By Meena Banerjee
History proves that society and art forms can never live insulated, independent lives. If society has a huge bearing on shaping the character of arts, the arts’ journey actually reflects the social trends of each era it has traversed so far. More so in India; simply because the traditional philosophy of the land is totally focused on individual character building which is supposed to transcend human frailties and inculcate divinity, especially through arts! And music tops the chart; because it uses ether and its sound-waves as its canvas and as such directly connects the microcosmic with the macrocosmic world. All this and much more are discussed in Natyashastra by Bharata Muni and according to this ‘Pancham Veda’ tradition and change go hand in hand; because that is natural and that is how traditions live through ages.
But how to handle the barrage of changing values at a supersonic pace in a democratic country like India where everything is democratized including classical music? Probably this inspired two back-to-back seminars organised by ITC Sangeet Research Academy (West) in collaboration with Indian Musicological Society, Music Forum and National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) at the latter’s famous Mumbai address (29-31 January, 2016). The Sangeet Natak Akademi, under the stewardship of its Chairman Shekhar Sen who is a renowned actor-singer, also joined hands in organizing this edifying event and very effectively portrayed the role of the Akademi through his witty speech, further supported by a film titled ‘Contributing to the musical legacy of India’.
The first seminar delved deep in the ‘Comparative role and relevance of Sarangi and Carnatic Violin’. It featured two top ranking instrumentalists - sarangi maestro Dhruba Ghosh and violin vidwan Sriram Parasuram, who are delightful speakers as well. According to them even a traditional Indian folk instrument like sarangi has to go through modifications to suit the ever evolving Hindustani classical music; what to say of violin, a Western instrument! Their solo and duet recitals injected a fair quotient of soulful melodic beauty in the technical discussions but as a learned practitioner of Hindustani classical music which still adheres to the time-scale theory, Ghosh could do better by avoiding late evening ragas at noon as he is capable enough to create the same magic with the two Madhyams of Shuddh Sarang or some other ragas belonging to this time-slot.
The second seminar on ‘Changing profile of Indian music’ was actually a follow-up of a similar one held some years back; but which is constantly evolving. In the last session Ustad Zakir Hussain, Carnatic vocalist and Akademi’s vise-chairperson Aruna Sairam, celeb writer-poet Javed Akhtar and Shekhar Sen were engaged in a candid conversation expertly moderated by Pandit Arvind Parikh. The crux of the seminar emerged out loud- and-clear on various issues and in general all agreed that tradition should welcome change with changing times; it always did; it always will. But the fast pace of its advent in this era of tumults needs to be addressed judiciously.
And yet the individual takes on the subject were, quite understandably, very different. It was surprising that no one, except Shekhar Sen, referred to the scientific doctrines of Natyashastra as the root of all futuristic steps. Even Ustad Zakir Hussain sounded skeptical about the ‘purity’ of the tradition handed down to him by his ancestors! According to him ‘purity is that which allows you to think and innovate.’ Javed Akhtar suggested to do away with elaborate raga presentations to be able to keep pace with the modern times and to woo the younger generation. Aruna Sairam was happy that the middle path adopted by the Carnatic music organisers is fetching good results as it allows both: the traditional four-hour concerts and their abbreviated, thrilling versions.
Spread over two days, the seminar saw active participations of not only a host of practicing musicians and learned musicologists like dhrupad exponents Ritwick Sanyal and Prashant Mullick; khayal exponent Ashwini Bhide, instrumentalists Ronu Majumdar (flute), Purbayan Chatterjee (sitar), Taufiq Qureshi (percussionist), U Rajesh (mandolin), Satish Vyas (santoor), Sunanda Sharma (thumri), Tushar Bhatia (film-music) but opinion-makers from all walks of life including social media (represented by a dashing young technocrat Mathivanan Rajendran), recording companies (Navras Records (London), Hindustan Records (Kolkata), Times Music and Sony Music (Mumbai)), music educationists and promoter-propagators like universities, ITC SRA and Sangeet Natak Akademi and connoisseurs, represented by Vinod Kapur (Delhi), Chandra Pai (Pune), Jayanta Chatterjee (Kolkata) and Gowri Ramnarayan (Chennai).
