In north Indian or Hindustani classical music, the titles ‘Pandit’ or ‘Ustad’ are bestowed upon a very senior musician, who is considered a scholar and a genius. The title is often accorded by his guru (teacher) or any other senior artiste. However, of late, it has become a fad for musicians from the younger generation to call themselves ‘Pandits’ or ‘Ustads’, and use that for publicising themselves. This spoof takes a look at one such extreme, imaginary case.
A FEW days ago, I had to cancel an important appointment, when Rajesh of the Musicstar Image public relations agency called me and told me a legendary classical vocalist was in town, and would be free only for the next three hours. I asked him for the singer’s name, and he replied: “That’s a total surprise. You’ll be completely delighted to meet Pandit-ji.”
I rushed to the Taj Lands End hotel, wondering who this musician might be. Totally excited, I reached the room where the interview had been fixed. Rajesh was sitting there with one of his team members Seema, who was assisting him. Besides them was a young gentleman, not more than 22 or 23 years old. He was wearing a saffron kurta, had long hair and wore some six or seven rings with different stones. He looked like one of the legendary singer’s young disciples, the one who probably carried his guru’s water bottle to the stage.
On seeing me, Rajesh immediately walked up and greeted me. “So glad you could make it. I didn’t want you to miss this glorious opportunity,” he said. And before I could ask where Pandit-ji was, he pointed out to the young man in the kurta, and said: “Meet Sangeet Samraat Pandit Swar Gandhaar, the great maestro and founder of the Chunabhatti gharana.”
I almost collapsed. How could someone so young be called a Pandit? And that too, a Sangeet Samraat, the Emperor of Music? And hello, I had heard of the Gwalior, Agra, Kirana, Patiala, Mewati and Rampur gharanas, even the Bhendi Bazaar gharana. They were schools representing a certain style of singing. But for heaven’s sake, what was this Chunabhatti gharana?
Sandwiches, samosas, biscuits and coffee immediately arrived. A huge press folder was given to me, along with some 25 pictures, each showing ‘Pandit-ji’ in a different kurta, with a different expression. I looked at him and said, “Nice meeting you, Swar.” Seema called me aside and told me softly: “Sir, would appreciate if you call him Pandit-ji.”
Trying to look normal, I read the press release. What made me jump up was the first sentence of the third paragraph, which said: “Pandit-ji is now all set to storm the music world by giving his first ever public concert at the Shanmukhananda Hall in August. He is also being considered for next year’s Padma Shri awards.”
Speechless, I asked for regular water. Evian mineral water was served. Rajesh asked me whether I was ready to begin my interview. So I asked my first question.
You have a very musical name. Swar Gandhaar. Do you come from a musical family? Did your parents always want you to become a classical musician?
This is my stage name. My real name is Deepak Kulshreshta, which is on my passport and PAN Card. But please don’t write that down. Deepak Kulshreshta doesn’t sound like a classical music legend. So I changed it to Swar Gandhaar. ‘Swar’ has different musical connotations, one of them being the purity of the musical note. ‘Gandhaar’ is the third musical note, which we sing as ‘Ga’. As for my parents, they both loved music, but neither of them learnt it. They sent me to music class to avoid my tantrums at home.
Don’t mind if I call you Swar, instead of Pandit-ji. Sorry Seema, but whenever I meet Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir Hussain, I have always called them Shiv-ji and Zakir-bhai. They appreciate it. Anyway, Swar, how old are you?
I am 21. I have been learning music from the age of nine. First from the late Barkatullah Khan (he touches his ears as a mark of respect), and later from Deviprasad Bhole, who still teaches me. Both come from a strong lineage covering eight or nine generations.
Surprising you don’t refer to either of them as ‘Ustad’ or ‘Pandit’. Anyway, did they bestow the title ‘Pandit’ on you, and how long ago?
No way. They don’t call themselves ‘Ustad’ or ‘Pandit’ so where’s the question of calling me one? I began calling myself ‘Pandit’ some three months ago. These days, every classical singer calls himself ‘Pandit’ after giving concerts for two or three years, irrespective of whether he is famous or not. I thought I’d do that earlier. The name will sell. With a name like Pandit Swar Gandhaar and the right media publicity, audiences would flock to my shows.
I don’t completely agree with you. Only the male singers are calling themselves ‘Pandit’ and ‘Ustad’. This isn’t a practice among female singers. Even the most senior female singers like Kishori Amonkar and Parveen Sultana don’t go by ‘Pandita’ or ‘Ustadini’.
Agreed. But who’s stopping them? Seema, why don’t you learn singing for a year and call yourself Pandita Seema Shah? You can be my student.
You also don’t find this practice in Carnatic music.
There, all the young musicians are calling themselves ‘vidwaan’. Pretentious people who claim to know everything. By the way, can you please ask me something about my singing style?
I will surely come to that. But see, in the olden days, the term ‘Pandit’ or ‘Ustad’ was bestowed on the musician by his guru or any senior musician, only when he felt he had reached that stage of mastery. Isn’t it a bit early for you to call yourself ‘Pandit’?
You said it. That was the practice in the olden days. Times have changed. Today, so many young musicians are calling themselves ‘Pandit’ and ‘Ustad’ after performing for just four or five years. And it’s not only happening in Hindustani classical music, but also in ghazals and dance forms like Kathak. If they can do so, so can I.
