carnatic music like tisra nadai and khanda nadai to Hindustani music, which had lost them over time. Even last year, he played a composition set to a tala of 10.5 beats at a Hyderabad concert. Every Sunday for a whole year, he presented a programme of ‘aparichit’ or new raga-s, 52 different raga-s.”

Janardan has the greatest respect for Ravi Shankar’s intellect. “For instance, Guruji had an original explanation for the relative simplicity of laya in Hindustani music. In the north, we sang for the king, while musicians sang for God in the south. At the temple, they sang without inhibition, exploring the entire range of raga and tala, with no fear of displeasing their compassionate God. But in the durbar, you did not dare to go beyond teen taal for fear of offending the king who would not then know how to keep the beat along with you.”

Ravi Shankar’s regard for Carnatic music and musicians is well known. “He still keeps track of what’s happening here,” says Janardan. “He keenly watches the careers of young musicians like T.M. Krishna, Vijay Siva and Sanjay Subrahmanyan.”

1 comment:

  1. need to contact shri janardhan reg Dr Swaroop Mitta in USA

    ReplyDelete