Song of Surrender

Saturday, 29 April 2017

A thinking vocalist

By Meena Banerjee

Shashank Maktedar, a die-hard devotee of Hindustani classical music, is among those bravehearts who are striving hard to win the approval of the elders in the field. He was not born with a golden voice like Rashid Khan, is not glamorous like Zakir Hussain; he is a shy, reticent, almost self-effacing young vocalist. And despite all these ‘disqualifications’, his music has haunted me ever since I heard him in 2012 during a mega-event at Dhaka, Bangladesh. Jointly organised by the Bengal Foundation, Dhaka, and ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata, this major Indo-Bangladesh venture in the arena of Indian classical music and dance, held from 29 November to 2 December, had four night-long sessions that featured almost a hundred top-ranking artists from all over India.

After this I attended numerous renowned annual soirees in Kolkata, but Shashank’s version of raga Sree, reverberating in the huge Army Stadium in Dhaka, stayed in my mind like a flawless painting. Pundits would probably give credit to the perfect timing which helped the raga to cast its spell – rendered as the last coppery rays of the day were slowly engulfed by the mysterious veil of dusk. Maybe, but any sensational musician, with his ego and showmanship ruling the roost, could have spoiled the mood. Instead, here was a devotee who, in his unobtrusive, quiet manner, with his eyes lovingly focused on the raga’s pristine features, was invoking its true spirit with utmost sincerity. It is the same sincerity that made his rendition of raga Bhoopali as impressive when he performed at the Jnana Pravaha Music Festival (22-24 February 2013) under the aegis of Vijay Kichlu’s Sangeet Ashram. Kichlu took pride in introducing this young maestro when he said, “Shashank was a scholar during my tenure in ITC SRA. He is one of the stars today, knocking at the doors of super-stardom.”

Early impact

I had heard Shashank in the late 1990s when he was receiving taleem from Ulhas Kashalkar, one of the best khayal exponents of this era. Even then he got noticed for his ear for purity of raga in the manner of his guru; so much so that the guru-sishya duo won the Jodu Bhatta award. But that was that. Maktedar then opted to become a teacher and joined Goa College of Music in 2000. A couple of years later he came down to perform at ITC SRA. The impressive maturity with which he etched the characters of the heavy Malkauns followed by a light-hearted Sohini is still fresh in my memory. He did not wring Malkauns out of its seriousness, nor did he drag Sohini down. Very few musicians show this kind of sensitivity in choosing ragas that can showcase their contemplative mood steeped in emotions along with sheer virtuosity. I had asked him then what inspired him to be so when the trend was to coerce the raga till all imagination (read khayal) ceased to exist. He had said, “Now that I teach, I get enough time to think.”

Home away from home

I wished to talk to him before he became a superstar. The only place to catch him in Kolkata is his guru’s residence within the ITC SRA premises. It is a home away from home with delicious Maharashtrian food dished out from the kitchen of Sanjeevani Kashalkar (his loving guruma), music and pooja sessions with his guruji and younger guru-bhais Sameehan Kashalkar, Omkar Dadarkar and many others. I dropped in unannounced on them one evening. While Shashank was having his supper, Ulhas, like a devoted father and the master of the house, came out of the dining room to treat me to sweets and equally sweet information, “Shashank is Dr. Shashank Maktedar now!” he announced with well-placed pride, “He has been awarded Ph.D for his Analytical Study of Pandit Gajananbuwa Joshi’s Musical Contribution. He is Assistant Professor in the vocal department of Goa Music College.” When Shashank stepped in, guru Kashalkar decided to slip out quietly to allow undivided space for discussion. Here are excerpts from the interview.

Who initiated you into music?

‘I belong to Aurangabad (Marathwada) and was fortunate to receive training in vocal music from Pandit Nath Narelkar, my first guru. I was barely eight years old when he accepted me as a student of his gurukul where, this vidya was given free of cost in the guru sishya parampara. Sincere dedication was all that he demanded. For twelve years I went there twice a day. So, morning and evening riyaz of two to four hours became my habit. The training followed a system but we never heard the word ‘gharana’ there. Frankly, in Marathwada, there was little or no influence of the Gwalior school. We admired Pandit Bhimsen Joshi a lot and, therefore, Kirana elements crept into our singing to a great extent.

What prompted you to come to the Sangeet Research Academy?

A National Talent Search was organised in 1991. I appeared from Hyderabad but there was no competition or audition test. I sang, they recorded my voice and sent it to SRA. I did not know what to expect. Suddenly we received a telegram which advised me to go to Calcutta. Upon reaching there, I was asked to sit for the competition immediately. And I stood first! When I went back home, my folks and Narelkarji encouraged me to take up this opportunity. I came to SRA as a scholar. Soon after, in 1992, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar joined the academy as a Guru. Kichlu Saheb gave me an option and I came under guruji’s guidance.

Was there any difference in their styles of teaching?

Huge! Earlier, after the basics, Narelkarji allowed us to use our imagination to do free-flowing alap. But here I learnt that alap too followed a frame, a structure. Pure raag-roop with the help of important phrases of the raga were most important. Perfection was the key word. There was no laxity, nothing between black and white. It was so different from what I had experienced earlier. It seemed that after tasting the life of a free bird I had entered a cage. There was a time when nothing seemed to move forward. It was very frustrating. Then suddenly avartan bharna (filling up the composition with innovative phrases), vistaar (elaborations), bol-alap (lyrics-based improvisations), taans – all became easy.

Ulhas Kashalkar sings in three different styles. Did you too learn Gwalior, Jaipur and Agra?

Initially I was taught the Gwalior style.. That is when I learnt ragas like Yaman, Sree and Behag. Later Guruji gave me Jaipur’s Behagda and Pooria. In 2006-7, I won a scholarship from Delhi’s Sanskriti Pratishthan. That is when I received extensive training in the Agra style and learnt ragas like Barwa, Gara Kanada and Dhanasree. Initially I was a photocopy of my guruji’s style of singing. He pushed me to come out of it. Now, as a teacher, I realise what treasures have been handed down to me. Whenever I need something, I peep into my collection and find such precious gems. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and feel a great sense of responsibility. This forces me to think about my music and inspires me to showcase this inherited treasure with utmost care. I need the blessings of my listeners to help me do so.

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