FOR Hindustani classical music, the past week has been rather sad, following the demise of two veterans. On September 30, India’s first woman solo tabla player Dr Aban Mistry passed away, and on October 5, senior vocalist Pt Yashwantbua Joshi breathed his last.
Both musicians were well-known within classical music circles, especially in Mumbai, where they resided. They were totally devoted to their art, and were hugely admired by the serious music connoisseurs, thanks mainly to the purity of their work.
First, a short note about them. Aban Mistry was not only an exceptional tabla player, but a researcher on percussion as well. She was initiated into classical vocal music by her aunt at the age of four, and later took to the tabla. A disciple of Pt Laxmanrao Bodas and Keki Jijina, she also learnt the sitar and Kathak dance.
As a tabla player, Mistry blended nuances of the Delhi, Farrukhabad, Ajrara and Benaras gharanas to create her own individual style. She also studied the pakhawaj, co-founded the Swar Sadhna Samiti and wrote three books – ‘Pakhawaj and Tabla: History, Schools and Traditions’, ‘Table ke bandishen’ and ‘The Contribution of Parsis to Indian Classical Music’.
What’s interesting is that Mistry belonged to the Parsi community, which is more inclined towards western classical music. Only a few Parsis have established themselves in Indian classical music, and besides her and Jijina, the names of vocalists Firoz Dastur and Jal Balaporia, and sarod player Zarine Daruwalla come immediately to mind. This is besides Kolkata musician V Balsara, who was also a pianist, and Batuk Dewanji, better known as a music critic.
If Mistry was known for her work in percussion and research, Pt Yashwantbua Joshi was respected as a purist in the vocal tradition. A student of Pt Mirashibua and Pt Jagannathbua Purohit ‘Gunidas’, he blended intricacies of the Agra and Gwalior gharanas, and was also known to be influenced by the styles of Gajananrao Joshi and Chhota Gandharva.
Joshi was known as a stickler for tradition, and as a teacher. Many young disciples gained from his huge repertoire of compositions, and though he focused on the khayal style, he also sang bhajans and Marathi natyasangeet.
Both Mistry and Joshi belonged to the golden era of music. Unlike today, artistes of those days did not believe in promoting themselves, and were not affected by the now-important ‘image’ word. Their work was all that mattered – mass popularity was never a barometer for artistic brilliance.
They also belonged to an era where newspapers wrote about and supported the classical arts. The classical columnists of those days knew their music extensively and passionately ―people like Mohan Nadkarni, Madanlal Vyas, Batuk Dewanji, Raghava R Menon, S Kalidas, PG Burde and Amarendra Dhaneshwar, to name a few. Today, even when public relations personnel go to newspapers, web-sites and television channels with press releases, the focus is only on a select, PR-savvy few ― the so-called stars.
Sadly, there has barely been any coverage of the death of these two musicians. As of this evening, there was no mention of Joshi’s demise on any of the news websites, and a Google search on Mistry showed only a small item in The Hindustan Times, besides a few unknown sites. Mid-day also carried a wonderful tribute, which can be found on http://epaper2.mid-day.com/showtext.aspx?boxid=24814216&parentid=183746&issuedate=08102012&edd123=mumbai
They will of course be missed by the ardent followers of Hindustani classical music. In their own way, they made a remarkable contribution through their sheer dedication and talent.