Some were despondent; some came up with optimistic ideas based on tradition while some went all out for exploring new vistas to create something new. All the connoisseurs agreed on one point that classical music cannot be brought down to the lowest denominators for the sake of earning money and that is why they prefer to organize chamber concerts with limited audience who guarantee listenership of some standards. Gowri Ramnarayan’s unique idea of organizing concerts sans microphones, obviously, demands better ears with due respect for the canvas of silence on which the melodic lines etch the portrait of ragas.
But since the role of corporate sector is becoming important by the day, the issue of sensitization was evaluated by most of the participants, goaded by erudite moderators like Arvind Parikh, Vidyadhar Vyas, Ganesh Kumar, Shashi Vyas and Snehal Majumdar. Among them Javed Akhtar went all out to catch children at their impressionable age and teaching them music by adopting interesting modern techniques. Shekhar Sen went a step further when he said, “When we learnt ‘Vaishnav jana toh’ we didn’t know it is in Gujrati or ‘Vande Mataram’ is in Sanskrit, but absorbed the essence of the multihued culture of our country. SNA’s proposal to primary schools is: teach five songs in regional languages, three dramas and two folk dances. All the children will not be artistes; one may sing, the rest will be sensitized as good listeners.”
To pay tribute to the legendary ghazal queen Begham Akhtar on her birth centenary, a documentary film on her life, studded with her immortal ghazals, was produced by SNA. The screening of the film as the penultimate presentation of this annual meet evoked such nostalgia that was powerful enough to wrench hearts. However, it could do better by including Begham-sahiba’s most erudite disciple Padmashri Rita Ganguli’s assessment of her ‘Ammi’.
Acknowledgement of music-related works in every arena through awards and felicitations is another heartwarming feature of this much awaited annual event. This year the lifetime achievement award, instituted by Mahindra Finance, was bestowed on Padmabhushan awardee violinist Prof TN Krishnan. Speaking on the occasion the octogenarian maestro confessed, ‘My father had told me that if I practice twenty hours a day for at least twenty years, I may master the instrument; but after 75 years I am still pursuing the mastery.’
Padmabhushan Dr N Rajam (violin) and Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe (vocal) were the recipients of ITC SRA Awards. Ustad Faiyaz and Niyaz Ahmed Khan Award (Kirana Gharana) went to Kankana Banerjee (vocal). Dr Suvarnalalta Rao won the Dr Ashok Ranade Memorial Award for extensive research work. Music organisations’ achievement award was bagged by Sharda Sangeet Vidyalaya. Rajesh Laxman Prasad Shukla (M/s Shukla Musicals) bagged the Manohar Muley Award for instrument making. Pakhawaj exponents Prakash Sejwal won Saath Sangat Pravin Award. The Music Forum Awards were given away to Stuttgart-resident Helga Brahme for contribution to the cause of Indian music by overseas-residents, to Gowri Ramnarayan for research and for media excellence to the writer of this report.
Among the winners of AIR Competition, Devashish Pathak (pakhawaj) won Pandit Vasantrao Ghorpadkar Memorial Award. Rohit Dharap (vocal), Anup Kulthe (violin), Bhargavi Venkatram (Carnatic vocal) and Veena Karthik (Carnatic veena) won ITC SRA Awards. Pandit Nikhil Ghosh Memorial Award (tabla) went to Anand Kumar Mishra. Kalyan Majumdar (sitar) won the Ravi Koppikar Memorial Award and Acharya Alauddin Khan Memorial Award was bagged by Nishant Divate (flute). The evening of 30th January saw these young talents giving recitals at the Godrej Dance Academy Theatre, NCPA.