Song of Surrender

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Age is no obstacle to achieving artistic excellence

By Meena Banerjee
 
(Girija Devi turned 83 on 8 May 2012)
 
“After this recital I will abstain from public performances.” The announcement came from Girija Devi, veteran of the Benaras gharana, some time in 2010 in Kolkata.
 
“I was completely heart-broken when I lost my husband,” said Girija Devi. “I felt as if my musical life was over. That was the time Kichlu Saheb (Vijay Kichlu) organised a festival in Calcutta. He insisted that I come out of Benaras. I need not sing if I did not want to, but come I must, he insisted. Kishan Maharaj, who was more than an elder brother to me, also persuaded me. So I came to Calcutta in September 1975. That opened a new chapter of musical kinship. Later Kichlu Saheb, as founder director of Sangeet Research Academy, invited me to join the family of great musicians from all over India. This extended family made me a Calcuttan,” recalled Appaji (as Girija Devi is fondly called).
 
“Benaras is where my roots are, but the pull of Kolkata city is no less. I returned to Benaras on a teaching assignment; but came back to Kolkata as a guru with ITC-SRA. On special occasions I do go to Benaras, to be with my family and friends and to rejuvenate the unique style of our Benaras gharana.”
 
“Our gharana has a special method of treating khayal-s which you must know to understand thumri because both thrive on improvisations and innovative permutations and combinations of melodic phrases. That is why I try to give a glimpse of the khayal before I sing thumri-s in my recitals. I do not punch power-packed gamaka-s while praying to God; because then it ceases to be a prayer. It will sound like a command,” she explained in her heartwarming, simple style. “We all have thumri within us because it is an expression of love. A curt “Idhar aao!” gets transformed into a cajoling request if we sweetly say “E ji, zara idhar aana!” A lilt in the voice can transform the prosaic into poetry. To express devotion or romantic feelings you need a well-modulated voice and an emotive voice-throw.”
 
After listening to a beautiful recital by Girija Devi, I went to greet her on her birthday (8th May). Surrounded by her extended family of students, admirers, her favourite dolls (she has a large collection of dolls from all over the world) and colourful bouquets, she looked happy and contented. I wondered did she seriously mean to withdraw from the performing scene?
 
“Oh yes. To do sadhana for one year,” chirped the octogenarian thumri exponent, “only to come back recharged. There are many who are really good in singing thumri now. I have a strong conviction that I need this break to think and practice to burnish my art. Age should not come in the way of achieving greater artistic excellence.”
 
Only a person with the undaunting spirit of a child, resolute devotion to her art and unflinching faith in her capabilities can think like that.

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