Dhrupad maestros Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha on teaching in today’s world
The Bhopal-based Gundecha Brothers, Umakant and Ramakant, were recently in Vrindavan where they gave a Dhrupad recital at the Swami Haridas Sangeet evam Nritya Mahotsav, accompanied on the pakhawaj by their brother Akhilesh Gundecha. A few hours before the concert they sat down for a chat with the media, where the discussion moved between issues affecting performers to contemporary ways of teaching.
They take in their stride the widening vistas offered by a medium like the Internet and use it to conduct lessons with students across the world. While lessons online, in real time, offer a great advantage over learning from a DVD or other recorded medium, one might assume its best application would be with students who earlier had been with the gurus at their gurukul, Dhrupad Sansthan in Bhopal, and now reside elsewhere. Surely they would not begin lessons for completely fresh students in this way? “We do teach new people too,” says Ramakant, while Umakant explains, “You can see them and correct the gestures and postures, so it is okay.”
The main requirement is a reliable connection, they note, admitting they have students they have not yet met personally. The technology has great potential, Ramakant says. “Whatever the medium, there are always pros and cons.” Elder brother Umakant adds, “But I feel the positivity is greater than the negativity in this case.”
Traditionalists may have embraced technology, but some things never seem to change. Umakant regrets that new artistes still require a stamp of approval from the West before they start getting concert opportunities in this country. He calls it a “samajik samasya” (problem of society), and agrees that music education and appreciation right from children’s level alone will make a difference to this social mindset. “Children should be exposed to different arts and encouraged to learn. Then, two might choose dance, two might choose music, two might choose Dhrupad too.” Here the brothers point out a need to recognise different aspects of an artiste. “For this we don’t need ustads,” says Ramakant. “We only need good teachers.”
But even as we often hear worries voiced that the classical arts are losing out to popular mediums like film music, Western popular, Rock, etc., some would say that the classical arts were always at the top of a popularity pyramid, whose widest portion, its base, is devoted to easily assimilated arts like Pop, etc. So are we being unrealistic comparing such widely varying art forms, and is it really about the numbers? Umakant sums it up: “These are two parts of a river, and we are trying to bring them together, zabardasti (by force).”
The reality shows of popular music featuring eminent ustads as judges — often justified on the grounds that they are popularising music among the masses — are perhaps part of this trend of forcing together disparate approaches. The brothers dismiss such shows as pure business that benefits the mobile operators and other partners. “Popularising music is just a by-product for them,” says Ramakant. Saying, “Even news is becoming like a reality show,” he points out, “The main thing is, progress stops, and they are promoting only one kind of music.”
And if some classical stalwarts are lending their weight to such shows, contributing to the “hotchpotch” that ultimately confuses people in their understanding of classical music, what can be done to counter the trend? “We can’t do anything,” says Ramakant. “If they have a 100-horsepower car, we can also drive our 1-horsepower car of teaching Dhrupad!” Let none underestimate this hardy vehicle.
At their gurukul, a residential institution with about 25 students currently, the gurus give no certificates, hold no exams and have refused affiliation to a university — convinced that an assured certificate dulls an artiste’s creative and punctilious edge. Yet their terminology is contemporary. “We give more importance to voice training because we felt that it was the one missing thing that caused Dhrupad to fade,” says Ramakant. “We work scientifically — what is its relationship to Yoga, to the body? We are doing quite a lot of research on this.”
He says they have developed exercises. “It is not that we created them, but we systemised it, brought it into a method and process. I often say aviation science and mathematics went further because they had a system. The problem with our music is, it has been glorified. We are trying to demystify it.”
Dismissing the concept that decades of dedication are needed to become a good performer, he states, “Aliya Rashid was visually challenged and from a weak economic background. In four years she became a Dhrupad singer.” The Lahore-based Pakistani girl, who made waves in the U.S. during her first international tour in June 2011, is only one of the students — including several girls — of whom the gurus are proud. At the Haridas Mahotsav too, they were accompanied by two current students, the Saxena brothers Mukesh and Yogesh.
It’s true that audiences and students alike have less patience, acknowledge the brothers, who also run a class at Delhi’s Bharatiya Kala Kendra and recently launched a teaching branch in Bengaluru. But the task of patiently moulding artistes is the teachers’ says Ramakant. “I hold the guru responsible.”