Ill health has kept Vanmala Parvatkar from a full-fledged performing career, but her fans still hope for her return to the stage.
In the late'70s and '80s, when the atmosphere of Banaras was imbibing the musical energy of Girija Devi and Savita Devi in light classical music, there was a growing talent who proved her impeccable creativity in classical and light classical music with equal grace. This was Vanmala Parvatkar, who remains creative in her isolation. She belongs to a musical family from Goa. Her grandfather was a legend. Famous for his incomparable tabla playing, he was awarded the Laya Bhaskar. This was Lakshman Rao Parvatkar, alias Khapdoomam. His son Ramkrishna Parvatkar, a well-know classical vocalist, came to Varanasi with his daughter Vanmala.
“I was too little to learn from my father. I grew in music under the guidance of Pandit Balwant Rai Bhatt, Kanak Rai Trivedi and M.R. Gautam. From them I came to know that my grandfather was a legend,” she says. -she accepts.
Her singing in the style of the Banaras gharana has been nurtured under Pandit Shivkumar Shastri, who belongs to the lineage of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. “He is my guru who offered to teach me all the nuances of the Banaras gharana. It is different. He is a pakka Banarsi so the colours of Banarsi gayaki such as Thumri, Kajri and Chaiti are in his blood. He is actually from Chhoti Piyari of the Banaras gharana where he had learnt from the great Chhote Ramdas ji. He is now his only living disciple,” relates Vanmala.
On the reason for her not performing in public for a long time, she says, “Due to my illness. I am suffering from bone loss for a decade. I cannot sit for long periods to perform on stage. Students still come to learn from me, but I cannot now return to the stage. Listening to new voices and riyaaz is very important. I do feel sad at my predicament, but I can only do this much. Of course I added some of the rare elements of this sweet gharana that I received from my Guruji, but to maintain them in my sadhana requires a great zeal. My students are still hopeful,” she admits with optimism in her eyes.
She has retired from the Faculty of Performing Arts, Banaras Hindu University. She calls herself a teacher, not an artiste. “Teaching ragas in a flawless manner is one thing, and improvising taans by dint of one's own imagination is entirely different,” she explains. “This needs tireless riyaz and creative talent. From Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan to young Rashid Khan, people are doing a great job in classical music. There was a time when I was emerging as a young talent with wider appreciation, but unfortunately I had this physiological problem and kept myself isolated. Though I keep on listening to good music from the upcoming generation — they are doing well — I cannot return to my old self.”
At present she is in a mood to transform her research project, already completed, into a book which tells the authentic story of Banaras and its musical evolution.
The book brings together a host of elements and information in a single gracious volume. It also includes rare compositions from the lesser known repertoire of the Banaras gharana, which have been heard in her sweet voice.
Vanmala may want to forget all her past achievements, but her followers are still waiting for her next melodious innings.