Even if veteran vocalist Kishori Amonkar protested that she could no longer sing as in her youth, the exclusive audience couldn’t have enough of her
It was an unusual concert. Although held in the FICCI auditorium, the atmosphere was just that of a private baithak. The occasion was solemn as well as celebratory. Well-known legal luminary Harish Salve had invited Kishori Amonkar, the greatest living female vocalist in the Hindustani classical system, to sing on the occasion of the birth anniversary of his father, the late NKP Salve. As Kishori Amonkar knew the Salve senior very well, she was in the best of moods and did not display her (in)famous temper even once, although the sound system did everything to provoke it. It was a memorable concert because one was constantly aware of being in the presence of a most creative and accomplished artiste who, at the age of 82, could not obviously give a consistently virtuoso performance but whose class nevertheless shone through. And when it did, the result was nothing short of bliss.
Like the late Kumar Gandharva, Kishori Amonkar too was described as an enfant terrible in her youth because of her unconventional and unorthodox approach coupled with unbounded creativity. Trained primarily in the Jaipur-Atrauli style of singing by her mother Mogubai Kurdikar, a top vocalist of her time, she also received guidance from others including the legendary Anjanibai Malpekar of the Bhendi Bazar gharana. She did not feel shy of incorporating elements from other styles that appealed to her aesthetic sense. This enabled her to evolve a distinctly individualistic style that was entirely her own and yet was firmly grounded in the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. Very few female singers who appeared on the music scene after her have been able to resist her influence on their singing.
Kishori Amonkar sprang a surprise by choosing the afternoon raga Bhimpalas to open the evening concert. Ably supported by her grand daughter Tejaswini Amonkar and senior student Nandini Bedekar, she took some time to warm up and get into the right mood. After that, there was no looking back. A charismatic singer, she simply mesmerised the audience that included the Capital’s who’s who and sang this audav-sampoorna raga that omits Rishabh and Dhaivat in the ascending section with great aplomb, treating Madhyam with due care and finesse.
She sang a vilambit khayal “Re Biraha, Bamana Sagun Bichar” and developed it in her very own charming way of combining the Jaipur-Atrauli traits with Kirana-style badhat. With uncharacteristic modesty, she stopped in the middle of her singing and told the audience that she was not 25 anymore and now could not sing the way she used to earlier. The audience responded in unison: “No, you are awesome.” Both were right in their own way. As is said in cricket parlance, form is temporary while class is permanent. And what could be more classy than Kishori’s singing?
After singing a drut composition in Bhimpalas, she chose Jait Kalyan, a favourite raga of the Agra as well as Jaipur-Atrauli vocalists, and sang the familiar “Papiha Na Bolo” followed by a beautiful drut composition, “Nai Re Lagan Lagi Tumi Se”. As the audience was not letting her go, she sang another speciality of her gharana — Basant Kedar — and explained how the Dhaivat in this raga is neither komal nor teevra and its secret lay in the shrutis (microtones) in between.
She also added that in this combination of Basant and Kedar, these two ragas should not raise their head in patches and Basant Kdear should have its own distinctive personality. She sang the famous khayal “Atar Sugandh” and concluded her recital with a drut bandish, “Khelan Aai Naveli Naar” composed by her mother Mogubai.
Shantanu on tabla, Malayendra Roy on violin and Chinmay on harmonium provided adequate accompaniment.