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A rendezvous with pure melody

The 29th ITC Sangeet Sammelan was marked by some exceptional performances which catered for a variety of palates. writes....

THE SPECIMEN of music I intend to discuss and write about today evokes within me the vision of wrestling - not of the ferocious type but of the gentle one which though falling in the domain of sports, seems to be governed by certain well-defined principles, in the same way as our music is. For every move in the repertoire of wrestling, there is a counter move to neutralise or undo the former. In music, in some specific styles or gharanas of music, the complex techniques evolved over a long period of time provides for an unending series of moves and counter moves which abide by the accepted principles of melodic beauty and appeal such as symmetry, ``samvad'', concord, a compact and integrated design etc. There is, in these specific styles, no scope for emotional outcry or mawkish sentimentalism. To the eye these styles offer a captivating bouquet of flowers though they may not always exude sweet sense to beguile ones senses.

To be specific, for giving extraordinary attention to the form and the technical content of music, the Agra and the Jaipur gharanas - let one not forget that the Gwalior is the mother of all other musical gharanas - have done a yeoman's service to Indian classical music. However, in this see-saw game, experience shows that the exponents of these styles have gradually drifted away from aesthetics. They show scant regard for the various nuances and modulations of voice as long as it is puissant, fully bolstered up and attacking a note on its head.

If a listener has a cultivated musical sense or is a connoisseur, they can hold him enthralled. Purity of form and unalloyed technique do succeed in producing an atmosphere. But it is an atmosphere of a different kind based on an intellectual plane. It makes you commend, marvel and hold your breath.

The recital that cast a spell on the audience on the second day of the 29th ITC Sangeet Sammelan at the Kamani auditorium was none other than by the redoubtable Ulhas Kashalkar of Calcutta whose wide and variegated musical acquirements becomes the talk of the town whenever he performs in Delhi. Ulhas is a fabulous vocalist, still in his middle years and young, who has an old musical head stuffed with innumerable current and rare ragas and compositions. Like a computer he never errs in any raga or composition howsoever intertwined or tricky it may be. He, just seems to press one key and out comes a raga in the true Jaipur colours, another to obtain a melody attired in the Agra style and still another to get a raga in the Gwalior habiliments. One can only imagine Kashalkar's questionless loyalty to his various gurus, and his own prodigious capacity to assimilate and consolidate the incoming knowledge.

This particular performance of his, in which he sang a Khayal in raga Shudh Nat bore out more of the Jaipur and less of the Agra gayaki, the latter evidenced in some specialised tanas. As Ulhas began after securing the most exhilarating concord between his two tanpuras (which seemed to bless the entire performance like some divine spirit) one felt that sur, laya, this particular raga, voice and style had a pre-destined rendezvous in the person of Ulhas Kashalkar who wears a virtuously handsome face and seems incapable of guile or cunning. I do not yet know him closely. But he should be a most lovable musician to come across. It must be the fulfilment of the inner raga sense within me that kept me glued to my seat though his was the last item of the session. Even when finally I got up to go, I hung on for some more time by the exit door to hear a few more strains. And yet I hold on to what I said at the beginning that there is perhaps no real ecstasy, no real emotion in Ulhas' music that can deal a stab to the heart. But equally true it is that if you dislike one dish there are so many others to tickle your palate. And in Ulhas Kashalkar's repast, my palate for an incisive, forthright and self-gathered statement of technique and musical fact became a captive. Don't we like a whole host of objects and yet one or two among them above all else?

I am drawn to music of many different forms and complexions but woo with all my heart the one which is soaked in emotion. A musician friend was gracious enough to send me a cassette of Kashalkar's entire recital. The first listening to Shudh Nat in the cassette was as thrilling as when I heard it in the auditorium. The ring of familiarity took away something from the second listening. And to carry home the truth that musical strains glisten, glow and rise to ethereal heights when touched off with intense passion, moving numbers of the one gypsy singer Reshma fell into my ears to ensnare my senses. In a moment all indecision and doubt as to which piece of art shakes your entire being and lifts you to higher realms of emotional experience vanished.

All forms of Nat are a ``hard nut'' to crack. All the essential features and postures of Shudh Nat were so consistently and unvaryingly underlined in its treatment, whether in alap or tanas, by Ulhas Kashalkar, as if these were a part and parcel of his respiratory system. One could hear the characteristic, stair- like movement of ``Sa, Sa Ri, Ri Ga, Ga Ma'' (each higher note carrying the traces of the previous one), expert handling of ``Ni Dha Ni'' and ``Ga Ma Ri'' culminating in the beautifully arched Pa Ri.

The highly intricate course of tanas in the raga did not in the slightest degree hinder their fluency and speed. All ``Aamads'' were grace and precision. Some outstanding features of the Jaipur gayaki - the choice of an easily cognisable, equi-tempered medium tempo for the vilambit, the conforming musical improvisations ambling on the units of rhythm, seeming to be engaged in an arresting hide and seek with them and finally leading to a logical emergence of the Mukhra (which is implied by ``Aamad'') invest the gayaki with a palpable lilt, even a kind of romance even though one is not swamped by one or the other of the known fundamental emotions. Ulhas Kashalkar catches it all in his commendable acquittals.

After Shudh Nat he rendered a composition in Adana followed by another in Desh. His disciple provided admirable vocal support while Samar Saha accompanied on the tabla and Jyoti Guho on the harmonium.


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