EVERY Sunday morning, the Karnataka Sangha auditorium in Matunga, Mumbai, hosts a musical programme under the aegis of its cultural wing Kala Bharati. In most cases, it features a Hindustani classical music recital, though at times, one hears Carnatic music, bhajans or Kannada music too.
There are three good things about these events. To begin with, attendance is free. Secondly, they are normally attended by the genuine music lovers – or rasikas, to use the correct Indian phrase. Finally, one often gets a chance to hear some lesser-known but really talented artistes.
The auditorium is comfortably air-conditioned, and the acoustics are fine. However, there is little leg-room between rows, and matters get worse when somebody tries to make his way to the centre of a row in the middle of a performance. Strangely enough, the hall is invariably half-empty or half-full, depending on which way you view it.
On December 11, a jugalbandi (duet) by flautist Vivek Sonar and sitarist Chirag Katti was to be followed by a vocal recital by Piu Sarkhel. The show was part of the two-day festival organised every year by Khayal Trust in memory of Gwalior gharana vocalist Sharatchandra Arolkar, and quite a large number of sponsors had chipped in. The previous evening featured Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande —one of the best female Hindustani classical vocalists today — and Ghulam Abbas Khan, though this blogger couldn’t attend.
Sunday’s show was scheduled at 10 a.m. A lot of people walked in closer to 10.30 a.m, as that’s the time concerts normally begin at this venue. By that time, Vivek and Chirag had just concluded the alaap (opening part) and begun the jod (middle part) of raag Basant Mukhari.
The stringed sitar and the woodwind instrument bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) make a wonderful combination, and both musicians showed wonderful control and expertise. The alaap was beautifully constructed, and both players built the mood wonderfully.
Chirag, who has studied sitar from his father Shashank Katti, came up with some brilliant phrases, though one at times thought he was trying to dominate the rendition. But Vivek, a disciple of master flautist Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, showed maturity and magnificence in his playing. Tabla player Amit — couldn’t catch the surname, unfortunately — gave perfect accompaniment.
Khayal Trust’s Amarendra Dhaneshwar, a vocalist and music columnist, summed up their performance aptly. “At least I don’t have to worry about the future of Hindustani classical music,” he told the gathering. Totally agree with him.
Next came Piu Sarkhel, one of the few female representatives of the Indore gharana (musical ideology). Now, those who have followed the history of Hindustani classical music would know that this gharana was founded by the legendary Ustad Amir Khan, one of the greatest vocalists India has ever heard. The fact that Piu’s father Kamal Bandopadhyay was one of Khan-saab’s senior disciples would have given her perfect exposure to the nuances of this gharana.
Today, the Indore gharana does not have too many exponents — among the male vocalists, the name of Mahendra Toke comes to mind. As such, followers of the gharana looked forward to Rajkot-based Piu’s recital.
Piu began with raag Komal Rishabh Asavari, one of Khan-saab’s best-known recordings, in which she displayed brilliant technique and a good variety of taans (types of vocal passages, where the phrase ‘aa’ is improvised on). Her voice tended to get shrill on the faster portions, but she made up with her execution. Her presentation of ‘Man ke panchhi bhaye baaware’, another Amir Khan favourite in raag Gujari Todi, was exquisite, and a bhajan provided a perfect climax.
At a time when many festivals play it safe by sticking to the big celebrity names, it’s always a pleasure to hear artistes such as Vivek, Chirag and Piu. Hindustani classical music has a lot of talent just waiting to be given the right exposure, and it’s heartening that Mumbai-based associations like Kala Bharati, Khayal Trust, Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre and Sharda Sangeet Vidyalaya in Bandra East, besides the better-known Pancham-Nishad, are doing their bit.