Sarod exponent Abhik Sarkar on how classical music can be given a shot in the arm.

When he was a child, recalls noted sarod exponent Abhik Kumar Sarkar, the programmes on Doordarshan — then the sole television channel available to Indian viewers — used to be in set timings according to category, and the channel itself would sign off at night. Now, in the age of 24-hour channels, asks Sarkar, “Can they not give even one or two minutes to culture?” Time, for classical musicians, is often measured in terms of lifetimes and centuries, and even the 28-minute slot for the National Programme is a compromise with the approach to a regular concert. But Sarkar is referring to a news-like format. Usually, when personalities like classical dancers or musicians are featured on television, they are interviewed for about half and hour, and the programmes are unable to hold the interest of young viewers, he says. But if a channel were to offer snippets of information in 60-second capsules, it would help in disseminating both knowledge and interest, feels this senior disciple of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.

Sarkar inherited his love for music from his family and began training very young. “I started learning vocal music and sarod from my father (Shyamal Krishna Sarkar). He was not a professional, but he learnt from Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan sahib (father and guru of Amjad Ali Khan),” he relates. He was also influenced by the artistic environment of Santiniketan where his uncle was a professor and the young Abhik spent many vacations. Besides, one of his cousins was a disciple of late sarod maestro Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra. This background ensured that as a youngster, he was steeped in musical culture though growing up in the urban, notoriously mechanical ethos of Delhi.

A dedicated disciple, Sarkar began performing early and earned appreciative reviews. He also spent some two-and-a-half years in Gwalior as director of the Sarod Ghar Museum of Music run by the Hafiz Ali Khan Memorial Trust. He also taught music at the institute run from the premises in the evenings. “Gwalior was very nice but at that time it was not very active culturally,” he recalls. “The only big event was the Tansen Sangeet Samaroh.” This and the fact that Delhi was home determined his shift back to the Capital some 12 years ago.

Over the past decade, he has performed extensively in several countries as well as across India. He also runs the Classical Presentation Centre, established in 1995, that organises concerts of classical music.

Sarkar teaches regularly. The sarod being a comparatively difficult instrument to learn to play, starting with the manner of sitting and holding, is it difficult to popularise and propagate it today? “I think we need to work harder to popularise it,” he muses. “Like guitar, Youtube is absolutely flooded with it. It is difficult, but every instrument is difficult at first. If you ask me to play the guitar, I won’t be able to till I learn. The sarod doesn’t have frets so it is harder to find the notes. But after a few weeks you will start loving it.”

Asked if any of his students show signs of making it to the professional league, he says, “I have many students here and there, but one of my students Karanjit Singh is doing very well. He lives in Canada. He is an aerospace engineer, but he organises concerts and performs.”

It is not easy to groom a disciple into a competent professional. The case cited by Sarkar makes one wonder: while multi-tasking is the order of the current generation, does classical music not require the kind of consecration — an investment of being, so to speak — that is bound to be affected if the disciple also engages in some other highly demanding vocation? “Everybody is not born with a golden spoon in the mouth. Ultimately, it happens that you have to take up a job. It is very difficult. Ninety per cent of your energy is squeezed away,” agrees the guru, who too had a job as a school teacher till he decided to concentrate on his career.

A way has to be found out of this situation, he feels. “There should be a committee formed by the government which would be absolutely impartial and try to find upcoming students who are really very talented and want to take up the art, both in music and dance. And these people should be given scholarship, with sponsorship for their family.” He adds that aspirants from wealthy families may not require such help. “I also belong to the middle class. This (lack of funds) hampers a lot. I have seen many people who were very good and could have come up, but they gave up.”He takes the example of China. “If they find a child right from the school level is very good sports, the whole government runs after the child. We need that.”

(Abhik Kumar Sarkar will give a sarod concert, accompanied by Akram Khan on the tabla, at an evening titled “Swaramritam”, July 5, Lok Kala Manch, New Delhi, 6.30 p.m.)