Hari Mohan Sharma and Mohan Shyam Sharma on the language of the tabla and the pakhawaj.

They belong to a tradition that evolved in an era when time was not money but an opportunity to better oneself. And have balanced the hurly-burly of the Capital with a childhood nurtured in the heritage of Braj. Hari Mohan Sharma and Mohan Shyam Sharma are disciples of the celebrated pakhawaj maestro Pandit Totaram Sharma of Vrindavan. The former is also the maestro's son. Hari Mohan has made the tabla, in which he trained under Pandit Subhash Nirwan, his main vehicle of expression, while Mohan Shyam is a known pakhawaj exponent. Having recently performed a rare duet with their instruments, they are also fresh from a visit to Vrindavan, where they were part of the annual Dhrupad Mahotsav organised by their guru's Brij Sangeet Parishad.

Excerpts from a conversation:

On tabla-pakhawaj duets

HM: It is accepted that the tabla emerged from the mridanga (horizontal drum). We got our theme from our guru Pandit Totaram Sharma. The mridanga is connoted as the father and the tabla as the son. Also, the mridanga is the instrument of Lord Ganesh, while the tabla was created by Amir Khusro in the 15th Century. Our main aim in this collaboration was to display the various nuances of the pakhawaj syllables and maintain their weight and quality in the tabla. We wanted the bol (drum syllables) of the mridanga to remain intact, but ride forward on the new trends represented by the tabla. It was like translating a language.

MS: Unless there is an understanding between the two players, a duet becomes just two solos. HM:MS:Since we are both disciples of the same guru, we understood each other well, but we spent some 10-15 days working out the details.

On need for new bols

HM: We didn't need new bols; our gurus have given us enough material. There are 13 pakhawaj bols: taa, di, thhu, na, ki, tta, ta, ka, dha, dhi, gi, na and dha sanyukta (with both hands). And tabla bols are also 13sayunkta. It was important to us not to mix up the syllables.

The place of percussion

MS: Without percussion you can't have a complete concert. People feel wrongly they are ‘just' accompanists.

HM: The relationship between the main artiste and the percussionist is like the atma and the body — neither is an accompanist, but without one, the other doesn't manifest.

The solo potential


On teaching in Delhi

HM: In small towns like Vrindavan, the kids don't have great facilities, their parents can't even buy an expensive tabla set. But they don't need to be woken up in the morning to practise. They just need to find a good guru to guide them. Delhi kids, I would say, need to be spoon-fed. And here, though there are so many distracting (and expensive) entertainment options, lots of parents don't know there are classical music programmes on where entry is free.

MS: In the guru-shishya tradition students saw how the guru lived, day and night. Here by the time students arrive for class they are exhausted. We should see it this way: if a kid wants to be an engineer, the parents send the child to a hostel for some years.

HM: Yes, if any of my students expresses the desire to be a full-time musician, I would encourage it.

MS: This music is yoga. If you go to a temple, a hundred things will enter your head, but if at a concert, you won't move for three hours!

On degrees

Contribution of music

HS: I tell my students an artiste's biggest contribution is peace. Whether singing, playing tabla, mridangam, or dancing, they will give shanti. Name any classical artiste who became a terrorist?