Great. But you’re already calling yourself ‘Sangeet Samraat’, or Emperor of Music, before even giving your first concert. Isn’t that a bit much?
I’m now getting irritated by your questions. Do you know what Facebook is? Twitter? Seema, I don’t want to give this interview. Rajesh, this is not what you told me! You said this person would ask me some sensible questions. You guys are wasting my time. I’ll have to rework my payment rates.
(Swar, Seema and Rajesh gather in a corner for a short discussion. Swar then returns and apologises for his conduct, requesting me to continue the interview).
Yes, I asked you about the title ‘Sangeet Samrat’. How did you get it?
Oh yes. As you know, it’s important to market yourself on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter these days. You see a lot of singers and musicians there who add things like ‘Pandit-ji’, ‘Super Singer’, ‘Ghazal Maestro’, ‘Classical Prodigy’, ‘Sitar Sensation’ to their names. We did some research and discovered that people who used such titles have five times the number of friends than those who don’t. Since I was using a very musical name like ‘Pandit Swar Gandhaar’, I thought the title ‘Sangeet Samraat’ would be perfect. In fact, one week before my concert, I plan to add ‘Doyen of Hindustani music’ to my name. And two weeks after my concert, I want to add ‘Legendary Luminary’.
I’ve been wanting to ask you this question for quite some time. I’ve heard of various gharanas in vocal music, but for the first time, I am hearing of the Chunabhatti gharana. What exactly is this?
All the gharanas you know of are old-fashioned. Nobody has created a new gharana in years, and I thought I would create one myself. What I have done is essentially mix elements of all the gharanas you know. Not that I know much about any of these gharanas myself. I’m not even sure what gharana I’ve been trained in. But the Chunabhatti gharana is like a very heady cocktail, a wonderfully mixed bhel puri. I was passing by this suburban Mumbai area called Chunabhatti one evening, and stopped by at the bhel puri shop. The bhel puri was really tasty. I liked the way the guy was mixing all ingredients, and I thought maybe I could use the same concept for my music. I worked on it, and from now on, I shall be referred to in music history books as the ‘founder of the Chunabhatti gharana’.
Fantastic. You might just set a trend here. Soon we may have the Koparkhairane gharana, Dariba Kalan gharana, Ballygunge gharana and Kukatpally gharana. Probably inspired by dishes like vada pav, chhole bathure, hilsa fish and Hyderabadi mutton biryani which you’ll definitely find in these areas.
Great idea, man. For once you’re saying something interesting. Rajesh, make a note of all these, and we’ll create a plan on how I should found all these gharanas. Find out about restaurants in these areas which serve these dishes. You got me thinking, dude!
Anyway, you’ve chosen such a huge auditorium for your first concert. Are you sure you’ll get a large enough crowd?
I am confident of my public relations agency. Musicstar Image knows exactly how to create super-stars. We have planned a terrific marketing campaign which will guarantee that some 2,800 people will attend the concert and another 10,000 will curse their luck because they didn’t get tickets.
You’ve never given a concert before. What if you receive negative feedback for the first one? What if people don’t appreciate the salient features of the.. what was it… Chunabhatti gharana?
A majority of people who attend my concert would know nothing about the notes used in raag Yaman, or the vadi and samvadi of raag Malkauns, the notes that define the raag. If I play a morning raag like Miyan ki Todi at 8 pm, they will clap. If I announce I am singing raag Darbari and actually sing the Bhairavi composition ‘Jamuna Ke Teer’, they will accept it and start dancing. Some seven or eight percent of the crowd may spot my mistakes and criticise me, but the minority doesn’t matter. I always look at the bigger picture.
Once your first concert is over, what are your plans?
Why only first concert? Musicstar Image and I have drawn up a career plan for the next 10 years. No other musician in the world would have had such a fabulous career plan. Forget about Indian musicians, not even Michael Jackson.
Very interesting. Can you tell me some of the highlights?
To begin with, we have already planned our international concert schedule. For the next two years, we have almost finalised concerts at the Madison Square Garden in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London and Burgtheater in Vienna. Another highlight is that every three years, we shall create a buzz that I am being considered for some prestigious national or musical award. As we’ve mentioned in the press folder, this year, we are aiming at the Padma Shri. The media will write it much in advance, and the government will actually end up believing them and awarding me with a Padma Shri. We have already created the draft of our press release on ‘Young legend wins Padma Shri’. Similarly, three years later, we’ll target Padma Bhushan. And six years later, we’re thinking of Padma Vibhushan…
My dear friend. Am sorry to say but there are so many senior and great musicians who have been performing for years and are yet to get the Padma Vibhushan. And you want to get the ultimate honour before turning 40.
My mantra has been to dream big. My PR agency will create the right plan, we’ll keep aside an adequate budget and we’ll connect with the right people in the government, preferably those who know nothing about music. You seem to live in an ancient world. Wake up, rock star. Anything can happen in today’s times. Mark my words. I’m only 21, but Sangeet Samraat Pandit Swar Gandhaar the Legendary Luminary has arrived!
(In my mind) Well, you may have arrived, but it’s high time I disappeared…