A glance at history brings up the stormy episode when Dr. Ratanjankar was in charge of re-auditioning musicians for Akashvani.
The late Dr. B.V. Keskar was independent India’s first Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting. His very close associate was the late Dr. Srikrishna Narayan Ratanjankar, who was at that time the Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow’s Bhatkhande Music University (earlier known as Marris Music College). It was in the middle of 1950 that Dr. Keskar and Dr. Ratanjankar decided to conduct a full scale re-auditioning of the Indian musicians performing over Akashvani, either as casual or staff artistes.
A panel of three musicians was formed for the purpose. Besides Ratanjankar, there were the late Pandit Vinayakrao Patwardhan and the late Agra-Atrauli doyen, Ustad Vilayet Hussain Khan. While the former was busy as a top-ranking senior Hindustani professional vocalist, besides being the principal of his own music institution in Mumbai, the Agra-Atrauli doyen was more occupied as Akashvani’s Chief Producer of Music. Thus, it was Dr. Ratanjankar who single-handedly conducted most of the re-auditioning.
The move for re-auditioning was vehemently opposed by the entire Indian music community, which included stalwarts such as the late Ustad Amir Khan and the senior Dagars. There were strong protests and strikes at the Akashvani stations. Many called for re-auditioning felt annoyed and humiliated to appear before the studio microphones and give explanations and answers to Ratanjankar’s terse questions, besides having to sing or play as per his orders. A large number had to put up with rude and angry comments from him.
At the same time, a good number of senior artistes paid him back in his own coin. One is reminded of the serious argument between the late Mewati gharana doyen, Pandit Maniram, and Ratanjankar. The two locked horns over the basic structures of the ragas Bhopali and Deshkar, with both having a common set of notes, although deployed in different manners. As a result, the Mewati doyen was placed in the ‘C’ category, while his younger brothers and disciples, Pandit Jasraj and Pandit Pratap Narayan, were placed in higher grades.
At the Kolkata station of Akashvani Dr. Ratanjankar received strong protests and a lot of flak from the artistes on his criticism of most of their renderings of the morning raga Ahir Bhairav. It is believed that after listening to about half a dozen musicians render this particular raga, he yelled, “Kya Kalkattewale sirf raga Ahir Bhairav hi jaante hain? (Do the Calcutta artistes know only to render raga Ahir Bhairav?)” There was an uproar by all the artistes who had been recently introduced to this charming melody by none other than the great sarod maestro, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
The overall result of this re-auditioning exercise was the loss of esteem and regard for Ratanjankar among Hindustani musicians. As a result, his own public solo recitals came under severe criticism. His placing the late Ustad Chand Khan, the khalifa (doyen) of the highly esteemed Dilli gharana, in category “C” shocked the entire fraternity.
As a performer Dr. Ratanjankar was not very successful. He was a highly regarded scholar, an able composer and a very competent teacher. But his voice had a slight nasal tone and was devoid of melodic charm. There were numerous occasions when fellow musicians questioned his musicianship and his performances on concert platforms.
It is interesting to recall the tiff he had with the late sarangi maestro of Gwalior, Ustad Abdul Latif Khan, whom Ratanjankar had failed in the audition. On one occasion, Ustad Abdul Latif Khan was required to provide sarangi accompaniment to Ratanjankar’s vocal recital at an informal concert (mehfil) at L.N. Muley’s residence in Gwalior. Muley was a keen music lover and a patron too. He was the retired Inspector-General of Education (including music) of the then state of Gwalior ruled by the Scindias. It was rather odd that the heads of the various departments in the Scindia regime were designated as Inspectors General — of the army, revenue, jails, agriculture, medical, and religious trusts, to mention just a few.
This particular recital was largely attended by Gwalior’s music lovers, and on this occasion Ratanjankar did perform quite well. And so did the sarangi maestro Ustad Abdul Latif Khan.
After a brief interlude, the sarangi maestro paused and addressed the audience: “Gentlemen, it is a delight to be able to perform before a learned audience comprising persons like your good selves. You must have observed that I have responded to each and every nuance and meandering of the learned musician that Ratanjankarji certainly is. Now I expect him to respond and repeat some of my improvisations, failing which I shall be obliged to ram this sarangi bow into his guts.” At this, the singer just smiled and concluded his recital with a devotional number.
The practice of auditioning and re-auditioning still continues at Akashvani under the supervision of Chief Producers and Directors of Music. To what extent these are being done in a fair and transparent manner is a question that needs to be looked into by persons in authority.
Going back to the late Ustad Abdul Latif Khan, one was delighted to hear his charming solo sarangi recital in Akashvani’s National Programme of Music earlier this year. While the tonal quality of his sarangi, particularly his bowing, was superb, his elaboration of raga Yaman, particularly the alap, was highly impressive. So was the slow Teen tala composition followed by another in a faster tempo. He provided an excellent finale with a charmingly rendered composition in raga Rageshwari. He had excellent accompaniment on the tabla by the late Ustad Latif Ahmed of the Dilli gharana.
One felt great satisfaction and delight to see the late sarangi maestro given justice towards the end of his life and after his demise. Having been rejected in the earlier auditioning, he finally overcame all hurdles and earned the position he had always deserved.
An unfortunate incident took place during the ‘30s at Akashvani’s Mumbai station, when an over-enthusiastic Station Director attempted to create a singing duel between the late immortal Kesarbai Kerkar and the lesser-talented Sunderabai. This hurt the pride of Kesarbai and she totally discontinued singing over Akashvani the rest of her life — a period of nearly four decades.