Music is divine, whether it is Hindustani or Carnatic, feels vocalist Ajoy Chakrabarty.
The great Indian musical divide is what upsets Ajoy Chakrabarty the most. “North, South…umm,” he pauses, “they are better positioned on the maps. Their significance is more geographical. Art cannot be limited by boundaries,” stresses the acclaimed Hindustani vocalist, who performed in the city at a recent festival. And there's sound proof. “Sa ga ma dha ga ma re sa dha ni sa,” he sings aloud, “this is raag Ragesri,” he tells you before gliding over to another swara passage, “and this is Khambodi of the Carnatic system. What difference did you feel?” he asks and comes up with the answer himself, “I am sure, nothing. Sab sur aur taal se bandhe hain (everything is woven with swara and tala).” And you nod like a timid sishya.
Lucid explanations apart, Chakrabarty has concrete suggestions too. “Let there be more festivals featuring artists from both genres. They happen often in Chennai and Kochi, but hardly in Lucknow or Kolkata. Also, treat the artists on a par. Better still would be to have interactive sessions,” he says. A good 30 minutes into the interview, and it's hard to veer away from the discordant notes in the music world. And Chakrabarty tells you why he likes to dwell on the topic.
Guru and friend
“I am experiencing the joy of my creative connect with maestro Balamuralikrishna. He is a guru ever willing to guide, a friend in need and an elder brother to cheer me up. The 22 long years of association has helped me understand the beauty of Carnatic music and widened my artistic vision. I always advise young artists not to be imprisoned by gharana or bani. It's not about diluting values but having an open mind to absorb the goodness from other systems.”
Chakrabarty recalls how he was floored by Balamuralikrishna's simplicity and modesty when he first met him in Kolkata in 1987. “Balamuraliji was invited by the Government of West Bengal to perform a jugalbandi. He was to share the stage with me. I was 32 years old and not famous like him. But he had no qualms. He made me so comfortable on stage that it remains one of my memorable concerts. Since then, we have performed together several times.”
The Kolkata-based vocalist, who now criss-crosses the globe, has seen it all — hunger, rejection and disappointment. “But I never lost heart. Pain gives strength to your conviction and depth to your art. Whatever be the problems, there's no substitute to sadhana and discipline. Without taiyari (preparation) how can you face an audience? I am shocked to see many up and coming artists desperate to perform full-fledged concerts without enough training. Even today, after every performance, I feel I could have done better and do long hours of riyaaz.” Unlike Carnatic music, the traditional structure has been given up in Hindustani, feels Chakrabarty. “Nobody follows the sthayi-antara-sanchari-abhog-khyal progression. Also, technical showmanship such as arriving at sam (the first beat of a cycle) with a force has replaced the beauty of poetry.”
But Chakrabarty, who believes the lyric is the emotional lifeline of his art, sings many of his guru's compositions. Besides, he has to his credit two books comprising 50 of his compositions. “I took to writing when I was with the ITC Sangeet Research Academy where I interacted closely with scholars and musicians of repute.”
His father Ajit Chakrabarty was his first guru and the reason behind why Ajoy could sing even before he could talk. His first lessons came from Pandit Gnan Prakash Ghosh. Later, he trained under Munawar Ali Khan, son and disciple of the legendary Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.
“It was not mere training in music; I imbibed values which now help me run my school Shrutinandan in Kolkata. I never project myself as an achiever or a giver before my students. You are just a link between the past and the future. Before you think about yourself, think about Tansen, Muthuswami Dikshitar, Tyagaraja and other great composers and musicians who enriched classical arts with their bhakti and vision,” smiles the musician.