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Memories of PG Burde


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Prakash G Burde outside Karnataka Sangha, Mahim

AGES ago, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Mumbai edition of The Times of India had an arts page. Published four times a week, it was headed by arts editor Shanta Gokhale, and would cover serious topics related to art, music, dance, literature, theatre and even (extra-)parallel cinema. I did a six-month stint there from March to September 1989, on deputation as my main employer Times Jaipur was on a labour shutdown. That’s when I first met Prakash G Burde.

Bespectacled, avuncular and friendly, Burde was one of the three Hindustani classical music critics who regularly wrote for the page – the others being Mohan Nadkarni and Batuk Dewanji. My memory fails to recall who contributed on Carnatic concerts, but they were far fewer in number (*see note). Likewise, western classical was covered by Sheryar Ookerji and Parag Trivedi, but the pages didn’t touch jazz.

All reviewers would come separately, with typewritten copies of concert reviews pre-assigned by Shanta, who would later edit them slightly, if necessary. My job was to coordinate with the typesetting team, compare printed white strips called bromides with originals, read for spelling and grammar accuracy, and supervise page-making. No rocket science, it seemed like a mechanical job. But it was an education in many ways, as these bromides gave me an idea of how reviews and culture-related features should be written.

Memories of these interactions have been flashing by since yesterday morning, when I heard of Burde’s demise at the age of 77. While my own connection with him goes back to his days as an established critic, when I was a senior sub-editor who never dared write an article on classical music, many Mumbaikars also knew him for his close association with the Kala Bharti wing of Karnataka Sangha, Mahim. Thanks to his efforts, a cultural event – mainly a classical concert – would be held at the venue every Sunday morning. Very often, he would invite upcoming and lesser-known artistes, thus giving them a good platform in front of a small but discerning audience.

After those 1989 interactions, I met Burde only after 1995 when I started handling the music beat for Mid-Day. Many critics and music journalists would get invitations for classical concerts, and often, all of them had to sit in the same row. I was one of the two or three younger people, sitting with seasoned critics like Nadkarni, Burde, Dewanji, Madanlal Vyas of Navbharat Times, Sumit Savur of Indian Express, and freelance reviewers Amarendra Dhaneshwar and Vasant Karnad (Girish’s elder brother). The great musicologist Ashok Da Ranade, researcher and critic Deepak Raja, multi-cultural columnist Shanta Gokhale and hardcore music buffs like Kishor Merchant would be at other corners. Post-concert, everyone would express their opinion, respecting each other’s views.

Often, specially when I was new to covering classical music, I would have a doubt in terms of the artiste’s gharana or guru’s name, or would sometimes head to interview a musician I wasn’t familiar with. I just had to ring up Burde, and my queries would be answered immediately. There were others I contacted in case I couldn’t reach him, but he was always the first choice. I specially remember calling him before meeting the great vocalist Pandit Manikbua Thakurdas. I had zero information on him, but in a 10-minute chat, Burde told me all I needed to know about his style which represented Bhaskarbuva Bakhle gayaki.

Another meeting ground was the monthly Music Forum gathering initiated by sitar player and businessman Pt Arvind Parikh, where musicians, concert organisers, radio and TV personalities and critics would discuss various happenings in classical music, plan seminars, highlight problems faced by artistes, so on and so forth. Here too, Burde would express his views frankly and fearlessly, whether or not they went with the general consensus.

Burde displayed a complete passion for not only music, but many other things cultural and literary, right from dance to theatre to languages. His last stint as president of Karnataka Sangha, Mumbai, led to many functions that helped the local Kannadiga community interact. And it wasn’t only Hindustani music that he was involved in, as he would promote Carnatic music, Marathi natya sangeet and abhang, and theatre from various states too.

Till a few months ago, I would meet Burde at the Karnataka Sangha concerts, and his smile and warmth displayed no variance from the past. Most often, he would introduce the artiste and announce future programmes. The last time I visited the place on December 13, I asked one of the regulars his whereabouts, to be told he had been unwell.

As a critic, Burde represented the golden era of Hindustani music writing, when most concerts were reviewed in detail, and not just previewed, as is the current norm. Both as a writer and a promoter, he played a commendable role. His death marks a huge loss to Mumbai’s music fraternity.

(* Note: Mr Burde’s daughter Aparna, whose comment has been published below, reminds me that the Carnatic music writers were Mr Hariharan and Rajan Sadasivan. I now recollect their names. Thanks Aparna)

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