The key to an enduring jugalbandi is the willingness of two artistes to make a single portrait, says Ronu Majumdar and Ramesh Narayan

Hindustani singer Ramesh Narayan and flutist Ronu Majumdar are making a new symphony. The two veterans discovered their musical camaraderie when they performed a jugalbandi for the first time at Guruvayur Temple early this week.

If they found their debut ‘spiritual’, the duo realised it was no less the second time, when they performed the very next day at Kozhikode at India Music Foundation’s ‘Raag-Rang’. A full house clapped, whistled and egged them on as the artistes together took their musical journey to new realms. Excerpts from a conversation.

What is the dynamics of a jugalbandi?

Ramesh: The artistes should respect each other. A jugalbandi is communication and I enjoyed communicating and complimenting him. The music and appreciation should come from the heart. As you say in Hindi, it is ‘Dil ka milaap’. When we are on stage, we are sharing. We did not spend time practising but had a rough discussion, like wanting to start the concert in Raag Purvi, and went on stage.

Ronu: The key to the success of any jugalbandi is the oneness of mind. One should always think for the other. It is like two people getting down to make a portrait. I have performed jugalbandis with Balamurali Krishna and Bombay Jayasri. Ramesh ji is an unassuming and spiritual person and being a composer he thinks of items as a whole. Yes, we did not practice at all, it was instinctive.

Does a sense of competition ever spring up between the artists?

Ramesh: The spirit of competition, rather healthy competition, should be there. Otherwise, a jugalbandi will not be successful. I have to answer him and he has to answer me. 

Ronu: In every concert there will be portions over which one has power or is somebody’s strength. But the other artiste should not feel insecure about this. jugalbandi There may be times when one artiste has to be the big brother and let the other play what he/she wants. Playing with Ramesh ji was spiritual.

How is the energy of a jugalbandi different from that of a solo performance? 

Ramesh: jugalbandi I have to think differently when I am doing one.

Ronu: jugalbandi You have to share the energy of the other person and every moment you have to read the other. On the dais one cannot be a commanding leader and insist that the whole painting will be done the way you want it.

What led to this collaboration?

Ramesh: I have done jugalbandis before, but not with the flute. I love the flute and music from it is pure. It is about pure, perfect notes. It is very difficult to sing to this wind instrument. Since vocal music is also about air and wind, it is an effective combination. It was a challenge. 

Ronu: The idea came from Ramesh ji. He had generously offered me a solo recital at Guruvayur temple two years ago and I had enjoyed that. So when he suggested this I was like, ‘Wow, I have to do this’. Any first-time concert with a big artiste requires sincerity. There will be technicalities, like I play on the ‘E’ scale and he sings on ‘D’. But these are mere technicalities when your music touches the soul. I was so sure this one would be memorable and there was lot of love and affection on stage.

Yes, there would be difficulties when the jugalbandi is between vocal and an instrument. Vocal is God’s own instrument and has no limitations. At least, the limitation would be because of no practice. But an instrument has its limitations. That’s when you have to use your mind.

Do you plan to take this collaboration further?

Ramesh: Yes, definitely. We want to perform in all the metro cities. 

Ronu: When we do a successful, high-level collaboration, we would love to repeat it. I have not had this rapport with a male artiste of my generation. Yes, I would like to invite Ramesh ji for festivals in North India.